I hear this often: Can you make it so my Social Fixer settings and posts marked as read are synchronized between my work computer and my home computer? The answer is YES… but with some caveats. But along the way, you might learn a cool new trick to take your apps with you wherever you go…
Why Doesn’t Social Fixer Sync Automatically?
The short answer is because it’s complicated. Some browsers like Chrome have preference syncing built-in, but I don’t take advantage of it because there are limitations as to how often an extension can sync and how much data it can send. Social Fixer updates its internal configuration with every “Mark Read” you do, or comment you post. I just can’t use the built-in functionality because Social Fixer would be too “chatty” with the sync servers.
I could build syncing into the app itself, and I’ve thought about doing that many times. But it’s very complicated, and starts to involve storing user preferences and settings on my server to sync with, which opens security and privacy concerns, and it’s turtles all the way down. It turns into a much bigger mess than you might imagine. So, although I want to do this at some point, right now I just can’t focus on it.
So How Can I Sync My Stuff?
The short answer: PortableApps + Dropbox
What is PortableApps?
PortableApps.com is a site dedicated to providing software that can be run without being installed on a machine. So you put some files in a directory (or on a USB memory stick, for example) and run it directly from there.
You can get PortableApps versions of Firefox and Chrome, among many other apps. I use Firefox and Chrome for my personal use, as well as developing and testing Social Fixer. I use the PortableApps version because if I ever have to run it somewhere else, or if I ever have to entirely change computers (again), I just pick up that directory and move it somewhere else, and I’m back in business. All my settings, history, extensions, etc. all come with me because they all live in the directory where my app lives.
But now that you have your browser and all of its settings running from a single stand-alone directory, how can you easily transfer that from work to home, and home to work? Well, I tried USB drives but they are just too slow for me. So I found… Dropbox.
What Is Dropbox?
If you’ve never heard of it (really?), Dropbox a storage site that just stores things for you in the cloud. You run a program on your computer (or mobile device) and it watches a directory. Any time files are changed in that directory, it uploads them to your online storage. Any time files are changed in storage from somewhere else, they automatically download to your computer. It’s simple, transparent synchronization of files between multiple locations.
PortableApps + Dropbox
The key here is to run all your PortableApps (including your browsers and other software) from within the Dropbox directory itself. Now, whenever you run Firefox, for example, and run Social Fixer, its settings will all be stored in the Firefox Portable directory, which lives within your Dropbox directory.
Since files have changed, Dropbox automatically detects that and uploads the changes to the server. If you’re at work and your computer at home is on, it will detect this change and automatically download the changed file and update it.
When you get home from work, your home computer will have been automatically updated with every change you made at work. Not just Social Fixer settings, but any tabs you had open, browsing history, etc. It’s as if you never even left work!
Run Everything From Your Dropbox Folder!
I’ve moved to running almost all of my apps from my Dropbox folder. It’s very convenient, and there are a lot of apps available. I even have all of my Social Fixer code and build scripts in there, so I can get access to them from anywhere. I’m still working on making my packaging scripts work from the portable versions of browsers, so I can even do a full build and package process entirely from my Dropbox folders. Very convenient!
I also use Radian, a great circle-dock launcher for Windows. I have all the paths set to my Dropbox folder apps, so I can even start that on any computer and have quick access to all of my portable apps.
Tip: Pause Syncing
One thing I’ve noticed is that while running Firefox from my Dropbox folder, it generates a lot of traffic. Because Firefox changes its internal files so often as you browse (constantly keeping track of your tabs, etc.), Dropbox will constantly being trying to sync the files.
To avoid this, I “pause syncing” from the Dropbox menu when I begin using one computer. When I’m done, I close Firefox and my other portable apps, then “Resume syncing” and all of the changed files get sent up to Dropbox. This works well, and avoids a lot of unnecessary sync traffic.
By using Dropbox + PortableApps, I’m able to take my full browser experience with me wherever I go, including all my Social Fixer settings. Not only that, but I also get all of my personal files, source code, build scripts, etc. And I can even access the files from my phone if I ever need to. It works great!
-- Matt Kruse, author of Social Fixer