Software Week #1: SugarSync and 'Bundled' Files

By James Fallows

Now for Something Completely Different. It's a new month and a new season and a new theme. Ready for a series of stored up "interesting software" thoughts.

SSync2.png

I have mentioned many times my enthusiasm for the program SugarSync as no-brainer, multi-platform, risk-minimizing way (a) to have a constant cloud-based backup for all my info, and (b) to keep files on my desktop, my laptops, my wife's computer, my iPad, my mobile phone, etc easily in sync.

But as I've also mentioned, there are some challenges for Sugar Sync, which include backing up or syncing programs that keep their data in "bundled" files. This doesn't involve programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or even Adobe Acrobat, which save their data in easily identifiable standalone files with a .DOC, .XLS. .PPT, or .PDF etc extension. For instance: if you are using Word, you store the .DOC file in the "Magic Briefcase" folder that SugarSync creates on your computer. The contents of that folder are automatically synced and updated on all your other computers. You work on one machine, save the file, and then begin working on the updated version at some other machine. Same with any other program that uses discrete data files.

Many other programs, especially but not only native Mac programs like Scrivener and DevonThink, store their data in "bundles" that are really composed of many subfiles. Can they live happily with SugarSync? Yes they can. It requires a few extra steps, but that is part of why I am here this week -- starting with the how-to instructions for the PC/Mac/Linux intriguing program "Personal Brain."

TheBrain.pngHere's how you do it. This cookbook list is based on my Mac computers, but I believe it's basically same for the Windows version:

1) Create a new "Brain" file on one computer, and have its storage location be on the "Documents" (Mac) or "My Documents" (Windows) folder of your computer. Let's call it WritingFile.

2) Edit the bejeezuz out of this file on that first computer. When you are done, use Brain's "BrainZip" function. Go to the File menu, and choose CreateBrainZip. There are two check-boxes, for "include attachments" and "include search file." I click them both, but that's optional. IMPORTANT: the Create BrainZip dialogue will ask for a location to store this file. Make sure that you direct it toward the "Magic Briefcase" folder of your computer. Conceptual point here: you now have one ZIPped file that contains all the sub-components of your data. It will have a name like WritingFile.brainzip.

3) After a few seconds, Personal Brain will say that the backup is created and ask if you want to see the directory where it's located. Do or not as you please. If it detects an older BrainZip version of this same file, it will ask you if you want to overwrite it. Choose Yes -- or, if you want to preserve the old one for some reason, give you new file a different name, like WritingFile1.brainzip.

4) If you are online, SugarSync will then copy the newly created BrainZip file to the cloud. It will be copied to the Magic Briefcase folder of all your other computers as soon as they are online.

5) Go to your other computer. IMPORTANT: using drag-and-drop (or whatever other file-moving system you're used to), move or copy the newly synched WritingFile.brainzip file from the "Magic Briefcase" folder to the "Documents" folder. Conceptual point: you are using the "Documents" folder of each computer as the place to work on your files, and you're using Magic Briefcase strictly as a transfer vehicle to keep them in sync. (For reasons I won't go into, this will avoid problems.)

6) Start up Personal Brain on the other computer. IMPORTANT: It will give you a list of "recent files" to work on, but do not simply choose to open the existing version of "WritingFile" you may have been working on before.  You need, instead, to unzip the BrainZip you have just copied over, to be sure you have the latest version. You do that by choosing "WritingFile.Brainzip" as the file you want to open.

7) Immediately after you make that choice, a screen will appear asking which directory you would like to un-zip the BrainZip file to. The answer is your normal working directory -- "Documents" for Mac, "My Documents" for Windows. If it finds an older version, it will ask if you want to overwrite it. Say Yes (or, say no and rename one of the files.)

8) Return to the "editing the bejeezuz" stage, in step 2. Repeat as needed. You're done!

This sounds hard, and requires care the first time you do it. After that, it's a few-second simple routine. And it means that you always have backup copies of your current files, and that you can work on complex "bundled" programs from a large number of machines.

Later in software week: a DOS program that still has its charms; how to use SugarSync with some other bundled programs; lessons of the long migration from the Windows to the Mac world; and even more.  About software week: the Discovery Channel has South Africa's Chris Fallows as star of its Shark Week, so I figure I need to do my part for the Atlantic with a week of our own. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/09/software-week-1-sugarsync-and-bundled-files/60722/