If you crave the comfort of accessing your files anywhere, without having to carry around any hardware, file sync tools become a must.
The tool that’s right for you depends on what sort of files you’ll be syncing — someone who’s looking to wirelessly stream their music from the Cloud will be looking for a very different service to someone who just wants to access a few spreadsheets at a moment’s notice.
Thankfully, you can choose from a range of file sync tools and one will meet your needs. Here are a few examples that cater to some common usage cases and all are cross-platform and free.
A simple, clean file sync service that’s best suited to personal use.
Dropbox is one of the most popular file sync services out there — and with good reason. Dropbox is easy to use, and gives you access to your files on a wide range of devices in a clear, consistent interface.
However, it’s not without its limitations. Shared folders can be a bit of a pain to set up and require each user to have their own Dropbox account. It’s not an unusable system for collaborative folders, but it’s a little bit clunky.
That being said, Dropbox is a very effective tool for anyone who needs quick and easy access to files from their PC, tablet or phone. A free account gives you 2 GB of space — more than enough for most — but subscriptions are available if you need more space or would like to use the service for business.
Robust service that offers plenty of storage and integrates well with Windows family devices.
OneDrive is Microsoft’s proprietary file sync solution — and if you use a Windows PC, tablet or phone, then you’ll find that it gets along very well with those bits of kit. You can download apps for your Mac or iOS device also, but the best OneDrive experience is found on Windows hardware.
Neatly integrated into Windows 8 for desktop computers and laptops, you’ll notice a OneDrive folder in the sidebar of any Explorer window. Simply drag files into that folder, right-click and select Sync — and your files will be available to you via the OneDrive app or its web client, whatever device you happen to be using.
However, the real killer feature of OneDrive is the way it utilizes Office Online; you can use in-browser versions of programs like Word, Excel and Powerpoint to edit your documents directly from OneDrive itself. If you’re using file sync for work, this feature puts OneDrive a nose ahead of its competition.
Effective, time-saving software that helps take the strain out of backups.
This program takes care of a different type of file sync; rather than focussing on giving you access to files at the drop of a hat, FreeFileSync lends a hand towards the often laborious process of backing up your computer.
Its user interface might not be the most appealing, but this sort of backup tool is rarely pretty. The time that could have been spent smoothing off rough edges has instead been put towards ensuring that this program will make sure that your data is safely backed up.
To that end, it can schedule recurring backups, detect when files and folders have been moved or renamed, and even handle multiple jobs running against the same network share. If you’re responsible for backup — either personal or in the office — FreeFileSync is a very powerful tool to have in your arsenal.
Folder sharing application mildly impaired by technical issues.
Sometimes rather than picking and choosing individual files to share between devices, you might simply want to have a shared folder that you can access from different machines. For example, you might use a desktop computer and a laptop equally as much, and want to have access to the same music library on both.
Synkron can do just that, with a minimalist interface that makes the whole process very simple. Just choose your desired folders, and you can either sync them ad hoc or schedule a particular time to perform a sync on a regular basis.
For the most part it works very well, but the program does have a habit of freezing, which can be quite inconvenient if it happens while you’re syncing important files.
Lightweight portable app for file sync and incremental backups.
DirSync Pro offers you powerful synchronization and scheduling options wrapped up in a concise, uncluttered user interface. It’s simple enough that anyone who needs to perform a file sync would be able to get their head around it — but it also has sufficient muscle to appeal to the power user.
Pleasingly, that power comes without the overhead you might expect. In fact, one of the greatest strengths of DirSync Pro is the fact that it doesn’t require an installation; you can run the portable app from a USB stick if necessary. That makes it particularly effective for anyone performing file sync tasks on multiple machines.
If you take care of a large amount of machines, DirSync Pro is a cut above the rest thanks to the features it can offer without an install — but this is a sturdy, lightweight program that has a lot to offer to just about any user.
Expert-level rsync based local directory sync tool.
If you’re a Linux user, you’ve probably heard of the widely used rsync utility that’s used to maintain parity between two copies of a file on different systems. While it’s less commonly known among Windows circles, this technology makes Grsync an awesome syncing tool.
That said, this isn’t a tool for the novice. Grsync has the potential to cater to most of the uses listed in this article, but to get the most out of it, you need to know what you’re doing.
If you consider yourself an expert user, however, this will cover all your file sync needs. It’s just a matter of getting to grips with the program itself — don’t go into this program expecting to have your hand held through the experience.
Do you know another useful file sync tool? Let us know about it in the comments section below.