Calendar Day: Sync, Mix, Crash.

I've been looking at server-based synchronization of calendars again, and after a few days of idle clicking around the web I came across a few SyncML things. But, as last year (and I mean around this time last year), there are very few working implementations of SyncML - or, more to the point, there are no new efforts to do platform-independent PIM data sync except Sync4j, which is the only near-complete SyncML server I know of.

However, in a wierd display of synchronicity, today looks like Calendar Day or something. First off, Groupcal has reached 1.0:

And Apple released iCal 1.5.2 (available on Software Update), which is definetly just a cosmetic fix, since it still crashes when trying to import a large .ics file I have - which other applications import just fine, by the way.

Why Exchange is still Microsoft's Killer App

However, the best solution I've found (and which has, so far, worked flawlessly) is not Mac-based. It's not SyncML-based. It's not even truly multi-platform based, since all the platforms involved (despite differences in size and CPU architecture) emanate from a rather well-known company in Redmond.

Oh yeah. For those people who haven't tried Exchange ActiveSync, allow me to say that (provided you have a Pocket PC 2003) it does precisely what Microsoft critics don't expect: It just works - quickly, securely (you only need HTTPS access, by the way) and with no hassle, mostly like what they promise

No matter what sort of connection I have (GPRS, Wi-Fi or whatever) I can get at my mail, update my calendar (as in actually swap meeting requests with people) and maintain my contacts (Tasks and Notes are, sadly, not synced), and without any need to use a laptop - in fact, I'm now leaving it on my desk when I go out to most meetings, unless I have to deliver a presentation or do something that requires the larger screen and keyboard.

(I've also confirmed that using a paper pad is still much faster and more practical than a Pocket PC to take notes - but that's another matter entirely, and I'll probably rant about it in a few weeks or so - Palms are, as usual, far more usable than Pocket PCs for this purpose.)

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Microsoft has been trying to sell mobile access to Exchange as a major feature to corporate users, and that Motorola (who, by the way, co-authored this whitepaper - Word format, Linux zealots beware) is also aiming squarely at the business user with their new (and upcoming) smartphones.

Interestingly enough, there are add-on packages to support devices like the T610 (follow the links to current information), but given my experience with Pocket Outlook so far, I don't think other devices have much of a chance - this tight integration between Exchange and the device is the sort of thing that sells PDAs (and, in the future, Microsoft smartphones too), for the obvious reason that it makes life simpler for its users.

Of course, the Pocket PC itself still needs a lot more work in both usability and reliability - more Bluetooth connections, even with the latest HP fixes, mean at least a reset a day for my Pocket PC/iPAQ 2215 (considering even their watches have problems, I guess it's only to be expected...).

But despite all the criticism, right now, nobody can beat Microsoft on this field. And it looks like nobody is really trying, either.