clouds on the online horizon: four ways to keep your data in sync
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
in Vancouver January 12 18 2010
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
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.
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 logmein.com 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
If you want to be able to store files online there are numerous
options. Microsoft, for example, offers a Skydrive
of its Windows Live service. I’m preferring Dropbox
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
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
All these offer elegant and inexpensive ways to give you better access
to your work and home data wherever you happen to be.