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    New clouds on the online horizon: four ways to keep your data in sync

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver January 12 18 2010 issue #1055

    High Tech Office column

    A no-brainer prediction: 2010 will see online services (“the cloud”) increasingly used to integrate computers, smart phones and the like, bringing together our work and home lives.

    Some that I’ve been using lately: Xmarks synchronizes browser favourites/bookmarks between multiple computers and multiple browsers (even on a single computer). Available for Mozilla Firefox (Windows, Mac and Linux), Internet Explorer and Apple Safari (Mac only), it lets you store and access your set of favourites online. Adding it to a new computer or browser, you can add the stored favourites to your browser’s list or replace the list entirely. As well, you can set up multiple profiles to manage different sets of favourites better.

    Optionally, you can synchronize your various lists of online passwords.

    LogMeIn offers remote access and control of your various computers within your web browser. Remote access is nothing new. Microsoft includes remote desktop in Windows and even offers a remote desktop client for Macs, while Apple has made use of the free multiplatform VNC standard to let Macs view and control other computers across a network or the Internet.

    Those tools take a bit of setup, though. Getting them to work across the Internet may require fussing with IP addresses and a router’s port settings, something that many won’t want to do – and at work (understandably) might not be allowed to do.

    LogMeIn requires minimal setup – installation of a small program on the target Windows or Mac – but doesn’t make any changes to firewall or router settings. If the target system has no password, LogMeIn provides access with password protection. After installation, you can view that system from any other computer by going to in your web browser. Note that only you can view its screen and control its keyboard and mouse.

    A US$70 per year LogMeIn Pro account adds printer and file-sharing and file-synchronization features. I’ve been happy with the free version, which includes the ability to copy and paste between computers and provides access to multiple computers. LogMeIn also offers an iPhone app, Ignition ($30), which allows small-screen access to your remote computers.

    If you want to be able to store files online there are numerous options. Microsoft, for example, offers a Skydrive to users of its Windows Live service. I’m preferring Dropbox, however, which, after a quick Windows, Mac, Linux or even iPhone installation provides a simple way to backup and store files online and to keep the most recent copies synchronized between multiple computers. A free account includes two gigabytes storage; $10 per month or $99 per year buys 50 gigabytes of storage.

    The interface is simple, which is a good thing. Windows users get a little tray icon; Mac users get a shortcut in the Finder sidebar and a little icon on the top menu bar. New files (or new versions of existing files) in your Dropbox folders are automatically copied online and synchronized between computers.

    Nice touch: Dropbox saves old versions and deleted files for 30 days, letting you revert to previous versions if needed or get back what you mistakenly erased. Also nice: you can set files as “public”; doing so gives you a URL that you can distribute to let others view or download the files.

    Not a cloud service, but one I recommend for iPhone/iPod Touch users: FileMagnet ($5) lets you copy a wide range of files from your Mac or Windows computer for viewing on your iPhone, including Microsoft Office and iWork files, PDFs and various image, movie, and sound formats.

    All these offer elegant and inexpensive ways to give you better access to your work and home data wherever you happen to be.Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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