Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BTSync: A new alternative to cloud based drive services

In a previous post, I wrote about how to connect your system folders (My Documents, My Pictures, etc.) to a Google Drive/Dropbox/Skydrive account.  The benefit of this is that you always have a backup available on the web.  If my hard drive were to die today, I wouldn't be too bad off since all I need to do is download the Google Drive desktop app and redirect my system folders to my Google Drive folder.  All my stuff would come back like it was never gone.  I'd still have to install applications but that's not too bad.  It's nice every once in a very long while to lose all my programs.  It forces me to trim the fat or look for better versions of the apps I use (Like Paint.Net or Notepad++).

However, I've always been a fan of the Bittorrent protocol.  It's a peer to peer file sharing program that most people use to download illegal movies or music.  While those days are behind me, I've tried to help people understand that P2P is no the same as illegal.  There are perfectly legal uses of P2P protocols like Bittorrent (see this, this, and this).  

And so my becoming a fan of Google Drive (and also Google Apps that allow me to work on a spreadsheet or document with many other people simultaneously) only makes sense.  If you're happy with that, or you only have one computer and no one you would ever want to share anything with, stop reading this blog post now (check out my most popular post instead).

Last week I stumbled upon BTSync.  This is a little app created by the same people that designed the Bittorrent protocol.  While there are several uses of BTSync, the main use is to compare it to the features and functionality of products like Google Drive.  Here is my comparison matrix:

FeatureGoogle DriveSkyDriveDropboxBTSync
Size Limit115GB27GB18GB
Shareable ContentMust be in Google Drive folderMust be in SkyDrive folderMust be in Dropbox folder3Any number of existing folders
Your files stored on a corporate serverYesYesYesNo
Online File EditorsYesYes4Viewer: Yes Editor: NoNo
Web Access to FilesYesYesYesNo
SharingOnly with Google users5Only with MSN Passport usersOnly with Dropbox usersAnyone with the app
1Without paying anything
2Shared with Gmail and Google+ Hi Res Photos
3Although pretty easy
4If you have a paid subscription to Office360
5Not necessarily Gmail users, but anyone with a Google account

So, let me highlight some of the reasons that BTSync intrigues me.  First of all, there is no limit to the amount of content that can be synchronized.  This is mainly due to the fact that your sync'd files are not stored on some limited corporate server somewhere, they're stored only on the systems where your files are synchronized.  This is a double edged knife, however.  While Cloud based drives can be used for backup, BTSync doesn't back your content up to the internet.  If you add a folder to BTSync only on one computer, the files aren't copied anywhere.  So, unlimited size but no storage on any corporate servers.  That may be two advantages in some peoples' books.

Unlike most of the corporate cloud based drives, BTSync is only about the file transfers.  As such, there are no online editors for your files.  However, since there is no web access to your files (because they're not on any corporate server) you'll only be accessing your files from your desktop.  You can install any office productivity suite locally (or even use google docs in a roundabout way).

Sharing is another feature that is different from other offerings.  While other offerings essentially require you to have an account in order to have RW access to a shared folder, BTSync will allow anyone with the app to access/sync your folder as long as they have the secret, a special, very long, very complicated password.  If you give another person the secret to your folder, they can sync your folder with a folder on their computer.  Any changes either of you make will be reflected in the other's sync'd folder.

You can however, give out two other types of secrets: a read only secret and a one time secret.  The RO secret allows the person to whom you give it to sync your folder to a folder on their system, but they won't be able to make changes to your folder.  This is a good way of distributing files to friends.  For example, you could setup your pictures folder and hand out the RO secret to family members.  They would then get copies of any pictures you put in your pictures folder (think of doing this with your iCloud Photo Stream).

Have you started thinking about the possibilities yet?

Another thing I did right away with BTSync was to synchronize my Dosbox working directory across all my PCs.  I play retro DOS games every once in a while.  By synchronizing the working directory for Dosbox (a DOS emulator) I can access the games, save files, and anything else on any of my computers.  This allows me to play a game on my desktop then save the game, exit Dosbox, go to the living room and launch Dosbox and pick up the saved game right where I left off.

I'm hosting a LAN party this weekend.  I setup a folder where I intend to put all the installers and files needed (including my dosbox folder).  I've added it to BTSync and will hand out the RO key via Facebook and email to everybody coming to the party.  That way they can install the games ahead of time to make sure they work.

Another idea I had was to use BTSync to replace NQSync (which I had originally intended to write using the bittorrent protocol anyway).

One more feature then I'm done.  I promise.
In my previous post, I talked about changing the default location of system folders.  This is necessary since most cloud drives require the sync'd files to be in a particular folder.  So I have to move my system folders to that sync'd folder in order to get them to sync.  With BTSync, I don't have to move the folders.  I can setup each folder in BTSync without moving it.  This means that I don't have to move anything, I don't have to change Windows configurations, or anything.

I haven't done it yet, but I will probably only run Google Drive on one of my PCs.  The rest will use BTSync to stay in sync.

So, that's my initial review of BTSync.  So far, I don't see it replacing Google Drive, but I do see myself using it to distribute pictures and home videos to my family, keeping my games in sync across all my PCs, possibly synchronizing recorded TV shows, making backups, and using it at work.