Backup your Bestsellers and Synchronize your Screenplays Automagically
If you’re a writer, then I’ll bet your stomach ties in a knot every time you hear of a hard-drive failure or a virus that corrupts data. You put lots of time into writing that epic saga, and you know how much work you stand to lose if it’s lost forever and you are forced to start over.
You know you have to back up your data.
If you use multiple computers to access your writing files, the problem gets bigger. No one knows when the Muse may give chase, and you may find yourself using several different computers (Home, Work, Laptop, Mobile, Etc…) even on the same day. You need the current version of your manuscript accessible, no matter where you are, and no matter which computer you’re on. You could lose hours of work because you started working on (or saved over) the wrong version of your novel-in-progress. I know, because I’ve done it. It’s no fun comparing two Word documents side by side, trying to figure out which one has the most current edits.
Sometimes a backup isn’t good enough. You need something that keeps files both backed up, and up to date on all your computers.
You need your data synchronized.
Automatic for the Authors
The key is automation. If you automate the process of backup/sync, then you don’t have to think about it anymore. I don’t have room in my brain for all the massive plots and deep characters I try to write about, much less file-backup routines. Thankfully, there are many softwares and services available to work in the background and keep things backed up automagically.
For years, I’ve used Microsoft’s amazingly underrated Mesh technology to keep my data backed up and synced across multiple computers. However, in spring of 2011, Microsoft Mesh will no longer support the Windows XP operating system, so I no longer support Microsoft Mesh. If all your computers are running Windows Vista or newer you should check it out.
If you only need a backup solution, you might check with your internet service provider. Some ISP’s offer free online backup utilities. (I know Qwest offers 2 GB of free online storage for their customers.) This might be all you need, especially if you only use one computer. Pro users looking for data security and encryption should check out Carbonite. But these are just backup solutions. If you need to sync files between multiple computers, there’s a better way. In fact, there’s several better ways, but I’m going to tell you about the two most popular.
SugarSync vs Dropbox
There are many companies out there providing online file backup/storage/sharing services: Mozy.com,Box.net, Amazon’s S3, and even bizarre products like Pogoplug abound, but the two big names currently tossed around online regarding file sync are SugarSync and Dropbox. Dropbox is getting rave reviews, but I tested them both extensively and found that SugarSync was better in many ways.
Trying to find info about Dropbox on the Dropbox website was not only frustrating, but actually impossible. The Dropbox.com website is nothing but a funnel, with all paths leading eventually to a useless video that tells you what Dropbox does. I already know what it does, that’s why I went there. I wanted to know about file size limits, bandwidth limits, versioning, supported platforms and more, but all I could find was that condescending video.
Do you know where I finally found info on Dropbox? On SugarSync.com! Click on the product comparison chart to see SugarSync vs. all their competition, including Dropbox.
FREE Storage Space
The pricing and storage limits of Dropbox and SugarSync shift around more than the time changes in a Jagged Spiral song, but they both offer a limited amount of FREE storage, and I know that FREE should be well within most author’s budgets. Currently, SugarSync offers 5GB for free, vs Dropbox’s 2GB. For many authors, this might be more than enough. But if you need more space and have a couple bucks a month to spare, you get more space for less money on SugarSync.
Here’s how the pricing stacks up as of Feb 2011:
5GB = Free
30GB = $4.99 / mo or $49.99 /year
60GB = $9.99 /mo or $99.99 /year
100GB = $14.99 /mo or $149.99 /year
250GB = $24.99 /mo or $249.99 /year
2GB = Free
50GB = $9.99 /mo
100GB = $19.99 /mo
This storage and pricing will probably change in the next thirty seconds, but the price per GB of storage will only decrease over time as hard drive space becomes less expensive.
Screenshot of SugarSync in action. Note the little green check marks that let my know my files are synced.
Another difference between the two programs is that SugarSync will let you add any folder from your computer to the sync, while Dropbox has one and only one folder for sync. SugarSync’s interface for adding folders to your sync is clunky, but I prefer it over the One-Sync-Folder-To-Rule-Them-All mentality of Dropbox.
SugarSync adds a context menu to Windows Right-Click, but it’s close to worthless. Both programs put an icon in the system tray, so you can get at the programs that way, but I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait for a better interface that really integrates into the operating system.
