The Problem of Syncing

Posted on Tuesday 7th November 2006 at 00:00
I realise that I am at risk of alienating myself with this post by sounding like the sort of rich, spoilt and over indulged bastard who has so few problems in his life that he is forced to make some up while the rest of the world around him suffers and struggles everyday to overcome real problems that affect real people but I don't care. It is my blog after all!

I am currently writing to you from the corner of a brightly lit, shiny new bar that forms part of the Student Union building. It was refurbished over the summer and among other things, big comfortable leather sofas were added. It is for this reason that it seemed like a good place for me to kill a couple of hours between lectures and write to you, my dear and beloved audience. (It is also one of just a couple of bars on campus that actually has the wireless internet access advertised in all the bars and most other places on campus, which may have swayed my decision slightly!)

For this reason I am, of course, on my laptop. I've been using it on campus throughout the day for work and such like and as time has gone on it has become blindingly obvious to me just how long it is since I've used this machine. When I'm at home I tend to do pretty much all my work on my desktop since it is faster and has a larger screen, and also because my desk is pretty much the only place comfortable enough to sit for a prolonged period of time in the house. If I do use my laptop at home, I use the remote desktop connection utility to bring the desktop to the laptop so I still have access to all the same apps etc.

Since this is the first time I've taken the laptop to uni this year, it therefore follows that this is the first time I've used it as a stand alone computer for quite some time. Although in theory not much has changed in the computer world in that time, I can't help but notice my enjoyment of my new found mobility being spoilt by continuously happening upon changes that I'd forgotten I'd made.

For example, I opened Internet Explorer earlier and found that it wasn't even the same version on IE 7 as I've been using at home. On here I have a previous (rather buggy) beta. I also don't have the same list of favourites as usual and the multi tab home pages that would normally greet me upon opening the program haven't been set here. RSS feeds, again now an important part of my day to day internet browsing weren't even in use the last time I updated this computer.

The different versions of Office I can cope with ok, but had I been relying on Outlook today I'd have been fairly screwed over. I recently switched my email account from POP3 to IMAP in order to ensure that an up to date copy of my inbox would always be available on the internet whenever I need it. This made checking emails a little easier (I used to have to copy the Outlook data file back and forth between computers to avoid splitting my inbox) but I did still have to set up the IMAP account on the laptop before I could check my messages for today. This isn't really a problem now, as it will pretty much update itself as and when I connect to the internet, but sadly the same can't be said for my calendar, which will still require a transfer of the data file if I'm to check my appointments while on the move.

In times gone by, I've invested in synchronisation software to ensure that my computers were identical, but sadly even this had its draw backs. Firstly, every time you decide to take the laptop anywhere, you have to wait for the sync to take place first. This often takes several hours and slows down both computers while you do it and I'm not totally convinced that it ever did a very good job of actually making sure the right files were in the right place.

Secondly, the process you have to go through to make sure everything that is likely to change on a computer is synced is long and complicated, and checking the software has got it right is a pain in the arse. Even if you manage it, things like software upgrades won't be completed and so you'll notice major discrepancies when you use the laptop for the first time in a few weeks.

Given how long networking has been around and how many people now have more than one computer that need to have the same copies of the same files, it amazes me that Microsoft have never build in sufficiently sophisticated tools to make it easy for this to happen. Even in Vista there seems to be little provision mass syncing, and even where there is, it suffers from the same hang ups as the older technologies.

The only instance in which these problems seem to have been sussed is the Microsoft Exchange server, which seems to have been designed around letting people move seamlessly between machines whenever they want, at least with their Outlook stuff. Sadly, this seems to be the preserve of large companies only, as no one wants to offer such services to home users on a wide scale. I've no idea why, but if they did it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Until then it looks like all I can do is continue to devote more hours than is really sensible to trying to make my virtual life that little bit more organised.

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