Using DropBox with TMG – Conclusion

I’ve written previously about my experiments with DropBox as a way to keep my TMG project in sync. Today I have abandoned the experiment.

It isn’t because it doesn’t work – it works very well. As long as you are disciplined it works very well. You have to:

  • Close TMG on one machine before opening it on another
  • Give DropBox a chance to upload changes before turning off the machine
  • Give Dropbox a chance to download changes on the other machine before opening TMG

All of this didn’t cause me any problems after an initial period of adjustment. What caused problems for me was having projects in more than one place.

I’d originally copied my project to the DropBox folder rather than moving it. Initially I wanted it as a backup, and then I just forgot it was there.

All the other projects I work with remained where they were. I have multiple client projects going at any one time, and they all stayed in the default TMG folder. I didn’t want them on both computers. So my default folder for opening a project remained the same.

I had been working on a couple of client projects and then I added quite a few new people from a chart a relative had sent me some time ago. When I went back to my project they were gone. I wasn’t sure which project I had used, the DropBox one or the default one? Neither machine had the new people in either folder, and my heart sank. I’d felt guilty taking the time to enter them in the first place; I really didn’t have time to do it all over again.

I was saved by a backup. I had continued to allow TMG to save my backups to the same place when I closed it down. The second-to-last one of these had my new people in it.

I could probably work out how this disaster happened in the first place and put another procedure in place to avoid it, but the truth is that the risk of issues like this outweighs the benefits of the almost instant synchronisation between machines that DropBox gives me.

So I’ve given up.

I have another method of synchronisation in place that I use for everything that is NOT on DropBox, and maybe this was the cause of the problem. Perhaps if I only ever worked with the one project I wouldn’t have had a problem, or if I used DropBox for all projects. My free 2GB account may have been overloaded. There is just not enough time in my day to spend it trying to resolve these sorts of problems.

I don’t want to dissuade anyone from trying it, though. Just letting you know my experience.

The Dropbox Train Test

I failed the big test yesterday. A new marriage certificate arrived in the mail as I was leaving the house, so I did the data entry on the train on my mini, expecting the source, citation and changes to the marriage tag to appear on my main laptop when I got home.

It didn’t work, and now I’ve lost the change altogether.

Possible reasons:

  1. TMG was still open on my laptop when I got home, and so Dropbox was unable to update some of the files.

Actually that’s the only good reason I can think of. I prefer to think that it SHOULD work. I had hoped that if I closed down TMG on the laptop that the download would occur afterwards and when I opened it again the change would be there. I was wrong. I guess Dropbox didn’t keep trying, and the files on the laptop were copied back to the mini notebook.

I’m disappointed, as data entry on a train trip is a good use of that time.

I’ll try it once more tomorrow. This time I’ll make sure the laptop is closed, or TMG shutdown, while I’m away.

Using TMG with DropBox across multiple computers

I have a laptop which acts as a portable desktop, and a new (replacement) mini notebook which is more convenient to carry around. Since copying things between them is a constant source of irritation I have been experimenting with Dropbox, which copies specific files to its servers and from there to any other of your computers, and keeps them in synch.

Right now I am experimenting with DropBox to keep my TMG project/s in sync.

Dick Eastman explained the process not long ago. I want to extract some excerpts here to help me get going:

What I am about to describe is a one-time setup. Starting with The Master Genealogist installed on all three computers, I installed Dropbox on all three. Each Dropbox installation created a folder named “Dropbox” inside the “My Documents” of the installed computer. Next, I used one of my computers to run The Master Genealogist and opened the latest version of my database. Everything looked normal. I then clicked on FILE and then on COPY PROJECT. (In some other genealogy programs, the command will be SAVE AS… .) For the new file location, I specified the new Dropbox folder as follows:

\My Documents\Dropbox\The Master Genealogist v7\Eastman\

NOTE: The best location on your PC might be slightly different.

That completes my setup routine. Since I had specified to store the new database under \My Documents\Dropbox\, all files I placed there were automatically copied to the Dropbox folders on the other computers. Dropbox mirrors, or “replicates,” all files you place in the Dropbox folder. All the files and folders under \Dropbox on all of your computers will be mirror images of each other.

I then went to another computer, opened The Master Genealogist, clicked on FILE and then on OPEN PROJECT. I then specified the software to open the following on the second computer:

\My Documents\Dropbox\The Master Genealogist v7\Eastman\

The latest version of my genealogy database immediately appeared on the second computer. I made a few updates, then saved the data as normal (back to the same location: \My Documents\Dropbox\The Master Genealogist v7\Eastman\ ). All the data was quickly copied to the first and third computers.

[snip]

There are two scenarios, however, that could cause problems.

