The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
I use one free program that has quickly become indispensable. If you own two or more computers, such as a desktop and a laptop computer or perhaps a computer at home and another at the office, and you need to keep the same files on each of them, read on.
For instance, I like to keep copies of all past, present, and future "work in progress" newsletter articles with me wherever I am. In my case, that means keeping copies of the same files on a desktop computer at home, on my laptop computer that I typically use when traveling, and on the tiny, 2-pound "netbook" computer that I use on overnight trips. I even have them available when I want them on the Apple iPad.
Perhaps the most common method of copying files is to use a jump drive of some sort. Indeed, I have done this many times; but I find that I often forget to make the copies every time I change a file. More than once I have found myself in a distant city without the latest version of an article I have been writing.
The easiest method of keeping identical copies of the same files on two or more computers is to use a file synchronization program. Most of these programs will automatically copy files across a network or across the Internet. Most such programs allow for automatic synchronization at scheduled times, and the better programs will automatically sync files immediately when any changes are made.
A few synchronization programs will also keep copies on a web server and will upload all newly-changed files immediately, if the computer is connected to the Internet. They will place updated copies on the hard drives of other computers being synchronized as soon as they are connected to the Internet.
A quick search of the web shows dozens of file synchronization programs available. I haven't tried all of them, but I have tried several and have discarded most of them within a few hours or days. Some didn't work as advertised; others were buggy; a few had very limited storage capability, and a couple were simply awkward to use. Some offered lots of storage space but at higher prices than what I wish to pay.
I wanted something that is simple to use, works automatically as a background process, and updates files immediately whenever it is connected to the Internet. It also needed to be free or modestly priced. Finally, the program(s) selected had to work equally well on my Macintosh desktop, Macintosh MacBook laptop, Windows XP 2-pound "netbook," and the 7-pound Windows 7 laptop. It would be nice if it also worked on the Ubuntu Linux desktop computer that I use as a file server, although that isn't a critical need for me.
I have now found such a program and have been using it for more than a year. It does all of the above and also has a couple of features I hadn't thought about: since it stores files on the owning company's web servers, it also offers a capability for me to download files even when I do not have one of my own computers handy. I can stop in at any Internet café or public library, use their computer to download a file, edit it as I wish, and then re-upload it or store it on a jump drive. The edited copy then propagates to my other computers as soon as they come online. I can also print the file on the Internet café’s printer.
This system automatically copies all new or changed files I wish to the company’s web servers and to each computer I specify. That creates an excellent backup process: all files I want backed up are available on multiple computers I own plus on one online web server.
I also have the option of making any file or group of files available to others. I can make each file password protected and give the password only to people I choose, or I can simply make the document(s) public and available to everyone. I remain in full control of access to all of my documents; I can also change the options at any time.
In addition, I can automatically share any folder or files that I specify. For instance, my adult daughter and I like to share family photographs. I created a new folder called “Family Photographs.” Any photos I place in my “Family Photographs” folder automatically get copied to her “Family Photographs” folder and vice versa. However, we do not share other files on our computers, unless we both configure them to be shared. She uses a Windows system while I use a mixture of Mac and Windows systems.
All files are encrypted before being sent in order to maintain privacy. Even the employees of this company cannot read the files. Of course, when the files are copied to other computers, they are automatically decrypted and then stored on the local hard drive of each computer I specify.
Finally, the program is free. Storage space on the company’s servers is also free for up to two gigabytes and more space is available for what I would call a modest fee.
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