Wednesday, December 10, 2003
The Missing Sync for Pocket PC Reviewed
Posted by marlof in "SOFTWARE" @ 02:05 PM
The Missing Sync for Pocket PC is a very functional sync application for users of Mac OS X. It keeps both your Mac and Pocket PC in sync, and is a pleasure to use. That said, there is still some room for improvement with existing features, and some things to wish for in future releases.
Look at those specs!
If you read the specs of The Missing Sync for Pocket PC, you can't help but be impressed:
- iCal Conduit;
- Address Book Conduit;
- iTunes Plug-In;
- iPhoto Plug-In;
- Desktop Mounting;
- Backup and Restore Handheld Data;
- Install Pocket PC Applications;
- Shared Internet Access.
That looks like more than Activesync can do for us.... But how good is Missing Sync at doing what it claims to do? At least my Dell Axim was recognized without any problems.
Figure 1: I can see you
This went without a glitch, both when the Dell was running Pocket PC 2002, and connected to Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) and when it was upgraded to Windows Mobile 2003, and connected to Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther).
iCal and Address Book
Onto the main thing - synchronization of Calendar and Contacts. You can not (yet) sync to Entourage (they're hoping to do this in the 2.0 release of The Missing Sync), so you are limited to iCal and Address Book for the moment. Both iCal and Address Book use an iSync conduit, where you can set what you want to sync (and where to sync to).
Figure 2: Setting the iSync conduit options
In Address Book, the category list is synched over as "groups", and you can sort your contacts by group. If a person has multiple category entries on the Pocket PC, he belongs to multiple groups in Address Book as well. In iCal all events that are created on the Pocket PC are synched to one calendar (group of appointments), that you can define in the options panel shown above. Also, you can select which calendar(s) to sync to your Pocket PC. Since I want everything to be in sync, I've chosen to keep only one calendar and sync that. Otherwise I'd have to manually move the Pocket PC-created items in iCal from the synchronized calendar to another calendar, which is a bit too much of a hassle for me. This caused me not being able to filter on category/group/calendar in my Calendar/iCal, but that's something I hardly ever do anyhow. So to me that's not a big loss. Getting a full category/calendar sync as in Address Book might be something to add in a future release. If you've set your options the way you like them, you can press Sync Now.
Figure 3: iSync in progress
It takes a while (definitely longer than using Activesync on my Windows desktop), but The Missing Sync does deliver. Address Book has a few less fields per contact than the Pocket PC, but everything synched to a logically mapped field. No problems here. iCal also provided no problems, although the synchronized Tasks that ended up in To Dos in iCal did not have categories. Further there is a problem with recurring events if they are created in Outlook on my Windows desktop. The problems caused by events created in Outlook are a known issue at Markspace, and something that hopefully will be resolved in a future release. This was a bit of a problem for me, since I try to keep my Pocket PC in sync with both a Windows desktop and a Mac iBook. But if you use this as only a sync program to keep your Pocket PC in sync with a Mac, you won't encounter any difficulties.
Mounting and Internet connection sharing
Missing Sync mounts your Pocket PC as a volume to your Mac.
Figure 4: A Dell Axim volume in Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar)
You can explore your Pocket PC just like any other volume, and copy or move files between your Mac and Pocket PC.
Figure 5: Exploring a Dell Axim volume in Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther)
Next to that, you can share the Internet connection of your Mac, so you can update programs that need an Internet connection using the (broadband) connection of your Mac.
iTunes and iPhoto
Since the Pocket PC is mounted, you could manually copy files over to your Pocket PC. But of course, there should be no fun in doing things manually if you can have it iDone. In iTunes, the mounted Pocket PC shows as a mobile music device, just like an iPod would.
Figure 6: Pocket PC in iTunes
You can copy files to the music device, and they will sync over to the Pocket PC. The music is copied over to a directory called "Audio" on your Pocket PC.
Figure 7: iTunes on your Pocket PC
Since there's no way to set a storage card as the synchronized folder, in my opinion this functionality is only of limited use. After all, storage space in main RAM is limited and your Pocket PC will fill up fast on music. In the end I just copied music manually to the storage card through the File Explorer.
Update: Today I've learned it is possible to copy files to a storage card. "[this] was added in 1.0.1 or 1.0.2), however you need to already have an AUDIO folder on the device. Our software looks for that folder to determine which card to use (if there is more than one) and then falls back to RAM if it doesn't find it." So do not just create a My Documents folder on your storage cards, create an Audio folder as well.
The Missing Sync adds an extra tab in the Export menu in iPhoto. Here you can set the format and size of exported images.
Figure 8: Pocket PC in iPhoto
Once exported, these images show up in a folder called "Pictures" in RAM on your Pocket PC. Again, there's no way to set the synchronization to a storage card. For pictures this is less of a problem than for music, since the individual files are a lot smaller if downsized to the Pocket PC screensize.
Figure 9: iPhotos on Pocket PC
Backing up and installing programs
To be honest, these were not as impressive as the spec list made me originally believe. As for backing up, you cannot back up a complete Pocket PC, but you can synchronize folders to the desktop. This will provide you with a second copy of your files and that is very good. As for installing programs, due to many of the Pocket PC programs coming in Windows desktop executable installers, Mac users are limited in their options. When you do have a .cab install file, The Missing Sync can help you install it to your Pocket PC. But that doesn't give much benefit over manually copying the file over and running it on your Pocket PC. Markspace maintains a Mac friendly resource where hopefully you can find those .cab installers. I think that for both cross-platform and for over-the-air Pocket PC users it would be preferable if all Pocket PC software came with a .cab option, but so far that is not the case. Let's hope this will change in future.
First of all: tested was version 1.0.2 of The Missing Sync for Pocket PC.
Figure 10: About The Missing Sync
That is the currently shipping version, and I am not aware of a publicly available beta of a future version. In this version I encountered the following gotchas, most of which have already been discussed, and can be a limitation of using a Mac, not of using The Missing Sync.
- Synchronization is slow;
- No support of Entourage;
- Multiple Calendars in iCal are not fully supported;
- Tasks categories are not synchronized;
- No synchronzation of Notes;
- No full backup of your Pocket PC;
- Installing programs can be difficult.
To stay up to date with gotchas and workarounds/solutions, you can subscribe to a discussion list, where the people at Markspace participate as well. In my experience they are pretty responsive. They cannot solve everything right away, but they're aware of the limitations mentioned, and hopefully will be able to address them in future releases.
The Missing Sync for Pocket PC requires Mac OS X version 10.2 or up (including Panther) and a compatible Pocket PC running Pocket PC 2002 or Windows Mobile 2003 software for Pocket PC connecting via USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Where To Buy
The software can be bought from the Markspace store, starting at $39.95.
If you have a Mac, you're no longer limited to Palm OS devices when you want to sync a PDA. With the The Missing Sync for Pocket PC, Markspace has created a functional sync application that keeps your data in sync between your Mac and your Pocket PC.