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SugarSync: Many Machines, No Problem


Sharpcast's data-synchronization service lets you access your most current data, no matter where you've stored it

It probably won't surprise you to learn that I use a lot of different computers and smartphones. As a result, I suffer from an extreme form of a problem that plagues many people who work with information on more than one device: Somehow, the file you need right away never seems to be on the device you happen to be using.

Over the years, many different companies have come up with products and services to deal with this problem. But data synchronization among multiple devices is a difficult technical challenge, and none of the efforts has gotten it quite right. For example, Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Live FolderShare and BeInSync can keep your files current on more than one computer?, but they only work with Windows PCs.

I'm happy to say that a new service called SugarSync, from Sharpcast, really nails it. Like other sync services, SugarSync works by storing the most current versions of your files on its own servers. Any changes you make are automatically uploaded to the servers and replicated on your other devices. SugarSync supports both Windows and Macs, and there are versions for Windows Mobile handsets and BlackBerrys, although your ability to view or edit files will depend on the capabilities of your specific handset. The software eventually will work with other smartphones as well.

A "Magic Briefcase"

To use the service, which starts at $25 a year for 10 gigabytes of server space, you download SugarSync Manager to each computer or handset and tell it which folders you want to synchronize. Unlike some sync and backup services I have tried, Sugar?Sync is designed to be gentle on your system and on your network connection. Uploading files to the servers can take a long time, especially for that initial sync, but neither your computer nor your Internet connection will slow to a crawl while files are being updated.

SugarSync gives you a lot of choices in how to set it up. As a result, it can be a bit confusing to use initially. When you set up your first computer, all the files in folders you have chosen to sync are copied to Sharpcast's servers. When you set up a second computer, you choose either full sync or "lite sync." Under the first option, whenever a file is saved on one computer, the new version is downloaded to the other.

Lite sync, the approach I think will work best for most users, minimizes the burden on the network by downloading the latest version of your file only when you need it. SugarSync also creates a special folder on your computer, called the Magic Briefcase, for the most critical data. Regardless of which sync option you have chosen, files you put in the Magic Briefcase are automatically kept up to date.

Collaboration Challenges

There's one catch to this sort of sync: It's intended for convenience rather than group collaboration, because it makes no effort to resolve conflicts if a file is changed on two different computers. In that case, the last version saved wins.

On the plus side, you can drop a copy of a file in a special folder called the Web archive, and it will be protected from future changes. And there is one more handy safeguard: If you erase a file from a synced folder on one machine, it will disappear from the corresponding folders on other machines—but a copy is preserved in your Deleted Files folder. There's also a photo gallery that gathers all your pictures in one place. You can view all the special folders (Web archive, photo gallery, etc.), along with all files in regular synced folders, either in SugarSync Manager on your usual computer or by accessing SugarSync's Web site from any other machine.

If you regularly use more than one computer, or even just a PC and a smartphone, and you never know what files you'll need, SugarSync may be just as sweet as you like it.

Wildstrom is Technology You columnist for BusinessWeek. You can contact him at techandyou@businessweek.com or follow his posts on Twitter @swildstrom.

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