Recently I’ve had some issues with my previous solution for synchronizing files between my computers. I used to have an SSH server which I placed all my files on, and usually I edited them directly on this server. Whenever needed offline I used to synchronize them to my computers using Unison. Recently, however, the SSH connection to the server has been pretty sluggish on my laptop, causing the work flow to slow down.

I went looking for an alternative, and since Ubuntu comes with Ubuntu One preinstalled, I thought I should give it a try. The results were not even close to what I wanted.

First of all, there appears to be no kind of encryption on the Ubuntu One server - didn’t really bother me. I just set up an EncFS folder on my local computer and put all the files to synchronize inside this folder. The problem, however, occured when I needed to synchronize some of my papers while working on them. I went ahead and saved everything, waited a couple of minutes after seeing the message from Ubuntu One telling me that the files where syncing, and shut down the laptop. Back home, however, the sync would not start at first. I waited a little and when the sync seemed to have started, I opened the folder with the files

  • but, there where only my old files in there.

In frustration I picked up my laptop, put it on the desk, connected it to the Internet, and watched Ubuntu One sync the files over again. Wasn’t it supposed to do this four hours ago?

I went back to the main computer and looked at the folder, refreshed it, stared at it, cursed at it. Nothing happened. Not even after 30 minutes.

Okay. Back to looking for alternatives.

Spideroak and Dropbox

So, are all synchronization solutions this bad? You don’t have to worry, they are not even close!

I tried out Dropbox. Installed it and placed a few files in the Dropbox folder. Time to sync? I don’t have a clue. I didn’t even get to push the button on my stopwatch to check! Once the file was placed in the folder on my main computer, it was already on my laptop. Quite nice.

Spideroak on the other hand took 20 seconds or so before synchronizing, but that’s still an enormous improvement compared to Ubuntu One. And Spideroak has a couple of other benefits.

Where Dropbox only let’s you sync files in a specific folder, Spideroak let’s you set up several folders in different paths on your computer to sync. And you may also backup files which are not supposed to be synced.

The probably most important feature that Spideroak has is that the files are encrypted on each computer, making them unreadable even to the Spideroak employees. This is an important security measure which Dropbox lacks. On the other hand you could just put everything in an encrypted folder in the first place, which I think you should do even with Spideroak. The latter is because Spideroak decrypts the files when you watch them through the web-viewer, which means it’s technically possible to read your files when you are doing the same online.

Speed vs. features

I guess it’s up to you to decide what’s most important for you. The ease of use and speed which Dropbox offers, or the more advanced features and all over decent speed of Spideroak.

At the moment I’m running a sync of 900 MB of files using both solutions. I’ll update this post whenever they finish to give you some information about whether the speed differs on large synchronizations. Currently Dropbox is already syncing all the files, while Spideroak is “Pending new calculations”.