How to synchronize and back up files for dummies (and writers)

Let's say you have multiple locations from which you work (desktop, laptop, day job computer, home computer, Mom's house, boyfriend's house, etc.). You add 3000 brilliant words to MyAwesomeYANovel.doc on the laptop, but the file on the desktop is still last week's version. How do you keep all your files coherent? If you're comfortable with someone else storing your data, you could use cloud storage (Google Docs, DropBox, etc.) and do all your work on a single file. These services work great... when the network is on. What about when you are offline? How do you have 24/7 access and keep ALL your files up-to-date across all your locations?

E.mail them to yourself? Sneakernet them around with a thumb drive? Regardless of how you get the new version next to the old, it's distinctly sub-optimal. Opening two files and doing the cut-and-paste mambo is a pain, and you might miss something. Word has a "compare and merge" function, but it sucks.

Another thing to consider is backing up data. During many years as a computer user, I've had my fair share of lost data. Hard drive crashes, misplaced thumb drives, Diet Coke spilled onto a stack of floppies (remember floppies?). What with massive oil slicks, earthquakes and enormous sinkholes a real risk, you're probably thinking, "Tony, how do you avoid the risk of data loss these days?"

Well, I use Windows Live Sync. Installed on my networked computers, I have an instant, minute-by-minute backup. When I add, delete or edit a file on one desktop PC, it's mirrored to another one at another location. When I turn on my netbook, the newest version is delivered when I connect to the network. If I'm roaming or am offline for some other reason, my netbook saves the changes to the files and folders, and sends the newest version to the other two computers when I'm able to reconnect. If there's some kind of a conflict, with multiple edited versions of the file on different PCs, each is sent to all the other computers in my account, tagged for easy reference so I can sort it out later.

Because I'm paranoid about data loss, I still back up my files to a thumb drive and to NAS, but it's nice to have everything backed up to an off-site location. If my house burns down, destroying both my desktop and netbook, at least I'd have my little stories to keep me warm.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. This is a great idea, Tony. Thanks. I'm always working between my computer and my laptop - currently, I save everything by date, and then purge files every once in a while, but it is not a fool-proof system for sure.

  2. What does it say about the culture of Computer Graphics that, even though I know that thing is real, I STILL think the picture looks photoshopped. *sigh*

    As for backups, I use thumbdrives and make use of the cloud, but not through google docs. I just email myself the latest draft :-)


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