Computing Menages a Troi
February 21, 2011 12:38 PM   Subscribe

After fifteen years of using a laptop and monitor as my desktop, I'm strongly considering switching over to dual-computer life, trading in my trusty MacBook Pro for a Mac Pro at work, and a MacBook Air at home / on the road. Are there non-obvious (i.e., beyond Dropbox and MobileMe) services, software, or best practices that would make wrangling two computers less of a disaster?
posted by thomascrown to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I use Dropbox and MobileMe for exactly this purpose (Mac Pro tower for work, Macbook Air for home/travel) and it works great. I use Gmail over IMAP for email, Evernote for filing away reference materials, and ActionMethod for project management but that's pretty much it.
posted by bradbane at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by three blind mice at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2011

I like DropCopy for when at home.
posted by dobbs at 12:54 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not a Mac user, but this best practice might help.

I've been living a multi-computer life for some time now (unreliable personal laptop, using different work laptops on the road, and a 5-year-old home desktop) and the biggest thing that's simplified my life is having a single "home base" computer (for me, it's the ancient home desktop). That's the computer that is the source of truth for all of my data - my data doesn't truly exist until it is stored on the home base computer, filed in the right place, and backed up from that computer. Instead of trying to remember which computer has the most up-to-date version of a file, or forgetting that I downloaded a song to my laptop but didn't add it to my main computer, I always try to sync my data back to home base ASAP. I use Dropbox to do this from any computer or from my phone - I can buy an MP3 from Amazon on my Droid and upload it to my home computer anywhere in the world. This computer is my home file server, so any work done at home is immediately saved to it, and I run my backups exclusively from that server so I know I have an alway-running backup plan and don't have to worry about backing up data prior to shutting down a laptop.

This has a few advantages. First, as I said, there's no confusion about where my data is. Second, I don't have to try running backups from multiple sources - my always-on computer always has Crashplan running (you can use the backup solution of your choice) so my offsite backup is handled automatically an pain-free. And since this computer is always on, I've opened RDP to it so from any Windows computer in the world I could RDP home and do anything I want. I believe that Macs support VNC, so if you're comfortable with network security you could always VNC back to your main machine.

So in your case, I would suggest choosing a 'source' machine that you control. The work desktop sounds like a good candidate, as long as work will let you leave it on all the time and they leave your internet connection on. Everything that is important gets saved back to the desktop as quickly as possible. Dropbox lets you do this from anywhere - laptop, phone, tablet, etc. Get a good offsite backup (Crashplan or the Mac equivalent) running on the desktop at all times so once you send your data home, it's safe. Work may not like opening a port for you to VNC to, but it sounds like you don't really need that if you're always travelling with another Mac. Anyway, what you end up with is a central repository of your data, managed the way you want it, with minimal confusion and a simple backup plan.
posted by Tehhund at 1:01 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Home Sharing in iTunes is your friend. It can auto-copy things purchased from the iTunes store between systems and allows file copying/streaming.

Dropbox is excellent, and can work especially well when your home system is set up to perform actions on specific folders. For instance, I do all my torrent downloads on my desktop system but can add .torrent files to a folder to trigger it remotely.

As far as monitoring the desktop while away (if you leave it running) I use a script to send Growl notifications to Notifo. It's a web-based notification message service and lets me keep an eye on events.

Mobile Me is good, but Google Calendar / Contact Sync / Mail are free and also work reasonably well. The contact sync is the only part I've had glitches with.

Google Chrome now allows you to sync bookmarks, installed extensions, and other files. No matter where I launch my browser, it will give me the same functionality I have had.

The Mac App Store, although it has its detractors, lets you install the same application you've purchased on multiple computers and has auto-update capability so you won't have to remember what software you have updated on which system.

I have taken to starting a new system by either using Apple's Migration Assistant or cloning a subset of my home directory from system to system. Even if you're keeping both systems and will use them for divergent uses, it gives you similar base functionality.

Last of all, keep backups of both systems, especially the mobile one.
posted by mikeh at 1:12 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use xmarks for syncing my bookmarks and a combination of flash drive & GDocs/Cal for my documents. That covers most needs I have for sharing between my work/personal laptop and home desktop.
posted by jmd82 at 1:41 PM on February 21, 2011

There's a theme developing here that I'd like to second - move as much as you can into the cloud. This will simplify your sharing life because now you have much less data that must be synced between computers - instead, you can just access that data from anywhere. Get a web-based email account. Sync contacts to the cloud. Run automatic backups to the cloud. That way, if you are unable to access one or more computers, or if you haven't been able to sync your computers in some time, you still have all of your data up-to-date.

My cloud of choice is Google (email, calendar, contacts, docs, and voice), but you may find something else that works better for you.
posted by Tehhund at 2:40 PM on February 21, 2011

I prefer Sugarsync to Dropbox because it allows you to select all the directories you want to back up or sync across computers. I've never used it on a Mac but I have four PCs that are all connected and it's incredibly convenient.

I also find that Mozilla Sync works well for me for keeping Firefox synced across multiple computers.

IMAP is a must if you want desktop e-mail.
posted by camcgee at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2011

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