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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Geek Throwdown: How to sync two or more Macs?

Enter the Octagon

Here’s an experimental new feature: The Throwdown. Take a problem that lots of people face and tell us your personal favorite way to deal with it — in as much detail and with as much persuasion as you can muster.

Today, a lot of us are living on two or more Macs -- which is great, except for the challenge of keeping the contents and settings of multiple machines effortlessly in sync.

Now before you pop in, holler "dot mac," and jump back on your Segway®, consider that many folks (including your author) are looking for a lot more than simple document syncing and perfunctory preference sharing. How about if your needs are more nuanced:

  • Can it intelligently sync "~/Library" stuff like "Preferences" and "Application Support" for your apps (so that Quicksilver, for example, is with you and tweaked to perfection wherever you go)? Is it smart enough to know which items not to sync?
  • Can it do smarter comparisons than "which one is newer?" -- consider that someone on 4 or 5 Macs may run into complex versioning problems that currently make .Mac very confused. For text, can it do diff3-style merging?
  • Will it update often enough (and automatically enough) that I can trust when I sit down at a new machine, I'll know everything's up to date without checking (or manual re-updating)?
  • Can backups be easily automated? And is it easy to restore across all machines?
  • Does it work for people on airplanes? If your solution requires a live internet connection for active usage (e.g. traditional WebDAV), what happens when that access is no longer available?

You get the idea. You have a system; now tell us about it. Bow to your sensei, then spare no detail.

How do you sync your Macs?

rsync? ChronoSync? Synchronize? Unison? Something you made yourself?

What are using to sync your Macs, and how are you using it?

MacHead's picture

My Sync Process

What I need to sync: Docs, Mail, Address Book, Automator Scripts, Prefs for a variety of apps, -- and need to do this for 3 computers.

Tools I use: Chrono Sync, Automator, iPod

Strategy: I had to figure out what each app needed to properly be transfered/synced w/ another computer. Using Chrono Sync's "sync alias" feature, I created a directory of alias' of files I needed. My needs are pretty straight forward, so I only need to compare mod times of files for syncing (although Chrono Sync has quite a lot of options). I sync my computer to my iPod (as a HD).

The Fun Part: I love Automator. When I leave a computer I run an Automator app ("Depart.app"); it closes important programs, copies another Automator file (sync.app) to a special directory then launches my Chrono Sync file. I sync, and Chrono Sync launches that sync.app file once sync is done which logs me out and ejects my iPod. When I arrive at my office, I run "Arrive.app" which copies a different version of sync.app to the same directory then if launches my sync program. When the sync is complete, Chrono Sync launches sync.app which (for when I arrive to a location) launches Mail, iCal and a few other programs that I need to start my day. To summarize: when I leave any computer, I run the Depart.app script and when I arrive I run Arrive.app. I now am in the habit of doing this EVERY TIME and all three computers (2 diff offices & home) are all synced.

If I haven't been totally clear, or you would like to take a look at the scripts, just let me know.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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