FolderShare has gone away, and it's been replaced by Windows Live Sync. For the most part, this has been a marked improvement. The product is finally out of beta, and performance is good - I'm seeing my files and folders kick off a sync faster, and complete faster, than with FolderShare. And because most users were stuck at the 10,000 files per library level, the new limit of 20,000 files per library allows them to do much more with Windows Live Sync than they could ever do before.
However...Windows Live Sync is causing me some significant frustrations. The first frustration, and by far the worst of the two, is the fact that I'm capped at 20,000 files per library. Way back when FolderShare was owned by ByteTaxi, I was happily paying $60 USD per year for a professional level account - and that account allowed for 20,000 files per library, and perhaps a bit more, because up until just recently I was able to keep my Pictures folder in sync across all my computers - and that folder has about 22,000 photos in it. Suddenly that became a big problem. Since the release of Windows Live Sync, that seamless sync experience that I love so much has been completely shattered. For several weeks I simply didn't have my Pictures folder in sync amongst my computers because I wasn't sure how I wanted to work around the problem. I'll be honest, I was pretty angry that a software service I'd relied upon for nearly five years became completely broken with this "upgrade". By combining FolderShare and a hosted Exchange service, I was able to go to any of my seven computers (five desktops, two laptops) and have quick access to every file and photo I cared about. It was a powerful solution, so much so that I've constantly evangelised the combination of those two services because it's so game-changing for anyone with multiple computers. Then it broke.
There are two main ways to work around this problem if you have more than 20,000 files in a folder and you want to sync it. The first, and quickest for me, was to take three of my biggest photo folders (containing 4258 photos in total) and put them each into a single ZIP file. Because Windows Live Sync is based around the number of files, by zipping those folders into three individual ZIP files, I was able to take my total number of files down to the 17,000 realm. Like magic, Windows Live Sync came back to life and started keeping my Pictures folder in sync. The down-side to this approach is significant though: I lost easy access to those pictures. They no longer show up in Picasa, and I can't quickly access them. If I want one of those photos, I have to crack open one of the ZIP files - and manupulating a 3.3 GB zip file takes some grunt - and extract the file. Not ideal in any way. My wife loves having access to all our photos on any computer she sits down in front of, so I knew this solution was a band-aid fix at best.
The more complex solution, but really the best one, is to create a folder called "Pictures #2" or something similar in the user folder, right next to the Pictures folder (we're talking Vista here folks). Then move your "excess" pictures into that folder, and create a sync relationship with that folder across all your computers. Finally, configure your photo cataloging programs (such as Picasa, the Zune software, etc.) to monitor that new folder in addition to your normal Pictures folder. That's the solution I implemented as I was working on this article, and it didn't take much more than 10 minutes of configuration work - but now the long task of synchronizing those pictures begins.
What frustrates me of course is that I went from having a solution that worked to one that didn't - and this is from an "upgrade" to the service. How many people had more than 20,000 files in a single library? I suspect very few - but I am, unfortunately, one of them. The Live Sync team has stated that they're going to watch how the service scales with the new 20K file limit, and adjust it accordingly. Myself, I'd happily pay $60 or so a year ($5/month) to have 40K file limit libraries - a number so high that I wouldn't have to think about it for years - and integration with SkyDrive so I can keep a copy of my files in the cloud if I wished. The Windows Live team has a real opportunity to go head to head with the likes of Carbonite and Mozy if they price and position this properly ($5/month is the magic number in my opinion). Will they? The writing is on the wall, but Microsoft has tended to stumble more often than not lately, so I'm not holding my breath.
I also want to see the Live Sync team develop a Windows Mobile sync application, and continue to develop the software, restoring the still-missing file delta feature (where only the differences in the file is synced). There's obviously some crossover between Live Mesh and Live Sync, but Live Mesh still isn't built to scale - when I was at Mobius 2008 and I asked the Live Mesh guy if I could sync 23K files he practically choked. Live Mesh just isn't ready for large-scale synching, but I hope the Live Sync guys can leverage the work the Live Mesh guys have done and in 2009 we'll see a Windows Mobile client for Live Sync - it's the "last mile" so to speak and it's a gaping hole in Live Mesh as a solution.
My only other complaint about Windows Live Sync is this error message I see fairly often:
When I click OK I have to re-enter my Live Passport credentials, and then it starts working properly. I have a particularly long Live ID email address and password, so this is slightly irritating, but not show-stopping. Windows Live Sync is a powerful tool that I hope gets the attention it deserves from Microsoft, because neither Google, Yahoo!, or Apple have anything quite like it - and Microsoft needs every advantage they can get.
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys photography, mobile devices, blogging, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. He wishes it were about 10 degrees warmer right now.
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