Syncing Files Between PC’s and Mac’s

I don’t know how I missed this, but Microsoft has a really great product/service that allows you to synchronize files between multiple computers (PC’s and Mac’s) across the Internet (thanks Mike for pointing this out). In addition the product also allows you to share files with your friends. This communication happens in a private peer-2-peer fashion and is encrypted. The product is called FolderShare, and Microsoft purchased late last year and is offering the service for free.

Quoting from their site you can:

  • Synchronize all your devices – Retrieve work files at home or access photos at work. With your devices in sync, you no longer have to be frustrated that your information is on another computer.
  • Share files, photos, and home videos with your peers – Select the content you want to share, invite members, and they will be able to access the shared files directly from their device.
  • Access your computer or device remotely – FolderShare mobile access allows you to access your computer from any web browser.

The service works as advertised and is something that I plan to share with my Dad and Father-in-Law as a way for them to backup their information between their machines (they both have desktops and laptops) as well as provide them a way to backup to my house as well (if they want).

Initially I had thought that it would be perfect, easy to use solution to my off-site storage problem related to backup. While it works great, it does a have a few limitations that make it unsuitable for use in my particular situation.

The three big limiting factors are that it only supports files up to 2 GB in size (not that big of deal if you take that into account and split your big files), but the real killer for me is a limitation of 10,000 files per “library”. Some of my directories have over 25,000 files (think all the pictures my wife takes). I started thinking about workarounds, but eventually nixed those ideas as just too complex. The third issue is that it runs as a user level application. So that means that you have to be logged in and have the application running in order to it to sync.

This is a great tool for your personal and/or small business use. It is really easy to use, its free (at least for now), and it fills a niche in most people’s backup strategy by providing off-site backups, as well as access to your files (particularly if you are a laptop user), and finally it is cross platform Mac OSX and Windows.

I Want to Backup Both My Mac and PC

So I recently purchased two cheap 250 GB external USB hard drives. I plan to use them solely for backing up both my Mac and Windows PC. I plan to keep one unit at the house and the other off-site. Either at my office or maybe ship it to my Dad’s for safe keeping.

I’ve been looking around for the best ways to backup both systems to the same hard drive. My problem is that I want to the solution to be simple and robust. Ideally, I’d like to be able to plug the hard drive into either computer and back the other up. I’d like to be able to see the files from both OS’s at the same time. I’d like to do daily, weekly, monthly backups with incremental and compression. It would be nice to also mirror the boxes so that I have a bootable device as well.

I know that I won’t get all that with just one solution (and basically 1 drive). I’m going to try a few things and see what works so this post is basically just to document some initial finding to see what I may want to try.

I found the following on the forums at OSXFAQ:

Under Panther, the command line diskutil tool has an option entitled “MBRFormat” for its “partition” verb, which writes the MBR in DOS/Windows format.

In other words, if you have a disk which is accessible through the device node /dev/disk1, and you wish to partition it into two 80GB partitions – one FAT32 and one HFS+J, you do it as follows:

diskutil partitionDisk /dev/disk1 2 MBRFormat MS-DOS DosDrive 80G "Journaled HFS+" MacDrive 80G

This would allow my to plug the drive into either type of computer and copy the data over using some method. On the Mac I’d be able to see both file system types, but without some commercial software like MacDrive I would only be able to see the FAT32 partition on the PC. I could leave the drive attached to the Mac and copy the files over the network from the PC. I’d then be able to restore directly if I needed to. I’d need some software on the Mac to make this work.

One really neat solution (that is probably overkill for me) is called BackupPC.

BackupPC is a high-performance, enterprise-grade system for backing up Linux and WinXX PCs and laptops to a server’s disk. BackupPC is highly configurable and easy to install and maintain.

Given the ever decreasing cost of disks and raid systems, it is now practical and cost effective to backup a large number of machines onto a server’s local disk or network storage. This is what BackupPC does. For some sites, this might be the complete backup solution …

BackupPC is written in Perl and extracts backup data via SMB using Samba, tar over ssh/rsh/nfs, or rsync. It is robust, reliable, well documented and freely available as Open Source on SourceForge …

BackupPC Features:

  • A clever pooling scheme minimizes disk storage and disk I/O. Identical files across multiple backups of the same or different PCs are stored only once resulting in substantial savings in disk storage and disk I/O.
  • One example of disk use: 95 laptops with each full backup averaging 3.6GB each, and each incremental averaging about 0.3GB. Storing three weekly full backups and six incremental backups per laptop is around 1200GB of raw data, but because of pooling and compression only 150GB is needed.
  • Optional compression support further reducing disk storage. Since only new files (not already pooled) need to be compressed, there is only a modest impact on CPU time…

I’ve also looked at

  • rdiff-backup which uses rsync like methods plus incremental backups (even of binary files) but they don’t have good windows support yet
  • SuperDuper which is a free/shareware Mac application that will make a mirrored bootable drive as well as has other backup modes.
  • An article about HOWTO: Backup Your Mac With rsync which I’ve used before
  • Dirvish which is a set of scripts for rsync based backups
  • A script for copying opened files on Windows XP and 2003 Server (it uses VSS)
  • An article from LifeHacker about how to backup your PC (with a software recommendation).

