A few years ago businesspeople carried a laptop on the road, used a desktop PC in the office, and worked on another PC at home. Maybe they had a BlackBerry, too--but only if they were real big shots.
These days almost everyone has a smartphone, whether it runs Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7, or BlackBerry OS. You may also carry a tablet with a different OS than your phone. And you might pack an ultralight MacBook Air in addition to your Windows-based computer at home or at the office.
Managing those disparate devices, with their assorted operating systems, applications, and connectivity options, can be a nightmare. But with the right mix of software and services, you can easily handle multiple platforms and integrate your data.
I use several platforms. At home, I'm on Windows 7, when I'm working on my desktop PC. For travel, I recently shifted to a MacBook Air running Mac OS X Lion. I also have an iPad 2, which I use mostly for occasional email checking and Web browsing. My main mobile phone is an iPhone--but a Droid X, which runs Android, has replaced my office landline.
As you can see, I own a fairly eclectic mix of devices and platforms. It's quite a juggling act, keeping all of them in sync. Thanks to some useful applications, though, it gets much easier.
What Do You Need to Sync?
Before you start downloading a bunch of cloud-connected apps, take a second to lay out your needs. For example, if you mostly work at home, and you attend relatively few meetings, you might not need to sync your calendar across multiple devices. If you're a writer or some other creative type on the go, you may want a way to log your constant stream of ideas electronically. If you're working on a joint project, you may need to share a variety of documents with your colleagues.
Another key point is to understand which of your platforms need to share data, and which types of data you need to share. For example, I have a Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 that I use exclusively as an email and Web-browsing tool; I don't really need to access my work data with it, though I do use it infrequently as a note-taking tool.
If you work in a corporate environment, you have to take your company's IT policies into consideration, as well. Your IT managers may have their own ideas about which kinds of information the company wants living in the cloud versus on its own servers. Be sure to touch base with your IT department if you think you might want to share potentially sensitive or proprietary information across devices or platforms.
The bottom line is that your integration needs will vary depending on what you do, how much you travel, and which platforms you carry with you. With that in mind, it's time to take a look at a few different scenarios, as well as applications that might be useful in each case.
Syncing Browser Data
Maybe you don't create a ton of documents, but you are a heavy-duty Web user. Fortunately, all the major browsers now allow you to sync bookmarks, passwords, and other data across platforms. Google Chrome is the most transparent, assuming that you have a Gmail login--just enable sync under the 'Personal Stuff' tab on the Chrome options panel.
Firefox is more painful to sync: You have to enter a special passcode on all systems where you wish to enable Firefox Sync. It's enough of an annoyance that it's one reason I generally avoid using Firefox now.
You can sync Internet Explorer bookmarks, but the task requires you to download and install Windows Live Mesh. That isn't a bad thing, though, as Live Mesh also lets you share more than just IE settings: You can sync Office templates across computers, and also sync important folders with Windows Live SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud-storage service.
Perhaps you just want to keep notes across multiple devices, but you don't always work in the same location. Maybe you're out shopping, and an idea comes to you, so you need to jot it down on the notepad in your mobile phone. Or maybe you've settled into your airliner seat, and you want to enter a quick note on your smartphone before shutting it down for takeoff.
In this case, one of the best online choices is Evernote. A free note-taking application at first glance, Evernote is actually a cloud-based service. Every time you write a note in Evernote, your local notebook syncs up with the Web-based version. Evernote also manages to maintain a consistent interface across its desktop, Web, and laptop versions, though the mobile versions do look different
Evernote offers a slick array of options that can help you integrate it into different platforms. An Outlook plugin, for instance, lets you easily add email entries to Evernote. You can have multiple notebooks, share specific notebooks with other users, and add tags to entries. Evernote even has a small marketplace of Evernote-related applications.