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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.

iCloud isn't perfect, but it's worth using

Having used it since its early iTools incarnation, it's not surprising that I've had my beefs with iCloud over the years. But despite Apple's occasional incompetence with cloud services, I find myself relying on iCloud, too, for my sync solutions.

For instance, a few of my apps use iCloud sync over Dropbox. There are my personal email, contacts, calendars, and reminders, which I need to keep in check across my Macs and my iOS devices. And Safari's bookmarks sync and iCloud Tabs are some of the few iCloud features I absolutely rely on for my daily work — if I switch to my MacBook Air from my iMac, I can still quickly access a list of my currently open tabs on my desktop computer, and my work bookmarks are all there and accounted for.

iCloud Keychain sync may not be perfect as-is — probably why I augment it with 1Password, now — but it's getting there. And while I don't often rely on Photo Stream, it's nice to know that I have another backup of my images.

MacBook Air, phone home

My Dropbox tricks and iCloud account all work fairly well to keep my MacBook Air in sync, but sometimes I need to return to the source. That's where Back to My Mac comes in — it lets me access my iMac from my MacBook Air, no matter if I'm three feet or three thousand miles away. When you open a new window on your desktop, any awake and online computers connected to your iCloud account should show up under the Shared pane.

Now, Back to My Mac doesn't always work — sometimes, the feature just gives up the ghost, even when your computers are both online and ready to connect — but that's why I have backup options. Edovia's Screens software for Mac and iOS has become my go-to program when Back to My Mac fails, and it's an excellent client. I originally bought the mobile version for my iPhone and iPad, as Apple doesn't support accessing Back to My Mac from your iOS devices, but I've started using the program more often on my desktop, as well.

Whatever your screen-sharing program of choice, it's an excellent last-ditch option for tasks you can't quite accomplish on your laptop. Personally, I'll sometimes screen share into my iMac for more processor-intensive tasks (like rendering a video, for instance), or if I'm working on something in a program that doesn't support sync (say, tweaking a Photoshop image for an article header).

Forge your own cloud journey

These are the tips and tricks that work well for my Macs, but you might find completely different paths to help you keep your computers in sync. And that's awesome: Everyone's workflows are a teensy bit different, and what works for me and my tiny laptop may not be perfect for you and yours. Use these tips, combine them with your own, but most importantly: Find a way to avoid worrying about where your files and applications are when hopping from computer to computer.


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