Sync. Sync. Sync.

MacLitigator has been a long time user of FolderShare, a short time user of SugarSync and recently obtained beta access to DropBox. Each of these services provide the ability to securely sync files and folders to multiple computers over the internet and across the Windows and OS X platforms. Here’s a short comparison of what you get with each service and how it stacks up against the others

Foldershare-An oldie but a goodie.

Foldershare provides a secure peer-to-peer connection between computers which have the client software installed. You control who access what. You control which folders get synchronized. Foldershare is fast… operating on a bit level comparison. With Foldershare, you can sync your entire client/matter/ subdirectories and have copies propagate over the internet. Foldershare first made it possible for a small office to operate remote/home office locations and still have access to all data. One caveat, and it’s true for all sync services, they do not play well with applications that constantly write data to the folder and which might be open at multiple locations or require a centralized database folder. Such applications include Amicus, Casemap, Journler etc. Casemap and Journler can be used with sync services such as Foldershare, but they cannot have multiple instances open without generating duplicate entries and potentially corrupted data.

A company called ByteTaxi originally developed Foldershare. Small accounts were free, premium business accounts carried a small monthly charge, development was active, fast and meaningful. Briefly, Foldershare became a free service…. Then Microsoft purchased ByteTaxi and development slowed to a crawl on the Windows platform and seems to be going nowhere on the Mac where the Foldershare client still runs as a PPC client rather than universal code. The fear at present is that Microsoft will further strangle Foldershare as it competes with Groove, Sharepoint and many other Microsoft services. At the very least, lately Foldershare has been wonky, refusing to connect and generally cantankerous where it used to operate as it should, unnoticed, quietly in the background and worry free.

SugarSync. New kid, new style, but still on training wheels

SugarSync *seemed* to offer that elusive solution to the slippage of Foldershare. Again, a secure cross-platform synchronization software that used the internet to deliver all files to remote computers… but with an added bonus. Instead of peer-to-peer, SugarSync uses Amazon’s S3 service as the go-between. This means that all files are also remotely stored on Amazon’s S3 servers so that you needn’t have all peers running at the same time in order to distribute files. It also means that you can access your files through SugarSync’s mobile website on your phone. The Amazon S3 service is also very secure and you can read more about it here. The real bonus with S3 though is that all of your data is securely stored off-site not only on your remote computers, but also on Amazon’s redundant servers. However, the security and convenience come at a price. 10GB accounts will run $2.49/month $24.99/year and you can go all the way up to 250GB for $24.99/month $249.99/year.

There are, unfortunately, downsides to SugarSync is two-fold. The sync client has been developed in Java, is extremely slow to synchronize files and processor/resource hungry on the Mac-side and has a habit of repeatedly asking for passwords. Also, because it is a Java build, it feels clunky on the Mac and on both Windows and Mac has a less than intuitive method of adding folders which will be synchronized.

Dropbox. A winner before it’s born.

Enter Dropbox. Even though Dropbox is still in private beta, it clearly trounces both SugarSync and Foldershare. First, Dropbox developers thankfully created a sync program that doesn’t add another icon to my Dock or the Command-Tab routine. Dropbox only adds a small icon to the menu bar. Dropbox also stays out of the way by syncing remarkably fast, almost instantaneously even as compared against Foldershare. For now, Dropbox creates a folder in the home directory, but will soon allow specification of individual folders to be sync’d. Dropbox, like SugarSync, uses Amazon’s S3 but is amazingly faster at uploading and synchronzing across computers. Finally, Dropbox kills it with a file ‘rollback’ or recovery to an older version. Foldershare and SugarSync do have a ‘trash’ folder where deleted files go, but Dropbox will actually allow you to rollback to a previous edit of a document.

The only downside to Dropbox right now is that (1) it is still in private beta and (2) it is currently limited to 2GB accounts. At the rate of the developer’s progress, it shouldn’t be long before we have a real champion here even though it will likely cost a small fee to keep your files in sync. But, a worry free sync for remote office locations is worth its weight in gold gasoline. Maclitigator has a very limited number of beta invites to Dropbox so post your email addy in the comments if you want an invite and please, if invites run out, share the love by giving invites to those who later request. (Hint: you can post your email such as mike%gma1l to avoid getting your email harvested by spam bots).

21 thoughts on “Sync. Sync. Sync.

  1. Sign me up! I’ve actually been pretty happy with Sugar Sync. There are a few issues but overall it has been really liberating and I have it installed on the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Office PC with no problems. One nice thing is that it syncs the bento and omnifocus databases with little trouble. That being said, I’m interested in the new contender and agree with you about the annoying icon on the dock.

  2. Count me in…I’ve got an attorney brother who’s a mac wannabe. This will be one more nail in his PC’s coffin…thanks.

  3. That’s it folks… MacLitigator all outta invites. If anyone else wants an invite it’ll need to come from a prior commenter.

  4. Pingback: MacLitigator » Blog Archive » Workflow. Work. Flow.

  5. Pingback: Law Office of Daniel X. Nguyen » Blog Archive » Drop Box Goes Public - Online Sync and Backup

  6. I’ve recently been going through the same pain ( of trying to find an efficient syncing software package.

    i have DropBox but am not comfortable with the way that it currently requires me to drop all my folders into the DropBox. I know i can work around with symlinks but good software should not require workarounds.

