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Microsoft’s Free Sync Service

Last week, I wrote about an underpublicized gem in Microsoft’s Windows Live suite of free online and offline services and programs: SkyDrive. It’s a free, 25-gigabyte virtual hard drive on the Internet, accessible from any computer.

My readers gently pointed out that I managed to miss an equally spectacular feature: Windows Live Sync. It’s another very good, very free Windows Live service, for Mac and Windows, that everyone should know about.

The problem: you have a work machine and a home machine. Or a desktop PC and a laptop that’s frequently out of the house. Or a family. Or a small business.

In any case, you find yourself having to copy certain important files back and forth after each trip: when you return home with your laptop, when you get to the office after doing work at home over the weekend, and so on.

The solution: Windows Live Sync. You designate one folder on Computer A, and another folder on Computer B. Then Sync keeps them synced with each other, magically, over the Internet, with no effort on your part. Add, change, or delete a file on your laptop; you’ll find it added, changed, or deleted on your desktop. Edit some chapters or spreadsheets on your Mac at home; you’ll find them edited the same way at work.

There are plenty of services like this online-SugarSync, for example-but they’re not free. I’d venture that they’re not even as simple.

Here’s how to set it up. Suppose, in this example, that you have a PC at work and a Mac at home. Suppose, furthermore, that you’ve already signed up for a free Windows Live account (

On each computer, visit Download and install the little Live Sync app. It puts a tiny Sync icon on your menu bar (Mac) or system tray (PC).

Now sit at the PC and sign into the Sync Web site ( Click “Create a personal folder.” Navigate to the folder on your hard drive that you want to sync; select it by opening it, right there on the Sync Web page, and then clicking “Sync folder here.” (You can also create a new folder at this point.)

You’re shown a list of the computers on which you’ve installed the Sync program (and that are turned on and online). Click the one you want this folder to sync with, and then, on the “Select a folder” screen, specify which folder on the Mac you want synced with the PC folder you chose. Finally, choose either Automatic or On-demand synchronization, and click Finish.

And that is all. When you add, change, or delete anything in a synced folder on one machine, it’s automatically updated on the other, over the Internet. It’s totally great for keeping the latest versions of everything accessible at all times. And it has a lot of fans among my readers.

As a handy side effect, Live Sync lets you grab files from any of your computers, from the Web site, even from folders you haven’t set up for syncing. Left the Smithers presentation at the office, and now you’re on-site at the client’s place? No problem. You’re covered.

You can also make certain folders available to family members and coworkers, making the whole thing even more useful.

The fine print: You can synchronize up to 20 folders, each containing up to 20,000 files, max. Files can’t be larger than 4 gigabytes each. Files can be synced with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Macs. Microsoft recommends that you don’t sync your Outlook mail stash, because it’s an enormous file that’s constantly changing.

This, by the way, isn’t even the end of the story. The next-generation Microsoft free sycning software is called Windows Live Mesh. It’s roughly the same idea, but it’s even more powerful and complicated. It creates a Web-based “desktop” with 5 gigabytes of storage-and your Macs, PCs, smartphones, and even authorized friends can sync up to it.

Details are at

Clearly, Microsoft is aiming to be the leader in giving away that syncing feeling. And it’s doing a darned good job.

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