Review: PCsync for Mac

Laplink expands into the Mac realm with Version 6. It includes a host (September 24th, 2010)

The Mac side of version 6 is a simple application that acts as a host for the PC-side software. It allows you to set up access points, change ports if needed, and set options for authentication, SSL security, SpeedSync, and compression.

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Laplink Software, Inc.

Price: $39.95 US

The Good

  • Good sync software on PC side.
  • Fast sync over network & USB.
  • Easy to move files from one OS and machine to another.
  • Good tool for migrating from PC to Mac.

The Bad

  • File Transfer and syncs must be managed from PC.
  • Lacks Mac-to-Mac sync.
  • Does not support non-alphanumeric characters in Mac filenames.
  • PC interface, not a Mac friendly one.
  • Early versions of the software has connection issues.

PCsync from Laplink Software has been available for the PC for some time, moving through 5 generations of updates. Laplink expands into the Mac realm with the Version 6 update and includes a host application that allows you to synchronize, transfer, or migrate files between Macs and PCs. On the PC side, PCsync synchronizes files and folders locally as well as securely syncing across multiple computers. The new version allows PC to Mac sync, with a host application on the Mac side. The sync is set up and controlled from the PC, so the current version is not yet capable of running Mac-to-Mac syncs, though they promise all-Mac syncing soon.

The Mac side of version 6 is a simple application that acts as a host for the PC-side software. It allows you to set up access points, change ports if needed, and set options for authentication, SSL security, SpeedSync, and compression. After you set a username and password, you click the Start Host button and you are done on the Mac side. The Mac host is what you might expect from a PC company making the jump to Mac software. It doesn't follow good Mac interface design and seems counterintuitive, but it does function properly, in most cases.

pcsync6_MacHost.jpg

PCsync MacHost


PCsync copies files in one direction, or syncs files in both directions, and connects over Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or USB. On your PC, you tell PCsync what connection to use: Local, USB, or network. Next, you choose your folders on the local PC and target Mac, and set the sync direction, either Mac to PC, PC to Mac, or a true sync in both directions. You can set up conflict resolutions at this step in the Synchronization Options window.

pcsync6_SyncSetup

New Sync Job - Synchronization Options Window


The Scheduler window gives you plenty of options to set up automated syncing of files or you can run it in Manual mode. Syncing defaults to all file types, but that is also customizable. After you give the job a name, you can start the sync. The software remembers saved syncs for quick recall.

pcsync6_SyncScheduler

New Sync Job - Scheduler Window


When the sync concludes it gives you a summary and confirmation. You can also assign a name to this synchronization session.

pcsync6_SyncSummary

Sync Job Summary Window


PCsync also offers migration software for moving from a PC to a Mac, including a Convert E-mail tool for migrating emails. The File Transfer option presents a window similar to Windows Explorer, which allows for quick transfer of files. This is an easy way to move a file or folder between two computers; but for Mac-to-Mac transfers File Sharing is still a better option.

pcsync6_FileTransfer-all.jpg

File Transfer Window


Testing the connections between my PC and Mac, I found that the USB connection was much faster. A 73MB, 727-file folder with documents and JPGs took only 41 seconds to sync over USB to an empty folder, while the Wi-Fi network connection took over 4 minutes (289 seconds). The Wi-Fi connection lets you move around with a notebook, so I often used the wireless connection, sacrificing speed for convenience. In addition, the USB cable must be USB A to USB A, which is a bit harder to find than standard USB A to USB B cables. Follow-up syncs, where only a few files moved around, were almost instantaneous, regardless of connection type.

File Type and Name Considerations

I only found one file-type that gave PCsync trouble and it is a little-known .IPT file generated by the high-end photography browser, Photo Mechanic. A torture test of files showed that PCsync easily deals with document files such as PDF, DOC and DOCX Word files, RTF, HTML, plus Mac DMG and PKG files. Photo files such as PNG, TIF, JPG and more unique Camera RAW files like CR2, CRW, TIF, and NEF files, plus AVI and MOV video files moved with no problems. In Mac specific syncing programs, you do not need to be concerned with file types, so PCSync does add some complexity to the process.

Mac File Name Problems

The current version struggles with Mac file-naming protocols. Mac files can have non-alphanumeric characters, such as "<", "?", "{", "|", "+" and "*" to cite a few. Any of those characters in a file name not only prevents that file from synchronizing, but also shuts down the entire sync. The only way to progress is to close the sync window, find the offending file, and remove it or change its name, then start a new sync.

A more elegant way to handle the situation would be to pause the sync and ask you how you want to handle the file name incompatibility, with the option to then resume the sync. An option to automatically replace problem characters with an underscore might also be a good choice. I spoke with the PCsync support staff; they said that they would consider both suggestions for a future release.

File name incompatibility is currently the most glaring problem with the software. I used a test folder with over 4000 files in nested folders and about 20 files had names that included non-alphanumeric characters. A sync, which now takes five minutes to populate to an empty folder with properly named items throughout, took about 50 minutes the in the first attempt sync it. This includes the down time in which I had to dig into folder hierarchies to find and rename offending files and then relaunch the sync. It was a madding first experience. Once the naming conventions were compatible, the syncs went smoothly, so I hope this fix is high on Laplink's priority list for the next update.

Summary

My experience was mixed overall and I look forward to Mac-to-Mac capability and a better filename-handling scheme from PCsync. I want to caution you that you do need to use the most up-to-date version. I had a long period of delays getting an older version to work. The first version I downloaded never worked, despite weeks of attempts from Laplink's software engineers to find a solution. It was never able to see my Mac, despite the PC being able to communicate with the Mac over my network. If you should have problems like this, you may have an out of date version. A reinstall with updated software was the only solution to my problem.

Also, be prepared for mild delays in getting help on the Mac side, because the Laplink engineers must contact Mac specialists and then return with suggestions a few days later. I expect this to change in the future as Laplink agents told me they are looking to develop more software for Apple machines going forward.

This is a good first effort by Laplink, but they need to implement the above-suggested corrections. The software provides an easy way to move files between a Mac and a PC, and can sync work files with home files, or back-up folders with primary folders efficiently, but the interface need work. As a Macintosh program it falls short because it does not support Mac-to-Mac syncing, so I rate PCSync 3 out of 5 stars. PCsync works with Mac OS X 10.5 and higher, including Snow Leopard. It works on PCs with Windows XP, 2003, Vista, and Windows 7.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by EV Hunt


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