Walt Mossberg

Free Sharpcast Service Lets You Synchronize Your Photo Albums

As more people acquire multiple computers and high-end cellphones, one of the biggest problems they face is synchronizing important files among all of these devices, and ensuring they have backup copies.

Inside big corporations, these tasks often are handled by internal networks, which store files centrally and back up computers nightly. But consumers have had to resort to time-consuming and imperfect methods. These include emailing files to themselves, manually synchronizing their phones and computers, and manually copying files among their computers.

Over the next year or so, I expect that one of the big trends in personal technology will be the introduction of services and products that make this job easier.

Both Google and Microsoft are reportedly preparing new services that will back up all of a consumer’s data to their servers. Apple already offers a service called .Mac, which, for $99 a year, gives consumers storage space on an Apple server, allows backups to that remote server and synchronizes selected data among multiple Macs. And Microsoft has recently acquired a small service called FolderShare, which I reviewed last year, that can synchronize and back up selected folders on any mix of Windows and Macintosh computers.

Now, a small Silicon Valley start-up called Sharpcast is introducing an impressive, free service that synchronizes data among PCs, phones and a Web site at lightning speeds. I tested Sharpcast for several weeks, and found that it works really well. You can try it out at www.sharpcast.com.

In this first incarnation — a beta, or test, version — Sharpcast works only with photos. But it plans this year to add synchronization of contacts and calendar entries and, eventually, other types of data. If the service can handle these other data types as well as it handles photos, Sharpcast will be a real boon to consumers.

With Sharpcast Photos, any change you make to an album of photos on one of your devices is replicated within seconds on your other devices. If you add a photo to an album on your PC, it shows up within seconds on your phone and on your Sharpcast Web page. If you rotate a photo on the phone, the same photo is rotated within seconds on the PC and Web page. If you delete a photo on the Web page, it’s immediately deleted on the PC and the phone. And if you take a photo with the camera on your Sharpcast-enabled phone, it will show up in seconds on your PC and your Web page.

You can also share your albums with other Sharpcast users, and receive shared albums from them. By synchronizing your photos among multiple devices and a Web site, Sharpcast is also backing them up, so the loss of one device won’t mean the loss of your prized pictures.

Screen Shot
In its first version, Sharpcast works only with photos.

On your PC or phone, Sharpcast works through a software program you download from the company’s Web site. You can also access the service, and your photos, from a personal Web page Sharpcast provides, without using any Sharpcast software.

For now, the Sharpcast Photos software works only on PCs running Windows XP, and on a few high-end phones, like the Palm Treo 700w and the Motorola Q, that run Windows Mobile 5.0 software. The company plans to support more phones soon. It is also working on a Macintosh version. Today, Mac owners can use Sharpcast via the Web page, which isn’t quite as capable or fast as the Windows software, but still works well.

Sharpcast’s phone software is in an even earlier stage than the PC software or the Web site, and lacks all of their capabilities, especially the ability to share albums and view albums shared with you by others. But it works.

I tested Sharpcast using three devices — a Windows PC and a Palm Treo 700w running Sharpcast’s software, and a Macintosh computer logged into my personal page at the Sharpcast Web site.

Using the Windows software on a PC, and the Web site via my Mac, I easily created 10 albums. I added and deleted photos, rotated them, and created and edited captions on all three devices. In every case, Sharpcast faithfully and rapidly replicated my changes on the other devices.

In this first version of Sharpcast, you can’t edit photos or comment on shared photo albums or print pictures. The company says it will be adding some of these features next month and others in the fall. Also, Sharpcast currently compresses your photos before storing them, but future versions will store pictures at full resolution. As it gains more capability, Sharpcast plans to continue offering a free service, but will also add paid tiers of service.

Sharpcast also plans to extend its synchronization technology to other kinds of data besides photos. At The Wall Street Journal’s annual D: All Things Digital conference last month, the company demonstrated a future product that will synchronize contacts.

Sharpcast is a very cool and compelling service that solves a real problem. And it promises to get even better.

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