    I’m deeply unhappy with SugarSync as it does not manage syncs through byte-level analysis. this is vital as, to get around security concerns, I use an encrypted sparseimage to hold my documents. This is about 8GB so every time there is a change I have to sync another 8GB…. Drop Box does not have this abject failure, I am told.

    But absent of the sparseimage/true crypt type solutions (which are horrible), how do you get around the security issues? you’re putting client data up on someone else’s cloud and you have no real control over what they do with it? you’re relying on trust only. Is this a reasonable discharge of our duty of confidentiality as solicitors/attorneys, I wonder?

  7. @Justin: Good questions. First, I believe Dropbox does do incremental sync, in other words, does not transfer the whole file, only the changed portions. Second, regarding the ‘cloud.’ I do not believe there to be any ethical violations lurking with Dropbox so long as folders are kept private and not publicly shared. Dropbox uses Amazon’s S3 online storage solution which is very secure and encrypted. The only other real concern with ‘cloud’ storage arises when the cloud/internet cannot be accessed and no local data copy exists. Here, because Dropbox syncs back down to the local machine, no worry should crop up about data inaccessibility.

  8. following up on the reply (for which thanks):

    i’m not so concerned about the physical or logical security of the underlying data warehouse as with the lack of a robust contractual relationship with the person responsible for hosting the data. We are put in a position of having to trust companies like dropbox/sugarsync etc, and yet all we have in terms of documentation is a click-wrap licence. We don’t even have any real way of determining who owns each vehicle!

    If you read the dropbox ts & cs, you find the following howlers:
    * you give upfront consent to dropbox to access not just your public files, but each and every file in your dropbox.
    * nowhere do they undertake to keep your non-shared files private.
    * there is no confidentiality undertaking (an overlap on bullet 2)
    * there is no obligation not to export information beyond jurisdictions (think of the disclosure/discovery issues here, when coupled with the licence to access – suddenly there is a route around attorney-client privilege …)
    * there is no undertaking to delete data (properly) when you terminate the contract and/or delete it from your local installation. Yes, it is ‘marked’ as deleted but that is far from an undertaking to delete.

    I’m really concerned about this whole space: public cloud computing and storage of legal documents seem to me to be innately mismatched. I think that there is a market for an equivalent service backed by some strong undertakings and a bond in escrow. But I would _much_ rather see these innovative companies creating a self-hosted version of their software (or even open sourcing their project – after all their business model is based on storage, not software). We have iFolder out in the wild, maybe someone could pick that up and run with it!

    and yes: dropbox does manage deltasync, as does nomadesk and powerFolder. Sugarsync does not.

  9. Justin:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Yes, you are put in a position of having to trust companies, nothing new here. I do abhor click-wrap license, but no alternative form of licensing exists… even with open-source software.

    As to privacy, I think that you and I read the license differently.
    *of course you give consent to access all files for Dropbox. Without that consent, Dropbox could not access your file for transfer. Straight from the Dropbox terms of use: “BY PLACING FILES IN YOUR SHARED FOLDER, YOU CONSENT TO SHARE ACCESS TO THE CONTENT OF THOSE FOLDERS WITH THOSE OTHER DROPBOX USERS THAT HAVE BEEN AUTHORIZED TO UTILIZE THOSE FOLDERS.” This does not mean that Dropbox themselves have access, only that the software and authorized shared users have access.
    *Non-shared files are kept private by not putting them in the ‘public’ folder of Dropbox. It makes no sense to have a public folder if all folders are public.
    * No confidentiality… see above.
    * No obligation not to export? Because everything is transferred to Amazon’s S3 service, I cannot see how one could export out. It’s more likely that someone will smash a window in your office, climb through and steal your hardcopy.
    * At present, Dropbox offers the option to ‘purge’ or permanently delete individual files and they are working on a bulk purge option.

    Finally, Dropbox business model, if I understand it correctly, is not based on selling online storage, but on providing an interface and synchronization to Amazon S3 back end. Concerns about this type of storage are, as noted above, on the same level of risk as a break in at your office. I would not trust my data (including my client files) to any old online hack and believe that Dropbox provides a great interface and application for Amazon’s S3 service.

  10. i guess you’re making an inclusio unis argument. I’m not sure i’m buying. Personally i would like to see a contractual statement that they will not disclose your data to any third party, that they will not access your data themselves other to provide the contractual services and a proper confidentiality statement.

    I could not see a statement in the ts and cs that said that they will store your data on Amazon s3. I know that is what they currently do, but I missed it as a contractual undertaking.

    Did you have any thought on the disclosure issue? it seems to me that a litigator could obtain access to your client files and bypass legal professional privilege if you are storing them off line in a mass cloud? is there any law on this in the US?

    lastly, in the rest of the world we have concerns over the Patriot Act which appears to give the FBI the right to access our data if held on servers in the US. And there are non-disclosure rules applicable too, so the host cannot inform you that you’re being mugged. Does this also cut across legal professional privilege?

  11. I use SugarSync on a MacBook Pro. Although it is a great program, it is very slow at syncing files to another computer. Soooo, count me in for trying out Dropbox.

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