Last year, we wrote about 5 Tools to Keep You Synchronized Everywhere. That post covered not just tools to sync files, but tools to sync your workflow (such as using a tool like Lastpass to get your passwords everywhere). How about different options that can be used to keep your files in sync, with no effort on your part? Here are three options that are "fire and forget," meaning that once you configure them, your files will be continuously synced between computers, with no effort on your part. Read on for our take on which ones come out on top.
Dropbox was one of the apps in our first post on synchronization. As we noted back then, Dropbox is very simple. Dropbox creates a folder on your computer, and any file or folder that you drop into it is copied into that same folder on any other computer on which you’ve installed Dropbox. Some people even use it with password manager KeePass to sync their key file and even their passwords between the computers they use. As the screenshot below shows, there isn't much in the way of configuration options in Dropbox.
Dropbox keeps a copy of your files on their servers, so that you can access them from any web browser, or from a variety of mobile clients. Dropbox handles file versioning, which means that you can revert back to an earlier version of a file if needed. Dropbox allows you to sync files of any size or type, up to the combined limits of your account. Sharing in Dropbox is simple, too. Simply right click on a file or folder in your Dropbox folder, select "Share," and you're taken to a webpage where you input the email address of the person with whom you want to share.
Dropbox's simplicity, while a strength, is also its weakness. Dropbox will only sync what is in the Dropbox folder, and you have to perform some geek kung fu, such as using symbiotic links, to extend Dropbox's usage beyond the Dropbox folder.
Dropbox is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It offers 2 GB of storage space for free, 50 GB for $9.99 per month, and 100 GB for $19.99.
Strengths: Very easy; 2 GB free; Easy sharing; Mac, Windows, and Linux compatible
Weaknesses: Can't sync folders outside the Dropbox folder without some tech know-how
I've been using Syncplicity for almost a year now. One of Syncplicity's nicest features, and the one that I use the most, is its ability to link a local folder with your Google Docs account. Simply authorize Syncplicity as an allowed app, and select files or folders you want to keep in sync. Syncplicity will then keep those documents in sync with the documents in your Google Docs account. That enables you to create documents in a desktop word procesor, and know that they will be available anywhere, from within Google Docs.
Syncplicity also works much like Dropbox works, allowing you to keep all different types of files and folders in sync between computers, as well as keeping your files backed up to the Syncplicity servers. Syncplicty has no limits on file sizes (aside from the maximum size of your account), and provides for versioning control and easy file sharing from within Windows. Unlike Dropbox, Syncplicity allows you to sync multiple folders.
Syncplicity is free for one user, with 2 GB of storage on 2 computers. A $15 plan increases that to 50 GB of storage on 5 computers, while a business plan at $45 a month allows for 3 users, and unlimited computers.
Strengths: Google Doc syncing; Syncing of any folders; 2 GB free
Weaknesses: Not as simple as Dropbox; Windows only (Mac client is in beta)
Like Dropbox, SugarSync offers a free 2 GB account, and backs up your files to their servers, in addition to offering sync features. SugarSync does offer some features not offered by Dropbox. For starters, SugarSync allows you to sync more than one folder. As mentioned previously, it takes some effort to get this functionality in Dropbox.
SugarSync isn't complicated, but it isn't as simple to use as Dropbox. SugarSync has its own file manager that you run locally to select the folders to sync. If you want to make SugarSync as simple to use as possible, SugarSync does have a "Magic Briefcase" that works much like the Dropbox folder. I also ran into trouble getting my main PC to recognize that my folders had been synced to my secondary PC (as evidence by the striped boxes in the above screenshot). Perhaps there is an easy way to get the computers to talk to each other, but it wasn't intuitive to me.
SugarSync supports file versioning, and places no limits on the the number of computers that you can sync between. SugarSync also allows you to share folders with others, and to access your files from your web browser and from numerous mobile devices.SugarSync
In addition to is free 2GB plan, SugarSync also offers monthly plans for 60 GB ($9.99), 100 GB ($14.99), and 250 GB ($24.99)
Strengths: Sync any folder; 2 GB free; "Magic Briefcase" works with the ease of Dropbox
Weaknesses: Not as simple as Dropbox; no Linux support
Unlike some of our other product comparisons, there is no clear winner here. Which product is right for you will depend on your needs. Personally, my syncing needs are pretty simple. I use three different computers, but one is a work PC, and the other is a laptop. I don't want or need many files from my desktop on those computers. So, for me, dropping a limited number of files into my Dropbox folder is all I need. Since I'm often in a hurry when I drop a file there, I appreciate the simplicity.
If your needs are different or more complex, you may want to take a look at SugarSync. While SugarSync does offer Dropbox-like funtionality with its Magic Briefcase, the overall experience doesn't feel as intuitive. Again, that is a matter of personal preference. But SugarSync comes out on top if you need to sync multiple folders, and have a Mac. Also, you should check to make sure that your mobile device is supported (SugarSync supports the most devices, compared with the other two choices).
There also will be another contender in this category soon. Remember Microsoft's Live Mesh? Microsoft is replacing that with Windows Live Sync, which is currently in beta. Since we didn't know how much the final version will change over the beta, we haven't included Live Sync in our review.
Do you use any of these sync tools, or another, such as Box.net? What are your impressions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.