syncing Desktop across multiple computers

I treat my Desktop as “stuff I’m working on right now” and file things away into project folders after I’m done actually working on them. I also use 3 different computers, and a couple of iOS devices. How to sync this active-work area across all? This would work with any other file sync tool1.

It’s an easy trick, based on one I found on Lifehacker2. It’s also not necessary – it’s trivial to just leave the active-work files in the Dropbox directory, but then you have to go digging every. single. time…3

First, on one computer, create a Desktop folder in your Dropbox directory, at ~/Dropbox/Desktop (then wait for it to sync to Dropbox).

Then, in Terminal, run this on all computers you want to sync the desktop:

sudo mv ~/Desktop ~/Desktop.bak
sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Desktop/ ~/Desktop

This will move the “real” Desktop directory out of the way (but just renames it so Finder won’t use it – all of the files are still safe) and creates a symbolic link from the ~/Dropbox/Desktop directory to the place that Finder looks, at ~/Desktop.

Then, log out (don’t save state – Finder has to relaunch fresh) and log back in again. Move any critical/active files from ~/Desktop.bak/ back onto the Desktop. Sync. Magic.

Not sure how this will work over time – I’m sure the Finder-specific invisible files will act up a bit, storing strange positions etc… for icons on the shared Desktop… Might also get extra funky if mixing platforms – I have no idea what would happen if Windows variants were thrown into the mix. Should be possible to share a Desktop across Mac/Win/etc… though.

  1. I recently gave up on OwnCloud for a bit because it was just too funky to trust 100% with my active working files, because it gets confused with browser-based wifi authentication and self destructs when it encounters this. so, I’m on Dropbox (again) for now. []
  2. but I had to modify it ever so slightly. The Lifehacker recipe wanted to sync the entire Dropbox directory to the Desktop. That’s just stupid. []
  3. and, yeah, you can just add that folder to the sidebar in Finder, but, again, clicking every time… []