I hope the title of this post isn’t misleading, but I was wondering what the best way to use Scrivener is if I want to have a project file that is shared between two computers, so that it is always the same no matter which computer I access it from (i.e. if I save it on one computer, go to the next, and open it, it will show the latest saved changes; if I save again and go back to the first computer, the new changes will also show up).
Basically, I have two laptops. I have an old Macbook that is not entirely reliable, which I recently replaced with a Macbook Pro. I would like to keep the new Macbook at home and have the old one at my office at school (I’m a grad student), using it only for writing. Now, of course, I want to use Scrivener for doing said writing; I’d also like to be able to work on the new computer when I am not at school.
So, the questions:
Does my basic Scrivener license allow me to do this, or do I need to purchase a second one for the second computer?
What is the easiest way to have a directory that is easily accessible from both computer, and secure? Dropbox? or just use a thumbdrive or something? (I have lost thumbdrives in the past so I am a bit leery of that option.)
Does anybody do something like this? If the MBP was going to be open all the time, I think it would be easier, hence my wondering about storing everything online.
Question #1 is easy: yes that is perfectly acceptable. The licence lets you install Scrivener on any machine you, or a family member living in the household, owns, and up to one external location on a machine that is primarily yours, like an office computer.
Question #2 is more tricky. Basically don’t look for magic. The Scrivener project format is much more complex than your average “file” and using it with stuff like Dropbox, SugarSync, iDisk, and similar can be risky. Read here for more information.
Best practice is a rule of thumb: when moving things around, share zip files; when working keep it to your hard drives. This is made a little more complex by the variety of equipment and technologies available today. For instance, a Dropbox folder is technically on your hard drive. The rule of thumb is meant to be taken in spirit, not literally. Work in areas of your computer that are not synced automatically (external hard drives are fine), and always use the “Backup Project To…” function with the zip option turned on. The last step is more optional but much safer. So think “floppies” but unlike floppies, feel free to take advantage of the year 2010 and use all of the wonderful ways we have to transfer data between computers now.
Beyond that there are more advanced ways of handling things. Setting up a file server in your home is not too difficult with Macs, and can be done with an old cheap Mini. You don’t even need a monitor and keyboard hooked up to it most of the time. Just set it up, and then stick it in the closet with your WiFi device and forget about it. It’s a great way to share files between all of your computers at home. Just remember to keep it backed up, especially if you do not routinely copy things to your working computers.
Synecdoche, I use DropBox for those files I share over two computers. I used to just work on the file in DropBox itself and didn’t have any problems, then I thought I should play it safe according to AmberV’s suggestions, and now drag the files I use into a folder on the hard drive (“Temp,” ingeniously enough ), work from there, and move them back to DropBox when I’m done. (I dragged the /Temp folder to the sidebar for easy access.) This has become an automatic habit now.
I move the entire file without zipping it, though (~70 MB). Is that a problem, Amber? (Ioa?)
If your old MacBook isn’t reliable, you might want to save your file to a thumb drive, and often.
In answer to whether or not it is better to use zips, it is mostly a matter of avoiding mistakes. When writing an advisory, it is best to err on the side of caution and let careful users subtract from that advisory using their experience and comfort level. The reason for recommending a zip based workflow is that it removes the risk of accidentally leaving Scrivener open on one machine, and then moving the file while opened to your temp folder. You can imagine the mayhem that would ensue if that were done. It wouldn’t be so bad on the second computer, but after you re-uploaded and went back to the first computer, some weird stuff could conceivably happen. Another reason for recommending zips is that you no longer have all of your eggs in one basket. If you move a project in and out of Dropbox unarchived, you really don’t have a safety net against these types of mistakes since that is your only copy. Producing zips leaves a trail of edits backward in time, where the last zip in the list is always the most recent. If anything goes afoul for whatever reason (not only Dropbox can misbehave!), you’ll at least have something from earlier in the day or otherwise fairly recent to restore from. Placing zips on Dropbox means you have a distributed backup on every computer that is connected to it.
There is perhaps a minor risk in Dropbox getting confused. When you drag something out of that folder it is no different than deleting it, to Dropbox. If you were to immediately drag it back and forth in a sudden state of indecision, you might gum up the transfer queue and end up with some problems. That’s just speculation though, I’ve never actually tried doing that.
All of that said, so long as you are confident and careful in how you do things, you could probably go on doing things the way you are for ten years and never have any problems doing so. There are even people who have successfully worked right in their Dropbox folder without problems. It’s all about avoiding technical problems, and human mistakes—and when it comes to advisories, staking out the safest possible solution. Everyone can experience either, I’ve accidentally opened a project twice, before—it happens. So personally I do only use the zip method. I find it’s really only marginally less convenient. The only extra step is unarchiving the zip file after it is moved to a temporary location (and for me that isn’t even a step because Hazel automatically unzips “*.scriv.zip” files in my temporary working folder). Producing a new zip file is one menu command away and can be done straight to the Dropbox location.
Thanks for your quick and, as usual, very thorough reply, AmberV. I think I’ll start incorporating zipping into my routine, though the human habit forming procedure (SOP TBD) will take some time. (I remember why I’ve avoided this: I tend to think of backing up to zip in Scrivener as slow–but that’s only when I back up to my iDisk. Not Scrivener’s fault at all.)
M. le vic-k, évidemment. Ai-tehl: beau, non? 8) And if we are discussing names and my wishing I had Dickensian or Pratchettian ability (Flora Finching? Vetinari?), we should, apparently, do so over a latte. But I really need to do a bit more work before … Ciao.
Part of the slowness is an illusion. Yes, it takes longer in Scrivener, but zipping actually saves a ton of space. So the amount of time it takes to finish uploading the zip file to Dropbox will be in some cases a tenth or less than it takes to upload an entire project (the ratio depends a lot on how much media you import, since those tend to already be compressed. If it is mostly text documents though, they compress very well). In other words, you can put your computer to sleep quicker.
An alternative to the zip trail method is to simply make sure your Dropbox folder is backed up by Time Machine. It won’t prevent any “corruption” derived from syncing errors, but it will be a safety net if you do encounter them.
While I’m sure AmberV has sound advice I just wanted to squeak in that my main Scrivener project has been in my Dropbox folder and worked seamlessly from the three or so laptops I’ve used it with (I salary sacrifice a new MacBook every 12 months or so). So, to be on the safe side follow AmberV’s suggestions but it’s always worked for me.