Sync This: Hands-on with iSync

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Date: Wednesday, October 2nd, 2002, 09:00
Category: Archive

My first attempts at using iSync to synchronize a Quicksilver, TiBook, Palm and iPod via dot-mac yielded mixed results. I was unable to delete items from one calendar and have them successfully deleted on any of the others. I continually ended up with minor conflicts with all of the address lists even thought they started out identical and I made no changes to any of them. On the Quicksilver, synchronization started failing with various errors. This is an ambitious undertaking on Apple’s part and it is beta software. After wrestling with this for some time, I have some suggestions for getting things to work reasonably well.

Read the warnings that come with this software. It’s a beta release, so don’t rely on it. Back up your data. It is very convenient to backup the Address Book and iCal to iDisk in case you need to revert.

First concentrate on getting the two computers synchronized via dot-mac. This is the most complex task and it may not resolve itself, so you should tackle this before anything else. Open iSync on the first computer and register it with dot-mac, then upload your info. I found it helpful to have identical information on both machines before attempting this. It is also a good idea to refresh any of your published calendars and subscriptions. On the second machine just elect to synchronize with dot-mac after registering. My problems began when conflicts started to crop up in the calendar, even before I changed anything. I started getting duplicate appointments with different categories assigned and then errors that caused synchronizations to fail. Unfortunately the option to replace the information on dot-mac is only available when you first register a machine. I tried unregistering and registering the computer in order to get the option, but was only successful after deleting the files in the SyncService folder in the Application Support folder of the root level Library folder.

If you are happy with your syncs over dot-mac, it’s time to add your Palm. If you don’t have dot-mac, start with the Palm. You need to install the Palm conduit and select the data you want to transfer. I had the best luck having iSync overwrite the Palm. This cannot be selected using the conduit, instead it is only an option on your first sync of the device when you add it to iSync. I also had better luck turning off dot-mac synchronization the first time I synchronized the Palm. I would also suggest purging all appointments on the Palm that are over a week old before the first sync, or it will become very difficult to remove these later.

Add your iPod last and make sure any old calendar and contact information is deleted from the appropriate folders before you sync. After that, you can turn on synchronization for all devices and hope that conflicts don’t start appearing out of nowhere. You must initiate a Palm sync through the HotSync manager by pressing the sync button on the cradle. This will automatically launch iSync.

Apple has tried to make this very simple for the user, but loosing the option to manually specify the direction of synchronization at key times makes it very hard to fix problems that crop up. I made the mistake of purging records on my Palm and iSync then wanted to purge them from iCal on both my computers. Since I like to keep older appointments for reference, my only choice was to then set the iSync conduit to ignore older records, but there was now no way to add them back to my Palm because the direction of synchronization cannot be specified with the conduit. In fact there is no option for one way synchronization from the computer to the Palm. You must also turn off the appropriate Palm conduits when the iSync conduit is active. I had to revert several times to deleting the items in the SyncServices folder to have the option to overwrite the Palm data. Deleting these files starts you all over setting up iSync.

For some reason, the wrong time started appearing for an upcoming meeting and when I would change it on one computer the other devices would not update to show the correct time. I only succeeded by changing it manually on both computers and the Palm and by brute force this seemed to expunge it from the dotmac online data. iSync is clearly not ready for prime time and Apple has its work cut out. There are so many possible scenarios for backup and synchronization, I wonder how long it will take to work out all the bugs. When the program looks at multiple devices and dot-mac all at the same time, it can be very slow and the number of potential conflicts grows with every device. The interface is reasonably user friendly, but it is very likely that problems will crop up that cannot be corrected with the simple tools provided, forcing you to start from scratch. If dot-mac synchronization is just to buggy to rely on yet, one alternate strategy is to use the Palm conduit to sync each computer with your Palm and then use the Palm to update the other computer. Another possibility is to publish a calendar from each of two computers and subscribe to the other computer in order to all your appointments on both.

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