An issue many of us face is working with several computers. We use a file on a PC at work, but then need to edit it at home. Thumb drives and email work for the occasional file, but not well when this is a regular occurrence. One solution to consider is FolderShare from ByteTaxi. They offer a free service that automatically syncs files between multiple computers. It's a very elegant and efficient way for you to create a private peer-to-peer network. It even works with Macs.
I'm not a big fan of peer to peer networks as I've known too many people pick up unwanted files. However, there are instances where these file sharing services are exceedingly useful. One project Ive been developing is the help documentation for a web application. Between the topic pages and images, there are hundreds of files. When I'm at the client's location, I either have my notebook connected to their network or am using one of their PCs. When I return to my home office, I need to make sure I have the latest files.
If I was using my notebook, I could use FolderMatch. That solution worked well if the changes were on the notebook I brought home. I could easily get the files on my desktop which I prefer. However, it didn't work if my latest edits had been on the client's machine. I wanted a solution that would cover both scenarios. The solution came from a similar sounding service called FolderShare. You might think of this service as a private peer to peer network since I control the access.
FolderShare is a service that allows you to sync files through a desktop client they call a satellite program and libraries. Libraries are a defined set of files you wish to sync with other computers. The satellite program sits in the system tray until needed. When it recognizes I've saved and closed a library file, it encrypts the file and sends it to the other computer using a secure connection. The system relies on my having Internet access and each computer running FolderShare.
With FolderShare, syncing is seamless. The files are transferred in the background while I work. If by chance, Ive left my home office computer off, I can still pick up the latest files when I turn the machine on provided the clients machine is still on. Conversely, if I edit the files at home, the files are awaiting me at the client's location.
The service offers more than file syncing. I could just as easily invite one of the marketing people to access my files. As before, I define a FolderShare library with the files I want to share. I then invite the users and assign them various access rights. For example, I could give one person read only access and another edit rights to the files. FolderShare sends an email to each invitee with a link and password. The invitee can then download the satellite program which is about 800k and gain access to my files.
I've found the service works beautifully for syncing most files. The area where it doesn't work as well is large database files. While you could sync these files, such as a Microsoft Outlook PST files or Microsoft Access database file, it sends the whole file, not the changed records. For example, if you add a contact record to Outlook, the entire PST file would sync, not just the new contact. The other caveat is you can't have the same file open on the machine you plan to sync with since it's already in use. The solution is to close any files you sync with if you're not using them.
The other issue with syncing database files is they can get large and FolderShare does have some restrictions:
- No file can be greater than 2 gigs
- You can only have 10 FolderShare libraries
- A library can only hold 10,000 files
- Only works with Iomega Network Attached Storage (NAS)
- Wont work with mapped network drives
I've never encountered any of these restrictions. My largest library has 818 files. While you might think that syncing 800 or so files would create a performance issue, I can't say it has been noticeable except for the first sync. Perhaps, if you were syncing your entire music collection or pod cast library to another machine, you might notice something. As they say, your mileage may differ.
The service also allows you to access your computer and download any file using a web browser. You can even use Pocket PCs or other wireless devices. This can be extremely handy if you need to download a file. The downside is these files aren't encrypted or secure. If you're using a public terminal, you may want to clear the cache or temporary files especially if the file contained personal information. This feature may become secure, but until then I'd be inclined to use LogMeIn especially if you need to run an application.
Setting up FolderShare
Another aspect that appealed to me was the setup process. While not the easiest I've encountered, it was manageable. The hardest parts were approving the program with my firewalls and creating the libraries. If you're running a PC behind a corporate firewall, it's always best to talk to your System Administrator. Some companies may have policies about file sharing and syncing service.
The process of setting up the FolderShare starts with installing the satellite program on each computer. You can then right-click the system tray icon and log into your FolderShare account. Clicking any of the three large blue buttons on your My FolderShare page steps you through a wizard.
During the setup process, you define your devices and libraries. A device is any computer you will be syncing with such as your home and work PC. Each device needs to be running the satellite program. The device doesn't have to be one you use. For example, if I had an employee in another location, they could set up their computer as well and would use the same login information. My usual caveats apply here in defining a strong password.
In the screen above, I created a FolderShare library called Splash that syncs with 2 devices by the name of LIMB and 2V. To the right of each device, you can see the folder path for each device. The path names can be different.
The process is equally easy if you want to share files with coworkers or friends. This can be very useful if you're doing collaboration. The main difference with sharing is that the other party can't set up libraries. They have restricted access based on the permissions you set. The main point to remember is you need to have your PC running when they need access. If you turn off your PC, they can't connect.
One of my early concerns was what would happen if I assigned someone Editor permissions and they mistakenly deleted a file? The file goes into a special trash folder, but you can still access the file by using the View Trash menu item on the desktop client. An identical process would occur if I deleted a file from my notebook. The same file would also be deleted from each synced devices.
My other concern was what data does FolderShare store. Foldershare doesn't store your files, but only the setup information. It maintains items such as device names, library file names and contact emails. In other words, they couldn't be used as a backup site or temporary storage. They're the conduit that provides an easy means to get info from machine A to machine B.
I'm sure some of you are questioning the business model. If you look at the screen snaps, you don't see any advertisements. Why go through the effort of setting up an account if you think the company will disappear. After all, ByteTaxi isn't a household name and they aren't charging any money. The short answer is the company previously charged a monthly fee until late 2005. The dropping of the fee probably had to do with the company being acquired by Microsoft. If you take a closer look at the first screen you can see their logo in the lower right corner.
The FolderShare service is versatile enough that I'm sure I will find many more uses for syncing and sharing of files. One popular example they provide on their website is syncing web bookmarks between computers. I'm sure that's a situation we can all understand. Aside from reducing the time and steps to sync information, FolderShare opens up many possibilities if you let it. If you're in need of a free file share service, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
(Update: Microsoft has merged the FolderShare technology into Windows Live Sync. Please check out the Windows Live Sync FAQs page on this subject.)
- Version Reviewed: 2.5.10
- Cost: Free
Last Updated (Sunday, 30 September 2012 10:50)