BitTorrent Sync file transfer software – Review

On November 21, 2014, in Network, Review, by Ian Scott-Parker

BTS1-banner
Caption: All images and graphics are courtesy of the BitTorrent GetSync website.

BitTorrent Sync: a first look at an alternative to file sharing in the cloud
Publisher: BitTorrent, Inc.
GetSync
Price: FREE download

Commonly abbreviated to BTSync, BitTorrent Sync is software that implements file sharing across computer networks using the peer-to-peer protocol. This means each computer doing the sharing can act as a server for the others, allowing shared access to files without the need for a cloud computing central server.

Wikipedia is your helpmate if you want a deeper understanding of how this works. BitTorrent may be a familiar name: the eponymous protocol powers file sharing on a vast scale across the Internet.

Software products from many vendors use the BitTorrent protocol, but BTSync is BitTorrent’s own software application. Existing BitTorrent clients require the creation of a torrent file (a separate file containing information about the original files and specifying how they are to be distributed); BTSync works transparently with the original files at the user level. We tested Version 1.4.99 Beta, so some rough edges were to be anticipated.

The software functioned correctly throughout the test, albeit with some minor reporting issues in the control panel, which is implemented as a WebUI (web user interface) rather than a native GUI (graphical user interface). For Mac users this WebUI means a slightly less familiar visual experience that is becoming more common these days, and it did not cause the testers any problems.

Despite its superficially technical profile, BTSync is intended for ordinary users who want to share files—music, photographs, spreadsheets, word processor documents, you name it—between friends, family, and colleagues. Every computer involved in the sharing has to have the BTSync software installed and be actively online for the sharing process to take place; more on that later.

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Caption: The Help Center offers install guidance—much less daunting than it looks!

The software is available for free from the publisher’s GetSync website. It is available for Mac / Windows desktop operating platforms and for iOS / Android mobile device operating systems. There is a promotional video (aka sales pitch) at that link that will introduce you to the claimed benefits of the service as determined by the vendor.

You may not be an earnest, wide eyed movie director and power user like the dynamic young man in the promo, but if you watch to the end you will see that he uses BTSync to send his vacation pictures to his mom. We think this example constitutes a fair representation of the range of users to whom the product may appeal.

BTSync is offered as an alternative to cloud storage and distribution services, so it compares itself to the Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive services. All four methods and services have individual features and benefits that differentiate them, so it’s up to the users to select the most suitable service for their particular circumstances and preferences.

As mentioned earlier, BTSync is synchronous: every sharing node has to be active and running the software. This in turn means that the first sharer must invite a second sharer to install the software and establish a connection. We had mixed success with doing this. Invitees either found it a breeze or were stopped dead in their tracks. There seemed to be no obvious common factor related to technical skill. It seems users either ‘get it’ first time or have to struggle to get up and running. The testers had no such problems, but be prepared to be surprised by your invitees’ responses!

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Caption: The control panel is used to invite your contacts to share your files.

Another factor in the requirement for synchronous activity is that to get the best out of the setup there has to be some connection management. This can range from always online, through being online to a schedule, to a laissez faire (or ‘feckless’ as we say in blunt English) disregard for those with whom you are sharing. The more the sharers drift from well controlled behavior to loosely controlled behavior, the less successful the experience is likely to become.

Despite these potentially negative observations, there are notable practical advantages to using BTSync. The software vendor has some speed comparison tests against the three services it identifies as its competitors. These were controlled tests rather then average user experience tests, although valid and interesting in their own way. The biggest gains will probably be from using the BTSync one-step implementation rather than the multi-step implementation of other services.

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Caption: The Help Center [http://help.getsync.com] offers 128 articles / step-by-step guides.

Once set up, BTSync is remarkably easy to use and fast in two meanings. It can take advantage of whatever connection speed you possess. It also is also quick to use, requiring in its minimalist established configuration that the first share user just drops the files into what becomes a hot folder (sometimes called a watch folder; a folder that automatically processes its contents).

The receiving tester liked the lack of fuss and attention required. The sending tester preferred the established, labor intensive, and asynchrous Dropbox service. However, both services have their uses and faithful followers. You should pre-assess your invitees after you have assessed this new software!

One of the touted advantages of BTSync is that it does not use intermediary servers—the connection between two sharing nodes is direct. However, there is a default setting to use an intermediary BitTorrent server as a fallback for nodes whose firewalls prevent access. Check the help center for how to turn off this and other features if you want to eliminate potential security breach points.

