A good tool for file transfer and e-mail conversion could be better
Utility programs are supposed to be, as the name would
imply, useful. But today, one expects a little bit more than bare-bones
functionality from a utility, especially from a company with a reputation in
the software business that goes back a couple of decades. Laplink Software's
Switch & Sync is an adequate tool for transferring user data from a
Windows PC to a Mac, but even a utilitarian mindset would find it to be lacking
in many respects.
Switch & Sync is good for simple file transfers, but in
my evaluation of it, I ran into enough problems that I would hesitate to use it
in anything but the most closed environment. It lacks user feedback mechanisms
and appears to bypass, rather than work with, the built-in authentication and
security features of the Mac side of the file transfer.
Installing Switch & Sync should be a simple process; the
executables for Mac and Windows are fairly small, and I found it easy to
activate and configure the Windows client. The Mac client was another story;
although the routine invokes the Mac OS X Installer's "install for all
users" option, I was initially unable to launch the Switch & Sync host on a
MacBook Pro in a user account other than the administrator's account that I'd
used for installation and activation. After some back-and-forth with Laplink's
technical support crew, we determined that tweaking the permissions on the
preferences file for Switch & Sync would solve that problem.
In this release of Switch & Sync, the host software that
runs on the Mac can be fairly described as "dumb;" although it's possible to
set some communication parameters for the host, most of the configuration is
done on the Windows client.
Even the limited array of options for the Mac-side host
could benefit from a rethink; for example, I found it impossible to perform
file transfers when the host's authentication option was active, and had to
disable authentication altogether. For this reason alone, I have to recommend
that Switch & Sync only be used with a direct cable connection using
Ethernet or USB, or on the simplest of guerilla networks, where all the
constituents sit on or under the same desk.
Although one accepts that in the push-based communications model
used by Switch & Sync, most of the intelligence resides on the client (in
this case, the Windows PC), the host on the Mac side is so dumb that it doesn't
indicate in any way when a file transfer is taking place.
It's far too easy for a user to accidentally interrupt a
file transfer from the Mac side; I would expect that invoking the host's quit
function during a transfer would bring up a dialog box of the type that I refer
to as "Hey, I'm working here!" (This is best imagined in an accent inspired by
Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of the streetwise hustler "Ratso" Rizzo.) But
instead of giving the user a chance to facepalm, the host will quit without any
confirmation whatsoever, leaving the client hanging.
The file transfer process itself is straightforward; I was
able to move more than 6GB of data in about half an hour across the wire. Although
the Windows client gave an accurate measure of the file-by-file processing, it
lacks all but the most rudimentary logging facilities; it marks error and
warning conditions, but does not record the actual file transfer in any way
that I could discern.
Switch & Sync places the files from the Windows user's
home directory into an appropriate part of the Mac user's Documents
can be specified in the host setup. Meanwhile, mail from an Outlook
installation is parked in the Mac user's Library folder, converted into
series of files in the mbox format that are ready for importation to
the Mac OS
X Mail client. The included MigrateMail utility can be used to manage
files, and convert additional mail files if necessary.
For the price of $39.95, Laplink's Switch & Sync will
take what would otherwise be a seemingly endless process of moving data files
from one machine to another, and do it in few mouse clicks. It includes mail
conversion functions that until now were the province of specialty tools, such
as O2M from Little Machines, and offers a little bit more than simple file transfer.
But I expected a little bit more from this tool, especially in the logging
and security of file transfers. Although it's fine for individual and carefully
controlled business use, it's not the kind of tool that anyone subject to audit
requirements ought to have near a computer.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.