I've been trying out Syncplicity, Dropbox and NomaDesk for the past few weeks, and I've learned a few things regular reviews on the web ignore. Before getting to them, however, let me briefly state what I'm looking for and what other similar products I exclude.
I'm tired of sync'ing my desktop to my notebook before leaving home, only to miss the train. (I know, I know, I shouldn't wait till the last min. to do anything.) I tried briefly to sync directly through VPN with SFFS or Beyond Compare, but the process is too slow (due to the paltry uplink bandwidth of my home adsl) to be a long term solution.
So I'm looking for something that does sync'ing, sharing and versioned backup over the internet. As a result, products/services that do only sync'ing and sharing (like Foldershare) or only backup (Mozy) are not considered.
I also exclude two very popular services--Jungle Disk and Sugarsync--for they don't have free accounts. In addition to my own family, I'm also trying to set up file sharing with my students/assistants. With JD/S3 I might be setting myself up for a $30-50 bill per month, which I can't afford. (My school isn't going to pay for the cost.) Sugarsync is probably less expensive, but it doesn't allow you to exclude certain types of files from sync'ing. I would tolerate it if it's a free service (like Dropbox).
One other concern kills another popular choice--Microsoft Live Mesh--for me: privacy. JD/S3 is the only truly trust-worthy choice for files are encrypted on the server, and you're the only one with your own private key. Most others do encrypt the files on the server, but the company keeps the keys. They depend on internal security control to prevent employees or hackers from reading your files. (Syncplicity says it keeps the keys on a separate server, not sure about the others.) Not ideal, but I can cope (by encrypting critical files myself).
MS Live Mesh nevertheless stands alone in not encrypting files on the server, relying solely on internal security measures. So despite its generous storage policy (5 GB free), I won't try it.
OK, that narrows the field to 3 contenders (I'm sure there're others; suggestions are welcome), and here are my comments:
Dropbox has been widely praised for its simple interface and good performance. It's deserved, but somewhat misleading. It's simple because it lacks flexibility its competitors provide, most notably the ability to sync more than one folder and to exclude files/folders from sync'ing. They do say both are high on their priorities, and should be delivered early next year.
Nomadesk is relatively unknown, with a smaller user base (judging purely from the traffic of its support forum). And yet it has a great service. It doesn't sync your current files per se. Instead, it creates virtual drives wherein you could drop files you want to sync/share. Files on the virtual drives are stored locally inside an encrypted image file. It's like a Truecrypt drive with sync'ing/sharing and online backup capabilities. Very cool!
Better yet, it has a unique feature called TheftGuard. Say your notebook is stolen. You reports it and the next time that notebook tries to sync with Nomadesk, its content is erased.
Like Dropbox, it does delta-sync, so the performance is good. Better, it allows you to exclude certain types of files from sync'ing, and you could retrieve backup versions right in your file manager via context menu.
With its current implementation, however, what makes Nomadesk great is also its weakness. Since it works only as virtual drives, it means massive drive remapping for me if I want my shortcuts/symlinks and path-specific application settings to work. It also means each share has to take up a drive letter, even it's lightly used. They say they are looking into the possibility of allowing a share to be mounted as a folder instead of a drive.
Another problem: as a virtual drive, some characteristics of a physical HD partition is lost. E.g., the recycle bin doesn't work anymore. Yes, you could retrieve backup files from them, but what if you're off line?
This is the service I ended up keeping, for now. It's Windows only, though Mac client is on the way. Linux support is unknown, though it's been repeatedly requested on their forum.
That aside, the lack of delta-sync is its only real weakness against the competition. Watch Syncplicity repeatedly uploading the whole Evernote database is a pain. I've since excluded Evernote files from sync'ing automatically, but that's not an ideal solution. They do say they're working on it, though.
There are other smaller issues, in no specific order:
1. While Syncplicity is great in allowing users to sync any folder, greater flexibility is needed in where to put a sync'ed folder and how it's named. E.g., I set up Syncplicity to sync my wife's whole data partition (D:), which isn't that big anyway. When I set up her other desktop, however, Syncplicity wouldn't allow me to use d:\ as the location for the sync'ed folder, insisting on a sub-folder, not the root. This is a huge problem for she has many file shortcuts, folder links and application settings that depends on specific paths.
The same issue arises when you share a folder with another user. My wife and I share some folders, but through Syncplicity they are named differently on our desktops. On mine, e.g., it's "xxx", on hers, it's "xxx (my_name)". Again, this breaks all the shortcuts, links and settings depending on specific paths.
My temporary workaround is to use subst and symlinks to mimic identical paths, but it's not only cumbersome, in the case of subst I loose the system Recycle Bin on the virtual drive (same problem with Nomadesk's approach).
2. Speaking of shortcuts and symlinks, Syncplicity doesn't seem to backup those. I don't need it to follow the links and fetch the original files/folders (though it would be great as an option), but I do need those shortcuts (.lnk files) and folder links sync'ed, so I could use them on another machine. (I didn't notice this problem with Dropbox or Nomadesk, but I wasn't paying attention to this when I tried them so I can't be sure.)Correction
: On closer look, Syncplicity does follow folder symlinks/junctions
and sync the files within. I hope this can be made optional. Many of the folder symlinks on my system are set up to prevent duplicates, and I prefer Syncplicity to keep the links as links. File symlinks
are sync'ed into zoero-byte documents at the other end. Useless, but at least I know there should be a file and its name, so I can hunt it down (since it's a link originally, there has to be a real file somewhere). Shortcuts
(to files/folders alike), OTOH, are simply ignored. No trace of them on the target system at all.
3. Compared to desktop backup utilities, usability is still lacking. E.g., exclusion management could be easier. I can exclude a file from the context menu in my file manager, but not a folder. I'd also like the ability to manage exclusions from a central location (interface), so I could quickly exclude a host of files I don't want sync'ed. (For the moment I hack the "user.config" for this purpose.)
Likewise, There're folders in which I want only certain types of files sync'ed. Can't do that now. But this criticism applies to all three I've tried, and IMO Syncplicity is better of the three.
That's all for now. Hope it's useful for some, and hope to learn of others' experience.