Expanding on Syncing

TextExpanderIf I’m going to be such a persistent critic of .Mac’s anemic state, it’s only fair that I give Apple’s service its due when it does something right. Well, it’s not so much that .Mac has done so much right lately as it’s being used by third parties for the right thing.

Specifically, I’m talking about the latest version of Smile on My Mac’s TextExpander, the keyboard shortcut utility that, in the past nine months or so, I’ve become incredibly enamored of. I’ve created dozens of shortcuts for the snippets of text that I type repeatedly — fragments as small as “<a href=""></a>” or as long as the instructions for getting to my house — and I’ve become almost addicted to the highly satisfying bonk! sound that TextExpander plays each time I successfully invoke one of them.

That’s why I was pretty happy to see that, in its latest version, TextExpander now provides support for synchronization through the .Mac service. It makes sense. TextExpander is the kind of utility that works best when it’s nearly invisible, and .Mac synchronization makes it even more transparent. Before this update, I had to manually back up copies of my shortcuts, which I’d then shuttle from computer to computer, laboriously importing them into each instance of TextExpander and weeding through duplicates by hand. Now, I can happily create shortcuts on any one of the three Macs on which I have the utility installed and almost instantly have them available on the other two.

Who Syncs the Synchronizers?

This marriage of desktop functionality and network presence is exactly what I want in most applications, and .Mac, for all its deficiencies, is a powerful tool for making that happen. In fact, it’s really the only such available tool at the moment, at least on the Macintosh platform, which presents a kind of quandary.

On the one hand, we’re clearly limited to the functionality that Apple provides, and as their tending of .Mac has shown over the past several years, this service is clearly low on their priority list. On the other hand, any third party developer or group of developers are free to create their own independent service to compete with .Mac and, hopefully, provide a more robust environment for synching innovations. With a concerted effort, it really wouldn’t be that hard to displace .Mac at all.

Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic — though not out of the question — for us to expect the the latter to happen, at least in the short term. The market is probably insufficiently large for anyone but Apple to make money selling net-based synchronization to the minority of computer users that use Macintoshes. Maybe the worst scenario would be that some attempt at an independent or open source synchronization service is made by a community that ultimately splinters, resulting in separate, parallel and not necessarily compatible schemes — in which case users would have to maintain the overhead of at two or three duplicative synchronization services on their machines. No one wants that.

Really, the best solution for everyone, at least in the short term, would be for Apple to just get its act together and pay some attention to .Mac. I’m as sick of complaining about it as you are of hearing my complaints.

  1. A third-party synching service would not need to be limited to Mac users. There’s plenty of demand for synchronization for people like me who split time between Mac OS and Windows. If FolderShare were still independent, they would be a good candidate to step in here.

  2. Yes, .Mac sure is one unloved child.

    The mind boggles when one thinks of all the potential of an Apple branded web 2.0 services and community platform well integrated with OS X (and Windows, via iTunes and Safari).

    I have written (rather inarticulately) about it on my blog.

    I hope Apple wises up. Not that the company’s doing bad as it is (stocks soaring et al) but a little vision for the future never hurt noone.

  3. Thanks for the heads-up on TextExpander. I really look forward to getting WriteRoom and TextExpander working together. Perfect productivity tool for writers!

    Although I love the advanced text expansion in TextMate I often find myself typing html in web forms, emails, documentation sites etc. Having a few html snippets always at hand will REALLY make life easier.

    I use MarkDown a lot – maybe I can set something up that makes writing MarkDown even easier?


  4. Interestingly, there is an (currently only german) alternative to .Mac — Macbay.de

    The basically provide all of the .Mac services at half the price.
    The online version doesn’t look as sleek, but then most of the people I know using it, do it for the sync functionality.

    The main drawback right now has to do with problems with the Apple SyncServices themselves. Because even .Mac often suddenly stopped syncing correctly, the programmers decided to deploy their own syncing software.

    So if you just need “cheaper” Addressbook and iCal syncing https://www.macbay.de/ is an interesting solution. They also plan to offer more support for other data syncing in the future.

  5. I am waiting (and praying) for the day that .mac and Google’s services are combined. Give me tons of space, online reading/editing of my documents folder, imap/pop/web access to my mail, iCal – gCal integration, and the normal mac sync.

    This service would be the best ever.

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