MacLitigator has been a long time user of FolderShare, a short time user of SugarSync and recently obtained beta access to DropBox. Each of these services provide the ability to securely sync files and folders to multiple computers over the internet and across the Windows and OS X platforms. Here’s a short comparison of what you get with each service and how it stacks up against the others
Foldershare-An oldie but a goodie.
Foldershare provides a secure peer-to-peer connection between computers which have the client software installed. You control who access what. You control which folders get synchronized. Foldershare is fast… operating on a bit level comparison. With Foldershare, you can sync your entire client/matter/ subdirectories and have copies propagate over the internet. Foldershare first made it possible for a small office to operate remote/home office locations and still have access to all data. One caveat, and it’s true for all sync services, they do not play well with applications that constantly write data to the folder and which might be open at multiple locations or require a centralized database folder. Such applications include Amicus, Casemap, Journler etc. Casemap and Journler can be used with sync services such as Foldershare, but they cannot have multiple instances open without generating duplicate entries and potentially corrupted data.
A company called ByteTaxi originally developed Foldershare. Small accounts were free, premium business accounts carried a small monthly charge, development was active, fast and meaningful. Briefly, Foldershare became a free service…. Then Microsoft purchased ByteTaxi and development slowed to a crawl on the Windows platform and seems to be going nowhere on the Mac where the Foldershare client still runs as a PPC client rather than universal code. The fear at present is that Microsoft will further strangle Foldershare as it competes with Groove, Sharepoint and many other Microsoft services. At the very least, lately Foldershare has been wonky, refusing to connect and generally cantankerous where it used to operate as it should, unnoticed, quietly in the background and worry free.
SugarSync. New kid, new style, but still on training wheels
SugarSync *seemed* to offer that elusive solution to the slippage of Foldershare. Again, a secure cross-platform synchronization software that used the internet to deliver all files to remote computers… but with an added bonus. Instead of peer-to-peer, SugarSync uses Amazon’s S3 service as the go-between. This means that all files are also remotely stored on Amazon’s S3 servers so that you needn’t have all peers running at the same time in order to distribute files. It also means that you can access your files through SugarSync’s mobile website on your phone. The Amazon S3 service is also very secure and you can read more about it here. The real bonus with S3 though is that all of your data is securely stored off-site not only on your remote computers, but also on Amazon’s redundant servers. However, the security and convenience come at a price. 10GB accounts will run $2.49/month $24.99/year and you can go all the way up to 250GB for $24.99/month $249.99/year.
There are, unfortunately, downsides to SugarSync is two-fold. The sync client has been developed in Java, is extremely slow to synchronize files and processor/resource hungry on the Mac-side and has a habit of repeatedly asking for passwords. Also, because it is a Java build, it feels clunky on the Mac and on both Windows and Mac has a less than intuitive method of adding folders which will be synchronized.
Dropbox. A winner before it’s born.
Enter Dropbox. Even though Dropbox is still in private beta, it clearly trounces both SugarSync and Foldershare. First, Dropbox developers thankfully created a sync program that doesn’t add another icon to my Dock or the Command-Tab routine. Dropbox only adds a small icon to the menu bar. Dropbox also stays out of the way by syncing remarkably fast, almost instantaneously even as compared against Foldershare. For now, Dropbox creates a folder in the home directory, but will soon allow specification of individual folders to be sync’d. Dropbox, like SugarSync, uses Amazon’s S3 but is amazingly faster at uploading and synchronzing across computers. Finally, Dropbox kills it with a file ‘rollback’ or recovery to an older version. Foldershare and SugarSync do have a ‘trash’ folder where deleted files go, but Dropbox will actually allow you to rollback to a previous edit of a document.
The only downside to Dropbox right now is that (1) it is still in private beta and (2) it is currently limited to 2GB accounts. At the rate of the developer’s progress, it shouldn’t be long before we have a real champion here even though it will likely cost a small fee to keep your files in sync. But, a worry free sync for remote office locations is worth its weight in gold gasoline. Maclitigator has a very limited number of beta invites to Dropbox so post your email addy in the comments if you want an invite and please, if invites run out, share the love by giving invites to those who later request. (Hint: you can post your email such as mike%gma1l to avoid getting your email harvested by spam bots).