Toward the end of 2009, I began to notice that my computing needs had changed quite a bit. I’d begun to do a lot more heavy duty work in video, requiring Final Cut Studio and a large screen for editing, so I purchased a 24″ iMac for the office. At the same time, I had been traveling for business much less than before, and began to grow weary of toting my laptop (a rev A MacBook Air) back-and-forth each day. I decided a new strategy was in order and determined that I could make my life much easier if I could just leave my laptop at home on most days. Then I’d be able to carry it only when needed it for a local presentation, traveling, or if I knew I’d be mobile for a good part of the day. Subsequently, I’ve ordered an iPad, and hope it can replace my laptop in many cases.
As I tend to work at home during early mornings and evenings, the biggest challenge in this new strategy quickly became how to keep files and app data in sync across the two computers. Now, to be fair, I didn’t approach this in any strategic way, but over the ensuing few months, I have migrated much of my Mac life into the cloud (for those interested in cloud computing or data centers, check out our Structure 10 conference in June). Here are a few of the key ways I made this happen.
Mailplane + Gmail
I have several email accounts for various projects and my personal needs, and they are all either Gmail or Google Apps accounts. Previously, I set them all up as IMAP accounts and used Mail.app as a client. Even though I accessed most accounts on a daily basis, Mail.app — despite its superior UI — quickly became an untenable solution. True, I can sync accounts, rules and other data using MobileMe, but I noticed some inconsistencies in the way messages were displaying, and I was using precious disk space on duplicate mailbox files, caches, and temporary files.
Mailplane is the perfect solution for me. As a direct view of the Gmail web interface, Mailplane ensures that there aren’t any inconsistencies. And nothing gets stored locally unless I choose to download it. Like Mail, I can easily switch between accounts, and I also have direct, integrated access with Address Book.
MobileMe for Address Book and Bookmark Syncing
Speaking of Address Book, Google’s contact manager is pretty weak, and despite integration with Gmail, I am not ready to turn my contacts over to Google’s less than desirable product. So I keep Apple’s Address Book as my primary contact manager, and sync it across MobileMe among my Macs and the iPhone. Syncing only certain contacts with others — my wife, for example, for our shared social contacts — is the next step for me. I am also using MobileMe to synchronize Safari bookmarks. Having the same bookmarks across devices has proven to be a lifesaver from time-to-time.
Google Calendar (including Mobile Sync) + Fluid for Calendars
As I described earlier, I have several Gmail and Google Apps accounts. With Mailplane, you get to see a list of accounts in a sidebar, and easily switch among them without having to enter your username and password each time. I’ve even combined some accounts by using one to send and receive mail from another, and deleting the account in Mailplane. To my knowledge, there isn’t a similar solution for Google Calendar. So I’ve set all my calendars to be shared with my primary account, then used Fluid to create an app-specific browser for the consolidated Google Calendar. As a result, I have one calendar app that displays all my various calendars but allows me to keep them separate (different colors, turn on/off, etc.).
SugarSync for File Synchronization
I have longed for Mac OS X features that allow file and folder-level synchronization across computers, to no avail. Many in the Mac community swear by DropBox, but I chose SugarSync for a couple of reasons. First, with SugarSync, you can add any file or folder on a computer to your sync profile, regardless of where that file lives. At least when I looked at it previously, DropBox required you to set up a special sync folder and move your files there, forcing me to reorganize my files, not something I wanted to do. And there’s always price: SugarSync is $5/month less than DropBox at the 100GB storage level. I now often save a file on my office computer as I’m leaving the office, then open it at home with those changes reflected.
Google Docs for Collaboration
More and more, I find myself working with others on projects that require collaborative editing. Google Docs is a great solution, as it allows multiple people to access and share documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The user interface and available styles aren’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, but Google Docs works really well. Google recently added the ability to entire folders, not just documents, which made it even more valuable to me and my collaborators.
OmniFocus and Evernote
I’ve got a lot going on (probably too much), and I’ve started and stopped using various task management applications multiple times. I love Things, but I can’t live without hierarchical organization of my information and the Wi-fi based syncing with iPhone is tedious. I also really dig The Hit List, but after many months Potion Factory is still taking pre-orders and hasn’t released an iPhone app. I’m worried that it has stalled. I keep returning to OmniFocus from The Omni Group, which has some powerful organization and management capabilities, and also syncs perfectly among Macs and the iPhone. Lastly, I’ve recently rediscovered Evernote, whose web-based syncing has proven effortless and reliable (more on Evernote in a future post).
My Mac Life in the Cloud
I haven’t yet bothered syncing media, as I tend to simply use my iPhone for music, photos and more when I’m away from home. In the meantime, it seems like I can be anywhere and have access to all the files and data I need.
So, how are you keeping multiple devices in sync and using the cloud to make your life easier and more efficient?
Related GigaOM Pro Research: Report: How Mobile Cloud Computing Will Change Tech