So you are thinking about picking up one of the new UMPCs that seems to be all you hear about if you go anywhere near the web. Or maybe you use a laptop and a desktop computer and you have that uneasy feeling all the time that the one important file you will need is on the other computer. Maybe you use a Tablet PC in conjunction with a laptop or desktop and you have the same fear. If you could only have a secure and pain-free solution for keeping two or more PCs totally synchronized you could go back to sleeping nights.
I have been using my HP tc1100 Tablet PC alongside a Sony U71 for a few days and the solution I have chosen to keep them in sync is FolderShare, a free (in beta) service from the Windows Live offering from Microsoft. FolderShare claims to be a simple solution to keep multiple computers in sync no matter where they are, provided they are connected to the web. I have been using it and so far I am very happy with the service and how well it works.
Installing FolderShare is a straightforward process that involves visiting the FolderShare web site and signing up for your free account. Once your account is open you download a small program to each computer you want to have available for syncing. It is important to note you must log in to the same account from each computer which is how it can track file changes. Once you have it installed on at least two computers you access the My FolderShare area on Windows Live which you can do easily by clicking on the FolderShare icon in the system tray. On the web page that opens you have three options available to you- Sync My Folders, Share with Friends, and Access My Files.
“Sync My Folders” is where you configure all the folder pairs you wish to keep synchronized between your computers. They are called “Libraries” and setting up which data to sync is point and click simple. There are some pre-defined libraries such as “Documents”, “Photos”, and “Videos” which will configure the appropriate Windows XP folders for syncing. You can also manually define any folder(s) you want providing total flexibility no matter how you have your data organized on the PC. Once you have at least one library defined you select if you want an automatic sync which keeps the computers in sync all the time without any user intervention or if you prefer to only sync when you want you select on-demand syncing. I have been using automatic syncing for my purposes.
The sync process is done completely in the background and is very fast at scanning the libraries on each computer and comparing if changes have been made on one of the computers. If a file change is detected FolderShare copies the file to the appropriate PC, and very quickly in my observation. I have noticed that it intelligently copies files at different speeds depending on the file size and if it determines both computers are on the same network. I have watched it sync large files at 2+ Mb/sec when both PCs are on the same network which means the sync process is always quick, after the initial syncing. That first sync was still pretty quick, in my case taking about 10 minutes to sync 20 GB of data between the Sony and the HP. There is an activity window you can turn on to keep an eye on all file changes and transfers that FolderShare is doing at a given time. This window is updated in real time. I am extremely happy with FolderShare for this primary task and find it very productive to always have my documents, RSS feeds, music and other files on either computer without giving it a single thought.
The second mode of operation for FolderShare provides a simple way to share files with friends and family. The “Share with Friends” mode lets you define a folder on one of your PCs and then invite people via email to share those files. They will be prompted to install the FolderShare satellite program if they are not already running FolderShare. Once they have been invited your selected group of people can share photos, home videos, and other files very simply. When you add new photos your invited group will automatically get them. No setting up an FTP server or other complicated process.
The last mode of operation is “Access my Files” which does exactly that. Say you are on the road and discover that file you need is not on your local computer because it is in a folder that is not being synced. No worries, as long as your home computer is on and running FolderShare you can selectively go in and upload them to you wherever you are. This is a simple and effective way to insure access to everything you need.
I have not encountered any glitches in my FolderShare usage so far and am quite happy with it. It is very liberating to feel that no matter which computer I grab on the way out the door I will have all the data I might need in my travels. There are other sync solutions out there but I believe the ability to use FolderShare no matter where the computers may be is very invaluable to me. I have experienced no performance hits or other negative side effects of using FolderShare. I don’t know how much the service will cost when it’s out of beta but I know if it’s not priced unreasonably I will be re-upping.