Many small business people use multiple computing devices for work – desktop PCs at office and home, laptops, smartphones, netbooks — and switch between them depending on the circumstance. The problem is, they typically need many of the same files on all their devices.
SharpCast Inc. offers SugarSync, an online service that makes it easy to synchronize files and keep them up to date on all your computing devices. SugarSync also delivers automatic online backup and secure online file sharing. The system uploads subscribers’ files over the Internet — much like other online backup services.
Easy File Synchronization
SugarSync's file synchronization functionality is impressive and easy to use. Place the files and folders you want synched to other devices in the Magic Briefcase subfolder that SugarSync automatically creates in your My Documents folder during the installation process.
You can move files to or create new Briefcase subfolders using Windows Explorer, or in SugarSync Manager. You can also add files to Magic Briefcase subfolders on your other devices. Whenever a device logs into the SugarSync account, new or changed files that have been backed up to the Magic Briefcase subfolder since the previous login will automatically download to the device.
In addition to PCs, laptops and netbooks, SugarSync supports major softphone platforms including iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile (beta only available), as well as Windows, Linux and Mac computer operating systems
Simple File Sharing
The sharing functionality lets you make individual files or folders accessible to colleagues by assigning Web links to the content. You can send the links to collaborators, assigning passwords and "permissions" that allow read-only access or editing privileges. SugarSync will even send you e-mail to tell you how often other people access the shared folders and files.
You can use this simple but powerful functionality for ongoing collaboration or in one-off situations where you need to transmit a file that is too big to send in an e-mail. Assign the file a link, and send it to the recipient with a password.
The only snag: collaborators must register (for free) with SugarSync in order to access a subscriber`s shared files or folders for which they receive a link. Why? SugarSync says it so it can authenticate users. We suspect it’s a ploy to recruit more free subscribers who may eventually become paying customers.
Our out-of-the-box experience with SugarSync was generally good. The software downloaded and installed without problem on two Windows machines. We were not able to test the process using a smartphone, but the smartphone interface works much the same as on a computer.
The software itself is fairly intuitive, using a Windows Explorer-style interface for showing folders and files. All the functions we tested worked as advertised. The initial test backup of six or seven gigabytes (GB) of data did take several hours with the SugarSync software set to backup at medium speed, but this is typical of online backup services.
Online Backup – Slightly Flawed
SugarSync works in many respects like other online backup services — Mozy and Fabrik, for example, which we’ve reviewed in the past. Subscribers download and install a piece of client software on each device.
The SugarSync Manager software lets you select which folders you want to include in a backup set on the device. SugarSync copies all the files in those folders to its secure servers. (The company says it maintains two redundant data facilities.)
SugarSync continuously backs up files as they change — in the background as you work. If you change and close a file, SugarSync will almost immediately begin backing up the file. It means theoretically that you don’t need to monitor whether the software is carrying out scheduled backups — because it’s doing them all the time — and that you won’t lose changes made to a file between backups.
During the potentially very lengthy period when SugarSync copies files for the first time, the backup process may slow your computer's performance, but it is possible to specify the speed at which the backups are done to minimize the affect. And once the initial backup is complete, the performance hit is unnoticeable.
No Outlook Backup
The problem with SugarSync's backup functionality is what the service cannot do. It is not possible currently to back up Microsoft Office Outlook database (.PST) files — whether the file is open and in use or not. The company said that adding this feature is “on the roadmap” but will likely not happen until later in 2010.
However, you can easily back up e-mailed file attachments by forwarding the message with the attachment to a mailbox associated with your SugarSync account. This could also be a way for your colleagues to add files to your SugarSync file repository without actually having access to the account.
It is also not possible to filter backup sets by file type. If you tell SugarSync to back up a My Documents folder, for example, it will back up all the files in that folder, regardless of type, and regardless of whether you really need to save them.
With more sophisticated backup solutions, you can tell the system to exclude certain types of files that don’t need to be backed up — temporary files, for example — or to only include file types you definitely need. However you can tell SugarSync to only back up the main folder and exclude subfolders. Filtering by file type is “a possibility for the future, but it isn’t currently planned,” a company spokesperson told us.
These shortcomings shouldn’t bother small business people who do not rely on Outlook, or those willing to take the trouble to organize their hard drives so that only the files they really want to back up are stored in the selected folders.
For many people, SugarSync synchronization and file sharing functionality – not available with most online backup services – will compensate for the flaws in backup.
The company offers business accounts starting at $30 a month (or $300 a year) for three people and 100GB of storage. Business subscribers can add employees for $10 a month ($100 a year), and add increments of 100GB of storage for $30 a month ($300 a year).
Individual plans, which small businesses could also use, range from $10 a month ($100 a year) for 60GB to $40 a month ($400 a year) for 500GB.
If you can make do with the somewhat rudimentary backup functionality and overlook the unnecessary set-up procedure for file sharers, SugarSync is an attractive package for small businesses who need help synchronizing multiple devices and have fairly straightforward backup and file sharing needs.
Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte
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