DocSync Tackles Document Scatter

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Let's see, where's that Word document, PDF, spreadsheet or PowerPoint preso? Did you leave it on Google Drive? Save it to DropBox? Maybe it's somewhere on your computer or iPad?

The proliferation of cloud services and mobile devices gives you lots of options for storing and sharing documents, but keeping track of them can be difficult. For iPad users, DocSync offers a remedy: An app that lets you browse, search for and organize files in popular business formats regardless of whether they are on your computer, the iPad, or a couple of leading cloud services. But what you can do with the files is somewhat limited.

I tried out version 1.2, which supports DropBox and Google Docs. You simply set up a DocSync account and authorize the app to access your DropBox and Google Docs account to get going. To also view documents on a Mac or PC, you must first download and install the DocSync VM software, specify the document folder you'll want to access remotely, and log in using the credentials you created on the iPad. By default, the software will run in the background, and you'll be able to access documents as long as the computer is online. DocSync VM also tracks your document upload history.

As a security precaution, the folks at DocSync recommend creating a PIN on the computer software, which will propogate to the iPad app. That way, if your iPad is lost or stolen, you can keep thieves from accessing the documents you've downloaded by changing the PIN on the computer. DocSync will demand the PIN when someone tries to access documents, and after 10 incorrect entries, the app will delete all the downloaded docs on the iPad.

The home screen on the iPad app has nine large square icons, four of which afford access to specific locations (the iPad, the computer, DropBox and Google Docs). Within each location, DocSync has bookshelves for recent files; recent folders; projects (a virtual file system within DocSync that lets you gather related materials from disparate locations in a single folder); and MyClouds, which has shortcuts for jumping to other locations without having to first return to the home screen.

There's also a MyClouds icon on the home screen, which shows all your synced content, and a search icon for searching across locations. In addition to keyword searches for file names, you can filter results by file type (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Image--JPEG, JPG, or PNG--or PDF). Results appear as thumbnails showing the type of file and its name. A seventh icon is for accessing e-mail attachments, a feature that hasn't yet been implemented, and the two remaining icons--labeled Coming Soon--are reserved for "new clouds," according to the popups that appear when you tap them.

DocSync works quickly because unlike some cloud-based file managers, it doesn't automatically move files. Instead, it retrieves file metadata whenever it connects to a service or device. But by tapping and holding a thumbnail, you can summon a pop-up menu with options for downloading the file to your iPad, e-mailing it, or putting it in a Project folder. Within DropBox, the same menu adds an option for moving a file into GoogleDocs. The app lets you specify how much space you wish to reserve on your iPad for downloaded files, to a maximum of 8GB.

But DocSync has a couple of key limitations. While downloading files lets you view them offline, you can't edit them--even if you have apps that support editing Office documents. The DocSync cache isn't available to other apps. While online, you can edit docs in Google Docs, but it's a very limited tool on the iPad--you can only type or delete. A DocSync account can only sync files with one computer running the DocSync VM software, so if you keep documents on multiple computers, you must create a different DocSync account for each one. That is an awkward workaround; but in a pinch, you could e-mail files to yourself for editing.

DocSync is free--it will likely eventually charge for extra features, such as high download volumes. If you use an iPad and document scatter is a problem, it's worth checking out.

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