Monday, March 25, 2013

A pox on (almost) all their houses--updated! (The houses that provide software for syncing computers.)

Once I was a happy Dropbox user...and then HE came into my life! (Oh, wait, that's the setup for "Niagra Falls".)

Once I was a happy Dropbox user. Then, the University decided it wanted to image my hard drive. No problem. Go for it! It's your computer, after all. Except...uhm...NOT MY DROPBOX. It's got a lot of personal information.

It turned out that the University wanted only specific parts of my hard drive, so Dropbox was saved this time. But, what about next time? I like using Dropbox to keep my personal files synchronized, so I went looking for another service to deal with work files. And I checked them alllllllll.

I started seeing problems, but many site were still in their beta stage and stuff happens. No site is perfect. Some of this is to be expected. However, every site has major shortcomings to the point where I'm disgusted with nearly all of them!

  • Dropbox works. I've occasionally had trouble working on Powerpoint files while they sit in Dropbox. I now move them out of dropbox to work on them and move them back when I'm done.
  • Cubby works but has the annoying habit of using a small portion of the CPU almost constantly. I haven't figured out what it's doing.
  • SugarSync: When two computers were seeded with the same folder, SugarSync failed to recognize that the files were identical. In trying to reconcile them, SugarSync created a host of files on one computer with file names that included "copy conflicted with [the name of the other computer]. AVOID
  • Google Drive chokes on some file types.
  • Skydrive. Will not work under Windows XP.
  • Jottacloud. Sync feature have not yet been introduced.
  • Copy does not sync reliably for me. Some changes sit on the computer where they were made without propagating to other computers. DO NOT USE! Box Sync changes file modification dates to the time the file was transferred to a particular computer. DO NOT USE!
  • AeroFS was to be my hope for syncing 120+ GB of music files between my desktop and laptop computers. After a lot of effort, I've finally abandoned it. It wasn't syncing!
  • Syncbox works! It lets you designate one of your computers as a server, giving you your own personal Dropbox service. I'm now looking to see how much of a toll it takes on system performance.
  • Box Sync. AVOID, AVOID, AVOID! (Did I say, "AVOID?") Box Sync changes file time stamps when it moves a file to a different computer. In the picture at the top of this post, you can see what happened when I transferred a directory of files from my home computer to my office computer. On the right, Cubby (or most any other sync program). On the left, Box Sync? Notice the difference? Check the time stamps.

    I suppose that to be fair I should mention that Cubby and Copy had the same problem until I pointed it out to them. They both corrected the problem. I have no doubt that eventually Box Sync will fix it, too, but, until then AVOID, AVOID, AVOID! (Did I say, "AVOID?")

For more details, see my earlier posts.

Friday, March 22, 2013 handles multiple folders, but is it a band saw with no hand guard?

This post will be TMI for most readers who stumble across it, but it's important for anyone who is investigating the many sites that synchronize computers automatically.

[This post may be moot. I'm finding Copy is not syncing reliably. I've edited and added files on one computer that have taken ages to show up elsewhere, if at all. So, as of the moment (11:55pm, 2013-03-24), Copy is on my DO NOT USE list. This is one of those problems that I may not go back to check on if I find other services that work as I expect and fill my needs.]

DISCLAIMER: I have done my best to insure the accuracy of these instructions. However, I cannot guarantee that they will behave as described. Even if they behave as described, it is no guarantee that they will continue to behave this way in the future. I am not an employee of Barracuda Networks. I have no special knowledge of Copy beyond what I have taught myself by using it. I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY DAMAGE THAT MIGHT RESULT FROM FOLLOWING THESE INSTRUCTIONS, EVEN IF THEY ARE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. In other words, trust no one and verify everything. I urge (warn!) you to try these instructions out on small unimportant folders to determine whether they produce the expected result. The existence of this disclaimer underscores why great care must be exercised in using links.

You may know that synchronization services are of two types: single folder and multiple folder. Single folder services create a special folder on one's hard drive. Everything to be synchronized, both files and folders, are moved into this special folder. Multiple folder services allow users to synchronize folders anywhere on their hard drives.

Copy appears to be a single folder service on the surface, but makes it very easy to synchronize multiple folders by creating shortcuts to the folders and moving the shortcuts into the special Copy folder established by Copy. However, like using a band saw without a hand guard, disaster can strike if one is not very careful. Things must be done in just the right order.

Here is the underlying principle: When folders are linked, their contents are NOT merged. Rather, the contents of the folder linked second replace the contents of the folder linked first! This is not an issue if both folders have the same contents. However

  • if a populated folder is linked to an empty folder, both folders will be populated, but
  • if an empty folder is linked to a populated folder BOTH FOLDERS WILL BE EMPTY!