Once these programs are set, they both work the same way. The status of any file or folder is shown by an overlay on the corresponding icon.
Once your files are synced up to SugarSync or Dropbox, you can access them through the internet, via the respective websites. Just login and you can browse through your files, download, upload, delete and manage your filesharing with others.
Both SugarSync and Dropbox let you share your data from the online storage with others.
Both Dropbox and SugarSync allow you to share folders, and folders can only be shared with other users, meaning the person you share a folder with has to create a Dropbox/SugarSync account to view the files in the folder.
SugarSync users can choose whether the share-ees can read-only or if they can modify the files within the folder. This allows for fully collaborative projects, which works great for authors who want to share manuscripts with co-authors, editors, agents, or pre-readers.
SugarSync also allows you to share a single file from your online storage out to the world. Dropbox does not have this ability. Sharing a single file in SugarSync creates a link that you can distribute via e-mail or posting to the web with their handy “Post to Facebook” and “Post to Twitter” buttons. Then others can download the file using that link. The people you share with can only download the file, and the link remains active until you disable it.
SugarSync retains the last five versions of all your files, meaning the last 4 changed versions of that file are kept on SugarSync’s website. So if you deleted all that backstory in a drunken rage and saved the changes… guess what? You can still get your old file back!
Dropbox stores versions differently. They save unlimited versions of your file, no matter how many changes you make, but versions are deleted after they become thirty days old. So if you don’t change your file for thirty days, all the revisions are gone. Dropbox offers a “Pack Rat” service which keeps ALL revisions of your files. The Pack Rat service can only be added to a paid account, and it isn’t clear from their lame website if there is an extra charge for this.
Depending on what kind of work you do, you might prefer Dropbox’s versioning system over SugarSync. As a writer, I think SugarSync uses a better method of storing versions. If a file got wrecked last time you saved it, you won’t find out until the next time you open it. But that could be months later. In that case, SugarSync would save your ass, but Dropbox would not, unless you added their optional “pack rat” service.
I tested the support for Dropbox and SugarSync by approaching each with the same simple question:
“Does file versioning use up my storage space? For example, if I have a 1 MB file that has 4 revisions, do those 4 revisions use up 4 MB of my storage?“
SugarSync: Checking their website help, I couldn’t find the answer. Handy e-mail and chat buttons at the top of the page got me through to a tech support chat session easily. The chat window showed 2 customers ahead of me and an estimated wait time of 8 minutes. I waited 14 minutes until an agent came online. The agent was quick to answer my question – versioning does NOT use up storage space.
Dropbox: I took the same question to Dropbox’s help site, and quickly found the answer – versions and deleted items do not count against your storage capacity. Pretending I did not find the answer, I looked for a way to contact a tech support agent. It wasn’t easy, but I did find a form to submit my question. I received a polite and accurate reply two hours later, which verified the info I found. Dropbox also does not count saved file versions against your storage.
The online storage wars are still playing out. Storage space keeps increasing and prices keep decreasing, which means this post might be out of date by the time you read it. But this is a war where the consumers win.
My recommendation should be obvious – SugarSync has more space for less money with way more features. The only two reasons you might want to go with Dropbox is that it supports the Linux operating system (SugarSync doesn’t) and Dropbox’s “Pack Rat” feature might interest some authors who want to keep every change they ever made.
But there’s no reason you can’t load both on your computer and get 7GB of free storage space! Try them both and see which service works best for you. You’re crazy not to take advantage of at least one of them. Get your writings synced up to the cloud, and ditch that sick feeling in your stomach when you hear about hard drive failures and laptop theft.
The Great Software For Great Authors Series
As both an I.T. guy and a writer, I get exposed to many different computer programs that are useful not only to computer users, but authors in particular. So I created the Great Software for Great Authors series, where I discuss software that can help authors in their quest to be more organized, efficient and successful.
So here’s the disclaimer. I’ve used all the software listed in this series, and found it useful enough to give it a hearty recommendation for my fellow authors, as well as the Conrad Zero Ubercool Seal of Approval. I’m not related in any way to the software companies I endorse, and they have not paid me for my recommendation. There may be affiliate links in this blog post and website which provide a token fee to me if people buy the software after clicking through from my links, but this is my recommendation only and not an advertisement.