Review: GoodSync's features are rich but require study
At a Glance
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GoodSync is single-minded: It’s intended to provide automatic synchronization and backup across folders and remote volumes. That narrow focus has two repercussions. First, the utility offers exhaustive, rich, and deep support for an array of services and options. Second, the learning curve for using the program to its best advantage is challenging. This program isn’t for beginners, but other users will love it once they learn to use it—that is, if they learn to use it.
As opposed to file-transfer programs such as Interarchy and Transmit, which have automated features but excel the most at manual interactions between files stored locally or remotely, GoodSync is strictly designed for setting up routine behaviors that happen without intervention.
You say you have two folders in two places, and you want the contents to be made similar or identical, subject to a few rules? Or you want one folder to add to or replace the contents of the other? GoodSync is on the job! But where to begin?
The program starts out with jargon and never lets up. The documentation is rife with dense descriptions that my inner techie revels in, as I know precisely in what circumstances a given outcome will occur. But the descriptions are so dense that you have to read them, and reread them, to suss out the full meaning.
The user interface follows the same pattern. For instance, it uses the term job to refer to a sync or backup item. Although job may be the right word in the world of system administration, it likely conveys little to an ordinary user.
Each job has left and right panels that point to destinations. You click an unset or set destination to bring up the Choose dialog box, which reveals the host of options. It’s definitely to GoodSync’s geeky credentials that so many choices are available.
You can pick My Mac to choose a folder on a locally reachable volume, or select My Network for AFP and possibly other volumes. GoodSync’s Mac documentation lacks an explanation of what network protocols are available, and its general server documentation says that AFP isn’t supported. (Even so, AFP is still supported anyway, since it's an integral part of OS X that serves to mount volumes in the Finder.)
Instead of standard network protocols, GoodSync recommends that users rely on its GoodSync Connect service, which registers systems centrally to promote better connections across the Internet. Configuring its settings requires reading the manual to discover that you must connect in a browser to 'http://localhost:4444'.
This is also where you can change the secure-connection option from 'allowed' to 'required'—but because the server side uses a self-signed certificate, I couldn't connect with the GoodSync software afterward. It's a catch-22, since I believe that all remote file-server connections should use SSL/TLS security.
GoodSync offers hooks into three popular standard protocols: FTP/FTPS (FTP plus SSL/TLS), SFTP (FTP using an SSH-like protocol), and WebDAV. The last one commonly serves to make files available from iOS devices, and I happily synced and backed up items from GoodReader and other apps using the WebDAV setup.
In addition, the program connects to Amazon S3 and Cloud Drive, to Microsoft’s Windows Azure and SkyDrive, and to Google Docs. The connections work rapidly and as expected. Missing, though, are connections to some relatively common services, including Box and Dropbox, which have tens of millions of users. I also wish GoodSync had defaulted to enabling security for all services on which encryption is an option, as interception of data in public spaces or on the Internet is no longer speculative.
On top of that, the job-based approach doesn’t work well for managing server connections if you’re the kind of user for whom this program is intended. Although you can select a source folder from any local or remote source for the left and right panes, you must enter the credentials (the user name, password, keys, or other data) each time you set up a job. And while the program lets you clone a job, it offers no central repository of server details that you’ve entered so far.
If credentials change for a server, you must update the credentials for every job that accesses it, one at a time. A central list for adding, removing, and updating servers would dramatically improve this interface issue, and it also would make setting up and modifying jobs far easier.
Once you have selected the items for the left and right panels, you can establish all of the finer points of the connection, of which GoodSync offers very, very many. At the simplest level, a click on Analyze checks what’s different between the two folders and explains what will change, using arrows and buttons.
An empty circle indicates that the file exists, while a circle filled with green means that it needs to be created. A double arrow indicates that the item is a folder, while the number next to it counts how many items will be copied in each direction. You can click the circle to prevent the copy, or click an arrow to turn copying on or off in that direction. An equal sign means that the file is identical on both sides, while a double bar (||) reveals that a filter will exclude the item from analysis.
These filters let you sidestep the issue of preselecting files within folders to copy, since GoodSync shines at automatic synchronization. A powerful Filters tab in the per-job settings, as well as programwide filters in the Preferences dialog box, let you include or exclude items via simple patterns. (Strangely, for such a powerful application, grep-style pattern-matching isn’t included.) You can also select items in the analyzed list and click the Exclude and Include buttons at the top to add to the filters list.
GoodSync permits you to schedule each job in a remarkable number of ways, too. Click the Auto tab, and the utility may perform the analyze and sync operations on all sorts of triggers, such as at program launch or at regular intervals. The Automatically Resolve Conflicts pop-up menu lets you choose how to resolve problems when changes occur in files on both sides of a sync. The Schedule area lets you add Calendar reminders, although this function is entirely unmentioned in the manual.
That last issue is consistent in the release I tested, which was updated to 3.7 during my review. For example, GoodSync has kept iDrive (MobileMe) in its list of available sources, and its online Macintosh documentation is sadly out of sync with the program. Aside from Calendar scheduling, a number of options in the Mac version aren’t mentioned in the docs, while items such as 'Start GoodSync when Windows start' are inaccurately noted. The lack of care taken with the documentation is problematic, since the program is so technical that I made frequent recourse to the manual to make sure I understood the nuances of what it offers.
The manual repeatedly discusses "9.x" versions, clearly referring to Windows releases. The program and website also refer to a Pro version, which again has to do with the Windows side; the Mac version comes in free or paid flavors, not regular and pro versions. The free version can manage up to three jobs, with no more than 100 files in each job.
Many people who routinely need to keep sets of files and folders identically matched, or who want to perform backups without relying on hosted services like CrashPlan and Mozy, will find it worthwhile to take the time to learn GoodSync. The software's makers could reduce the learning curve by addressing the problem of outdated and incomplete documentation, and by improving server management. They might also brush up on more common terms for technical tasks.