Earlier this year I evolved to become a metrogeek. A long-time Mac user, I’ve managed to get in touch with my PC side.
I now have a Windows laptop on my desk right beside my beloved Mac. Surprisingly, the two have managed to co-exist quite peacefully. Prudently, I maintain a buffer zone.
Despite their begrudging respect for one another, they’re like toddlers at a day care. The egoist Mac and prideful Windows have sharing issues. Their favourite phrase seems to be: “mine!”
So, like any good day care worker, I’ve set to work on reconciling these juvenile creatures’ differences.
Of course, I’m not nearly so forbearing as the admirable folks who take care of my own kid every day.
So, screw time-outs.
Instead, I’ve recruited some thugs to twist the PC’s arm and leg-lock the Mac to force their appreciation of the virtues of co-operation.
First on my list of behavioural issues to resolve was the primary fundamental: sharing files and folders.
I didn’t want to have to set up yet another machine as a file server.
I certainly didn’t want to have to manually manage files between my Mac and Windows environments.
I just wanted each machine to have the same set of files at the same time all the time.
This might sound like a crackpot concept to some people, but I’m surprisingly not the only crackpot in the world because a brilliant solution exists.
It’s called FolderShare and it’s designed to maintain a perfect state of file synchronicity between two or more Macs and PCs.
The interface is simple and elegant.
The service is dead-easy to set up and completely dependable.
Now owned by Microsoft, this web-based solution simply watches the files on each computer.
As soon as it senses a difference in anything, it immediately and automatically initiates the synchronization process between machines.
It’s quite amazing, and completely fulfills my need.
On both of my machines I always have the exact same set of files.
The best part? Foldershare is a free service. Thanks, Microsoft!
Perhaps even more important than files and folders are contacts and calendars. Simply put: whether I’m using my Mac or my PC, I want an up-to-date record of my schedule and the people I know.
I tried out a free service called Plaxo that claimed to offer cross-platform synchronicity.
Unfortunately, it was dreadfully awful.
Plaxo just kept screwing up my contacts’ addresses.
And seemed to take some sick joy in changing the dates of my appointments.
After a few days I decided “free” wasn’t worth that.
I gave Microsoft Exchange a spin, but unlike Foldershare, it didn’t support the Mac environment very well.
On a whim, I tried an open source product called Zimbra, which is designed to provide an alternative to Exchange.
Like Exchange, Zimbra is “enterprise” software designed to offer a collaborative workgroup environment.
You’d typically have to install it on a server.
Luckily, there are internet-based “hosted” versions available that offer per-account services.
The best of these is OnDeckTech, an American service provider with a keen eye for service quality and customer care. I signed up with them for a Zimbra account and never looked back.
Surprisingly, setting up my PC with Zimbra was much easier than setting it up with Microsoft’s own Exchange server.
And Zimbra perfectly maintains contact and calendar synchronicity between my Mac and PC environments.
It’s quite magical, actually. Within moments of changing a phone number in my Outlook address book, it’s updated on my Mac. The same with calendar events: the synchronizing process happens instantly.
What’s more, Zimbra offers a brilliant web interface for accessing all of this information plus my email from anywhere.
Possibly the most important collection of information anyone has in this day and age is their web browser bookmark collection.
I have years of research stored there.
My collection used to be spread across multiple browsers on my Mac.
Finding that one bookmark I needed used to be a pain.
When I bought a PC, the lack of sync across platforms became unbearable.
For the near-ultimate solution to this problem we have Google to thank.
Their free Browser Sync service is, quite simply, heaven sent.
Not only does it maintain perfect synchronicity between bookmark collections on multiple computers, it also keeps track of your browser history and your browser session state.
So as you move between computers, Google Browser Sync will actually keep track of what sites you had open in tabs and windows, plus it generates a common browsing history of all your web activities.
A major drawback to Google’s service is that it’s only available for Firefox.
So the problem of co-ordinating bookmarks amongst multiple different browsers remains.
Fortunately, a small Mac developer called Everyday Software offers a killer solution here.
They publish a simple utility called Bookit that manages synchronicity across all of the browsers on my Mac (which are numerous: Safari, Firefox, OmniWeb, Flock, Camino, and Shiira).
I haven’t yet identified a similar solution for my PC.
Over there, Firefox and Internet Explorer blissfully maintain a common ignorance of one another. (If any reader has a solution, please post it to the comments.)
I may not be able to herd a flock of kids across the street. And I can barely manage to get my one son up to the pool for a swim, never mind four or five kids more.
But, hey, I brutally enforced an attitude of sharing and co-operation on two formerly incompatible computers.
That’s gotta count for something, doesn’t it?
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, July 20, 2007.