The scenario: a small office has several employees, each with a laptop. All computers have Internet access but there is no file server. Employees often work with their laptops away from the office and need common access to current versions of shared files. Work should not stop due to network unavailability. What to do?
MY SEARCH CRITERIA
I sought a solution that:
- Provides fully automatic synchronization requiring no user action
- Handles unexpected network outages gracefully and without user action
- Allows documents to be locally available during network outages, and automatically synchronizes them when the network is restored
- Is platform agnostic
- Runs adequately on low-spec hardware such as netbooks
- Is open source, at least on the client
Additionally, I gave extra credit if it:
- Can synchronize any file on the computer, not just those placed in a special directory
- Allows web access to files, should a laptop die on the road (thus requiring associated online storage)
- Retains prior versions of files, enabling it to serve as a backup system as well (again requiring online storage)
- Has end-to-end encryption
- Can be run invisibly so that curious fools aren’t tempted to monkey with the settings
There is considerable overlap between online synchronization services that happen to do backup, and online backup services that happen to do synchronization. My focus here is on the former.
WHAT I FOUND
Dropbox: Multiplatform, mixed license. No cost plan covers 2 GB storage, paying customers get more. Limited to synchronizing files in a single directory. This would be my choice when ease of setup is more important than privacy or features.
FreeFileSync: Open source, multiplatform. No cost.
iFolder: Open source written in C#/Mono. Client/server architecture; you install your own server. Clients are multiplatform; server is Linux only. This would be my choice for an organization that wants to run its own server and isn’t troubled by Mono.
OpenSync: Multiplatform. Open source. Beta. Well supported on Linux but Windows binaries have to be compiled by hand.
SpiderOak: My choice. Multiplatform. Proprietary. 60 day free trial before needing to upgrade to a paid plan. Can back up any file on computer. Web access to files. End-to-end encryption. Consolidated synchronization/backup solution with previous version recovery.
SugarSync: Not available for Linux. Web access to files. No cost plan covers 5 GB storage, paying customers get more. Can back up any file on computer.
Syncplicity: Windows/Mac only. No cost plan covers 2 GB storage, 1 user, 2 computers; paying customers get more. Can back up any file on computer.
Windows Live Mesh, or at least that’s the name this week: it’s also been called Live Mesh, Windows Live Sync, and Windows Live FolderShare. Windows only, but you probably figured that out yourself. No cost. Web access to files on SkyDrive (25 GB storage).
Yet more choices on AlternativeTo.