Laplink Switch and Sync Adequate, Barely

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 folder, which can be specified in the host setup. Meanwhile, mail from an Outlook installation is parked in the Mac user's Library folder, converted into a 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 these 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.