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Two useful applications for mobile people

Submitted by Jakob on 5 November, 2006 - 06:08.My Blog | Software & Applications

I've been a happy owner of an Apple MacBook for about two weeks now (something I'll write more about soon). Having both a desktop computer and a laptop means you need to make sure a lot of things stay synced. For me, the most important things are files, email and browser bookmarks. I use IMAP* for email so that's already taken care of but syncing files and bookmarks requires extra software, and I found just the right applications for the job. Best of all, they're both free!

Making sure files stay the same wherever you work

It is nice to be able to bring your documents and work with you when you travel and still be able to edit and work on the same files when you're at home without having to manually copy files back and forth. Editing the same files on several machines leads to the need to sync folders, to make sure the most recent version exists on all your computers. Until now there haven't been many applications that did this well, especially not if your two computers were a Mac and a PC, you had to resort to manually copying files or perhaps it could be done by using SMB to mount the folders and then sync them on one of the computers.

Looking for an application that would fix this problem I found FolderShare, formely ByteTaxi. With FolderShare you can automatically synchronize up to 100,000 files on two (or more) computers, running Windows or MACOSX. FolderShare works by linking two directories and then comparing them in the background. As soon as you edit a file and save it, FolderShare will transfer it to the other computer. It can either do it directly through peer-to-peer or bounce it through the FolderShare servers and it's all encrypted (128 bits or more).

ByteTaxi was recently acquired by Microsoft which released it for free and intends to make FolderShare an application in the Windows Live family, along Live Messenger. You don't need Windows to run it however, you can use it on two Macs to sync files, or a Mac and a PC, or a PC and PC. The email support is also excellent, and I hope they keep the service free, or at least keep the price acceptable and continue to develop for those of us who use more than one platform.

The only thing where FolderShare doesn't shine is its web based interface which is rather confusing and not as intuitive as one would have wished. It took me a while to figure out how to link two folders and have them sync but I solved that, eventually.

Same bookmarks wherever you go

If you're like a me a big fan of Firefox and have a lot of bookmarks and use them every day to access your favorite sites, being without them could be a real problem. Fortunately there are several extensions for Firefox that lets you sync bookmarks across all your Firefox browsers on all your machines. I tried Foxmarks and it works great. It's easy to use: install the extension, set up a Foxmarks account, sync your bookmarks to create a master sync file on the server then then let Foxmarks automatically sync your bookmarks regularly. Foxmarks keeps my bookmarks identical on both machines, automatically replicating and changes I make:

If you use or another social bookmarking service there are also extensions that let you sync your browser bookmarks with it so you can make all your bookmarks (except those tagged ad private) appear online. Firefox is a truly wondrous browser!

IMAP - what it is and how it works

Since I mentioned IMAP I thought it needed a little explanation. IMAP is a protocol that lets you store your email on the mail server, organize it into folders and access it from anywhere, without having to delete it. Virtually all hosting and email service companies that offer IMAP also offer web based email clients so that you can access your email either using your browser or email software with the added benefit that you can take your email with you if you change host or provider - it's just a matter of copying the email from one account to the other! I use the free Mozilla Thunderbird email software to access and send email from my desktop and my laptop.

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