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Transferring And Synchronising Files Between A Mac And An Eee PC

The main, if not only, problem I’ve had with the Eee PC is sorting out a reliable way to transfer and synchronise files between the little laptop and my Macs.

For transferring files, I’ve tried SMB, NFS and WebDAV, which have all worked, pretty much, but were all also fiddly to set up, unstable and generally bloody annoying. (Interestingly, most of the problems have been on the Mac side.)

Today, I happened upon ExpanDrive, a new application for OS X that installs, and provides a simple setup interface, for MacFUSE and SSHFS. In plain English, that means I can mount the Eee PC - and any other computers on my network - just like an external disk drive, SMB or AFP, so that it is completely integrated into the Finder.

Setup is easy.

If you haven’t already, install openssh-server on the Eee PC:

  1. Install it: sudo apt-get install openssh-server
  2. Then start it up: sudo /etc/init.d/ssh
  3. Then make it start up whenever you switch on your Eee PC by opening /etc/fastservices in a text editor - eg. sudo nano /etc/fastservices - and adding a line that says ssh.

Then, back on the Mac, install and launch ExpanDrive, and fill in your server name, username and password. For some reason, your username for SSH purposes is ‘user’, not your actual username, though your password is the same one as usual (I have no idea why, and it took me bloody ages to guess that it is when I first started using SSH to log in to the Eee PC).


That’s it. As far as your Mac is concerned, your Eee PC is now part of the filesystem, so you can open and edit files on it, move stuff between the computers, even play MP3s stored on the Eee on your Mac. Very nice.

As well as the simple setup - especially when compared to getting MacFUSE and SSHFS set up using more manual means, which is a right sodding chore - ExpanDrive scores points for speed and stability. In terms of speed, I really can’t tell the difference between working on a file stored locally and one on the Eee, which wasn’t the case when using other protocols. And ExpanDrive is rock solid, much better than the Finder when it comes to dealing with stuff over a network: you can put your Mac to sleep, or disconnect from the network, without having to fear the spinning beach ball of doom. ExpanDrive will just silently reconnect when you wake up the computer or rejoin your network. Very clever.

When it comes to keeping stuff in sync, I’ve taken a slightly peculiar route: Subversion.

This is a very clever synchronisation thingy, usually used by groups of people who write code, so that they can all make changes to files they’re all working on without buggering everything up. It’s probably overkill for one person writing reviews for the paper, but I’ve really taken to it.

Subversion works by keeping all your files on a server in a “repository”1. You can then “checkout” the files, work on them, and “commit” your changes, which updates the copies on the server. It doesn’t matter what computer you’re on when you do the checking out/editing/committing routine, as long as Subversion is installed, which it is by default on Macs running Leopard. To get it on the Eee, you just do the usual sudo apt-get install subversion thing. And, because your files are living online too, you can access them through a web browser on any old machine you happen to be sitting in front of.

This is, obviously, fabulously convenient, and for a basic user like myself, there’s only a handful of commands to remember. On the Mac side, though, after the first time you import your files into your repository and check them back out, you don’t even need to open a Terminal, let alone remember any commands, thanks to three of my fave applications, Path Finder, TextMate and Quicksilver2, all of which have Subversion support built in.

So, it’s taken a while, but thanks to the release of ExpanDrive, and the (er, relative) ease of use of Subversion, I have everything set up to easily share and sync files between my Eee PC and Macs over the network.

The days of walking around the flat carrying an SDHC card like some primitive data-ape are over!

Now, I really must start reading up on rsync and Unison

  1. Donny very kindly made me a repository on his server, but I only saw his email after I’d set up my own. Cheers Don!

  2. Textmate and Path Finder both cost money, Quicksilver is open source. Free alternatives to using Path Finder’s Subversion support include SvnX, SCPlugin and this collection of AppleScripts

I think this post sets a new record for TLAs and other acronyms on Submit Response!

Posted at 6pm on 27/02/08 by Jack Mottram to the linux, mac category.
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  1. The customized Xandros on the Eee is configured so that your real (i.e. unix) username is always ‘user’. Anything else is a mirage!

    Posted by Sean at 2am on 28.02.08

  2. Ah, thanks Sean - didn’t know that.

    Posted by Jack Mottram at 2pm on 28.02.08

  3. Nice post Jack! You are going to win the award for the most technically-minded art journalist in the world. You’re making me want to get an Eee! When do you reckon the next model will come out, hopefully with a bigger screen?

    Posted by Donny at 1pm on 29.02.08

  4. I should really start writing about geeky stuff in print, I think…

    They announced a batch of models with bigger screens at CES, due later this year - 9” was the biggest, I think. And they’ll come with XP pre-loaded, not Xandros (not that you’ll mind that, Windows boy!).

    Posted by Jack Mottram at 2pm on 29.02.08

  5. Hey, watch it, Jobs pension fund contributor!

    Posted by Donny at 2pm on 29.02.08

  6. Heh. They’ll be excommunicating me from the Church of Mac soon, though - not only do I have the Eee, but my iBook is running Xubuntu…

    Posted by Jack Mottram at 2pm on 29.02.08

  7. hey thanks for this tip too! My nokia 770 is a pain to get stuff to and from also, but can easily take a SSH server, so this should do the job along with this tip:

    I have heard subversion can corrupt repositories sometimes, but I don’t know about it enough to say if that is all as bad as it sounds.

    I got the Pragmatic Progs Textmate book : it left me with an invincible giddy high of key shortcut empowerment for about a week, until I started closing several files while trying to wrap text. :)

    Posted by Luke at 4pm on 04.03.08

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