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Caption: The help center instructions for turning off the relay server feature.

The data stream for your share will be encrypted with AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) 128 bit keys, which provides a high level of security. There is more: BTSync will synchronize all a user’s devices over a local network. That is a compelling feature for people who range away from base and want to keep all their data in sync on different devices. There are various ways to do that task and BTSync works more seamlessly than some other solutions.

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Caption: Use the QR (Quick Response) code to synchronize your mobile devices.

There is even more: BTSync offers a dedicated photo backup feature, typically from a mobile device to a desktop computer. This is another compelling feature for many people.

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Caption: The invaluable online Help Center offers guidance for the Camera Backup feature.

Our recommendation is that if any of the features appeal to you, and you can live with any of the potential downsides, then give BitTorrent Sync a try. The only things you can expect to loose are some time and the little effort it takes to get the software working.

Selecting software is often a process of scoring the features of the available products against your perceived needs and then picking the one with the highest score. Our recommendation is if you find any single feature of BTSync appealing then you give it a try. Typically, after you set up your own node in about five minutes, you will email your first share user, who will do the same and everything will be working after another five minutes. Your experience may be different, but that’s how it went in our test, even with technophobe and neophyte users. We were won over by using just a few of the product’s appealing features—give BitTorrent Sync a try; you have little to lose and maybe much to gain.

UPDATE: as this review went to publication, an update was made available, Version 1.4.103 Beta.

MyMac Review Rating (provisional only for this beta version) is 8 out of 10.

MyMac Podcast 531: But it involves goats!

On November 19, 2014, in Podcast, by The MyMac Podcast

mymac531
Goats? Yes…goats. We’re not “kidding”. Deal with it. Most of the past technical issues seems to be dealt with, though we’ve all thought that before haven’t we? The GMen give a lecture on what NOT to do when updating and how to clean up iTunes after CERTAIN people who may or may not be on this podcast thoroughly hosed his library.

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PageMeUp – Review

On November 19, 2014, in Apps, Review, by Simon Parnell

PageMe Up Desktop Publishing and HTML design and layout application
Softobe
Price: $24 USD

Page Me Up

PageMeUp describes itself as designed for print documents and websites. At the price it is pitched against applications like Pages, SwiftPublisher, and iStudio Publisher rather than the big guns like Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress.

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MyMac Podcast 530: Next Week will be AMAZING!

On November 15, 2014, in Podcast, by Tim Robertson

mymac530
Guy updates to Yosemite which turns out to NOT be a great idea since his recording layout got hosed. Gas is in top form however and teases Guy about his lack of having SoundBoard by using…well…SoundBoard. They talk about Microsoft 365 and options available free or otherwise and it turns out that the more expensive option could be the best one.

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Links:
Guy’s App Pick: Duplicate Detective by FIPLAB ($2.99). Drop a folder on it and watch it find the duplicates. Then watch as it deletes them for you. That’s about all it does but it does it well.
Gaz’s Pick: Rambling’s Podcast BBC with Clare Balding.
People’s Pick: From Serenak (twitter) how about the Open University free Introduction to Cyber Security MOOC here

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Biologic Bike Mount Weathercase
Biologic
Price: $34.95

BioLogic updated

 

The Biologic Bike Mount Weathercase allows you to safely carry and view your iPhone on your bike’s handlebars. If you already have your iPhone in a case, you’ll have to remove it. My iPhone 5S lives in an Otterbox case that is too large to fit into the zippered Biologic case.

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Think Tank Photo
Price: $129.75 US,  £99.00 UK

My-2nd-Brain-Briefcase-13-Black-5
Think Tank My 2nd Brain Briefcase 13
is unashamedly a briefcase and designed as a working bag. Whether you are a dedicated “road warrior” or just someone like me who feels they need to carry more than just their laptop and charger, consider it seriously. Think Tank Photo describes it as a mobile office for Apple power users. It is manufactured in good quality, water resistant, rip-stop type nylon, padded with a good closed cell foam, and lined with heavy duty silver toned nylon.

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Presenter Expert Green laser, cursor control and memory
Kensington
Model Number: K72427AM
MSRP: $99.99 (US), £89.99 (UK)
Presenter Expert

An all-in-one wireless laser pointer, slide changer and USB memory card, the Kensington Presenter Expert is a simple to use as it is stylish, and contains many excellent built in features.

