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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?

Erin Wade's picture

I'll second the .Mac shout...

I'm doing something very similar to what yesno is describing. All of my work files and folders that must be portable are on my iDisk, and I have it mirrored on both the desktop and the laptop. The three way backup that this offers largely saved my bacon a couple of weeks ago when the HD in my iMac bought the farm.

Syncing between iCal Address Book and Mail (the latter which I've only recently embraced) means that my e-mailing experience is identical across platforms. I moved to using Mail after the HD failure. The possibility that my webmail account - of which I have access to no backup - might also be lost some day just makes me weak in the knees.

What's more my business manager always has access to my calendar - she can enter and make changes that I can pick up on the next automatic sync. Added to this is the fact that she carries a PDA synced to iCal, so it's available to her in a portable format as well.

There are some downsides - I can't seem to find a good way to get my iLife applications to sync up - in particular, iWeb (I know, I know) uses it's own special file in the library on a specific Mac, making it essentially impossible to edit a website on both the desktop and the laptop. Also - I started using .Mac this way after the increase in storage - which is great - but I can absolutely see a point at which that initial 10Gigs is gonna start to feel really small - and it gets expensive quick.

I also get what Merlin is saying about changes made to Quicksilver and other, similar apps - since they don't sync, it'll often be several days of frustration while I try new key commands on one machine only to find that I actually changed them on the other

All in all it's worked pretty well - I haven't had the syncing issues that others here describe - but I'd still like to find something that effectively lets me mirror more of my files and some of those app settings.




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