Admit it—even if your desk could be the cover shot for Organized Worker Monthly, your data is all over the place. Between desktop apps, online networks, and webapp tools, it's easy to lose track of data and duplicate tasks, simply because it's not all accessible, or it takes too much of your time to keep it all synced up and together. Conduit, an in-development program for the Linux desktop, makes it simple to link your web data, desktop files, and other information all together, then synchronise them all with a single click. Follow along as we check out how Conduit works, peek at its potential, and try out a few examples (and solicit your own clever ideas).
If your Linux system's app-installing repository has a copy of Conduit that's at least at version 0.3.12, go ahead and install that. Otherwise, follow the links at the Conduit project page to add Conduit's PPA to your third-party sources, or grab a source package.
Conduit's interface is meant to make data-syncing simple, and, for the most part, it does. Simply drag and drop icons that represent your data in the "cloud" (Flickr photos, YouTube Videos, Box.net backups, etc.) or your actual, physical stuff (files, folders, iPods, data apps) into the "canvas," and start making connections. Add the "sources" of your data first, followed by all the points that will receive it. Right-click on any item in your chain to configure it, whether that means pointing to specific folders or logging into your Flickr, Box.net, or Facebook accounts from pop-up windows. Here's a look at all the syncing tools you can play with in Conduit:
Once you've put a few of those items together, right-click on the "group" itself (the grey box surrounding the items) to change the syncing options. You can set up two-way sync between items that support it, a "slow sync" to free up your bandwidth, and a persistent "Always up to date" mode. You can also pre-set ways to deal with files already found, deleted on one side but not the other, and whether it should even bother looking at file creation dates to determine what's "new" (good for those of us who have made a few less-than-successful backup attempts).
Not every point on your data chain is fully two-way, unfortunately. I would've really liked to have created a Mega-Omni-RSS Feed for all my social networking updates; for now, I'll have to stick with Gina's Yahoo Pipes method. There are three basic data types in Conduit, distinguished by the little blue arrows on their icons:
- One-way sources: You can only pull data from these items. Includes RSS feeds and music/playlist data from the Rhythmbox and Banshee music managers.
- One-way sinks: You can drop data into these places. Backpack Notes, Facebook, and (disappointingly) Google Documents included.
- Two-way items: The good stuff. Most web apps (Google Calendar & Contacts, Flickr, Box.net) support this, and if you're an Evolution user, your office gets a lot bigger.
The big drawback to Conduit, at the moment, is a lack of automatic, background synchronisation. The GUI version can keep an icon in the system tray with a "Synchronize now" option, but the real work-around is Conduit's command line functionality. Enter this into a console:
You'll get a feel for the command line options you can plug into your preferred scheduling app, or you can just set Conduit to auto-start without showing its GUI.
Great uses for Conduit
Conduit is far from a finished product, but it already allows some pretty nifty and simple backup and synchronisation hacks. Here's a few I was able to pull off fairly easily:
LSync Calendars, Contacts, and Notes with iPod/PDA
If a Linux system can detect and mount your iPod, Palm, or other data organizer, Conduit can sync up your calendars, contacts, and notes with it, wherever you have them stored—Google, Evolution, your Backpack notes, or even downloaded files. Simply plug in your device and hook up its separate calendar/contact/note items with your data.
Share once, publish across sites
Conduit works exceedingly smoothly with online photo sites, and its "Always up to date" feature means you can create a "Magic Folder"—drop a photo in it, and it gets picked up and sent out to all the sites you'd normally publish to.
YouTube/Podcast subscriptions made easy
Whatever you listen to your podcasts or watch videos with, Conduit can automatically grab the newest additions to a YouTube channel or podcast stream and drop them in a folder (or your Box.net space, your USB drive, iPod—you get the idea).
Simple folder sync/backup
The hardcore backup addicts will swear by using rsync to mirror files on any system, but Conduit makes what you're doing understandable and simple. Create a two-way sync to have any files on a USB drive auto-magically synced to a folder when plugged in. Back up and restore your files to a Box.net space, a web or FTP server, external hard drive, or anywhere else you can normally connect from your Linux system.
There's a lot of tools sitting in Conduit's left-hand pane, just waiting for you and your clever ideas to tweak into seriously cool uses. With the prevalence of RSS feeds generated from web apps, there are bound to be at least a few great work-arounds, useful filters, and other connections to be made.
So, let's hear it—What syncing ideas can you put into action with Conduit? What feature would you need to see installed for Total Data Awareness? Share it all in the comments—I'll update the post with some of the best sync chains as they roll in.
Kevin Purdy, associate editor at Lifehacker, sleeps easier when his data is neatly ordered and backed up. His feature Open Sourcery appears weekly on Lifehacker.