Until recently, I’d never really worked on more than one system at a time. My laptop was basically my life. Everything I did online was done on a single system, which I could easily carry with me wherever I went. A few weeks ago, I purchased a PC. That’s where things got a little complicated.
See, my desktop is worlds better than my laptop. When I’m at home, there’s no question of which system I’ll tend to use.
Without access to a number of key files, that’s easier said than done. It quickly became clear that what I needed, then, was some way to sync my important data between the two systems. Some sort of cloud-based solution, perhaps?
Dropbox is usually the go-to platform for this sort of thing. After all, it’s widely held to be one of the best file synchronization platforms around, and it brings with it a whole plethora of other features outside synchronization. Ease of use is only part of the equation here. For many, the ability to share folders and files for collaboration is positively invaluable, as is its cloud storage capabilities.
Thing is, what if you don’t need any of those features? What if you’re like me, and simply need some quick-and-easy means of file synchronization? If that’s the case, Dropbox seems to come packaged with a few too many bells and whistles to fit the bill.
Speaking of bills, I’m not really a fan of the ‘freemium’ model, either.
Finance and functionality aren’t the only reasons I’m not sold on the platform.When the lid over the NSA’s PRISM surveillance project was blown sky-high, Dropbox, Incorporated was one of the names that came up. If the files were to be believed, the NSA was shooting for what would amount to full, free access to the Dropbox servers along with all the files stored there. Private, encrypted information would be fair game.
That Dropbox Inc. has since denied knowledge of the project doesn’t do a great deal to set my mind at ease, either. The sad truth is that businesses, like people, can lie if they think it’s in their best interests (and if they believe they can get away with it).
What’s more, even if they aren’t lying, they’re still in the NSA’s crosshairs. There’s still a chance that whatever data they’ve stored on their servers might be accessible to the agency.
Call it paranoia, but that news combined with the fact that I don’t really need the extra features amounts to one simple fact: Dropbox isn’t really for me.
Thankfully, I’ve found an alternative that works pretty much perfectly. It’s called Bittorrent Sync, and where file synchronization is concerned it may well be the best Dropbox alternative in existence. It’s also free, which helps its case considerably.
How it works is that it links each shared folder and directory to a key known as a “secret.” Entering a secret on another system which has Sync installed will cause it to immediately begin copying over all files within the directory to the new system. You can also take a look at active transfers, look at sync history, and see a list of the devices that have access to your folders.
In the event that you’re syncing a folder other than the default one, you’re going to need to provide a directory for the app to sync to. I found that to be a touch unintuitive, and wondered if it wouldn’t make more sense for the platform to simply carry over the directory name, as well. In addition to that (relatively minor) quirk, the app also carries a few additional caveats.
First, Sync doesn’t actually make use of an external server. All synchronization is done strictly on a system-to-system basis. What that boils down to is that if one system is offline, you’re not going to be able to synchronize your directories between the two. Got a system you need files from, but it’s powered off? Tough luck, champ. You’re going to have to try again later. This becomes less of a concern if you’ve a system which can function as a server.
Second, the ‘secrets’ tend to be obscenely long, and clock in at upwards of thirty characters. What I’m saying is that you’re probably going to want to email them to yourself. Typing them in manually is something of a chore.
Lastly, I noticed a few minor issues with folder permissions, sharing, and file editing, though it’s not entirely clear if they’re a problem with the app or a configuration issue on my end.
These problems are ultimately irrelevant when one considers the overall utility of the application. At the end of the day, Bittorrent Sync is still incredible. It’s fast, easy to set up, simple to use, and carries no limitations or hurdles. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely a perfect choice for me. I’m sure there are others among you who will feel the same.
The PCMech.com weekly newsletter has been running strong for over 8 years. Sign up to get tech news, updates and exclusive content - right in your inbox. Also get (several) free gifts.