Sync Mac Productivity Hacks with Hazel

Sync Hacks is a column dedicated to exploring new applications for BitTorrent Sync, as built by users like you. BitTorrent Sync is a free, unlimited, secure file-syncing app. (And now, it’s even more mobile.) If you’ve got an epic Sync idea, use-case or how-to, shoot us an email at sync[at]bittorrent.com.

This week’s Sync Hacks post is from writer Andrew Wickliffe, who initially tweeted out that he was using Sync with Hazel. He got more than a few questions about it, and he was kind enough to write up a post for us. Check it out and let us know what you think!

From Andrew: 

There are a lot of benefits to cloud-based storage. There are multiple versions (sometimes), there is LAN syncing so you do not waste your bandwidth (sometimes)–but most of all, there is the availability of your files wherever you may be. Everyone has an app now or a web interface.

But there are also the little apps always running, always downloading, always uploading. If you have a Mac, your menu bar can fill up with these icons and one of them is always at it.

Exploring Options

For cloud storage, I tend to use Dropbox. It has the most integration with the iOS apps I use and I am able to run web apps to access the document files. It just makes the most sense. Except I have a bunch of free storage from Box and storage is so cheap at Google Drive, I have it too. I just do not want them running on my computer all the time.

The first step in my solution to having immediate access to these files was to install the desktop apps on my spare iMac. Unfortunately, all of the things I am describing require having a spare computer–not quite a server, sort of a server-lite. Mine serves media files through iTunes and Plex but now also has all the cloud apps running on it.

So I installed Box on the old iMac (for lack of a better name… it is not much older than my primary computer) and was able to mount the home folder and see the Box folder and its contents from my primary iMac. These names are too similar–I will call the old iMac the server iMac, even though it is not one.

Enter Sync

Then I read some more about BitTorrent Sync and how it could sync files between machines over LAN. Dropbox allows LAN syncing–but not in the iOS app–and I never even investigated if Box allowed it. I did not want another app up in my menu bar, much less occupying memory. It seemed like BitTorrent Sync, though it lived up in my menu bar and did take up some memory, could give me a live mirror of my Box folder on the server iMac and on the primary one. Better, I could assign it any folder I wanted. No more home folder clutter.

Setting up a BitTorrent Sync is so indescribably easy, I am surprised I do not have a hundred of them. Just before writing this post, I set up yet another–a dedicated folder for accessing from my iPad. But back to the Box folder setup. I created a key on my server iMac, I plugged it into my primary iMac. The files started transferring immediately. The primary iMac indexes them so I can find them through Spotlight (or, more likely, let Alfred find them through Spotlight) and any changes I make go straight over to the server iMac and then straight up to the cloud.

Why is it better than just running two Box installs?

It feels cleaner. BitTorrent Sync just runs in the background. If the primary iMac did not give me file update notifications, I would never even think about it.

About five minutes after I confirmed the Box folder syncing worked, I set up Google Drive. I had been running Drive off my NAS, which did not allow for much configurability. But running the app on the server iMac and being able to selectively sync from the cloud, then mirroring those files over to the primary iMac through BitTorrent Sync had me using Google Drive hourly instead of weekly.

For completeness sake, I turned around and mirrored my Dropbox folder from the primary iMac over to the server iMac. Sure, I could run the desktop app over on the server iMac without any trouble, but BitTorrent Sync makes it so easy just to mirror them… why not set it up?

When BitTorrent Sync was announced, I thought of the obvious uses for it–sharing files with friends or family straight from my home computer–but letting it run in the background and enhance the usability of my home network seems far more essential to my day to day. I can find ways of sending files to people, but I was never able to have live Google Drive and Box folders on my primary computer without running the desktop apps.

Trying Sync out with Hazel

One of the other apps I use to automate processes–this one is Mac-specific, sorry–is Hazel (from NoodleSoft). You set rules, Hazel acts on them. Move a file, add a photo to iPhoto, open a text document created in the last five minutes (I do this one sometimes so when I write something on my iPad, it is up and waiting for me when I get home), lots and lots of things. Except there is something clunky when Hazel moves a file across machines or to a slower external drive. Things can often go wrong and there are a lot of places where something can go wrong–troubleshooting it becomes a hassle.

I am always moving files from my primary iMac to the server iMac. Whether they are for streaming through the LAN–the server iMac has an iTunes library consisting of both mine and my wife’s–or just a file for being archived, it is a daily thing.

After my successes with the cloud storage folders, I wondered if BitTorrent Sync could somehow make things easier. It does not require one computer to mount another’s drives or folders, it just works when it sees both desktop apps running. Less clutter.

With the latest OSX update, Apple introduced named tagging. They have had color tagging for many a year, but they tried momentarily to push the idea of using tags for sorting one’s files. I have no idea if the revolution has occurred, but I realized I could I use precise tags on my primary iMac to automatically move the files and sort them on my server iMac.

I take a file, apply a tag, Hazel moves that file based on the tag or filename to a working folder. Again, less clutter. BitTorrent Sync mirrors that working folder over to the server iMac, where its Hazel install sees the tag or filename and moves it to the appropriate folder. All without me having to mount the other computer and manually drop and drag.

Endless Possibilities

BitTorrent Sync is a subtly powerful application with a lot of uses; I think of a new one every couple days.

Strangely enough, I have yet to use BitTorrent Sync for its most obvious application–letting someone else have access to a folder of files on my computer. One of these days…

Andrew Wickliffe has been concerned with automating computer tasks for almost twenty years, both professionally and personally. He maintains two blogs and two podcasts, all of which rely heavily on automation for the little stuff. You can find him here on Twitter.