Working With Two Machines

I know I can’t have two copies of the same project open on different computers, but I want to have my corkboard/notes/binder outline on my Macbook Pro on my desk, while I write in the editor on my lap with a light, small screen Macbook Air. I don’t have a separate monitor, just the two different machines. Is there any way I can achieve this, or do I have to have what notes I need on the MBP (on my desk) in another application?

I would have thought that as long as it was two separate copies of the project, each one saved on the hard disk of the computer in question, it shouldn’t be a problem. You’d just have to save, back-up and then transfer the backed up version of the one you’re working on on the MBA to the other machine on a regular basis.

Bit of a kludge, but it shouldn’t cause conflicts, though you might end up a bit confused. That is assuming your licence allows you to run two copies of the software at the same time on two different machines. What you don’t want to do is to move between the two machines making changes.

But I’m open to correction!


I think the licence does allow two copies on two machines for one person - if not, Keith, let me know, will happily buy a second (or nth).

If I have the Prefs set on the mbp not to save, then I presume that’s safe while I work on the other copy on the Air? But should I disengage all copies of the project from Dropbox and or Time Machine. Sorry my mind is now spaghettied.

Wouldn’t it be simpler just to split the window on your bigger screen, to have the corkboard in one (right, or top) and then edit in the other? (or on the MBA, if you prefer typing on that one)

It seems unlikely that you won’t want to tweak or change your outline / notes as you write.

Given my experience and the threads on Dropbox, Time Machine, et al., I only use them under my own control … i.e. I do a zipped back-up to Dropbox when I feel it would be right; I don’t use Time Machine as I had problems with it and I like being in control; and I use Synchronize! Pro X (MBP) and Chronosync (MBA) to do a bootable backup to an external hard disk. In the case of the MBP, that is now happening at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning … I leave the machine running overnight, I’m asleep and no app is running at the time.
My two machines only save automatically to their hard disk, so, in my case, the MBP would not be saving anything, as nothing would be changing on it.

Believe me, split screen on a MacBook Air is pretty limited, so I suspect Jenni would have to be continually adjusting it to see the items she wanted. I use it while doing translations, but every time I want the inspector I have to turn it on, then turn it off again.

Have you considered using Screen Sharing? Just share the screen from the desktop to the MBA and when you need access to your notes and such, just open that window up and have at it.


Yes, the licence allows you to use Scriv on both machines, so no worries there. But you shouldn’t have the same project open on one machine while working on it on another no matter what, or you will end up losing data. It’s fine if the one is just a copy of the other, of course, but make sure you don’t have the same project in a shared folder open on more than one machine at a time.

All the best,

Thank you all.

Amber, have you a moment to explain a little about screen sharing? Can I do it with Mac Leopard from MBa to MBp? And, well, how? It sounds just the thing. If I can do it (if I can do it) does that mean I can work safely on the MBa file without duplicating it?



Jenny, I’ve never actually tried it, but here is my stab at providing a solution anyway. Go to the primary computer and load up the Sharing preferences for it. You should see “Screen Sharing” in the list of available services. Turn that on, and make sure that the user you use to log on is set to have access. Now on the MBa, in the Finder, open up the “Shared” item in the sidebar. You should see the MBp in the list with an icon that looks like two overlapping “screens”. Double-click on that, and provide your login credentials. After that point you should get a window which shows the other computer’s screen. From there you can do anything you like, just as if you were sitting at that computer. It’s not going to be as fast, but for taking notes and such, it shouldn’t be a problem.

As long as both of the computers are Leopard or greater, this should work. When you do this, you are basically using the other machine from the computer you are sitting at. So there is no concept of duplicating the project, or having it open twice. You are literally working on the other computer.

If you can’t get that to work, or the lag bothers you, file sharing is the next best option. Using that, you can mount the other computer’s hard drive and work off of it. You’ll be loading up Scrivener on the MBa, but using the MBp’s data to do so. As Keith says, make absolutely certain you don’t already have it loaded as this could result in data loss. Otherwise, file sharing is very safe, and speedy when everything is on the same local network.

Good grief, Amber, don’t you sleep?

Thank you so much. I’ll give it a whirl.


Yeah, I should research that whole sleep thing.


I’ve used screen sharing on an MBA and MBP[1], when I’ve been working on the MBA and realised that there was something I needed on the MBP … particularly something that I couldn’t just copy across, like wanting to copy and paste something in an email that was on the other machine. Setting it up is easy, it’s just that I have found it to be extremely slow, at least over an Airport 8.11n network.

I’ve not infrequently used file-sharing over the network from the university to my MBP which I keep running at home for such an eventuality. That can be slow, but it’s nothing compared with screen sharing even on a local network. Give it a try, and good luck, but I suspect you’ll soon find it frustrating doing anything on the shared screen, though I hope soon to hear from you that your experience is different.


