Walt Mossberg

SugarSync Offers the Best Method Yet for Replicating Files

It’s a real problem keeping all the files you need available and up-to-date on multiple computers in multiple locations, whether they are key business documents or just favorite photos or songs. Adding to the problem is the increasingly common use of smart phones as little laptops, and the growing mixed use of Windows machines and Apple Macintoshes, which use different programs.

Now, there’s a new service called SugarSync that keeps your files replicated and synchronized across all your computers, whether they are Windows PCs or Macs. It even offers limited file synchronization on certain smart phones. The service is from a Silicon Valley company called Sharpcast and is available at sugarsync.com.

Not only does SugarSync place the latest version of every file you designate for syncing on all your chosen computers, but it also creates an archive of these files on a special, password-protected Web page. That way, you can access the latest version of any file even when you are at a public or borrowed computer that lacks the SugarSync software.

I have been testing SugarSync on five different computers — three Windows PCs and two Macs — as well as on a Treo smart phone. I tried syncing everything from Excel spreadsheets to Word documents, from photos to songs to PDF documents.

My verdict: While SugarSync isn’t free and has a few rough edges, it is by far the best solution I have tested to replicating and synchronizing your files across multiple computers. It really works.

Every time you change a file — say, by editing a Microsoft Word document or rotating a photo — the changes are replicated within seconds on every computer to which it has been synced and in the Web archive as well, as long as the computers are connected to the Internet.

For example, I set up SugarSync to synchronize a folder containing some Word documents. Then, I opened one of the documents on a Dell and added a sentence to it. A minute later, I opened the same file on a Mac, which was also connected to my SugarSync network. The file already had been updated on the Mac to include the change I had made on the Dell.

While SugarSync is primarily about file replication across computers, it also helps solve another nagging problem: backups. Because the files you care about most are now replicated on multiple machines in multiple places, and are stored as well in a Web archive, they are also backed up. So if one of your machines dies, you don’t lose your files. And, if you find yourself in need of a file that doesn’t exist on the computer in front of you, it can be downloaded.

SugarSync works by uploading your synchronized files to its servers, in encrypted form, and then sending them down to your computers when they change. There is a 45-day free trial that gives you 10 gigabytes of file storage. After that, you can keep the 10 gigabytes for $25 a year. There are five other storage plans, ranging from $50 a year for 30 gigabytes to $250 a year for 250 gigabytes.

The software that makes it all possible, called SugarSync Manager, is free and comes in Windows and Mac versions, as well as versions for Windows Mobile phones and certain BlackBerry models. An iPhone version is in the works, but for now, you can scan your online archive using a special SugarSync page available through the iPhone’s Web browser.

You install the manager software on any computer you wish to be part of the synchronized network. You can select different folders on different computers for syncing. All get uploaded to the Web archive, where they can be accessed at will.

You can choose which folders you wish to replicate fully on each machine. For instance, you might want your main documents folder to be replicated on every hard disk, available even when you’re offline. But, with a folder of lesser importance, you might be content to just fetch a file when you need it from the Web archive.

SugarSync creates two special folders. One, called Magic Briefcase, is always replicated on every machine’s hard disk, so you can quickly add a file to it even if you didn’t select the file’s original folder for synchronization. The other, called Web Archive, retains files in their original versions, never updating or changing them.

So, what are the rough edges I spoke about?

Well, the Mac version of SugarSync manager is still in beta, crashes occasionally and has various bugs. A final Mac version is promised later this spring. The cellphone versions can only view photos and whatever documents the phones allow, but changes you make on the phones in documents other than photos aren’t synced back to the computers or to the Web site.

In addition, SugarSync can’t synchronize Microsoft Outlook files and it can’t, say, replicate a new calendar entry or contact change across your computers. The company has shown off this capacity in public demonstrations and says it is working on adding it.

Still, SugarSync solves a real problem and does so well.


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