Google Drive. Dropbox. SkyDrive. While all interesting and worthwhile in their own ways, stripped to their cores these three competing services all work more or less the same way: create a folder, drop stuff into it, and keep the folder and its contents synced between computers and the Cloud, and accessible from the web or mobile devices.
But what if you need something more flexible?
What if – like me – you already have folders on your desktop(s) and laptop(s) you need to keep synced across computers – and even platforms – without having to consolidate them into “drop-boxes”? What if you want Folder A – as is – on your PC synced with Folder B on your Mac, and Folder C – as is – on your Mac synced Folder D with your PC, and to have changes made to folders on either system synced with the other?
Sadly, none of the aforementioned services can do this without changing your existing file structure.
For keeping project files, development workspaces, and existing file structures in place and in sync, there’s only one service I’ve found that gets the job done: SugarSync.
In this article, I’ll show you how to use SugarSync to keep existing files and folders synced across different computers, be they Windows PCs or Macs, and backed-up in the Cloud. And, if those folders don’t exceed 5.5GB or so in total space, you won’t even have to pay for the privilege.
Over the years I’ve created workspaces, or folders, on my office PC that I use on an almost daily basis. But I also have a MacBook Air, and for maximum productivity I need to be able to access, view and edit these files from my laptop and have changes I make on the go waiting for me when I’m back at the desk. For several reasons important to the way I work, I don’t want to move these folders into a Dropbox or a SkyDrive folder to keep them synced; I want to leave them where they are, but still synced and accessible from my Mac or another computer I might add in the future.
SugarSync does all of this, and does it beautifully.
Like Dropbox, SugarSync is a Cloud syncing solution. Create an account, install the app on your PCs and/or Macs, and let the syncing begin. However, unlike Dropbox or Google Drive, you can tell SugarSync which folders to sync, wherever they might be on your solid-state or hard drive(s).
SugarSync has a free account option that gives you 5GB of Cloud storage and sync; this means all of the folders you keep synced between computers and with the Cloud must contain files that total no more than 5GB – use more and you’ll have to pay for additional space. You can earn an extra 625MB or so of free storage by completing some tutorial-like tasks for a total of 5.625GB, or even more by referring new users (both you and your referee will receive an extra 500MB free). If you do have to pay, there are several plans with anywhere from 30GB to 500GB of space, ranging in price from $5 to $40 a month (you can also pay by the year).
The SugarSync File Manager application you install on your computers is a file manager rather than the specialized folder you get with Dropbox or Google Drive. It shows you the folders you’ve chosen to sync on each system, the Magic Briefcase (more on that later), folders you’ve shared with others, mobile photos (uploaded from a smartphone with the SugarSync app installed), and recently-deleted files you might want to recover. The app also tells you how much space you’re using and the amount still available.
If you have an iPhone, iPad or Android device, you can also access your synced files from your mobile device with the SugarSync mobile apps. You can read more about these apps here, but since they’re not the focus of this article, I’ll leave it at that.
Before Getting Started
Before you begin setting up SugarSync, examine the folders you want to sync and check their sizes. I have two folders on my office PC that I need to sync with my MacBook, and one folder on my MacBook to sync with my PC. The two Windows folders total about 1.6GB. The folder on my Mac is just under 1Gb, so with a total of 2.4+/- gigabytes of data to sync, I’m good to go with the free account. If you have much more than 5GB, you’ll need to pay for extra space, likely just $5 a month for 30GB, or perhaps more depending on your needs.
Once you know what sort of account you’ll need – paid or free – head over to SugarSync.com and set up your account. If the files you’ll be keeping synced contain sensitive personal or business information, you should use a strong password. Check out this page if you need help creating a password that’s very difficult to crack.
That’s it. We’re ready to begin setting up SugarSync.
NOTE: In this article, I’ll be syncing three folders between two computers, a PC and a Mac, but you can use the same method described below for syncing between multiple PCs or multiple Macs, and adding additional computers or folders. The goal here is to demonstrate a method that can be broadly applied.
