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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?

dsandler's picture

Re: Automating Subversion?

I find it useful to update and commit manually rather than at regular intervals …

I concur completely, but I confess that it's because as a software developer I think in terms of the programmer's work cycle:

  1. Start from a known good state, on any of your work machines.
  2. Do some work.
  3. When you get to a good stopping place (even if you don't intend to stop working), send a snapshot of your work to the archives.
  4. GOTO 1 (alternatively, GOTO HOME or BED or PUB)

In svn, step 1 looks like svn up, and step 3 looks like svn commit; the exact incantation changes for git or p4 or what have you, but this is basically the workflow.

Of course, if this isn't your workflow, working with a version-control-style system will seem awkward and painful.

I bet, however, that you already go through all these steps if you currently use a mirroring solution (rsync/Unison):

  1. Start from a known good state, on any of your work machines.
  2. Do some work.
  3. GOTO 1

The trick is that there's an assumed step 2.5 in which your work magically gets synchronized elsewhere. If you're using an always-on computer, you can hire a house-elf to take care of this for you (scheduled backup); laptop users have to insert this step manually by invoking Unison or what have you.

So, all this is a long way of saying, “if you're afraid of the checkin/checkout work style, you may already be using it (and in denial).”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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