To link folders outside of Copy,

  • On each computer create a shortcut to the folder you wish to link. The folders need not have the same name nor be in the same location. Once the shortcuts are created, change one or both of the shortcut names as you choose so that they are the same. Let's suppose I have a folder named Laptop on my laptop and Desktop on my desktop. I create shortcuts to the folders on their respective computers and change both names to Everywhere.
  • While both computers are logged into Copy, move the shortcut to the folder whose contents are unimportant to that machine's Copy folder. If I want the contents of my desktop's files to be synchronized, the Everywhere shortcut on my laptop is moved to my laptop's Copy folder.
  • Go to the other computer. QUIT COPY! Go to the Copy folder and delete the link that Copy moved from the other machine. It looks like a link but is really a folder that is a copy of the folder on the other machine that the shortcut points to. In my case, I would have QUIT COPY on my desktop and deleted the link to Everywhere from the laptop placed in the desktop's Copy folder.
  • Move the link to the folder whose contents you wish to preserve to the Copy folder on the second machine. I would move the Everywhere link I created on my desktop to my desktop's Copy folder.
  • Restart Copy on the second machine. The contents of the folder on the second computer will be moved to the first, if they are not already there. I would restart Copy on my desktop. Whatever is in the folder that everywhere points to on my desktop will now appear in the folder that Everywhere points to on my laptop's folder.
  • From now on, changes on either computer will be replicated on the other.

FWIW, I use Copy and have used the shortcut facility in the past, but I'm not doing so at the moment. This may make me go back to using it again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Synchronizing computers and other devices:
Dropbox et al., et al., et al.

[A straightforward summary and update of previous posts (now deleted) without any shaggy dog stories, rants, or parenthetical journeys.]

The Problem: You have two or more computer or other devices with files and folders you wish to keep synchronized (or synced).

The Solution: There are too many solutions! Hence, this post. If your needs are modest, you can get a free 2 to 5 GB account. No credit card required. All you need is an email address. Even a throwaway address will do. Providers hope to transform you or your company into paying customers when your needs outstrip what you can get for free.

Services that provided only backup have introduced syncing to the point where there is only one backup service (Jottacloud) and it to is promising that syncing is comeing "real soon".

Each service is either

  • single folder, where the files and folders to be backed up or synchronized are moved into a special folder created by the service, or
  • multiple folder, where the user gets to specify the folders that are to be synchronized. (I don't know of any multiple folder backup services.)


Synchronization is backup plus more. Files are not only backed up automatically, but they are also synchronized. That is, when a file is added, deleted, or modified, these changes are automatically propagated to every computer connected to the account. Peer-to-peer sites synchronize files without backing them up on the site's servers.

There has been an explosion of synchronization sites.

Single folder sites include:

  • Dropbox, the granddaddy of them all. It has a highly polished feel to it. The user interface is straightforward, for the most part. Dropbox was my first exposure to this service. It became indispensable the moment I installed it. It offers only 2 GB of free online storage compared to the 5 GB of most other services.
  • Mozy has been around for a few years. Their Stash is yet another single folder synchronization service.
  • Google Drive (Google) and Sky Drive (Microsoft) are sinilar services offered by Google and Microsoft, respectively.
  • Perhaps it's premature to list them bu Jottacloud is a backup only service that had been promising synchronization "real soon now". It is based in Norway, where privacy laws are strict. As a new company, it is sometimes amusing to see webpages that ought to be in English sometimes show up in Norwegian. [Update 2013-03-22: Yesterday, I received an email saying that syncing is imminent. This gives me a lot more assurance than a comment on a website.] I'm not sure whether this will turn out to be single folder or multiple folder.
  • And how could I have forgotten Where Dropbox is the granddaddy of all synchronization services, Box is the grandaddy of backup sites. Box has now introduced "Box Sync". It is another case where all time stamps are changed to the current date whenever files are transferred to another computer. This is a fundamental mistake that would cost at least a letter grade in an intro computer science course! Avoid this service until this is fixed. I will not be monitoring the situation, tho, as I don't get paid for this and life is too short to begin with. You'll have to check for yourself, if you care. If someone sends me an update, I'll note it here.

Multiple folder sites include:

  • Cubby. Cubby was not terribly responsive to users during its beta stage. It alienated a lot of beta users, myself included. Things got so bad that I demanded a refund and received it. However, as time goes on, fixes get implemented. The technical problem that caused me to leave has finally been repaired. Cubby's user interface continues to make it a strong contender. It may be difficult to find how to use certain features, but this is true of every site. However, Cubby shines in telling users how files on various devices are linked together. With other multiple folder sites, it may not be clear whether adding a folder on an additional computer will merge the contents or delete all but what is in the latest file.

