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MacBook in the cloud: Work with the same files on multiple Macs

Serenity Caldwell | April 21, 2014
For most people, one computer is probably sufficient. It might be a desktop, or a laptop, or you might just make do with iPads or iPhones. But somewhere down the line, you might adopt more. You get a work computer. You decide you want a traveling laptop. You might replace your old Mac, but it still runs fine for basic Web browsing and writing emails.

For most people, one computer is probably sufficient. It might be a desktop, or a laptop, or you might just make do with iPads or iPhones. But somewhere down the line, you might adopt more. You get a work computer. You decide you want a traveling laptop. You might replace your old Mac, but it still runs fine for basic Web browsing and writing emails.

When you buy multiple iOS devices — an iPad to go along with your iPhone, for example — you don't have to worry about transferring your software or syncing your passwords. By default, they're tied to your Apple ID, and that data downloads over to your new device when you set it up. Macs, however, are not quite so lucky. Apple's iCloud service offers limited sync capabilities for your passwords and user account data, but doesn't widely support app data; and worse, new computers require you to either clone your old drive to your new computer or copy over any non-Mac App Store applications. And, of course, the big whopper: Your average Mac laptop has a whole lot less storage than its desktop cousins, especially if you value the speed of a solid-state drive (SSD).

Now, I love my three-year-old 11-inch MacBook Air. It's light, ultra-portable, and the perfect writing machine. But it's not the fastest horse in the race, nor does it have excess storage space — my SSD has just 120GB hardwired into the machine, and my applications alone take up a third of that capacity. As I work at home, I often travel back and forth between the Air and my iMac, and nothing is more annoying than having to manually email or transfer files from one computer to another. (Your writing groove is a lot harder to maintain when you have to close, save, and transfer your document every time you change machines.)

It turns out, however, that you can make your laptop into the perfect satellite computer with just a few tweaks — and save its precious hard drive space, to boot. Here are a few tips for syncing your computers with the cloud.

Selective syncing your Dropbox folder

Its recent political kerfuffle aside, Dropbox is still one of the best ways to store and access information across multiple computers: Your Dropbox folder lets you store files inside it on one computer and have them instantly appear in the folder on the second; you can also access them on the Web. And if you shell out for a paid account, you can sync up to 500GB of stuff within that folder.

I pay for a 100GB plan, but I don't necessarily want the entirety of my Dropbox present on my laptop — for one thing, I don't even have enough space. That's where the service's Selective Sync option comes in handy. It lets you select specific sub-folders to sync from Dropbox on a particular computer; for my MacBook Air, I chose only my Macworld article and file archive, with sub-selections for Application Support sync (more about that later) and a few miscellaneous folders.

 

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