HowTo: Sync Documents / Photos between PCs

I’ve been helping out the Consumer division at Microsoft Canada with training and Evangelizing the benefits and awesomeness of Windows 7 especially when you light it up with Windows Live Services. It’s been a lot of fun and a change from the regular stuff I talk about in the Enterprise space.

I figure it was about time I also share some of these services and programs with the broader audience – because we’re all consumers and not everything is about Servers, Mail systems and virtualization. Problem is – there is just SO MUCH STUFF! So I am going to attempt to break it down into solutions and keep things short and sweet.

memorycardsThe Problem: you’ve got multiple systems in your family / friend social unit. You also have multiple cameras and you have a need to ensure that when your significant other “empties” the camera on to her laptop after the kids soccer game – they get stored and protected as well as shared across the other machines. Likewise – when you empty out your camera after the camping trip, the same happens, but your laptop is a corporate system. Oh – and for some reason – you have a MAC system as well – for your teenager.

The solution: Windows Live Mesh. It’s free – part of the Windows Live Essentials 2011  suite – and yes – there is a client for Mac

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Let me set the stage a bit for how I use it. It’s a bit of a blend of the personal life and work life – but ultimately as is my belief– you only have ONE life, right?

Windows Live Mesh is a free solution to keep your life in sync. Download and install on your system, light it up with a Hotmail/Xbox/Live ID and you are ready to go with one system. Repeat the process on the additional systems “you control” with your same Live ID. Your device pool under your control grows. Install it on a “different” system that isn’t yours and light it up with a different Live ID to further extend your possibilities.  All transfers between systems are on a peer to peer basis and are encrypted with TLS or SSL encryption. You can sync up to 200 folders, each up to either 50 GB OR 10,000 items (whichever you hit first).

That is a lot of Synchronicity. Back to the scenario.

Scenario #1 – Photo Duplication Hell.

The camera scenario is very real for me. My wife has one, I have one, the kids have one, heck – we’re over camera’ed in our house. Kind of goes hand in hand with also having a lot of different Laptops / PCs in our house as well. We were constantly hit with duplicates as we’d forget if the camera pictures were extracted on this system or that system and it all ended up with a complicated mess of duplicate and triplicate photos or worse – deleted / lost photos.

Enter Windows Live Mesh.  I started using it when it was called FolderShare ages ago.  Go download and install client from here. Launch Mesh and light it up with a Live ID. I did the same for my wife’s laptop (with her permission of course) but with HER Live ID (because I REALLY do not control her system). I then create a new folder under my Pictures library called “_current Pictures”.

imageI launch the Mesh client ( you can see it in your taskbar as the two blue arrows) and choose to open the client and create a new sync’d folder. I browse to and select the “_Current Pictures” folder. When the selection screen comes up – don’t select an additional device at this time just finish the process. In the Mesh client – select and expand the “_current Pictures” folder.

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Select the “People I Selected” option (for the first time – it will say “Just Me”) and then pick the people from your buddy list or type in the email address you want to send this sharing invitation off to – up to 10 I believe.

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Mine already has my wife added AND an address for my HomeServer. Yup – I have Mesh installed on my home server to act as an “always on” backup of the files.

Now it’s a matter of human protocol that when you dump your camera contents to your system, you put move them into the Current Pictures folder. I chose NOT to take the whole Pictures library and sync it because it would be the ENTIRE library (all sub folders). I don’t know about you – but my wife doesn’t want to see all the work photos of events and things in the family photo storage location. I DO however want those work photos across all my work systems – so I setup a sync folder like I did in the first scenario and it’s called _Work Pictures..

Scenario #2 – document sync across your “work” systems.

Wait a minute – I just mixed “work” with home. Well – I use Windows Live Mesh to also sync files across my WORK systems I control. (Don’t worry MS-IT – it’s Low Business Impact stuff).  I use Mesh for syncing my documents across all three of my systems with the same Live ID signed in.  In my scenario – there is little to NO chance I will be using two of the systems at the same time resulting in a conflict and now duplicate (with machine name appended) file. By expanding the tool from the system tray – I select sync a folder.

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I browse to the folder I want to sync like “Podcasting” and then select the destination devices that are “under my control” and are signed in with the same Live ID. I can choose multiple systems but notice there is also an option for SkyDrive synced storage (more on this later).

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The service goes in, itemizes all the files, regardless of their size and sends over the content to the second system – provided there is networking connectivity between the two of them. Works great when I am on the road and working on stuff – knowing that my files are synced back to the “home base” system in the home office.

Scenario #3 – want to sync to “The cloud” not Claude.

Remember during the device selection process of the previous two scenarios. One of them was “SkyDrive Storage” as an option. Your Live ID has a total of 25 GB for storage capacity via the web.  You are able to access 5 GB of that storage for the purpose of syncing content from your PCs to the cloud.

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There are some restrictions you should know about. Files can only be up to 50MB up to 100 MB in size (so no movie storage or DVD ISO files here kids) and there is a hard stop at 5 GB of your 25GB total allocation of SkyDrive space. Your local folder can have more then 5 GB, but it will stop sync’ing after it hits 5.

It works the exact same way as scenario #2 above, but “the cloud” is always on and available to sync from OR edit directly in the cloud – but more on SkyDrive later in a separate post.

Scenario #4 – …but wait! There’s more! Remote Control!

OK – so if syncing between Your systems, your friends systems and even the cloud ain’t enough for ya – how about one more functionality that Windows Live Mesh brings – REMOTE CONTROL.

Say you are on the road, you are heading out a meeting and you forgot that a report you were working on is sitting on the desktop of the computer in your home office? it’s not in the sync’d folder that is in your documents folder because you forgot to move it there when you finished it last night at 2 AM. What can you do?  Remote Control and log in to your Home Office Computer, drag the document from your desktop into your Documents folder that you are sync’ing across all the systems.

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This option is OFF by default – you have to go in and enable it on a per machine basis. You can see here I have not enabled it on my system as of yet, but once it’s enabled and the Windows Live Mesh client is up and running – the icons of the systems become enabled and I can remotely login and control the system over the internet – no firewall changes required.

In Summary: (sorry – this was a long one)

Windows Live Mesh is a great way to get files sync’d across multiple systems – including Macs. (not that I have one –  You can download the Mac Mesh client from here.) There are no subscription options, no costs involved (except your bandwidth), no Amway style sales to your friends to get affiliate space. You can do it within your house, between friends in different houses or even different countries / organizations – provided you know their Live ID.  I use this as a disaster recovery scenario with my Brother in Toronto and vice versa for our family photos – geo-diversification – but I digress. The service CAN (but doesn’t have to) use Cloud storage on SkyDrive.

Even if you manage to forget a document back on another one of YOUR systems – you can remote control and login to it and prevent having to call home and guide your wife on how to type your 28 character password and circumnavigate your chaotic desktop to find that report and email it to you.

Give Windows Live Mesh a try. It’s one of Microsoft consumer cloud services that not many people realize just how powerful it is.  It’s saved my bacon on many occasions.

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