Windows "Live" (Now Dead) Foldershare Has an Architectural Weakness

Foldershare is a handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync – most of the time, when it works.  Of course sometimes it goes down, defying it’s new Windows Live moniker. smile_embaressed

Unlike the previous, week-long outage, this one was just a few hours, but even now as it recovers, users can’t log in:

Outages are inevitable, but the repeated incidents made me realize that Foldershare has a design glitch: it’s dependence on logging in to a web server for no good reason.

  • Yes, I understand setup, customization is all through the Web.
  • However, once set up, the need to change configuration is rare, the whole idea in Foldershare is that it just runs in the background with the users barely noticing it even exists.  It does NOT sync / upload actual data to the Web server, all synchronization is strictly P2P.  In fact one of the setup options is to define whether you allow remote P2P sync to occur through the Net, or strictly on your LAN, behind the firewall.

Why on earth my Foldershare clients on 3 computers have to sign in to the Web to be able to carry out behind-the-firewall synchronization is beyond me.  Could the not cache the latest config locally, and use it whenever log-in fails?

Of course I have previously speculated that Microsoft should tie Foldershare and Skydrive, offering both PC sync and Web backup, in which case logging in becomes a reasonable requirement.  But even then, local sync should be available as a fall-back option for outages.

Update (2/13):  A day later Foldershare clients still can’t log in.  Perhaps it’s time to change “the next couple of hours” to “the next couple of days“. smile_angry


Trusting Foldershare – Almost

FolderShare AutoDeletes Files. Whoops – reports TechCrunch. As a Foldershare user I’ve also received the urgent email warning:

From 12/3/07 to 12/6/07, some files may have been accidentally moved from their original folders into the FolderShare Trash folder. The bug that caused this problem has been fixed.
The only files affected are ones with names containing certain characters, such as accents, trademark signs, etc. For example, “España.jpg.”

I happen to have an accent in my family name (which I dropped since I moved to the US – simplicity!), so Foldershare nuked quite a few important documents. Thankfully, the email came in time to recover all from the trash folder.

This is not the first time “accidents” happened, only the first time it was on such a mass scale Microsoft had to acknowledge it. (Foldershare was originally developed by startup Byte Taxi, which got acquired and the product is now part of Microsoft’s Live Services).

Previously I used Foldershare to duplicate all my data on a new laptop – since I had already used it to synchronize two other machines, I already had the libraries defined, just had to add the new computer. A random check at the end of the process uncovered 165 (!) p2p files (placeholders) with the actual content missing. Nothing in Foldershare warned me about these, and there was no way to force the placeholders to download the actual content. Foldershare Support was clueless, and to day I still wonder if I hit some unpublished limit with the massive amount of data I wanted to copy all at once (not the typical use case for Foldershare).

Not on the above scale, but similar glitches still occur, where a file is not synchronized, a .p2p file is created instead: I have learned there is no way to fix those, just delete the .p2p, rename the original file to something else on the source machine, and the new file will likely be synchronized.

Another annoying bug is when for some reason a file is locked on the destination computer and Foldershare chokes. It does not allow to skip the “offending” file, the only choices are retry (won’t work), or shut Foldershare down – that’s just plain stupid.thumbs_down

Despite all the above, I’ve become very dependent on Foldershare: it’s a fundamental piece of my infrastructure. I let it synchronize the two laptops and a desktop, then I use the desktop as the “master” which will back up data online to Mozy. Mozy is a life-saver, and has improved a lot since I first covered it. Of course the third part of my strategy is the increasing portion of content that does not even exist on my local disks: documents created by Zoho Writer or Sheet, safely in the cloud.

All in all, this system works, but Foldershare is a step shy from being a “set-once-forget-it-even-exists” stage, which is what these infrastructure services should aim to deliver.


Windows “Live” Foldershare Dead For a Week

Foldershare is a very handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync – when it does.

Although the actual synchronization process is P2P, in fact in a local network your data typically stays behind the firewall throughout the entire process, Foldershare needs to log in to their servers to read your configuration data. And that’s where the process often dies. So far it hasn’t bothered me though, sometimes Foldershare could not log in, but I could safely rely on it getting through in a few hours and catching up with synchronization.

Now it’s been dead for days, which is really bad, as it has become a key part of my infrastructure: I sync three computers using Foldershare, and run Mozy to create online backups on one. With these types of services it’s all about trust: you don’t actively use them, check them daily, you just trust that they are there, doing their job in the background. When they don’t you’re in trouble, since you don’t know what fell out of sync. There goes the trust, quickly.

Foldershare was acquired two years ago by Microsoft, and it’s now branded as part of the “Live” services. A brand that turns into pure irony when it comes to a dead service. smile_sad

Update: there’s now an announcement on the FolderShare site. Thanks, Chris, for the pointer.

newsNovember 12, 2007

Windows Live FolderShare experienced a few technical difficulties over the weekend. The service is functioning normally now but it may take a while for all clients to reconnect. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes you.

Update (11/16): The above announcement turned out to be optimistic – that much is obvious just reading the comments below. As of today, FolderShare is completely down, with this status message:

Nov 16, 3:00PM PST
Windows Live FolderShare is being taken offline for maintenance.
The service will be resumed in the next 48 hours.
Thank you for your patience.
FolderShare Team.

I keep my fingers crossed.. and if it really works in 48 hours – well than it only took Microsoft a week to fix a so-called “Live” service. smile_angry

Update (12/11): FolderShare AutoDeletes Files. Whoops – on TechCrunch