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Getting My Data From Anywhere

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1159615_binary_code_3These days, when I leave my office — even if it’s just to go down the street to the grocery store — I know that I can grab my cell phone (a Treo 755p (s palm)) and have my contacts, calendar, to-do list and passwords with me. They’ll even be up-to-date, if I’ve remembered to use Missing Sync to update my phone recently! And my email is always available, as I use IMAP with Google Apps.

Thanks to my smartphone, I don’t carry my laptop very much, unless I’m doing a presentation or going on an extended trip. But it’s nice to have my desktop sync with my laptop, so that it’s ready when I need it. And that’s where things start getting complicated.

My desktop’s a Mac mini (s aapl), and my laptop’s a Toshiba Libretto U105 (s tosbf) (which was a netbook before they started calling them that) running Windows XP (s msft). So how do I synchronize my data? It can be done, but it’s harder than it should be.

  • Contacts. I use the Apple Address Book, and sync it to my Google (s goog) Contacts with Googaby. On the laptop, I use Thunderbird with the gContactSync add-on.
  • Calendar. I set up several calendars through Google Apps. I’ve subscribed to the calendars in both Apple iCal (on the Mac) and Mozilla Sunbird (on the PC). Alas, the future of Sunbird is unclear at the moment.
  • Passwords. I use SplashID because it syncs flawlessly with my Treo, although I’ve also been experimenting with LastPass, which is better at filling in some web forms, but is a bit obtrusive for my taste.
  • Bookmarks. For those of us who use Firefox, Weave will probably be a great system someday. But right now, it’s too experimental: It only supports the upcoming Firefox 3.5, and it has a tendency to stop working at random intervals. In the meantime, I’m reluctantly using Xmarks — which strikes me as trying to do too many things. If you turn off all of the options except bookmark syncing, the Firefox add-on seems to work fine. But the Safari version is hard to install and obtrusive. (I mostly use Firefox anyway, so I turned Xmarks for Safari off.)
  • Files. Dropbox. It’s easy. It just works.

If you’re wondering how all of these programs get along, well, they do, mostly. Googaby slows my Mac to a crawl when it’s updating, but it doesn’t update very often. Dropbox and Missing Sync work perfectly, and without getting in the way.

So why don’t I just use the web interfaces of all of these programs, and not worry about syncing?

It’s nice to have local backups in case Google goes down (which it does occasionally) or if my Internet connection goes south (which is does more often than I would like). Google Gears helps, but it’s not as smooth as having local copies of everything.

Both Apple Mail and Thunderbird make it much easier to manage and transfer messages between multiple accounts. Gmail Manager is a great way of accessing multiple accounts through Firefox, but it doesn’t let me drag and drop messages between accounts, like I can in Apple Mail.

One of these days, we might be able to use any computer, any browser, and get to our own “mobile desktop.” Glide is working on such a system, as are Xcerion, although neither system is complete.

In the meantime, syncing basic data between computers is much too complex. As long as desktop applications are more robust than their web counterparts, sync will be needed, so let’s hope easier and more user-friendly systems are on the way.

How do you manage data in multiple locations?

Image by stock.xchng user flaivoloka

12 Responses to “Getting My Data From Anywhere”

  1. To access your Microsoft Project information from anywhere using any browser, check out ValleySpeak Project Server (

    It is an alternative to the expensive Microsoft Project Server.


  2. note that the Address Book syncs with Google contacts *for iphone users*. You can hack it to think you have an iphone, but the feature is only supported for people with an iPhone.

  3. I’ve been using to unify all my data. I have a MobileME account (free with My Mac), and as I am a freelancer I work with clients with whom I use Amazon S3, Mosso, SMEStorage supports all of these and lets me import from Evernote and Google Docs to any Cloud (I back up my MobileMe Account). As the service also supports email backup, I schedule the service to do an offline sync everyday so all my emails are backed up to MobileMe also and available for me to access on my phone if I need to. Lastly I use Gmail as a backup cloud for files and data, again through the service.

    I’m pretty impressed with this so far. The only issue is lack of documentation so I found some of this stuff by accident almost, but it is very powerful once you have it all setup.

  4. I don’t know why but i don’t like smart phones. I still have an old fashion one, you would be surprised. Usually i take the laptop with me and you are right a phone is much more easier than a laptop. I think it’s all about habits in my case.

  5. Although I don’t have what I would consider the perfect solution yet, the one I am using now is quite workable. I use to have access to my calendar and contacts from anywhere online. This also allows me to automatically add designated appointments to my SO’s calendar and he can add his to mine, so we avoid scheduling problems.

    I use’s desktop synch to my desktop with Palm Desktop – and then straight through to my Palm 650 for mobile access.

    My passwords are synched between my desktop and my Palm via SplashID.

    I have a custom domain that I can either access virtually from anywhere through their webmail access, via my Palm, or on my desktop via Mozilla Thunderbird.

    I still haven’t found a satisfying solution for my to-do’s and projects. Unfortunately, doesn’t synch lists and Thunderbird doesn’t synch with my Palm (unless there is an app for that I’m not aware of). That’s why I pretty much rely on my Palm for to-do, and use ReminderFox for quick notes to myself generated from emails.

    Depending on the complexity of the I use Project + PDesk (Palm + desktop) or I’m still missing the solution that gives me a smooth transition from web to desktop to mobile!

  6. There is a new kid on the block – online backup product for Windows called CloudBerry Online Backup. It is powered by Amazon S3 reliable and cost efficient storage. If you want to take part in beta sign up on the website. the product help me to have my files in sync across multiple computers

  7. I use Google for contacts, email, and calendars. Contacts are synced through Address Book’s built in Google syncing. Email is using Gmail through IMAP on a custom domain name through Apple Mail. I currently do not have iCal set up for Google Calendars, but I could easily do it with Google’s CalDAV solution or BusySync. This data is synced to my iPod touch through Google Sync, based on Exchange.

    I use Microsoft’s Live Mesh for syncing files. This serves not only as a syncronization method, but also as backup. Mesh only allows 5GB of online storage, which is plenty for data, but is very restricting for media. Another option would be Amazon S3 with Jungledisk.

    My passwords are synced through Mesh and 1Password, as well as through Xmarks, which also syncs bookmarks.

    This solution has worked very well for me, and so far I have not had any data loss, but it could happen, so back up!

  8. I have this thing about free services… i don´t want someday to hear that ive lost all my contacts from google and oppps it was a free service so why do you complaint. Id rather pay a small fee for a service than get it for free. Still looking for the perfect solution, just started with dropbox and really loved it. Contacts mainly reside in my facebook account, im using it as a work tool, and calendar i use my outlook syncd to my gmail account.

  9. Also take a look at I use Windows XP at work and Macs at home and all my contacts, calendars, and bookmarks are in sync using nothng more than the tools Google and OS (OS X or Windows) provides. For syncing files I use ZumoDrive which also allows me to access the files via my iPod Touch (we have wireless in each conference room).

  10. Why use Googaby at all? Just set the Mac AddressBook to connect directly to Google Contacts.

    For the Windows machine, get a copy of Office that includes Outlook and use Google Outlook sync.

    If you have your own domain and are using Google Apps then Google provides Outlook and Exchange integration:

    Or … if you have the cash, for $99/year, MobileMe will keep it all in sync for you.