How To Keep Your Data Up-to-Date with Elegant Sync Solutions

By Matthew Braga

These days, you can start reading an article on your iPad, add a comment from your phone, and then re-tweet the whole thing from your laptop. Everything is connected. And it's all thanks to the power of sync.

These days, you can start reading an article on your iPad, add a comment from your phone, and then re-tweet the whole thing from your laptop. Everything is connected — and that's damn scary. But it's also kind of cool, and brings a new level of connectivity to all your digital devices. Where syncing was once a two-way operation — between a device and a computer — it's now grown to encompass almost anything with a connection online, pushing data in any number of directions, to any device we choose. 

mention Dropbox before around the site. The software is one of the simplest ways to send your files to the cloud, and it's a must have if working across multiple machines. The OS client watches a folder of your choosing, and keeps track of changes and revisions to your data — not just on one computer, but all of them. You can start writing a Word document on a Mac, and a pick up right where you left off on your Windows PC, or even a Linux OS. 

However, the real advantage here is mobile integration. With clients available for iPhone OS, Android, and soon, BlackBerry, your files are still available wherever you please. And if you make any changes while on the go, you can send them right back to your Dropbox for later access. In practice, the experience is magical, and it makes working on a project or task completely independent of the platform you're on.

Microsoft's SyncToy 
Microsoft's SyncToy, an application that works much like a local version of DropBox. The software watches a specified folder or location for changes, and keeps your local copy in sync. If you use iTunes on two separate computers, you could use SyncToy to keep your play counts and playlists up to date, or even sync the music itself. 

And although SyncToy is a Windows-only app, it's a trivial process to keep OS X or Linux folders consistent as well. If you've already mapped a network drive to your non-Windows machine, you can tell SyncToy to watch remote folders, tracking changes regardless of the OS.

Grsync running under OS X.  
Grsync is a GUI front-end for the UNIX command line utility rsync, and keeps your files and folders consistent across multiple machines. There are cross platform builds for Mac, Windows and Linux, with a ton of advanced options and flags for power users too. But unlike SyncToy or DropBox, synchronization isn't automatic, so you'll still need to run the app every time you'd like to keep your data up to date.  
Considering our fascination with web apps, it's not surprising that many users spend most of their time in a browser. However, online sessions aren't necessarily stored in a file for easy synchronization, making it difficult to extend that experience across machines. Both Google and Mozilla see this as a problem, and like our files, want to make web browsing an activity that's platform independent. 

Weave Sync for Firefox aims to sync "browser-related personal information (such as bookmarks, history, saved passwords, open tabs) to a server and all your devices," keeping you up-to-date no matter your location. Think of it as a never-ending session — just because your browser closes, doesn't mean that experience ends.

Google, meanwhile, has similar approach simply called Sync. No matter where you access Chrome, your Google account keeps bookmarks, browser settings and themes consistent. As an added bonus, you can even access your Chrome bookmarks from other browsers, via Google Docs. It's an approach that's very similar to Xmarks, which we've looked at before, though uses an account you probably already have. The only caveat is that tabs are not synced between browser sessions just yet, an ability which both Weave and Xmarks currently have. 

This is just a taste of the sort of data you can keep synced between computers and across the cloud, but it's nowhere close to an exhaustive list. If you have any other ways of keeping your files, folders and services synced, feel free to share in the comments below.     
Images via Flickr user Johan Larsson, DropBox, Windows Secrets and Mozilla.