The Presenter Expert comes in a material carrier pouch that matches the color of the device and keeps it both secure and waterproof. An unobtrusive USB controller fob that can be connected to any computer, Mac or PC, also doubles as a 2GB memory key to store all the files needed on-the-go, including the presentation to be given! The controller itself is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in the palm of the hand but is neither slippy or awkward to use. Power is provided by two AAA batteries (included), and so efficient is the device that months of use can be had before replacements are required.

 

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TechFan #186 – Disney Meh

On November 11, 2014, in TechFan, by Tim Robertson

tf186
With a client meeting in progress, David can’t make the show, so Tim and Owen talk about Meh, 99 iPhone marriage proposal, ChromeBox, the Internet Archive Arcade, President Obama’s talk of making the Internet a utility, and much more.

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Domke Next Generation Director Camera Bag
Manufacturer:
Tiffen
Price: $329.99 – Internet: $244.74

Photographers are so focused on the hardware and the image that the importance of a camera bag to transport and protect this costly and delicate the gear can be overlooked. Domke has these objectives squarely in its sights. My first impression of this bag was that it can withstand being dragged for several kilometers across the Serengeti tied to the bumper of your Land Rover. The Domke Next Generation Director is a tough little bag with many good features and few flaws.

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TechFan #185 – RansomNote

On November 8, 2014, in TechFan, by Tim Robertson

TechFan 185 - Show Graphic
This week’s show came together in an unexpected manner as David managed to track Tim down in LA when he had his mic plugged in to his computer; just in time for him to vent his spleen about holding data to ransom. Also, we get to enjoy listener Tim Clark’s review of the Amazon Fire TV.

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MyMac Podcast 529: Quick Thoughts

On November 7, 2014, in Podcast, by Tim Robertson

mymac529
Guy is back from the Sunshine State and quickly makes up for lost giggles as he and Gaz discuss CurrentC, GamerGate, Dead Product lines, and why speeding through Georgia at the end of the month is just a bad idea.

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Guy’s App Pick: Angry Birds Transformers by Rovio More than meets the eye.
Gaz’s Pick: Numbers and iCloud/iCloud drive yay it’s working now :) Free with New Mac’s if you don’t have it it costs 13.99 gbp ot $19.99
People’s Pick: From Mark Sheppard (twitter)
I pick the iOS app called Clips. Clipboard on steroids. Works as a:
1. Notifications widget
2. Share extension
3. Keyboard 4. App

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Yosemite: A Take Control Crash Course – Book Review

On November 6, 2014, in Book Review, Review, by Elisa Pacelli

Yosemite: A Take Control Crash Course
Author: Scholle McFarland
Publisher: TidBITS Publishing, Inc.
Price: $10.00
77 pages, ebook-PDF format
ISBN: 9781615424443

TC3-Yosemite-1.1-Cover-160x124

When I want to learn, really learn, about a single technology topic, I turn to Take Control books. Each book dives deep into its subject; for example Dropbox, online privacy, or 1Password. Many other readers prefer a quick overview of the topic, a “get in, get out” philosophy if you will. For that reason, TidBITS has released a new type of Take Control series called Crash Course. The books are divided into small segments that allow readers to quickly check just the section they need at the moment, then get back to what they were doing.

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Macally iPhone 6 Cases – Review

On November 5, 2014, in Cases, iPhone, iPhone Cases, Review, by Elisa Pacelli

Flexible Protective Frame for iPhone 6
Company: Macally
Price: $10.99
Available in five colors

Metallic Snap-On Case for iPhone 6
Company: Macally
Price: $8.99
Available in five colors

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Apple recently released new iPhones, which means there’s a whole lot of new cases, covers, and bumpers on the market. Today I’ll be reviewing two products from Macally for the iPhone 6: the Flexible Protective Frame and the Metallic Snap-On Case.

The Flexible Protective Frame is a polycarbonate bumper that protects the edges of the iPhone. Raised buttons make it easy to use the volume rocker and on/off/sleep switch. The openings for the speaker, lightening connecter, and headphone jack are large and easily accessible. If you frequently use the ring/mute button grow out your fingernails, as you’ll need them to reach that button. Not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind.