[1] Rev 1 MBA, 1.6GHz, 2 GB RAM; Rev 1 MBP, 2.16 GHz, 2 GB RAM, both running 10.6.2 the last time I did it.

Please forgive me if this seems like a stupid question. I am no techy. Or should that be techie. You see!

I have just downloaded scrivener on my desk top mac and would like to work on my laptop using dropbox.

I’ve read a couple of forums (forae?) on dropbox but none have answered a very basic question which is:

Do I need to download scrivener onto my laptop as well.

Thanks, in advance, for any help.


A few terms and concepts need to be explained, from what it sounds like, at risk of over-explaining. Here is how things work:

Scrivener is the application which lets you create and edit Scrivener project, which are files that you save on your computer. If you want to open and edit Scrivener projects, you need Scrivener installed to do so. Fortunately the licence lets you do that without buying a bunch of copies. So feel free to install it on all of your Macs, so long as they are primarily yours. There is no way to edit a Scrivener project without it installed.

DropBox is a different program entirely, and knows nothing of Scrivener files. It is a special tool that designates a folder in your home to be “shared”. It will monitor that folder and whenever anything changes, it will send those changes to a central server. Meanwhile DropBox is also monitoring that server, and whenever a change is registered on the server, it asks for those updates and implements them locally. Hopefully that isn’t too complicated, so here is what it means in plain terms. If you have two computers turned on side by side and hooked up to the Internet and Dropbox, you can create a text file on the first computer, and a few seconds later it will automatically appear on the second computer. Delete it on the second computer, and a few seconds later it will disappear from the first computer. DropBox also lets you work offline, and the next time you are around a 'net connexion all of the queued changes in both directions will be executed.

Now to understand the risks of this, you could open up that text file on both computers and then try to save both of them with different edits. Only one will win. If this happens while one computer is offline, DropBox will recognise something bad has happened and create duplicate “conflict” copies. Otherwise there is no way for it to tell and one will overwrite the other.

That’s a single text file. A Scrivener project is potentially many hundreds of files inside the project file. Scrivener carefully orchestrates all of these files and makes it appear as though you are deftly moving through seamless data—but you aren’t. You are skimming through vast numbers of files whenever using Scrivener. If you try to do this on two computers at once, you’ll quickly disrupt the internal ordering that lets Scrivener know what is what, resulting in a corrupted project and potentially lots of data loss. Scrivener doesn’t know what DropBox’s conflict copies are, and couldn’t do anything with them anyway without your intervention—resolving which copy is “best” is something only a human can do.

Beyond that, there are other issues with DropBox. Again, remember Scrivener projects are really bunches of files. If you keep your project in a DropBox folder, you are potentially sending dozens of files to their server at a constant rate. The odds of something going wrong increase the longer you do this.

Now there are ways to protect yourself from that happening, but I don’t recommend them as good policy. What I do recommend, and what most people who use Scrivener and DropBox together do, is to use it as a place to save your zipped backups. These are easy to make from the File menu in Scrivener, and since they are automatically dated it is easy to see which is the most up-to-date when you move to another computer.

The mantra is “work local, share results”. Copy the zip file to the new computer, expand it there, work on it in Scrivener, then when you are done for the day backup a new zip to your DropBox folder—it will be ready for you to repeat that same process on the next computer.

Hopefully that helps.

What about, instead of using a different application, using Scrivener, but with a different project? You could start off with a Save As to conserve the original project’s structure, and for clarity’s sake, then even erase the actual text. One project would be for the actual writing, and the second one for whatever else you want to see at the same time as you write: outline, notes, corkboard, research, inspiring images…

With DropBox, both projects will stay up to date on both computers. When it happens that you have only one computer with you, you can open both projects at once (Scrivener nicely lets you have multiple projects open) and switching from one to another is instant with the standard Apple key command for cycling through open windows.

When you do use both computers at once, you might try the donationware Teleport. It lets you use just one of the keyboards to write on either of the computers. When you mouse over to the edge of your screen, the pointer jumps to the other computer’s screen and what ever you do from there on, key commands, mouse movement, or typing, applies to that computer until you mouse back.

Thank you. That sounds like a solution perfectly pitched for my level of non-techiness and wish to keep everything neat and straight.

Thanks you, AmberV, for your post about how to best use Scrivener with Dropbox. I use both, and for things like single Pages files, the situation was great. But with Scrivener, things didn’t work well at all. I lost data, and wasn’t sure what happened. I wasn’t clued in to the multiple-files aspect of Scrivener. I’m going to try the zipping ‘trick’, and I’m sure it will work.