iTunes: Using Home Sharing to Sync Content

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If you’re unfamiliar with Home Sharing (a feature that we’ve been enjoying since iTunes 9), then man, are you multiple-Mac families missing a great thing. Not only can you use it to listen to or watch your iTunes content across multiple devices (including the Apple TV), you can also copy media between up to five household Macs at will. If you’re unsure about how to set it up, Apple’s posted a how-to, and the venerable Ted Landau also wrote an extensive article on it right here at TMO.

Here’s the thing, though—how do you keep media synced between computers? Once you’ve pulled music from your wife’s Mac, say, to yours, how do you make sure that anything she buys from now on is on your Mac, too? Here’s an easy way to do it. First, set up Home Sharing with the steps outlined in either of the articles mentioned above, and then as long as iTunes is running on both machines (and they’re on the same network), you should see your other Mac’s library show up under “Shared” in your iTunes sidebar.

Click on either the whole library or a subsection beneath it, and you’ll see three important buttons near the bottom of the window.

Import is pretty obvious—select one or multiple items, and then click that button to add them to your library. The other two, though, are gifts from the media-syncing gods. Toggle the Show drop-down menu to “Items not in my library,” and you’ll automatically know how much you share with the other member of your household by the updated numbers that’ll appear.

In my house, apparently, we don’t have much in common. What the heck is Tuvan throat-singing, anyhow?

If you’d like, you can then just hit Command-A to select everything and click the Import button to pull it all in at once. 

After you’ve done that, click on Settings. In the box that pops up, you can choose the purchased media types that you want to automatically transfer from now on. So when your spouse buys a movie, a song, or whatever you choose here, it’ll download into your library, too.

Here are a few caveats for you (there’s always a catch, isn’t there?). First, iTunes won’t warn you if you already have the stuff you’re importing, so if you don’t use the “Items not in my library” view, you could end up with a pretty messy collection of duplicates to wade through.

Secondly, for purchased items to transfer from one Mac to another, both of them have to be on the same network and running iTunes. So you could occasionally open the program on both machines and let it do its thing for a little while just to get them to transfer content again.

Also, any media you “acquire” from other “sources” will not transfer automatically—you’ll have to move that manually. I’m not judging—after all, you could be buying your non-iTunes media legitimately. I trust you guys to behave.

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A Syncing (but non iTunes) related question.

In a post .mac era, do you know of a way to replicate .Mac’s ability to sync the Address Book & iCal between Macs some of which aren’t running Lion ?

I haven’t upgraded my Mac Pro to Lion yet. Still on 10.6.8, but my MacBook Pro is on Lion.



Melissa Holt

Hey Pete!

You have quite a few options, none of which (from my testing, at least) work as seamlessly as iCloud. The best thing I’ve personally used is BusySync, a great little third-party System Preference pane that allows you to sync over a LAN. I haven’t needed the program in a while, but when I did, it worked well. They do have this caveat on their site now:

BusySync has read-only access to iCloud calendars. You can publish iCloud calendars on your LAN, or to Google, but the calendars will be read-only and not editable by others.

If you need to publish iCloud calendars with read/write privileges, you may use BusyCal, which has full read/write access to iCloud calendars.

BusySync is $39.99/$69.99 (single-user or family license, respectively), and their more robust BusyCal program is $49.99/$79.99.

Free options are available, too?you can use a Gmail account to sync your calendars and contacts, for example. I’m not particularly fond of the way that Google calendars behave within iCal, but it does seem to work pretty well.

Lastly, you could always try the stopgap solution of putting your shared calendar on iCloud and having the Snow Leopard machine access it through a Web browser. This might be what I’d do if you plan on getting a new machine or upgrading your Mac Pro to Lion soon. That way, you don’t have to dismantle the old syncing solution (or buy any software).

Hope that helps! Does anyone else have a solution to offer? Pete and I await your input.



Hope that helps! Does anyone else have a solution to offer? Pete and I await your input.


Thanks Melissa

I forgot to ask, does iCloud even allow my Macs to stay up to date with each other ? Address Book, iCal etc ?

All the propaganda from Apple hasn’t really informed me.
Yes, I’ve seen the ads touting the goodness of iCloud and being mobile, but I can’t really say that I’ve gotten the gist and understood that I can sync with iCloud like I have been doing with .mac. (Which I mostly use as a backup for my address book. iCal, Safari bookmarks etc) and which allows me to make sure my laptop is “on the same page as my Mac Pro”

Melissa Holt

You’re welcome, Pete!

Essentially, it’s a very similar service to MobileMe. You can still sync your calendars, contacts, and bookmarks. However, if one of the Macs you want to sync isn’t running Lion, you’re out of luck until you upgrade (or unless you try one of the solutions above). I’ve found iCloud syncing to be far superior to MobileMe in its consistency?we’d get a call at least every couple of days from a client whose calendars weren’t syncing, for example. But since the upgrade, we’ve had precisely one client iCloud issue. One.

So I think the Snow Leopard-Lion transition is worth it just for that.

Is that what you wanted to know?


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