Getting My Data From Anywhere

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) 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, and my laptop’s a Toshiba Libretto U105 (which was a netbook before they started calling them that) running Windows XP. 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 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

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