Dr Christopher Jobling

Senior Lecturer



If you’re like me you have at least three computers. One at home, a laptop and one at work. An issue you probably have is that the files you want now are always on one of the other computers. Sure you can use a network share to make your desktop files appear on your laptop, or a data stick to carry your files around, or put copies on your P: drive, or upload to a file sharing site like box.net. But all of these solutions imply that at some point you’ll have to make a copy of one of your files to work on it, and unless you copy the edited copy back to all your places where it’s wanted, it’ll be out of date somewhere.

I discovered a new potential solution to this while browsing the site of my favourite research tool zotero today. The beauty of zotero is that it’s browser based: you gather bibliographic data as you browse the web. I’ll have to write a more detailed article about zotero some other day, but my point now is that browser-based tools are fine if you always browser the web from a single computer. However, you have a problem if you regularly use several computers. You can put Firefox (which zotero needs) and zotero on a USB datastick which is great if you’re hot-desking or using the library computers, but it’s not too convenient when you return to your own computer. So what to do?

The zotero documentation suggests the use of a folder synchronization service such as MAC iDisk or Windows Live FolderShare. FolderShare (which I believe Microsoft bought to add to the Windows Live family of services) works like this. You install a piece of software on all of your machines. You run the application and login using your Windows Live account. This registers your computer with the FolderShare site. Having done this you add any of your folders to the sharing site (the standard ones Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos are already specified for ease of use) then you can sync any of your computers with the FolderShare service (which presumably has to keep an on-line copy of all your files). I’ve set this up on my laptop on which I’m writing this article for my zotero database (which keeps its database in the depths of the Firefox profile: C:\users\>User Name<AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\>randomstring<\zotero on Vista). When I get in to work later, I’ll set it up on my desktop to see if it really works.

In work I downloaded another copy of the client, logged in and accessed the shared zotero folder and linked it to the copy on my desktop. However, I hit a snag! Although the desktop client recognized the new files from my desktop and puts place-holders for them, it doesn’t actually sync the files unless both clients are on-line. (The syncing process is done over a private peer-to-peer network.) This is fine if you have your laptop and desktop in the same room, but not so great if you want to do some work on the laptop, turn it off and turn on the desktop and get the new files, which I guess is what I was hoping for.  To be fair, the user interface is fairly slick, as a file sync tool it’s easier than some others to use. But it needs the internet to work (a potential security issue) and there are tools, such as the freeware AllWay Sync that will do the same thing over home networks (using shared drives) and from home to work using a USB data stick.

The FolderShare application is in beta at the moment and is not listed as one of the Windows Live services: I wouldn’t have discovered it without zotero. If it eventually gets merged in with the SkyDrive (Windows Live’s file sharing application) so that you can keep copies of files on the web it might actually become the windows file sharing application of choice. As it is now, the service is a bit more capable than I describe. For example, you can sync folders with friends and family, or access your partner computers’ files to do ad-hoc copying between machines. For more information about Windows Live FolderShare you can read Brandon leBlanc’s announcement of the service on the Windows Experience Blog. The service is free to try but you are limited to syncing files below 2 Gbyte and syncing 10 top-level folders. But if these folders can be (My) Photos or (My) Documents, that doesn’t seem a big restriction.

June 27th, 2008

Posted In: on-line office, tips, web applications

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