Keeping your computers in sync December 7, 2010Posted by rm42 in Computers, Gadgets, Products.
We like data
If you are like me, you have several computers or devices that you use to access your data at different times during the day. I personally have a PC that we use mostly for multimedia stuff (video, music, pictures, etc.) in the living room. It also has a database of the movies we own or that we have recorded in our VHS tapes collection (don’t laugh). However, from time to time I do like to access other personal or business data from it. I have another computer in our home office and I like to have access to all my data from here too. Likewise from my laptop. At work I like to have access to some of my data as well. Oh, and it is nice to have access to all that from my phone as well.
The problem is
Of course, the problem is that once you modify the data residing on any one of the machines, the other machines now need to get updated. But that is easier said than done. What if you haven’t used one of those devices for a while? In the mean time, you have edited a spread sheet, added a few pictures, deleted a few songs and added a few others. How are you going to remember what needs to be updated?
Well, there are several programs that one can use to try and get a hold on this madness. For example, Linux has the venerable rsync program and its variants (like grsync, krsync, QtRsync, etc.). On Windows you can use SyncToy. This can work. However, it can be tedious. Also, the possibility exists of you making a mistake and loosing some data. (Believe me, I know.) Is there a better way? Well, of course, there always is.
One way to do this would be to have all your data on a single location that is always available online. When you need something you simply open it directly from your remote device. Of course this has several advantages, but also, several disadvantages. For example, trying to browse your photos or playing your music that way can be very inconvenient. What if you are trying to access the data from somewhere that has a very slow connection or no connection at all? There has to be a better way. Well, of course, there always is.
A better way that I have been enjoying recently is using an online service called Dropbox. The beauty of Dropbox, is that your data remains local on all your devices. But, when you make a change, any change, the service ensures that all your other devices get updated automatically. It is very easy to use and it works on Linux as well as on Windows. You do have to have a small program installed on each of the machines that you want to have it working on. The program is available on PCLinuxOS right off the repository. On both Linux and Windows the program is very light on resources and sits quietly on your task bar tray. There is also a program available for the Nokia N900, DropN900, that works very well.
Thanks to Dropbox, I don’t have to worry about keeping my Keepass database in sync when I add a new password. The book I am working on, as well as all the research I do for it, is always in sync no matter what device I use to edit it. Also, there are several other nice features I enjoy from Dropbox. For example, if on your Photos directory you make a new folder with, say, your last vacation photos, sharing them with all your family becomes very easy. All you have to do is log in to your Dropbox account and go to http://www.dropbox.com/photos. You will see the folder you created there. Click on it, and besides being able to view the photos right there, a link is provided for you so that you can just send it to whoever you want to. They will be able to see your photos right there or download the full size images! I tell you, this is very much so, a better way to keep your data in sync.
To trust or not to trust
The only problem is, do you trust the people in Dropbox to respect your privacy? Well, I don’t trust them completely, but I do trust them enough to share some of my non-sensitive data through them and to have their client program run on my computers. What would it take for me to trust them completely? Well, I don’t think it is possible. But, I am very happy their service exists and I do hope that they work hard to keep earning the little or much trust that I do have on them. How about you?
If you want more privacy, you may want to try using TrueCrypt in conjunction with Dropbox. TrueCrypt is a free, open source, cross platform, application that allows you to encrypt disks, partitions, and/or containers. A container is basically a file that you can mount as a virtual disk. TrueCrypt is on the PCLinuxOS repositories, but it is a slightly older version than the one on the TrueCrypt website. But that is not a problem as long as you create the encrypted container in PCLinuxOS. I have tested the round trip of the container and its data this way and it works well.
Also, on PCLinuxOS you will need to add yourself to the sudoers file. That is very easy to do. Just open up the terminal as root and type “visudo”. Somewhere down the file, type this (if your username is rm42)
I am making a series of smallish container files of about 50 MB each where I plan to store my more sensitive data. I hope this helps.