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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?

yesno's picture

I'm hollering .Mac anyway. It's better than you think.

With iDisk, I can sync applications not designed for it by either telling them to store their stuff on the iDisk, or by symlinking whatever's in ~ to iDisk. I can multi-Mac sync programs like EagleFiler and Vienna, for instance.

The simple technology of the iDisk opens a lot of doors, if used intelligently. Furthermore: every document on m iDisk has three instances: One on my iMac, on on the .Mac servers, and one on my Macbook. Not only do I have offline access-- talk about redundancy. I don't even have to back up my Macbook: anything important on it is on my iDisk, which is eventually backed up via my iMac.

iDisk is much more than "simple document syncing."

Plus, iDisk fits very well into a Sync services/iPhone world. My calendar gets propagated around different Macs-- the same one as on my iPhone. Succumb.

Finally, IMAP is the technology for email. My inbox, folder structure, read/unread status is shared among different machines. Local copies of my email is kept on each of the Macs. iPhone fits right in. Also, there is a so-called "Web Mail" client if you like that kind of thing.

Everyone always hates on .Mac. Meanwhile, I quietly chuckle, having long ago accomplished those goals which people are still trying to solve using free tools. (iCal sharing still sucks, I'll give you that. But so does Google's calendar sharing.)




An Oblique Strategy:
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