I will probably start with just partitioning my disk into two sections and doing a basic copy to get things going and experiment from there. Once I finally get a solution that I like I’ll be sure and update everyone, and if you have a particular solution that you like, please leave me a comment.

How to Have Your Widget and Use It Too

So you’re running Mac OS X Panther (10.3) or some flavor of Microsoft Windows and have been drooling over Tiger’s (not so) new Dashboard feature. Well there is no need to drool anymore, because you can have your widgets and use them too. Konfabulator is now free. For those that don’t know, Konfabulator was the original cross platform widget platform from whom some claim Apple appropriated the concept.

Konfabulator was recently purchased by Yahoo! and subsequently released for free. There are thousands of free widgets available at their Widget Gallery. A couple of my favorites, besides the included weather widget, are: TVScaper, Wunder Radar, and ShortStat.

Software for Your Mac

Mike over at JeepinXJ is almost ready to buy a Mac mini. He’s been asking about what software he’ll need to install in order to replace his Linux box. Instead of just sending him an email, I figured I post my list so that other could comment on it as well.

Fink is like yum for macs. It installs linux packages on your Mac. – I used it to install a number of things including wget, mtr, and lynx.

Darwinports is the other package installer for Mac OSX. (I have not used it)

Mike uses the No-IP dynamic DNS service so he’ll need MacOSX client download package. I obviously haven’t tried this one. If you have problems with this one, you could always try downloading the linux one. I use DynDNS for my dynamic DNS and they have a Mac client as well.

A good site with PHP install packages for Mac is Marc Liyanage’s site. This is what I would use if I were doing it again. It works with the out of the box Apache 1.3 on Mac OS or an Apache 2.0 install. (He also has some other stuff as well).

You can now install MySQL directly from a MySQL Mac OS X package on their site. (note it is about 3/4 of the way down the page)

I used the packages from Server Logistics to install Apache2, MySQL, and PHP. I would recommend not using them seeing has how they have not been updated in a long time.

PostfixEnabler, helps gets postfix and IMAP working on your box. Great App It also can setup POP3 and IMAP servers as well.

DNS Enabler helps you configure the box as a dns server (again very handy)

I haven’t tried WebMon, but it looks interesting for installing PHP, Apache and WebDAV support (this allows you to supposedly share iCal information).

A couple of other Mac OS X – Apache, MySQL, PHP server install packages exist. MAMP and XAMPP are two. I haven’t tried any of them, but a little research would be in order. Note the MAMP people do not recommend running as a production server (mostly for security), XAMMP always says that, but they do offer a script to tighten the security down. The nice thing about these two packages is that they come with the PHP eAccelerator already installed (it makes a big difference on PHP performance)

Probably the best Mac news site is MacInTouch, but there are also MacFixIt and MacNN as well for keeping up to date on the latest Mac information.

If you have your favorite, must have Mac OSX application/site please leave a comment.

It’s good to be back

It’s been a crazy couple of days. I brought the new iMac home on Wednesday night, and started hooking it up in the office. In the process of hooking everything up, I had to move by web and mail server (the old Dell laptop). This ended up not being a good thing. Not good at all. After getting the iMac all hooked up and working, I tried to connect to the server, and I couldn’t. So I pulled the laptop out, opened it up, and … a screen full of error messages. I must have bumped it pretty hard when moving and the hard drive went “whacky” on me.

I had been planning to move my web and mail to the new iMac, but just not this soon. Also, even thought I’ve talked about backing the unit up, I never found the right solution and hadn’t gotten around to it yet. To top it all off, we’re still having problems with our Internet connection at the house, and that night when I could connect, I was getting slower than dialup speed. I tried to download some tools to rescue the data, but couldn’t. (I placed a call to Comcast and a technician will be out on Saturday). I was up really late trying to get the Mac as ready as possible.

I got up really early on Thursday morning and took the dead laptop to the office in hopes of recovering the data there. After downloading a System Rescue CD which worked but wouldn’t see my PCMCIA network card, and a copy of Knoppix, a live Linux CD, I was able to copy most of the data off the drive. I’m not really sure what was lost, but I was able to recover the database that powers this blog, as well as the templates. I was also able to recover all of my old emails too.

When I got home, I started the rest of the process to build the iMac into the server machine I needed. Even though Mac OS X comes with a lot of the things necessary to run right out of the box, I either needed newer versions or additional software. In particular, I needed MySQL, Apache2, PHP, Postfix, an IMAP server, and BIND.

There are a number of ways to add and update UNIX software on a Mac. In addition to compling the software from source, there are Fink and DarwinPorts which provide linux and bsd style updating mechanisms. Both other some usesful features, but I needed to get things running quickly. So I chose to use some installers from Server Logistics. They offer a series of “complete” installs for Apache2, PHP, and MySQL with all the options that I needed. So I installed them and got my webserver back in action. After a quick install of phpMyAdmin I was able to recover my database, and then in short order get the blog up and going again.

For email, I needed to get an IMAP server installed as well as Postfix configed and running. Again after some searching, I used the Postfix Enabler, from Cutedge. This installed and configured an IMAP server as well as providing an interface to configure and start Postfix. So now I had email again (albeit without any spam filtering) and called it a night at roughly 12:30.