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Operating Systems

Back up and synchronize files between multiple PCs for free

A pair of free utilities make it easy to access and update a common file folder.

Nearly all broadband Internet accounts come with storage on the ISP's servers, but I'll wager not one in 10 broadband users ever store anything there. That's a shame, especially if you find yourself schlepping a USB thumbdrive or rewritable CD full of your personal files from computer to computer. There are dozens of free utilities out there that make transferring files between your local PC and an FTP or Web server as easy as dragging and dropping. The two I've been using are the open-source FileZilla FTP client, and 2Brightsparks' SyncBack, which is also available in a $30 version called SyncBackSE that adds compression, performance, and security features.

Windows' built-in FTP comes up short
You don't need any added software to send files to an FTP server from Windows: simply type the server address into Windows Explorer's address bar and press Enter to connect and view the files, or open a command prompt and type the address there. If you're working with lots of files in several folders, the Windows approach is like dressing in the dark. FileZilla and other FTP clients give you a clearer view of your file transfers before, during, and after the process.

For example, I use FileZilla to transfer files to a directory on my ISP's FTP server, as well as to update a Web site hosted on one of the company's Web servers. I created a profile for each task and can jump between the two simply by clicking the drop-down menu next to the program's Quickconnect button. FileZilla's multiple windows let me view the folder trees and contents of the local PC and the remote server side by side.

The FileZilla FTP freeware utility
The free FileZilla FTP program lets you compare the contents of folders on your local PC and the remote FTP server.

As simple as FTP transfers are using FileZilla, you can't use it to back up files to an FTP server automatically, nor is it easy to synchronize files between two folders. That's where SyncBack comes in: the program lets you schedule file syncs and backups to FTP servers as well as to local storage devices. And you can run your backup and sync profiles manually with a single click. SyncBack lists the files that appear in the source or destination folder, but not in the other, so you can choose which files to include or exclude from the update.

The free SyncBack backup and synchronization program from 2Brightworks
Back up and sync files on an FTP server as easy as to a local folder with the free SyncBack utility from 2Brightworks.

It may sound like a trifle, but one of the greatest benefits of the FileZilla/SyncBack approach to file syncs and backups is that I no longer have to fumble around trying to plug my thumbdrive into the USB ports on my various PCs. It's also one less gizmo to keep from misplacing. Any programs that simplify my life even a little bit are welcome.

Monday: Getting Ubuntu to play nice with Flash and QuickTime.