The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
NOTE: I have written about a similar topic before. However, this time I will describe the process from the viewpoint of a genealogist who wants to use two computers – perhaps a desktop and a laptop – and wants to have his or her latest genealogy databases stored on each with each being updated automatically whenever either one is changed. This process should work with any Windows genealogy program (Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, The Master Genealogist, AncestralQuest, Family Tree Maker, Family Historian, etc.) or any Macintosh genealogy program (Reunion, Heredis, iFamily for Tiger, MacFamily Tree, Personal Ancestry Writer, etc.).
One exception: the process used for The Master Genealogist will be slightly different than for the other programs listed. I will describe the differences for that one program at the end of this article.
I have used at least two computers for years. At any given time, I always have a desktop computer and a laptop system. The manufacturers, model numbers, and operating systems have changed over the years, but I like the convenience of having both a large-screen desktop system on my desk with a nice, comfortable easy chair and also a lightweight laptop that I can throw into a briefcase and take with me anywhere. I find that I can use the same genealogy program on both computers as long as I copy the latest version of my database to both computers before adding any new information.
When returning home late at night after a cross-country trip, the last thing I wanted to think about was copying files. I usually preferred to go to bed and get some sleep. I always thought that I would copy the files "later." A few days would go by, and then I would want to use my database, either on the laptop or the desktop system. I'd find myself asking, "When was the last time I copied the data? Where is my latest database?"
Of course, I could always boot up both systems and then look at the date/times shown on both databases. In fact, I have done that many times. This works well but certainly is not convenient. It also doesn't work very well when I am off traveling on the NEXT trip, far from my desktop system. I might wonder, "Did I copy the latest updates I made last week BACK to the laptop before I left home with the laptop?"
More than once I found myself updating the older database! That results in a problem when merging the data together later. Then things became much more complicated when I added a third computer, such as the PC on my desk at the office.
In fact, I need a system that AUTOMATICALLY updates all my databases as soon as any one computer receives new information. I want a process that automatically copies the entire database to the other computer(s) within seconds. If one or more of the other computers happen to be powered off, such as when sitting in my laptop carrying bag, that computer should be updated without human intervention immediately the next time it is powered on and connected to the Internet.
Of course, I want this for other purposes as well as my genealogy database. In my case, I also want to synchronize word processing documents, my address book, expense account spreadsheets, all my past newsletters, my MP3 music files, and more.
One advantage of all this is that I have the database and other files available whenever and wherever I want them. Another advantage is that I always have fresh backups: if my desktop system crashes, I can recover my data from the laptop and vice-versa. Having backups is a good thing. Having a process that makes backups automatically is even better.
If you search the Internet, you can find probably a dozen such programs that are designed to synchronize files between computers. Over the years, I have experimented with MS-DOS XCOPY, Windows XP and Vista Briefcase, Yahoo Briefcase (no longer available), Briefcase Plus for Windows, AJC Directory Synchronizer, SyncBackSE, Google Sync (which never worked with genealogy databases), Allway Sync, Karen's Replicator, and a number of other products. Most of them worked, but almost all of them required some manual intervention. In short, I had to remember to synchronize things. Even those that claimed to work automatically usually did so only with certain operating systems or in limited situations.
For instance, one of the automated backup programs that I tried will automatically make backups at a certain time of the day. If one of the computers, such as the laptop, happens to be powered off at that time, the program aborts with errors and then refuses to run again until I "fix" the problem. Some of the other programs will synchronize two computers but cannot handle more than two. Almost none of them handle multiple operating systems; most are Windows only or Macintosh only.
As I later moved into a multi-operating system, multi-computer environment, I needed something that was a "no brainer" and worked equally well on Windows, Macintosh, and iPhone. Support for other operating systems is nice to have also, although not critical. In short, it needs to be reliable and needs to work whether I remember it or not. If one computer is offline, the files to be copied need to "queue up" and wait until the computer comes online again, then make the copies.
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