Data Synchronization for the Mobile Worker

I have crucial business data that I use daily scattered across three computers: my office desktop computer, my home office desktop computer, and the notebook that makes the daily trek between those two locations. I don't think I can use any fewer machines; I've tried using a notebook as my only office machine, but that setup doesn't work for me, and I switched back to a desktop and a notebook. In fact I use both machines concurrently in both home and office locations.

The downside to this multiple-computer arrangement is that I have data on three machines that I need to keep synchronized. I spend a great deal of time manually moving common data between machines and ensuring that the data is correct on each machine. Although Windows XP and Windows 2000 have built-in synchronization features, these features are designed for one-to-one machine relationships, rather than my many-to-many machine relationship. You also can't use Offline Files features with Outlook .pst files, which is one of the main reasons I move all this data around.

I'm confident that I'm not the only person who has to deal with this synchronization problem on a daily basis. I wrote about synchronization in a column for Windows 2000 Magazine almost 2 years ago, and I still receive email referring to that column and looking for solutions. So I want to describe how I keep all of my data synchronized.

My notebook computer is the hub of all synchronization activity: It travels between sites and always has the most recent versions of the files I need. I plan my synchronization so that my notebook computer has the authoritative copy of my data. Before I leave my company office each evening, I synchronize the data on my notebook with the data on my office desktop; when I leave for work in the morning, the notebook data is up to date with any changes I've made on my home office machine.

To help keep my data files synchronized and to ensure the data integrity of those files, I use Salty Brine Software's FolderMatch 3.2.1. This $35 utility simplifies the task of keeping my data synchronization accurate and reliable. I especially like the program's ability to save a synchronization session. After I set up the files that I want to sync (define file locations and to-and-from relationships), I save the session and give it a descriptive name, such as "pst-nb." Later, I can go to the Load Session Settings option and choose the synchronization task I want to perform from the Saved Sessions list. I don't have to set up a new session each time or move files into any sort of synchronization folder. Another feature I often use is File Compare, which helps ensure that the synchronized files haven't been corrupted. This step is crucial before I leave on business trips or synchronize files from my notebook to the staging servers for our Web site. I've been bitten by corrupt files in crucial situations and appreciate FolderMatch's ability to perform a bit-for-bit file comparison and cyclical redundancy check (CRC) with a known good copy.

If you need to keep files synchronized, FolderMatch is worth a look. You can download a fully functional version from the company's Web site for a 30-day trial and test it yourself.

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