• December 7, 2021

How to Sync and Access Your Data Across Devices

The one caveat here is that you must save any files you create on your local device to the folder that’s being synced. This will bite you if you only sync your documents folder but your web browser downloads a file into the Downloads folder. You think the file has been synced, but it hasn’t because it’s not in the Documents folder. The way around this is either tell your browser to download to Documents, manually move the files you want synced into Documents, or sync your Downloads folder.

One thing to note: Using a syncing service is not the same as making a backup. These are not backups of your files. Any changes you make to a file will cascade across all your devices, which is the opposite of what a good backup does. A good backup never changes. Just because you have things synced does not mean you have them backed up.

Use a Browser Sync Service

I sync my documents with NextCloud running on my own server, but for web browser data I use what comes in the box.

Browser-wise, I primarily use Vivaldi and Mozilla Firefox. Both offer a way to sync your data between devices, as do other browsers, like Google Chrome and Brave. I use Vivaldi Sync and Firefox Sync to make sure I have my bookmarks, browsing history, open tabs, preferences, add-ons, and auto-fill data saved. Everything but passwords, which I sync with a password manager (more on that below).

As with the document syncing, syncing web browsing data means I can seamlessly move from device to device, picking up my browsing sessions right where I left off. My history and even open tabs from any device are available on every device.

Use a Password Manager

We’re always harping on you to get a password manager because it’s more secure and will make you safer online. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t use one for security so much as for convenience. The security is there, but the main thing I love about a password manager is how simple it is get up and running on a new device, quickly putting all my passwords at my fingertips.

Probably the most time-consuming process of setting up a new testing device is logging into all the services I need. There’s work email, Slack, Airtable, publishing systems, Amazon, and dozens of other web-based services that I need to get up and running before I can get any work done. And I don’t like to keep my coworkers waiting too long for my snarky comments on Slack, so the faster I get this set up the better.

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I use Pass, which is nerdy, self-hosted, and a little complicated, but I’ve been using it for so long that it’s the most comfortable for me. If that looks like too much, I have accomplished the same thing using all the services in our guide to password managers. For most people, 1Password is my recommendation.

Email Is Easy

If you use web-based email like Gmail or Outlook.com, there’s not much to do. You can access your email in a web browser. In fact, no matter which email provider you use, these days there’s almost guaranteed to be web-based access of some kind. Check your email provider’s documentation for details.

I prefer to check my email through either Mutt or Thunderbird, which requires one extra step: downloading the application and filling in my mail provider’s details. In a pinch, NextCloud has an email application I sometimes use to check my mail in a web browser. (This is what I do on Chromebooks, where running an application like Thunderbird is not possible.)

Work in Cross-Platform Applications

I am not a huge fan of web-based tools and applications. Between potential security issues, vendor lock-in, and years of living with flaky internet connections, I’m most comfortable working locally and then syncing. I end up using mainly desktop applications and letting NextCloud handle the rest. This way I can keep working even when the coffee shop Wi-Fi craps out. And I never have to worry that an update to my favorite cloud application will destroy my entire workflow.

For all of this to work, though, it helps to use applications that are cross-platform. For Windows, macOS, and even Linux, this is mostly not a problem. For spreadsheets and all things office-suite related, I use LibreOffice, which works across all three. Vivaldi and Firefox for web browsing work on all of these operating systems, as do communications apps like Zoom and Slack.

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