Like one computer, with two terminals
May 17, 2010 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Help me achieve complete and total sync between my sick dad's laptop and the desktop PC in his home office, as seamlessly and invisibly as possible.

Between the chemo and cancer, my dad doesn't have the strength to sit up at his computer for as long as he's used to. Add in the pain meds, and he's left too forgetful to keep track of what he's saved on which computer, etc.

I'm assuming dropbox is probably the best method for this, and while there are plenty of great how-to's out there explaining how to use dropbox to do this and that, I can't find one that makes sense to me on a big-picture scale.

What I want is for pretty much everything my dad does on either computer to be mirrored on the other. This includes making changes to MS Word and Excel documents, sending + receiving emails and attachments with Thunderbird, saving and organizing photos from his digital camara(s) with Picasa, listening to audiobooks and classical music he rips from CDs in iTunes, and generally making a mess of his hard drive with Windows Explorer, because he has a different idea of what is an "intuitive" organizational system than anyone alive. (This has been true since long before the cancer & chemo.)

Having all of this data stored "in the cloud" isn't necessary, or even preferred, unless it's the only way to achieve what I'm looking to do. I'm also open to suggestions for outside-the-box solutions.

Oh, and finally -- both computers are running on Windows XP, and I'm told that I forcibly upgrade him at my own peril.
posted by patnasty to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One idea besides the usual ones of using DropBox for the files, IMAP for the mail server (if he's using POP3 with Thunderbird), etc., might be to use some sort of virtual desktop of the home PC, with, say, GoToMyPC or some other service. This won't help with tasks that involve physical connections (like off-loading photos or syncing the iPod), but it might be something to consider if you have reasonably fast network connections. At least you wouldn't have to worry about synchronization in some cases.
posted by chengjih at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2010

You could always set up Windows Remote Desktop on the desktop, and have the laptop connect to it.
posted by schmod at 10:17 AM on May 17, 2010

Response by poster: I had considered setting the laptop up as a remote terminal / virtual desktop for the desktop, but I keep coming back to the "physical connections" problem you point out.

Is there any remote/virtual desktop software that goes so far as to map out the client PC's usb and CD drives on the host computer?
posted by patnasty at 10:37 AM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: I think Live Mesh might be better for your situation than DropBox, as it manages the disk more widely. (It's some months since I used LM and I use only DB because I'm sharing only a couple of files.)

Remote Desktop can forward ports and drives.
posted by anadem at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use Live Mesh and it would work for all of the files that you discuss with two caveats.

1) You'll need to either force him to use a single large folder that you'll designate as the synched folder (he can organize sub-folders as he wishes). Or you'll have to manually designate each synchable folder by hand when you set it up. That is, you'll right click on the T-bird mail depository and designate it as shareable, and so on for the itunes folder. etc. If he's just using a small number of folders this won't be very hard at all. And adding new folders is just a right-click away.

2) Live mesh has a size limit. I use very little of it: 7% to store all of my text files (I'm a professor so there are actually a lot of text and PDF files). But if he wants to sync media he might hit the limit pretty fast, ymmv.

I would suggest live mesh for all of the more modestly sized files and a NAS solution for the media. (Of course a NAS would also work for the small files, but then you don't get cloud access to them.)
posted by oddman at 11:25 AM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: Re: Live Mesh

I'd second/third this.

1. You can set it up to share his My Documents folder rather than each individual sub-folder.
2. The 5GB limit on LiveMesh is only for cloud storage, it will synchronize an infinite amount between computers using Peer-To-Peer.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:00 PM on May 17, 2010

Response by poster: Live Mesh it is!

Anadem piqued my curiosity, oddman's personal testimony had me leaning in its direction, and blue_beetle sealed the deal with point #2.

Thanks, AskMefites!

It's funny -- being pretty much exclusively a mac/linux guy myself, it never occurred to me to use the native Windows syncing software, but it really does seem like the best fit.
posted by patnasty at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2010

Hey Blue_beetle, thanks for the size limit tip. I didn't know that. Can you designate which folders are cloud stored and which get only the p2p treatment?
posted by oddman at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2010

Sorry, I believe you can specify which folders to sync to Live Desktop (the web side of the sync), but can't remember.

Synchronizing with Live Mesh Desktop also gives you iPhone access to your files anywhere.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:46 PM on May 25, 2010

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