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Commuter Series Wallet Case for iPhone 6 – Review

On November 3, 2014, in Features, iPhone, Review, by Russ Walkowich

Commuter Series Wallet Case for iPhone 6
Company: Otterbox
Price: $39.90 – $49.90 USD

Wallet

Having just evaluated and reviewed Otterbox’s Commuter series case for the iPhone 6, it’s also time to take a look at the Wallet case for the iPhone 6. Similar in design and build as the Commuter case, there is one striking difference. The Commuter Wallet series case is designed to be your all-you’ll-ever need iPhone case.

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Gaming on the new generation iPads

On November 1, 2014, in iPad, by MyMac

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 7.25.13 AM
On October 16, 2014, Apple fans all around the world braced themselves for the latest news and upgrades to be launched from Apple HQ in Cupertino. The reasons for this media event, which would include a keynote speech by CEO Tim Cook, were kept under wraps till the very last minute. But everyone, and his neighbour, knew that new generation iPads were just around the corner.

The rumours were finally confirmed when Cook unveiled the newer versions of the iPad Air and iPad Mini. These sleek and powerful tablets have particularly caught the eyes of Apple gamers, who are among the first users to upgrade to the latest models available and benefit from the best tablet gaming experience possible.

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How the iPad is Still Revolutionizing Business

On November 1, 2014, in Features, by MyMac

Have you ever stopped to think about how many times during your life things have drastically changed? Not the kind of change you experience when moving or when there’s a birth or death in your family, but the kind of change that affects you, your family, your friends, your work, and everyone else you know. These changes, like those created by technologies like cell phones, the Internet, and more recently tablets, affect all aspects of life for everyone, both at home and in business.

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TechFan #184 – Who’s Watching Me

On October 31, 2014, in TechFan, by Tim Robertson

tf184
Tim, David, and Owen discuss the brouhaha over Apple Pay. David finally gets his iPhone 6, Owen tells us about Verizon’s tracking of users, and Tim buys a couple cheap TVs and an iPad Air 2

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Somebody’s Already Using Verizon’s ID to Track Users

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“If only…” thoughts on iOS

On October 31, 2014, in A Few Words, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Opinion, by Curt Blanchard

IfOnlyTitle

Opinion by Curt Blanchard

iPhone6XL

If only…#1. Here’s a iPhone contradiction. One of the common complaints about the iPhone is that its battery doesn’t allow heavy users to get through a long day without recharging. Yet with each iteration, Apple makes the phone thinner. I think there is room in Apple’s line-up to make, let’s call it, an iPhone XL (Extended Life), or iPhone Pro. It would be a couple of millimeters thicker [gasp!] to accommodate a larger battery. Apple says that the iPhone 6 will yield up to 10 hours of internet use. How about an iPhone 6XL that will yield 16 hours? 20 hours? There are users who would gladly shell out additional cash for this and would not mind compromising a little extra thickness.

If only…#2. An iPad is, primarily, a one-user device. You set it up with your own app choices and preferences. Trying to share it with someone else is frustrating for both parties. Now that Touch ID has been added to the iPad line, here’s an idea that should be possible to engineer: separate user profiles. Using your fingerprint, you set up the iPad to suit your requirements and liking and, later, your partner can set things up to her tastes by accessing the iPad with her fingerprint. Better yet, your four-year old wants to play games on the iPad. You can set his profile with no internet access, no ability to change settings, and all of his favorite games.

 

Triple Charging FM Clock Radio – Review

On October 30, 2014, in Audio, iPad, iPhone, Review, by Curt Blanchard

Triple Charging FM Clock Radio
Manufacturer: iHome
Model: iDL 100
MSRP: $149.95
iHome iDL 100

Remember when we all had clock radios beside our beds? The iPhone has all but replaced the need for these nearly quaint devices. iHome has just introduced a product that updates the old standby: a bedside radio that charges your iPhone and/or your iPad while you sleep.

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Domke Chronicle Camera Bag
Tiffen
Price: $317-$350

Domke closed

The Domke Chronicle is a rectangular camera bag made of heavy duty canvas. It comes with three detachable inserts than can be configured in a number of ways to accommodate a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR) and a couple of lenses. It also has four expandable pockets, two on the sides and two under the front flap, as well as a smaller storage pocket inside the main compartment, suitable for SD cards or filters. There’s a zippered pocket behind the front compartment for an iPad or other tablet.

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