Configure Computer #1 – Part 1
First, I’ll download and install SugarSync on my PC, leaving my MacBook Air alone for the moment. Upon installation and after linking the app to your account, you’ll be asked which folders you want to sync; many popular folders will be selected by default. You may want to leave some or all of these folders selected, but I de-selected all of the pre-sets and selected two of my own:
SugarSync will then scan these folders, determine the space required to sync them, and begin the task of uploading files to the Cloud. This may take some time if you have a large number of files: my two PC folders have about 25,000 files between them, and uploading the 1.6GB took several hours:
Allow the folder or folders on your first computer to completely upload before moving on to the second computer. This is important so that you don’t get jumbled up in the process. Once the folder(s) on Computer #1 have been uploaded, it’s time to move onto the second computer.
Configure Computer #2 – Part 1
Now that the folders I’ve selected for sync on my PC are configured and stored on SugarSync’s servers, I’m ready to install the SugarSync File Manager on my MacBook.
When you install the app on the second computer and link it to your account, you’ll again be asked to select folders you want to sync. Whether you want to sync folders already stored on Computer #2 with Computer #1 or not, de-select all of the folders (if they’re selected) and continue.
If you have a folder or folders on Computer #2 that you do want to sync with Computer #1, we’ll add those later.
Once you’ve exited the setup wizard, take a look at the SugarSync app. On the left side, you’ll see a menu bar with your first computer listed. If you click it once, you’ll see your folders from that system that have been set to sync:
Click the Manage Sync Folders icon in the toolbar:
In the SugarSync Manage Sync Folders window you’ll see two systems, Computer #1 (Intel920, in my case) and Computer #2 (for me, MacBook Air), which you’ve just added. Under Computer #1, you should see a listing of already-synced folders:
Click one you want to add and then select Sync. If you’ve already created a folder on Computer #2 with a similar name, SugarSync may detect this folder and ask if you want to merge the two. I suggest that you do not, but it’s up to you.
Navigate to the location you’d like the synced files stored. In my case, that’ll be in my Mac OS User folder. Click Choose, then OK. You’ll then see the following confirmation window:
Back in Sync Manager you will now see the folder has been set to sync with Computer #2:
Click OK to begin downloading the files from the folder on Computer #1 will now be downloaded to the selected location on Computer #2. Downloading the files for the first time will take a while, but likely not as long as uploading them from Computer #1. You can check the progress by clicking the SugarSync icon in the taskbar and selecting File Transfer Status:
Allow the sync to complete.
If you have more than one folder on Computer #1 that you want synced with Computer #2, repeat the process:
Once everything is synced from the first system to the second, you can now add a folder or folders on Computer #2 to sync with SugarSync and back to Computer #1.
Configure Computer #2 – Part 2
In addition to the two folders on Computer #1 that I wanted synced with Computer #2, I also have a folder on my MacBook called Mobile Workspace that I want synced with my PC.
Again, open the SugarSync Fle Manager and click the Manage Synced Folders icon. Below Computer #2 you’ll see a button that reads Add Folders to SugarSync. Click it, and navigate to the folder you wish to sync:
Wait for the upload to complete.
Configure Computer #1 – Part 2
Now, to get the folder we selected on Computer #2 synced with Computer #1, we simply repeat the process we used to add the first synced folders to the second computer: select the folder from Computer #2, select a location for the folder on Computer #1, and wait for the sync to complete:
That’s it. The two computers are now syncing three folders, two originally on Computer #1 and one originally on Computer #2. All additions, changes, deletions, etc., made on one system will now be mirrored on the other.
Pretty great, right?
I wish SugarSync had a LAN Sync option that would allow for faster data transfers between two computers when on the same network, but it’s a limitation I can live with (at least until they change it).
Oh, and the Magic Briefcase I mentioned before… think of it as a drop-box within SugarSync. If you want to share a file between computers and store it in your SugarSync Cloud storage, just drop it in the Magic Briefcase. It’s a way to share files without having them be in your existing folder structure.
Speaking of which, there’s absolutely no reason why – if you’re already using Dropbox or SkyDrive, for example, that you can’t continue to do so. These services are great, and can co-exist quite nicely with SugarSync.
Before finding SugarSync, I was using Live Mesh to keep my folders in sync between PC and Mac. While it performed more or less the same function as SugarSync, I found it to be a very buggy utility that caused as many problems as it solved.
I’m still using the free version of SugarSync. If you think that you, too, will only need the free version, feel free to use my referral link, and we’ll each get an extra 500MB of storage.
If you have any questions or comments about the process I’ve laid out here, please email me or share your thoughts in the comments section below. I hope this solution works as well for you as it has for me.