Synchronize Pro X

On July 21, 2003, in Review, by David Weeks

Synchronize Pro X

Price: $99.95 (two year license)

Keeping files synchronized across multiple computers has been a problem for many years. The explosion of laptops and networks has made the syncing problem even worse. How do you make sure that you have the right version of the right file on the right computer, especially when you travel with a laptop, and may not have easy remote access to your desktop computer?

I’ve been fortunate enough to own numerous PowerBooks, starting with the PowerBook 100, and have tried many different solutions to the file synchronization problem. Over the years, I’ve tried many different file-syncing strategies, from the totally manual, to AppleScript-based solutions, to dedicated file synchronization applications. Take my word for it, use a dedicated application; DO NOT try to sync more than just a few files by hand!

There’s a plenitude of syncing applications for the Macintosh; a stroll through VersionTracker reveals more than 10 to choose from, ranging from free to expensive. Qdea’s Synchronize Pro X is the most expensive. Let’s see how well it works.

Synchronize Pro X has plenty of features. It’s an OS X native program. It allows long file names (more than up to 255 characters), file sizes over 2 gigabytes, and handles OS X file permissions with aplomb.

You can set Synchronize Pro X to archive, backup, or synchronize. You can use it with local disks, over a local-area network, or over the Internet. It can even wake up a sleeping computer using the so-called “Ethernet magic packet,” to allow timed and scripted operations even when the remote machine is asleep when the syncing operation begins. Unfortunately, Airport-connected machines cannot be awoken via the “magic packet,” as the Mac OS powers down Airport cards during sleep. Synchronize Pro X will remember passwords needed for remote login, allowing totally unattended operation. Synchronize Pro X can create bootable OS X backup disks.

It allows file to be selected or unselected from the sync operation by name, file type/creator, or extension.
Files that have been deleted from a disk or folder as part of a syncing operation can be archived, providing a healthy measure of safety in case a file was accidentally sync’ed out of existence. Take it from me, this happens more than one likes to admit.

Normal operation of Synchronize Pro X (hereafter referred to as SPX) means choosing the drives or folders that you wish to work with, and deciding what you wish to do. Laptop owners may choose to sync certain folders with their desktop machine. If you are working with an external hard drive for backup, you may want to make a mirror image of your main hard drive. You may or may not want to delete files that are not on the “source” drive. SPX allows all these choices.

Here’s how I use SPX most of the time.

When I travel, I want certain folders on the PowerBook to be identical with the same folders from my desktop. Because SPX can resolve aliases, (a critical feature for my style of disk organization) I created a “Sync Big” folder on the desktop machine, and a “Sync Little” folder on the laptop.

In the Sync Big folder on the desktop Mac, I put aliases of the numerous separate folders on the desktop machine that I want mirrored on the laptop.

In the Sync Little folder on the PowerBook, I put aliases of the folders on the laptop that I want to be mirrored from the desktop.

I then told SPX to create a backup, using the Sync Big as the “Master.” I set my options to delete files from the laptop that were not on the desktop Mac, not to copy files that were over 750 MB (my Virtual PC hard drive image), not to copy .DSStore files, and to preserve file permissions. Finally, I chose the resolve aliases option, which meant that SPX would work with the original files, not the aliases themselves.
When the backup operation begins, SPX scans the folder and files pointed to by the aliases in Sync Big and Sync Little, comparing the file modification times for all the files in question on both Macs. You’ll see a graphic display of files to be copied, and files to be deleted. SPX gives you the option to make changes to the list of copied files even this late in the process, which few other sync application allow.

When you are happy with what’s going to happen, and let the process proceed, SPX presents a nice progress dialog, showing how many files are left to be copied, with time and size remaining information as well.

At the end of the process, I have seven folders on my PowerBook that are identical with the same folders on my desktop.

When I return home, I use the same SPX document, but simply change the Master checkbox from the Sync Big folder on the desktop to the Sync Little folder on the laptop, and run the process the other way. All my changed documents (email, Quicken, MyMac writings, etc) are copied back to the desktop. If I have deleted anything in a synced folder while on the road, that file is deleted from the desktop, as well.

That’s how I use Synchronize Pro X. There are as many syncing strategies as there are computer users, so your methods may vary.

Other helpful features of SPX are its ability to create bootable OS X backups. I made two bootable backup of my main OS X boot disk with no muss or fuss with Synchronize Pro X.

Mike Bombich’s Carbon Copy Cloner is the most popular shareware app for making bootable backup, and judging from the commentary on VersionTracker, is the main competition for Qdea’s Synchronize Pro X.

While Carbon Copy Cloner is a capable application (I still use it from time to time), it has nowhere near the features and capability of Synchronize Pro X. SPX is far easier to configure, and has more options when deciding what to sync. By comparison, Cloner is more of a “one-trick pony.” It’s great at what it does, but it doesn’t have a long feature list. Synchronize Pro X will meet almost any user’s sync and backup needs.

So, what’s to keep you from running right to Qdea’s web site and grabbing a copy of Synchronize Pro X? Well, the main obstacle is $99.95 for a two-year license, and $49.95 to renew the license after the initial two-year period expires.

Synchronize Pro X is far and away the most expensive sync and backup application, with the sole exception of Dantz Development’s Retrospect. With all due respect to Qdea, Retrospect is in a league of it’s own when it comes to enterprise-level backup work. But administrators of SOHO (small home small office) networks with a small number of Macs may find that Synchronize Pro X may meet their needs, if they don’t need the industrial-strength power that Retrospect offers.

Let’s look at that licensing agreement a little more closely.

If Qdea releases any updates during your license period, they are free.
However, Qdea’s web site and read file information indicates that when your two-year license expires, any new version will require a $49.95 license renewal fee. Let’s look at an example.

1. A license is purchased today (July 2003). Version 3.0.3 is the current version. You can use this version forever, without further restriction, using the serial number issued for the license.

2. In July 2005, you download version 4.1. It still works for you, and you can use this version forever, too.

3. In August 2005, you download version 4.2. This version will tell you that you need to purchase a license renewal to use it. This version won’t work for you, but if you quit it and open version 4.1, it will work just fine.

This licensing model is similar but more relaxed than many software
companies’ models, which are based around selling their customers upgrades
every 12 to 18 months. Qdea says they have deliberately de-emphasized the “new version” syndrome, in which a software company introduces a “x.0″ version as an
excuse to charge again for their software.

Is this worth it? You be the judge. This application is very well crafted, with loads of configuration options. The documentation is excellent. The user interface is attractive and easy to use. Qdea does provide a demo version of SPX. Unfortunately, the demo will not work with folders or disks over 10 megabytes, so it may be hard to test your own real-world scenarios.

There are shareware applications that do some of what SPX does, Carbon Copy Cloner being the best all-around competitor.

If the price and licensing don’t dissuade you, Qdea’s Synchronize Pro X is probably THE most capable sync and backup application around (not including Retrospect). It’s easy to learn (unlike Retrospect) and has a multitude of easy to use features (unlike Carbon Copy Cloner). A better demo version would certainly generate more sales, as the current demo limitations make it difficult to see if SPX is worth your money. For users who have demanding sync and backup needs, but don’t need the awesome power and complexity of Retrospect, Synchronize Pro X‘s $99.95 price is worth it.

MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5

David Weeks

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