First, when traveling, I do not always have an Internet connection available. It is possible to boot the laptop and become operational without receiving the latest version of the database. In such a case, I could be updating an older database. When I do later make a connection, the two versions would both show as “new” versions, and the Dropbox software would not know how to handle that. A pop-up window would appear with an error message and then would ask what to do: overwrite the local database with the remote, overwrite the remote database with the local, or do nothing. In any case, some manual “catch up” work would be required.

I almost always have an Internet connection available, either by wi-fi or with a 3G cellular data wireless connection, so the problem has never happened to me. However, it is a potential problem that can be handled easily if you stop to think about it each time you load your genealogy program.

The second risky scenario is if two people are working on the same data at the same time, using two different computers. For instance, if I am updating my genealogy database at the county courthouse with my laptop computer at the same time that someone else is using my desktop computer at home to update the database, things could become badly scrambled. Most genealogy programs are not designed for multiple simultaneous users. In my case, nobody else ever uses any of my computers, so there is no risk. However, if you share any of your computers with anyone else, you need to make sure the two of you are not updating the same file at the same time. You can both READ files simultaneously, but don’t try to make simultaneous UPDATES.

And some relevant comments that asked, and answered, the questions I had:

  • —> are your exhibits external or internal, and do you have them there as well?

Internal. But if they were external, they would also be backed up so long as they were stored someplace under \My Documents\Dropbox

EVERYTHING under \My Documents\Dropbox gets copied every time there is a change. You can place your genealogy documents there as well as word processing documents, picures, videos, income tax records, anything at all. The contents of all the folders under \My Documents\Dropbox will be copied to the other computer(s).

  • —> What about data security? Putting unencrypted genealogy data (and other personal information) anywhere off site is risky.

All data sent to Dropbox is ALWAYS encrypted first on your computer before being sent across the Internet. That is automatic and there is no need to obtain any additional encryption software. Even the Dropbox employees cannot read your files.

  • This is a great program. I have been using it similar to the way you do. It offers one additional huge plus – you can access the files on their server from any computer (without installing dropbox) by logging into your webspace (password protected). This can be an easy way to access a file on the road when you are using a company laptop on which you cannot install software.

There are a few issues with TMG that are easy to work with, but could cause difficulty if you don’t understand they interfaces. It takes a bit of time for the files to update. When I make changes on laptop on the road to my TMG dataset in dropbox folder the changes do not sync until I shutdown TMG and they take a bit of time. So the key is shutdown TMG and wait before turning off computer for the icon in the tray to show all files are syncronized. Also, you can get a failure when you run maintenance on either computer if you have exhibits because the naming convention and path may not be exactly the same to the exhibits. Solution is simple, let maintenance fix the links by adding the exhibit folder and then shutdown TMG. Same thing may then happen on other computer, but again, simply run maintenance in TMG and let it reset the paths on it. Other than these I have no difficulty. It sure is nice to know I essentially have one master set and can travel worldwide with my netbook and do whatever I want.

So, here I go:

  1. Install Dropbox on both laptop and notebook – DONE
  2. Copy project on laptop to new directory under DropBox folder.
  3. Open new project under Dropbox folder on notebook.
  4. Update file paths on both machines.

That’s it!

When I feel comfortable with how this works I’ll turn the backups off, which will, in theory, be taking up space I don’t need them to. In the meantime I’ll leave it on.

Some questions I have to resolve:

  1. How will I handle my external exhibits? Do I need them on the notebook?
  2. How will I handle client projects? I don’t really need old ones sychronised, but I don’t want to split them.
  3. Will I have to change the layout each time? (this answer is probably obvious to you already, but I want to check for myself because I can’t remember if it goes with the project)
  4. How long does it take? I suspect our internet speeds are slower than Dick’s.

Some initial observations:

  1. TMG opened the file in Repair Mode first time. While I was updating my Preferences it crashed. It’s open again now, and so far looks OK.
  2. TMG asks me about the exhibits every time it opens, so I’ll have to decide soon! [Later] Ah, of course, it’s because I’ve moved from Vista to XP, and the paths are different.
  3. It was slow to copy the project to the notebook, and wouldn’t open initially. Have to remember to give Dropbox a chance to download new files before opening TMG, or anything else.
  4. The question is Do you have a master and backups, which are there for information but you do not expect to make any changes, or do you need to be able to make changes? If I’m at the library or archives I wouldn’t, but if I’m on a research trip to Fiji I might, although I didn’t last time.
  5. Where are the project options kept? If I change the file paths on the notebook will they get synchronised back to the laptop? I really don’t need that! I’d have to create empty files in Dropbox, for backups, etc.