The gradual adoption of ‘cloud computing’ is leading many of us to move our information and data to a virtual space, rather than relying solely on a local disk. This has a whole host of advantages, coupled with the niggling uncertainty of trusting someone else with your files. Several pieces of software for the Mac (Dropbox and Mozy to name a couple) provide excellent integration of remote storage with OS X.
Syncplicity – already a strong player in this area for Windows – have today announced the Mac version of their synchronization and backup software. As a devout Dropbox user, and someone who has seen too many less-than-perfect Windows ports, I approached the Mac client with a level of skepticism. However, after speaking to the people behind Syncplicity and receiving a walkthrough of the app from Ondrej Hrebicek, I’ve had to re-consider my notion that it is very difficult to successfully port an application from Windows. Syncplicity is impressive.
Syncplicity enables easy collaboration and sharing across Macs, PCs, mobile devices, and the cloud. Combined with tools such as versioning and web application integration, Syncplicity provides a great range of features. Through integrating directly with the Finder, it is possible to tell the app to keep any – or every – folder in sync with your online storage space and another computer. I’ll be taking a look at the main features of Syncplicity, the interface, and explaining how it compares to similar applications such as Dropbox.
Interface & Integration
Syncplicity integrates in a non-obtrusive way, running in your menu bar and providing a set of right-click options in the Finder for managing which folders to sync. Icons are overlaid on top of designated folders to inform you of their status – whether up to date, or currently synchronizing with the cloud. I was thoroughly pleased to see the app taking the form of one designed specifically for the Mac, with no echo of the Windows counterpart.
The Finder menu allows you to specify which folders to sync, along with providing the ability to share a particular file with a third party. A URL is returned through which they can access the shared file. Sharing doesn’t yet extend to folders as with the Windows app, but the functionality is planned for the near future.
The icon in the menu bar changes colour to notify you when files are being uploaded/downloaded, and a range of other options are available upon clicking it:
In addition to notifying you through a colour change, Syncplicity also integrates with Growl to provide notification of a completed sync. This is particularly useful when collaborating with someone else on a particular folder as you can clearly see when they have modified or added a file.
Online Interface & Versioning
The beauty of storing a copy of all your data in the ‘cloud’ is the ease of access from a computer other than your own. Syncplicity doesn’t let you down in this area, with a decent web application for browsing through files and folders. The only gripe I have here is that the online service lacks the design polish of a Mac-centric application, retaining the Windows icons and styling.
One of the killer features of Dropbox is the built-in versioning support – whenever you change or delete a file, the service retains a version of each older copy. You can easily access or revert to an older copy at any point. Syncplicity also offers this functionality and it works in a familiar and simple manner.
A conflict resolution system is also in place – if more than one person is editing a file at the same time, Syncplicity knows this is the case and stores both copies with different filenames (helpfully identifying the machine and user in each). You can choose at a later time to keep one or the other, or manually merge the changes.
Web Application Support
Until this point, none of the features mentioned have pushed Syncplicity ahead of the competition. Support for integrating with web applications, however, is unique and different. It allows you to get the full benefit of popular web applications such as Google Docs, Scribd, Zoho, Picnik and Facebook.
When you associate your Google Docs account with your Syncplicity account, you also pick a folder on your Mac that will represent your Google Docs account. The two will be linked, and any changes at one end will be copied across to the other. Intelligently, Syncplicity knows whether editing with an online tool (such as Scribd) may have caused a loss of formatting or images in your document – if this is the case, it saves a new copy of your document rather than overwriting the original.
Integration with Facebook allows you to designate a folder of photos to synchronize – albums are automatically created based upon the folder structure, and it’s simply a case of visiting Facebook to authorize the addition of the new images.
Syncplicity is built upon a set of open APIs, which allow businesses and enthusiastic consumers to build their own applications on top of the system. This should lead to some interesting future developments and, hopefully, support from a wide range of online applications.
Upon inquiring about planned support for additional web services such as Flickr, I was told that whilst integration is being considered, there isn’t a definite schedule for release. I think that Syncplicity need to place as much attention as possible on this area, as it’s where the app really stands out from the competition.
Whilst Syncplicity is a commendable application, there are still a few areas where work is needed. As this is a Beta release for the Mac, a few limitations should be rectified in due course. Notably, support for Google Docs only covers the .doc format at this stage, with functionality for spreadsheet and presentation files planned shortly.
At this point in time, support is only in place for Intel machines running OS X Leopard – Tiger users should be catered for in the coming months. In addition, folder sharing is not yet available for Mac users. It is possible to accept and view shared folders from other users, but not to initiate a share from your local machine.
As you’d expect, Syncplicity requires a broadband connection. Exchanging data on a regular basis through a slow internet connection isn’t practical. It’s also worth noting that the company made the choice to locate their data centre in Washington rather than San Francisco to better cater for European users.
Comparison With Competing Services
When asked for the distinguishing features of Syncplicity which set it apart from services such as Dropbox and Mozy, the team noted:
- There is no need to change the way in which you work – Syncplicity does it all automatically, and you can specify any number of folders to sync.
- The software works well cross platform.
- Syncronisation with online services such as Google Apps to help people bridge the offline and online world.
First impressions of Syncplicity are excellent. It would seem to compete on a strong level with other services, and the addition of support for web application integration is a clincher. The service is free for up to 2GB of storage and synchronization between two computers. $9.99/month will give you 50GB of storage and unlimited computer synchronization. A slight discount is available if you purchase for a year in advance.
To download the software, head over to the Mac client download page and create a Syncplicity account.
I definitely recommend giving the free version a try to see if the new features add value to your workflow. What are your thoughts? Would you be tempted to make the switch from an existing sync/backup application?