Friday, May 27, 2005

Syncing

In an earlier post, I wrote about my dream of having address book and calendar information synchronised across multiple devices. This is a progress report: I'm getting there, but it's still not quite right.

I started my iSync adventure with my Palm Zire 71. Already, here's the first curiosity of the syncing extravaganza: iSync doesn't talk directly to the Palm. I still needed to download the (rapidly ageing) Palm Desktop Software from Palm. Sure, it's not an enormous deal, but considering I plan to use the newer iCal and Address Book applications, it's software I'm just not going to use. I then needed to sync the Palm with that software once only. From then on, apparently, I could sync with iSync.

Of course, even that's not entirely true. After firing up iSync, a dialog asks me to press the sync button on the Palm cradle—that is, there's still some manual intervention required. Again, not an enormous deal, and this time it's a hardware limitation and hardly the fault of Apple. Evidently Palms are designed to be disconnected from the USB bus by default, and only connect when the sync button is pressed.

Still, at this point I had populated iCal and Address Book with my existing information. It was time to sync the Motorola V3. I decided to be cautious, and used the PC desktop software for the V3 to erase all of its contact information first. All that information had come originally from the Palm anyway, so there would be no loss. Surprisingly, it took several runs with iSync to get the phone to accept the information—even though its memory was empty and the Address Book was full, the V3's contact list would remain blank after a sync. To be honest, I can't even remember what I had to do to resolve this. It may have had something to do with resetting the ‘syncing history’ of the device, which, of course, is strange because it shouldn't have had a syncing history. I'd never synchronised it.

So after some initial bootstrapping, I had two devices (one over USB and one over Bluetooth) syncing with the desktop applications. Later, I added my iPod over FireWire, but that's only a one-way sync, so I certainly wasn't expecting any problems there. The story isn't quite over, though. There are some peculiarities in the system.

The Palm DateBook application is notoriously limited, so, as many people do, I use the (uh, economically named) DateBk5 application from Pimlico Software, Inc. In an effort to be minimally disruptive to the Palm way of doing things, DateBk5 stores some of the metadata about, for example, appointments in the Notes field. Ordinarily, this is fine, since DateBk5 simply avoids displaying it. But all other applications, now including iCal, do. Not an enormous deal, but now I've got to ensure that this metadata isn't altered in the syncing process, or inadvertently by me on the desktop. Further, and this was a problem with the standard Palm Desktop Software as well, iCal obviously doesn't generate the right metadata for DateBk5 itself. An example is appointments that start on one day, extend over midnight, and end on the next. Now, believe it or not, the standard Palm DateBook can't handle this level of appointment sophistication. (Evidently everyone at Palm goes to bed really early.) DateBk5 handles it in its own idiosyncratic way. iCal handles it too, but it's dropped on the floor by a sync in either direction. Disappointing. But nothing to do with Apple, Mac OS X, or iSync.

There are some other bugs which I haven't been able to fully characterise yet. For example, a few appointments inexplicably had their start and end times moved by half an hour on a sync from iCal to the Palm. I haven't been able to replicate it, though.

Overall, I am happy. Synchronisation is an order of magnitude better than it was under Windows XP. In the tradition of throwing money at the problem, though, I think my next step will be to buy a Palm that talks Bluetooth. And, of course, a Palm that knows about the concept of midnight would be handy, too.

2 comments:

  1. You wrote more before you got the Mac... where are the avalanches of "this sucks" or "this rules", instead of the silence and almost indifference? :)

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  2. LOL! Fair observation. I am being influenced by a number of forces, including not wanting to come across like a complete newbie, pounding away at Cocoa examples in Objective C from a book I bought, which probably doesn't make for great reading, and, well, considering myself one of the cognoscenti now, and hence not keen to admit I ever thought otherwise.

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