Working on more than one PC


Dell E248WFP

Back from holiday now – hence the lack of blogging for a few weeks.

I’ve been fantasising about buying a new desktop PC for home along with a cool new monitor.  I have my eye on a dell vostro Intel Core 2 Duo 3Ghz, 2Gb RAM with one of the new 24" widescreen monitors.  Ideally I would like to have a powerful desktop for working at home and my work laptop for everything else.  In the middle of all this, I also received a new laptop from HP so I’m in the process of migrating from my old tc4400 to the new one.  This got me thinking about the challenges this creates about wanting all my stuff synchronised on more than one machine. 

Here are the ways I’ve tried:

  • using a web drive.  I used www.live.com/skydrive to put my documents up online and work from that which is cool except it takes ages to upload and download and doesn’t work offline.
  • using www.foldershare.com . Now a lot of people like this a lot and it is quite impressive at syncing folders but I suspected it was causing some conflicts with windows update (actually I don’t think it was now) and uninstalled it on one laptop.  When I put it back on later it was all very confused about which folders to sync and refused to play.  I think this is quite a good solution but it does require both PCs to be on at the same time to sync and I did find it a bit fiddly.
  • I tried Groove – now I thought this would be overkill but actually if you just use the File Sharing type imageof workspace it just lets you pair a folder to the workspace.  This means the folder works exactly like any normal windows explorer folder except that anything you put in there syncs to the workspace.  Windows shows that the folder is actually a Groove workspace by changing the icon to the green Groove icon.  This works very well.  The sync seems very efficient and in theory at least, doesn’t require both pcs to be online to perform the sync since it queues up deltas in the cloud.  It can also sync multiple PCs, more than just the two, with every PC synchronising with the contents of the workspace.

imageThe problem gets more complicated I find when I try to do email on multiple PCs because I like to have access to my archives of filed email which all reside in psts.  I have a system of creating a new pst file every financial year and I file a lot of email there to keep my mailbox size down.  I believe Microsoft internally is going to ban the use of pst files soon and make us keep everything in our Exchange mailbox which will solve my problem of synchronisation.  Trouble is that currently my mailbox would get full all the time due to large folders of sent items, rss feeds, calendar and contacts.  A few years ago I used to get over this by network sharing my outlook folder and attaching the desktop outlook to the pst over the network.  Perhaps surprisingly, this works extremely well and means you never have a sync issue.  I stopped doing this though because I needed both PCs to be RAS’d in to the office for the credentials on the share to work.  I might try this again using local credentials.

Hopefully if I can resolve all this I can move on to justifying the cost of the new PC which currently battles with competing priorities like a new bathroom shower etc.. the list is long.. 

Comments (5)

  1. John says:

    The method I have tried with some success is a fast portable drive with a Vmware image on it.

    That way you have a PDE (Portable Development Environment). If you’re on your PC and you have to get kicked off (wife/husband/child) you shut down your vm and fire it up on your laptop. Need to take demo something somewhere but don’t have space in your bag for a laptop (rare but does happen) then simply install the free vmware player and you are away.

    Some negatives:

    1) You need Ram (2GB is sufficient)

    2) Adds to waiting time (i.e. load up Vista, then load up your PDE).

    Some positives:

    1) You get all the benefits of a VM (snapshot etc)

    2) It’s portable

    3) You can back up your personal drive and know your vm is safe.

    4) You can have different VMs for different development situations (Ruby, .Net 1.1, .Net 3.5, Alpha VM etc) to keep things clean.

    5) Your host machine stays nice and fast (no extra services running in the background or startup when all you want to do is check some sites out via ie/firefox).

    John

  2. Martin Kearn says:

    Interesting article.

    I’ve tried Skydrive and a few other things but I now just use Groove between my work laptop and home PC.

    I also sync that groove workspace to a sharepoint server in the office to keep a ‘backup’ copy of all my data. This is usefull as I’m very rarely in the office so Groove just syncs up in the background when I’m VPM’d in or phsyically in the office.

  3. Funny you should blog this Mr. Strange as I just took delivery of a honking desktop PC based on Quad Core 2.4, 10,000 RPM C: Drive, 4 Gig memory and a 24 inch monitor which is complimented with a secondary 19inch.

    Of course I cant live without my notebook, but I just got tired of the slow performance, and I’m spending more time working from home these days.

    I looked into all sorts of alternatives for syncing the machines, and the one I have settled on, is as follows:

    1. Have setup my honking desktop server with Vista Ultimate (of course) and stored all my personal folders on drive D:UsersDaniel (7,200 RPM, leaving the OS the luxury of the 10,000 RPM drive). These are easy to move, just right click, properties, location tab.

    2. I then made the D:UsersDaniel folder a share, and gave full control to the local account called "Daniel".

    3. On my notebook I then log on with a local account also called "Daniel", and with the same password so that I get seamless authentication.

    4. On my notebook I then moved all my personal folders, in the same way above, to the same location on the share. The coll thing is that in doing this Vista automatically sets them up as offline folders.

    So now, whenever I turn on my notebook at home it automatically syncs up all my files. With Vista, this whole process appears to be VERY efficient. For more information check out the following:

    http://windowsvistablog.com/blogs/windowsvista/archive/2007/01/29/working-with-offline-files.aspx

    http://blogs.technet.com/filecab/archive/2006/07/11/441131.aspx

    Now, I’m still a little wary of .PST files, despite claims that these work, so my notebook only works from my online mailbox, not the .pst files. Typically I only need these at my desktop, and if I’m desperate I can remote access into them.

    The final piece is what happens when I’m on the road and find that a critical file didnt sync down? Well, I haven’t fully tested it yet, but I have implement a VPN solution using this method:

    http://www.zdnetasia.com/insight/network/0,39044847,39050037-39000223c-1,00.htm

    (slight variation for Vista when setting up incoming connections, let me know if you get stuck)

    But otherwise using a product like this:

    http://www.zdnetasia.com/insight/network/0,39044847,39050037-39000223c-1,00.htm

    Then I just connect to the internet, connect to my VPN and off the sync goes.

    Anyway, let me know how you get on, but I reckon this is likely the best approach to syncing multiple machines.

    Finally, I’m over the moon happy with my first desktop in 12 years. I think in future I will stick to a fast, but small notebook and a powerful desktop.

    Daniel

  4. Jim McGrath says:

    I can’t believe anyone planning on running Vista would be happy with a 3GHz dual core and 2GB RAM! Although to be fair 3 weeks has passed since you wrote this article so the Quad Cores and 4GB RAM have probably halved in price since then!

    Only just found your blog – I have to admit I prefer Open Source generally, but as a self employed consultant a lot of my clients want Microsoft, and having access to up-to-date news from the UK Office team will definitely help me give better advice! I anticipate reading you a lot more frequently in the future!