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Windows Live Sync - Embrace, Extend... Then Kill

Posted by james on Oct. 21, 2010

For a long, long time I've wanted a program that would automatically sync files between my computers. The typical scenario is that I have a copy of a folder on two computers (ex. a laptop & desktop), and I want changes in one to automatically sync over to the other computer.

I've tried a bunch of programs, but none really seemed suitable. I envisioned a very simple client that sat in the system tray. Then you'd be able to use a simple web UI to setup syncable folders, and the rest would happen automatically.

One day I tried Windows Live Sync, and the experience was eerie... this was almost *exactly* what I envisioned! You install a simple system tray app, you do all the configuration in a web browser, and you can even setup the same folder on all your PC's while sitting at a single computer through the web UI. Amazingly simple, very powerful. Even stranger - Windows Live Sync worked on mac. It seemed like a very strange thing for them to do, but it makes sense when you realize that this program used to be "FolderShare" by a different company before Microsoft bought it.

Seems too good to be true - a well-made, simple & powerful program from Microsoft that does exactly what I need. It works transparently, syncs files well, works on Windows & Mac, it's free. It seems very uncharacteristic of Microsoft to do something so well without any strings attached.

Starting today, I'm feeling those strings starting to pull. I got an email from MS announcing that Windows Live Sync was being shut down. It's being replaced by "Windows Live Mesh" which is essentially the same thing plus online cloud storage. The catch? It no longer works on XP.

I realize that XP is a very old OS. Unfortunately, that's what most of my gear runs (by choice). And it's still alive & supported by MS, and last I heard was the most popular Windows version out there. Good old MS. When it seems too good to be true (ie. too helpful to the end-user), then it probably is with them.

So now the hunt is back on - what's a very simple, easy to use, transparent, peer-based folder sync utility? Preferably free, but a reasonably inexpensive one would be fine? Do I really need to dig up my old code and finally finish my own version that's been "in progress" for the past 10 years?

I hate mailing lists

Posted by james on Oct. 1, 2010

Email mailing lists are a common thing for open source projects. They were (and still are for most) the preferred way of getting support. What's nice is that a lot of times the project creators (or really experienced users) read the mailing list often, and they're normally pretty helpful.

However, mailing lists are a vestigial idea from older times when webpages were not as common. Now we have things like forums, stackoverflow-type Q&A sites, etc. Google Groups is a nice wrapper around a mailing list, and give it some forums-like qualities. But many mailing lists do not use google groups, they still use old-school plain email lists like listserv or mailman.

The problem is that these lists often lack the functionality that make the modern alternatives so great. I want to post a question, and get all replies emailed back to me. With most of these lists, this is not an option. I have to subscribe to the entire list, get all emails, and filter out the ones I don't want - all to answer a single question. Then I have to unsubscribe when I'm done. Repeat process for each question I might have.

In this regard, a forums-based solution is much easier. I can register (boo - openid ftw), then post my question and subscribe for email updates to my question (and any other thread I'm interested in). Then I receive updates just for my post... even if the answer comes months later. This is not possible if I have to manually subscribe/unsubscribe to the entire mailing list.

With good forums software, I can also get the same mailing-list type of email experience in addition to a modern forums-type experience... the best of both worlds. Some forums can be setup to email each message to any subscribers, just like an old-fashion mailing list. But it also gives the option to use the web UI instead, which for many (like myself) is necessary.

So basically the choice comes down to 1) mailing lists which give only a single experience, which is unsuitable for many, or 2) use good forums software that can give both a traditional mailing-list experience and a much-improved modern forums experience.

Given this, it's really hard to understand why many projects still insist on using old, limited mailing list managers. Is the installation that much easier than a forum-software install? Are people just used to it so they continue to propagate this throughout their other projects?

The simple, limited mailing list needs to die as a means of support. There are better options out there.

How to switch from dmigrations to South

Posted by james on July 27, 2010

I used to use dmigrations for django. Dmigrations is a database migrations library that makes keeping DB schemas up-to-date so easy & reliable. When you're a single developer, with only one dev machine and one server, this isn't as much an issue. Once you have teams (or multiple servers), this becomes necessary. But even for the single dev, once you use managed migrations you'll want to use it for everything.

I first started using dmigrations, which was nice but had a few bugs. One of the glaring ones: there's a typo in the codebase (which can only be checked out via SVN) that has existed there for a long, long time, and prevents normal operation. Why hasn't this been fixed? Because dmigrations has been abandoned. Supposedly, even the authors recommend using south instead.

So along comes South. South addresses the same problem, but is much better in just about every way (with the caveat that it's slightly more complicated, but not much). South handles more, better, cleaner, etc.

So here's how I took my dmigrations webapp and converted it to use south instead:

  1. Backup your mysql database!

  2. Now edit settings.py:

  3. Remove 'dmigrations' from INSTALLED_APPS, add 'south'.

  4. Remove the DMIGRATIONS_DIR and DISABLE_SYNCDB (if you have that) vars.

  5. From the command prompt:

  6. > del migrations\*

  7. > manage.py schemamigration app_name --initial

  8. > manage.py syncdb

  9. > manage.py migrate --fake

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