Take Control of Syncing Data in Leopard
Author: Michael E. Cohen
Publisher: Take Control Books
Price: $10 (ebook); $22 (printed book)
Requirements: Any PDF reader (ebook).
Trial: 23-page sample
Like many, I use more than one Mac in my work/home mix. Syncing, therefore, is a topic of great interest to me. I’ve done a fair amount of trial (and much error) in attempts to set up more comprehensive—and therefore more elaborate—syncing systems. This has been an off-and-on work in progress for five or six years for me; still, I don’t yet have a system in place that I am fully satisfied with. Take Control of Syncing Data in Leopard (hereafter, Take Control) looked like a great volume to help me along the way.
Right away, I found disappointment: the opening paragraph of the introduction disclaims that, in fact, this book barely addresses some aspects of syncing, such as files. (In fairness, the author does acknowledge that the companion volume for Tiger did address syncing files; this is cold comfort for me, a Leopard user who is reading this volume.) His reason, he argues, is that he wants to address the syncing of data that are not discrete files—such as the contents of various databases common to Mac OS X: Address Book, iCal, iTunes, iPhoto, as well as other types of data like bookmarks, preferences. etc.
But this means that the scope of what is considered “syncing” is too limited. There are many, many other forms of data that aren’t addressed, either. After all, pretty much all of the stuff you interact with on your Mac is either system, applications, files, or other data—and this last category includes a very large collection of “stuff” that is excluded in the book. Frankly, the data addressed in this book is essentially iLife content—so a more appropriate title would have been Take Control of Syncing iLife Data in Leopard.
Further, this book doesn’t offer a lot of help syncing between Macs. There is some of that in there—sure, you can use MobileMe to accomplish this, especially with many of the types of data addressed here. But by and large, this book focuses on syncing with secondary devices: phones, iPods, handhelds. This can be great, especially if you don’t have a “just works” iPhone or if you’re looking for some basic help understanding how to sync your iPhone more effectively. But for folks looking for multiple-Mac syncing, Take Control will not be the bible you are looking for.
Given all of that, why does Take Control merit a “Good” rating in ATPM? There is a lot to commend this book/ebook. Cohen does a very good job of explaining syncing in theoretical terms. If you’re confused about how syncing really works (in an under-the-hood way), the difference between a backup and a sync, or what the difference between a slow sync and a trickle sync are, this book will be a very big help. Cohen’s explanations are clear and concise.
Likewise, there is abundant help for working with iTunes + another device. Take Control covers syncing devices with iTunes extensively. If you have an iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV, you will almost certainly learn something about syncing them from the chapters devoted to iTunes syncing, regardless of whether you are an advanced user or not. Cohen even addresses Push Syncing here, which is a technology that Apple is continuing to aggressively innovate with, so this material will be increasingly useful in weeks and months to come.
Apple’s MobileMe is addressed thoroughly. Take Control has a very comprehensive look at how MobileMe can help a user sync data between devices. As a MobileMe subscriber, I’m always interested in learning how my subscription dollar can go further; Cohen taught me a few things, and will probably teach you a few things as well. For example, Cohen explains how “automatic” syncing works, and why it is different from push technology. He does a good job of explaining the ins and outs of what the service can really do, what happens when you invoke different actions (such as resetting sync data), and how to make the most of it.
There is also some good help with Exchange and other Microsoft nuances. Cohen offers a good bit of help in troubleshooting quirks when trying to sync data with Microsoft Exchange—or at least in understanding why the syncing is so difficult. He clearly has some insight into making this work, or work better, and his advice appears sound and straightforward. (I don’t use or have access to an Exchange server in order to test it—but I did ask a friend who has administered an Exchange server to take a look, and he said there was a lot of helpful information here.)
Good advice about strategy and troubleshooting are offered as well. At the end of the book, there are a few sections on how to get started with syncing, and some rubrics for troubleshooting. These are very helpful—mostly because they offer a mainly-theoretical approach to the ideas they address. Folks who are just beginning to dip their toes into the waters of syncing will find help here, as will those who are troubleshooting problems the first time (or for the first few times). In fact, this section might make the whole book worth the purchase-price—for the ebook version, at least.
Finally, as with all Take Control books, the ebook version is “updatable.” There’s an active URL embedded into the PDF, which allows the owner to access any updated content—a service that Take Control Ebooks and Tidbits Publishing are doggedly committed to, meaning my book won’t become useless in a few months when technology matures a bit. For example, as Apple’s Push Syncing technology becomes more advanced and more prominent in the coming months (it has just arrived as a part of iPhone OS 3.0, and it is promised as a big part of Snow Leopard), I expect that I’ll be able to download an updated copy of Take Control to learn better how to take advantage of it (since the original version had a section devoted to Push Syncing). Anyone who still has a how-to book from the System 6 days recognizes how valuable this is.
Take Control of Syncing Data in Leopard doesn’t quite live up to its title. It’s a good book that is well-written, and it offers a lot of help for those looking to sync iLife data; those who have a third-party phone, handheld, or other device they need help syncing with their Mac; and those who need help with understanding the basics of syncing, especially when it comes to working with iTunes and a secondary device (like an iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV).
If that is you, then this book is for you. If you don’t fit into one of those categories, you might save your money. The same amount of time spent reading the book could return as much help with a search engine.