Sync a Network Folder

Brandon Elmo LaLonde wants access to a folder on his school's network when at home. He asked the Answer Line forum for advice.

With the right software, it's relatively easy to sync the folder on the network with another on your laptop's hard drive--although you do occasionally have to make some tough decisions.

But the real issue is: Do you have a right to copy those files onto your hard drive, fiddle with them at home, and then copy them back? The answer will quite likely be "No."

Discuss the issue with your IT department first. See if the people in charge of those computers and the data on them object. There are some very good reasons why they might:

* The files may contain private or otherwise sensitive information that's not allowed to leave the building.

* The folks in IT may not object in principle, but they may have their own preferred tool for syncing files.

* What you want to do may not be necessary. With the proper password and virtual private network (VPN) software, you may be able to access the folder over the Internet.

* They could be concerned about what would happen if a file you changed at home overwrote one that someone else changed since the last time you synced.

* They may have a reason that they don't want to explain to you. Frankly, that's their right.

But if they say it's okay, I'm going to recommend two free sync programs.

The first is Microsoft's SyncToy--a remarkably easy program to use. Everything about the user interface is extremely intuitive.

But I caught a serious shortcoming in SyncToy. If a file has been changed in both folders since the last sync, the one on the left will overwrite the one on the right. (As with most sync programs, SyncToy displays the two folders you're syncing side-by-side. Which one is on the left depends on how you initially set up the relationship.) That means that you--or a co-worker or other student--may lose valuable data.

Allway Sync isn't quite as easy to use, although it isn't particularly difficult, either. You'll figure it out. What's more, it's only free for non-commercial use. (Commercial users will have to buy the $20 Allway Sync Pro.)

If Allway Sync sees that a file has changed in both locations since the last sync, it will tell you that there is a "Questionable file" and recommend a "manual review." Under those conditions, that's what I'd recommend, as well.

My thanks to tman for his contribution to the original forum discussion.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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