    There is a mystery surrounding Cubby. It is always doing something. While Dropbox is sitting there doing nothing, Cubby, with just as little to do, is constantly using 3 to 7% of my CPU. I don't think it's evil. It's just using resources for no apparent reason.

  • SugarSync behaves like Cubby. While it has been around since 2004, it has issues that would be surprising for a new entrant to the field. On 2013-03-18, I tried using it in place of Cubby to manage two folders on three computers. Since Cubby had been managing them, hey were already synced. Not only did SugarSync change the date on every directory to yesterday, but also it failed to recognize that the folders on one machine were the same as the others. All of its files were copies to the other machines. Since the names were the same, SugarSync added (from [other machine]) to the file name. Then, to top it off, seeing these "new" files on the other machines (new names), it copied them back to the original machine! As of now, definitely a program to AVOID.
  • Spider Oak probably doesn't get as much press as it should. Its primary claim to fame is security. Every(?) site encrypts their stored data. However, it is possible for site personnel to decrypt files if it were necessary, say, under a court order. Not so with Spider Oak. A great place to store documents you send to WikiLeaks. However, if you forget your password, there is no way to recover the files regardless of its value or importance.
  • I'm not sure how to classify Copy. It's a single folder service that has a way to sync folders outside of Copy's Copy folder. I don't care for it, tho', because it's hard to remember what is synchronized with what. With user friendly sites like SugarSync and Cubby, Copy's procedure for linking folders outside of its own Copy folder is unnecessarily convoluted. It is not for someone who thinks computers should be the ones doing the work.
  • Bitcasa is yet another service. It claims to sync, but it does not sync computers. All of the computers link to the same file on the Bitcasa site. Such files are not available offline as is the case for a true syncing program.

Then, there are the peer-to-peer (P2P) services. They synchronize files with no online backup! The problem with P2P is that if a file (or folder) is accidentally deleted from one device, it's deleted from every device. If the second computer is a backup for the first, well...not anymore.

  • Cubby has this feature as part of its paid Pro service.
  • AeroFS is a free single folder P2P service. (I want to be careful here. It is P2P in that your computers can sync each other without having to store the data on AFS's servers. It does NOT make your computers part of a distributed network that services other users, too.) It is in beta release, so there may still be serious issues to be uncovered and resolved. However, it keeps chugging along and the staff is good about responding to posts in the support section of their website. Their latest goodie is the ability to wipe computers remotely, a very good thing if a laptop is lost, stolen, or strayed.
  • GoodSync is listed here for completeness. I don't know much about it. Where other sites offer free 2 to 5 GB accounts with full-featured access, GoodSync's free accounts "...can have 3 or less jobs...and 100 or less files and folders in each job", whatever that means. GoodSync is also unique in requiring a separate license for each computer.
  • I'm not sure where to put Syncbox (or iSyncbox, as the company is called), so I'll put it here. Syncbox lets you set up your own cloud storage.for free! A portable hard drive can be plugged into a computer (or router; I haven't tried it with a router, yet) to serve the same function as other services' cloud storage. I tried the simple experiment of erasing a file from my Syncbox and it disappeared everywhere. However, when I checked Events under the software I installed as part of Syncbox, I could click on that event and restore the file.

    Syncbox, like Dropbox and most other services, is a single folder solution. The files being synchronized have to be in a folder called Syncbox. At the moment, I find that the Syncbox (the program that lets a computer connect to your cloud) client has unpredictable effects on my system. I started with less than 1 GB to get a sense of it. There were no ill effects on my home network, but when I gave access to it from a computer at my office, the computer all but ground to a halt. I suspect this will be fixed in future updates but, for the moment, I'm not using it.

What I'm Doing

[Remember, this is the guy who thought Cubby was a great program...until it changed every time stamp it touched so that they were all the same!]

  • I'm using Dropbox to synchronize my smaller personal files (song lyrics, photos, and the like).
  • I'd been using Cubby to synchronize files between work and home, but I'm puzzled why Cubby is always running. I'll likely go back to it if the problem is ever resolved, but for the moment, after flipping a coin, I decided to use Copy (rather than Mozy Stash) instead. [Tried both Copy and Stash. Their problems are worse that Cubby's, so I'm back with Cubby. I will likely check out Jottacloud, when syncing comes becomes available, as well as Box.]
  • I'm using AeroFS to synchronize 121 GB of music files on my desktop and laptop. AeroFS is still being beta tested, so I'm backing up the files onto an external drive every so often. Because AeroFS is in still in beta with possibly unpredictable behavior, it is available by invitation only. If you're eager to try it and understand the risks, I'll be happy to send you an invitation...but only if you appreciate the risks and back things up properly.

A Small Request

IF, I say "if", after investigating some of these sites with their respective strengths and weaknesses, you decide to try

It gains me extra space for each referral. I'll remove the links once I've maxed out. Thanks!