Mobility

PIM synchronisation with the help of .mac

Recently, I know, I’ve been talking a lot about the joys of switching to Mac; and at risk of annoying those who don’t really care, I wanted to mention how I deal with personal information management (PIM) synchronisation under Mac OS X.

Synchronisation of personal information such as appointments, contacts and tasks between a portable device and my computer has never proven to be too much of a problem. Blackberry Desktop has always performed quite well — contacts and calendar sync up with Outlook flawlessly. The problem for me has been trying to synchronise data between two computers and a mobile device. If both machines could be synchronised with the mobile device then it wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but I’ve found that often the device is paired with one computer and can’t sync data with a second machine. One solution I found was Funambol.

In a previous blog, I wrote about my encounter with Funambol and was actually quite impressed with how it performed. It did allow me to exchange contact and calendar information between multiple devices including computers, SmartPhones, and even SyncML-enabled mobile phones. My gripe with using Funambol was that it seemed too heavy; there should be an easier way to complete what seems like a simple task! I must admit that I’m also not a big fan of having to use Outlook plug-ins as they have a habit of causing instability — the same goes for Windows Mobile add-ons.

Since starting to work on Mac OS X full-time, I’ve had to start fresh and find a new way to sync all of my personal data. The first thing to get running was synchronisation between my Blackberry and Entourage (Microsoft’s Mac version of Outlook). The native iSync program, which enables data sync between iCal/AddressBook and mobile devices, didn’t recognise the Blackberry nor does it interact with Entourage. I was really happy to find RIM offering a Mac equivalent of the Blackberry Desktop manager — PocketMac. PocketMac not only synchronises data with Microsoft Entourage but also iCal, Address Book, and MeetingMaker. A nice feature is that PocketMac will also copy messages sent via the Blackberry to my Sent Items in Entourage, which makes it easier to keep things together.

The next step is to tell Entourage to sync up with the Mac’s iCal and Address Book; this is as simple as opening Preferences | Sync Services and enabling the relevant options. You’ll see here that we have some overlap; PocketMac is synchronising data with both Entourage and iCal/Address Book, but Entourage is also syncing with iCal/Address Book. Why would we want to do this? Entourage has an annoying limitation (which will hopefully have been addressed in Office for Mac 2007) — all calendar items are synchronised with iCal but the user can’t select which iCal calendar is used. Instead, all items are synced to a fixed calendar called Entourage. Due to this, it’s best to have PocketMac sync directly with iCal as it will then allow me to have my personal calendar info available on my Blackberry while keeping it separate from business appointments. I suppose I could stop PocketMac from syncing directly with Entourage, but the belt-and braces-approach doesn’t seem to be causing any issues.

That’s the Blackberry and laptop taken care of, but how about the second computer? It’s much simpler than you think. I signed up for a 60-day free trial of Apple’s .Mac service. While .Mac encompasses many features and member benefits such as e-mail, online storage space, and a members-only backup application — the feature set that most interested me was synchronisation of iCal, Address Book, Keychains, and bookmarks. Once I’d signed up for a .Mac account, I associated each computer with it and told it to synchronise Address Book and iCal. Amazingly the sync works perfectly with any changes made to my data being mirrored on the other machine. Entourage synchronises with iCal and Address Book on the second machine giving me an exact replica of the first. With .Mac enabled, PocketMac can place a full backup of my Blackberry on .Mac for safekeeping each time it’s connected.

It’s not very often that I’m completely happy with data synchronisation, whether it be contact information or document backups. There is usually a compromise and data can very easily become disjointed with different versions on different devices — none of which agree on who holds the latest info. I’m pretty happy with the setup I have at the moment and haven’t yet accidentally lost an appointment or contact. The fact that .Mac is a subscription service and that I’m going to have to fork out $99 for it in 55 days time isn’t too much of an issue. It’s always nice to find a way of accomplishing something without having to pay out, but with the excellent exchange rate £ for $ at the moment, a subscription breaks down to a monthly cost of less than a packet of cigarettes; when looking at it like that it doesn’t hurt too much!

As usual I would really like to hear from you: tell me how you do it; have you found an easier or cheaper method?

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