If you sync files between multiple computers: How do you prevent headaches from forgetting to close files on one computer?
December 28, 2010 1:12 PM   Subscribe

If you sync files between multiple computers: How do you prevent headaches from forgetting to close files on one computer?

I work on two computers- a laptop and a desktop. I sync my files using Windows Live Sync. (I’ll move to Live Mesh or Drop Box once Live Sync is phased out in the New Year).

The system works really great. The one problem is this: Sometimes I’ll be working on a file on my desktop, then be out working on my laptop and want to work on the same file. If I haven’t closed the file on my desktop, this can lead to syncing problems. (99% of the time, the files in question are MS-Word documents)

I’m guessing I’m not the first person to have this problem.

How to other people deal with this?

The obvious solution, I guess, would be some sort of remote desktop app. I’d rather avoid that if I can – partly because I’d like to avoid the extra software running on my machine, but largely because they just feel scary from a security standpoint.

Is there some other way to do this? Some sort of magic remote “save and close all” switch I can set up on my desktop? Am I over-worrying about the security of remote desktops? Is there some other solution to this problem I’m overlooking?

(If it helps: I'm on Windows 7 home premium...)

Any ideas much appreciated!
posted by ManInSuit to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Simplest solution: Log out. (Or, even more drastically, shut down.)
posted by Mwongozi at 1:32 PM on December 28, 2010

My life with DropBox, which is good, involves me having had to learn to close files when I'm done using them. It was a tough road, but rewarding.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:40 PM on December 28, 2010

I use document formats that support merging, like plain text.
posted by jrockway at 1:41 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Enable periodic autosaves in apps that support that feature.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2010

Am I over-worrying about the security of remote desktops?

Probably. Remote desktop seems scarier because you have a program that obviously has the potential to allow full access to your machine, but in reality most exploits that would allow someone unauthorized access to your machine would allow them to do the same things. In fact, something like an IE bug that allows spyware to be installed on your machine is probably much more likely to be used as a weakpoint in your system than defeating the security around a random remote desktop implementation. You do have to be smart about security as with app that grants access to your data (use encryption, allow logins only from the IP of the specific machine you want to allow if possible, keep your software updated, etc.) but avoiding using one just for that reason is in my opinion no more justified than avoiding using a web browser (or avoiding using Windows at all).
posted by burnmp3s at 1:55 PM on December 28, 2010

Live Mesh includes a Remote Desktop-like feature (it's not the same thing as classic RDP-based Windows Remote Desktop). If you're planning on moving to Windows Live 2011 Mesh (not the same thing as the old Windows Live Mesh... man, the naming...) you could just do it now.
posted by Rat Spatula at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2010

Remote desktop, as burn mentions, is going to be safer than most other nastiness. Think about it this way: if a piece of malware gets into your machine that allows it to be controlled remotely, it's most likely going to be part of some automated botnet. If someone is going to control your computer via remote desktop they'll have to be deliberately targeting you to do it.

I mention this because remote desktop (logmein as well as separate VNC software) is exactly how I deal with the problem of multiple instances of open file.
posted by monkeymadness at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2010

Llama - yeah, just remembering to close files when I walk away from my desktop would do it. In theory, that's my present solution. But sometimes I forget.

You know what would make it easier? A feature in Word that let you save and close all open files, and then come back later and, with a single command, re-open all the files you had open. Sort of like the feature in firefox that lets you exit the browser and save all your open windows and tabs. Does anyone know if such a feature exists? (part of my hesitance to close all open files every time I leave the computer is that it's a drag to re-open all of them....)
posted by ManInSuit at 2:22 PM on December 28, 2010

These are, as always on the greeen, super-helpful responses:

Blazecock writes: Enable periodic autosaves in apps that support that feature.
That sounds good. But I don't think it fixes the whole problem. Or does it? Even if my desktop app autosaves, won't that create some headaches if I have the same file open on multiple machines?

Burnmp3s : Yeah. I'm not a security expert by any means. From a non-expert's point of view, remote desktop just subjectively *feels* so much scarier than other risks. But maybe it's not such a big deal? It sure would be handy (for all sorts of stuff....)

Rat Spatula : Good to know that Live Mesh inclused a remote desktop!! I did not realize that. That's super-useful information.

Monkeymadness: That makes sense, too. I'm leaning a little toward remote desktop. (I used to use VNC for this very purpose, but I've gotten a little more worried since then about security. It sounds like there are other solutions that are maybe more secure than VNC).
posted by ManInSuit at 2:25 PM on December 28, 2010

You could look into using a Bluetooth device (your phone?) to take action when you move away from it.

You would need a bash script to close the desired program and presumably deal with any unsaved changes)

(for any mac users later looking)
ex: http://dentedreality.com.au/2010/08/proximity-detection-on-a-mac/
posted by episodic at 3:24 PM on December 28, 2010

Install Logmein on one of the desktop and leave it on all the time. Then connect to it every time you run into this problem and just close those files.
posted by special-k at 5:59 PM on December 28, 2010

episodic: I'm intrigued - Could I really write a bash script to tell MS-Word to save all files and close? That seems potentially really useful. Where could I learn how to do that?
posted by ManInSuit at 6:11 PM on December 28, 2010

@ManInSuit - I haven't used Windows for a few years now so I can't advise directly. But the principle is sound - when the timer reaches trigger point to run a certain file.
Somewhere like SuperUser or Stackoverflow would have better advice (or another question here of course) as I do not know how Win7 would handle this.

The unsaved changes could be fixed by having the autosave running more frequently than the trigger time.
posted by episodic at 2:13 AM on December 29, 2010

Well, if you open the same file on two machines linked with dropbox, it will at least save both, one with "conflicted" in the name.
If you could move all your work to google docs, wouldn't that avoid this problem, since 2 users can edit the same doc?
posted by Mngo at 6:46 AM on December 29, 2010

Mngo: Yeah, Live Sync handles conflicts similarly to what you describe in DropBox. That's better than having the changes disappear altogeher. But when it happens, it means I have to manually edit two copies of the same document to integrate all the changes I've made, which is what I'm trying to avoid.

And yes - Google docs would be one way to get around it for sure. I'm still a little too attached to the old-fashioned way of doing things though. But I can definitely see the appeal...
posted by ManInSuit at 2:10 PM on December 29, 2010

Following up a couple of weeks later:

Following the advice of a few people in the thread, I got over my fear of remote desktop. It sure is nice being able to access my desktop machine from anywhere, for all sorts of reasons.

(The specific way I did this was to update from Windows Live Sync to Windows Live Mesh 2011. Slightly off-topic but maybe useful to know: My initial few weeks w. Live Mesh 2011 for file sync are not promising- it is very resource intense, using lots of CPU and bandwidth, does not report very well on what it's doing. It's slow, and worst of all, seems to not be entirely reliable - It seems to me there have been times when it reports that my file sync is up-to-date when it fact it is not. It's still early to tell but that may be a dealbreaker - I might have to find another way to sync my files, now that Microsoft has phased out Live Sync. Too bad...)
posted by ManInSuit at 7:50 AM on January 13, 2011

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