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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?

matt__r's picture

portable *boot* disk

I have a relatively fast portable external hard drive that I boot from on all Macs I use. This means I have exactly the same setup on all computers I use with no extra effort at all. The advantages are:

  • I can boot into my system on any PPC mac (and perhaps leopard will allow me to use Intel macs as well).
  • No synching required at all.
  • All my fink and ports software is always available.
  • I can use best computer available at any time with no setup.
  • I can use folder actions and superduper to have a full backup on two computers in two locations (home and work) by backing up my external drive to the internal drives.
  • I can borrow a computer any time I want and have all my stuff right there.
  • The one boot drive works flawlessly on every PPC mac I have tried (from G4 iBook to dual core G5 tower and everything in between).
  • when I upgrade my computer, I can get up and running in literally no time at all (with the caveat that I am currently stuck on PPC).
  • On old computers, the external hard drive is faster than the internal drive (even for late model PPC mac minis).

The disadvantages are:

  • I have to reboot whenever I leave a computer (if I used just one laptop, I could just put it to sleep)
  • When you are using a laptop, you have to "stick" the hard drive to the lid for real portability.
  • On fast computers the external boot drive is a little slower.

So, if you are considering a portable home drive, I say try the portable boot drive. I have been doing it for about two years now and I love it.




An Oblique Strategy:
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