WINDOWS LIVE SYNC – GOOD PROGRAM, POOR UPGRADE

Windows Live Sync replaced Foldershare last month. It’s a good program but the upgrade experience for Foldershare users is pretty miserable.

Windows Live Sync and Foldershare are services that allow folders to be synced so that multiple computers have exactly the same files in them at all times. You can set it up to view your photos on both computers in the house, or have a folder of work files at the office synced with a laptop, or share a folder with a friend so it is identical on both of your computers. That’s great stuff! I’ve written about it before frequently (and at length).

If you’re new to this, these are the two most interesting things to know.

  • It only syncs files back and forth when both computers are online at the same time. If you turn off the office computer and go home and turn on the home computer, the files won’t sync.
  • It’s likely to be replaced someday by Live Mesh, Microsoft’s other service that does exactly the same thing. That may take a couple of years but don’t get emotionally invested in Live Sync – it probably won’t be the survivor.

On a random day in December, the Foldershare team turned off the Foldershare servers and the program stopped working on everyone’s computers. Various things were popped up to take people to this page (pictured below). Simplicity is a virtue in technology but this wasn’t enough information for people to have any idea what was going on.

foldersharetolive

It wasn’t made sufficiently clear that some Foldershare users would have to change their login information. Foldershare had been built on a proprietary service that was separate from all of Microsoft’s other services, so login names and passwords were unique to Foldershare. Windows Live Sync is built on Microsoft’s Windows Live ID. (Reminder: here are my instructions to check or set up your free Windows Live ID, which controls access to a rich array of Microsoft services.)

The team rolling out the upgrade promised in the support forum that the upgrade experience would be as seamless as possible, keeping our Foldershare libraries intact and synced. They noted pretty quietly that oh, by the way, we’d have to start over to set up folders shared with other people. I don’t see that made clear anywhere on the web site.

Installing the software has a couple of kinks in it that just seem odd.

  • Clicking the link for the software brings up a dialog box with “Save” and “Cancel.” Here, take a look.

foldersharetolive1

Y’know, maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t you kinda think that “Run” would be an option for installing a small program? Maybe “Open”? That’s just weird. It’s an unnecessary, unexplained bit of confusion. It seems trivial until you talk to people. Trust me. It’s not trivial.

Okay, so eventually you save the file somewhere, then go find it separately and run the installation program and it’s done and it . . . goes away. You’re left with a hollow, used feeling. Nothing starts up.

If you go hunting, you’ll find a new entry for Live Sync on the Start menu. That lets you run it and sign in with your Windows Live ID and experience the mystery of whether it will discover the old Foldershare libraries and start syncing them automatically. I don’t have any clear answer to that yet – it hasn’t seemed to work that way a couple of times but there may have been other factors.

I’m also not sure if it automatically removes Foldershare. Seems like it should but I’m not convinced.

Tonight I went to use another feature that’s less well-known. When you sign into the Live Sync web site from anywhere, you can connect to your computers running Live Sync and download files from them. That’s pretty cool!

Except you can’t, because that feature isn’t turned on by default. On a computer running Live Sync, click on the Live Sync icon, then click on More / Settings on the menu and put a check in the box for “Allow remote access to this computer.” Eventually I stumbled on this explanation in the help files.

That’s not exactly a smooth process! The program is swell but I’m disappointed that it’s not easier to get started.

SUMMARY – INSTRUCTIONS FOR UPGRADING FOLDERSHARE

  1. Make sure you know your Windows Live ID, or set one up.
  2. When you click on the link to install the Live Sync software, save it on your computer in a folder where you can find it.
  3. After it’s downloaded, open the folder and double-click the installation file that you saved named “WindowsLiveSync.msi”.
  4. After it’s installed, find Windows Live Sync on the Start menu and run it. Put in your Windows Live ID. If necessary, install it on your other computers and set up your shared folders.
  5. Uninstall Foldershare if it’s still in your list of programs.

Good luck!