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Issue #111: September 6, 2009

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Q: We have 3 computers connected to a local network in our home.  Two use Windows XP and one Vista.  All 3 computers have installed the same financial program Quicken. When a change is made in one of them (adding a purchase or expense) the same items have to be added manually to the other two to update them.  How can we make a change in one of them so it will simultaneously appear on the others?  If this is possible, have the others to be on at the time the change is made in one in order to appear on the others?

– Mira N.
Navarre, Fla

A: This isn’t so much an issue with your Quicken software as it is an issue with basic file sharing, Mira.  Most programs store their data in separate files, and all you really need to do is put the data files in a location that is accessible to all three computers.  Then, rather than have three copies of the file that you need to keep in sync, you only have one file, so all three computers will always see the latest data.  The techniques I’m going to describe will work with files for any application, and for any number of computers.  The only catch is that only one computer should be viewing the file at any given time, or file sharing errors could result.

There are several ways to get storage space that can be shared among multiple computers, and there are pros and cons to each.  One way is to add a shared hard drive to your LAN (often called Network Attached Storage, or NAS).  Such devices are widely available, and are priced at around $100 and up depending on capacity and features.  When properly installed, each of the computers in your home network will acquire a new drive letter that accesses the shared space on the LAN drive.  You can then copy or save your programs’ data files to the shared space, and access them from any computer in the network.

If you want a solution that doesn’t require you to purchase any new hardware, you can share out a directory on one of your computers and then access it from your other computers.  This is pretty geeky, but is actually easier than it sounds, however the procedures for setting it up are too wordy for this my little column.  Fortunately, Microsoft has detailed setup procedures in their knowledge base.  You can read them at tinyurl.com/ku6ab for Windows XP, and tinyurl.com/2y224j forVista.  Once you’ve created a share, you can set up a drive letter for quick access to it from any computer in your workgroup.  On one of the computers other than the one on which you created the shared directory, double click “My Computer” and on the “Tools” menu, select “Map Network Drive”.  Where it says “Drive”, select the drive letter you wish to assign.  Where it says “Folder”, enter the path to the share.  The proper syntax is “\\computername\sharename” (without the quotes) where “computername” is the network name of the computer on which you created the share, and “sharename” is the name you assigned to the share when you created it.  When you click “Finish” a new drive letter will appear in your list of devices, and if you check “Reconnect at logon” the system will automatically recreate the share each time you sign in to Windows.  Any files you wish to share among computers on your LAN can be copied to the shared space.  You can even create folders on the shared space to help keep things organized.

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