The Myth of the Perfect Sync

Here’s the scenario:

I use GoogleMail for email and Google Calendar for… well, calendaring… and all that it entails. I occasionally use KDE Kontact on Linux, but that has subsided somewhat since my love affair with GoogleMail began. Google’s web apps impress me, I must say. I only started using them as a stop-gap measure when I was between computers, but I’ve got so used to the ease of use and… well.. just the generally way that they seem to handle what they do it a simple yet proper and well though-out way.

I also, like 105% of the population of Ireland, have a cellular phone. This is where I get down to the crux of the matter… No, I was always going to get there… I want to sync my contacts and calendar between GoogleMail/Calendar and my phone; a Nokia 6070. Ideally keeping Kontact in the loop too for good measure. This should be easy; Kontact syncs with GoogleMail and Calendar. Then I link my phone to the computer using Bluetooth or InfraRed or old fashioned USB, and Kontact then syncs with that. All the details are kept up to date and identical between all three mediums and I can get on with life…

Except it doesn’t work that way. It never works that way. That would take all the challenge out of life.

Firstly… there is no automated a friendly way to sync Kontact and Google apps. There is a few kludges that will give you a twisted mockery of sync. There is also GCALSync which seems to partially sync my calendar between Google Calendar and Kontact if I set it up as a go-between. It then sits quietly in the background hogging 90% of my CPU time and leaving me feeling like I’m expected to set up a separate machine just for this. Apparently it also sets itself up as an LDAP server to access your GoogleMail contacts but, Jeeze… I want to use the computer for other things, you know?

Ignoring that, there is possibly a way involving writing a convoluted script, otherwise syncing my GoogleMail contacts with Kontact means exporting them from GoogleMail as a .csv file and importing that. This is not sync. As virtually every address book software in the universe has it’s own fields and its own way of interpreting them we end up with a horrible mess that requires an hour or five of manual reconstruction and maintenance. No, this is not something you’ll want to do regularly.

Then it comes to syncing from Kontact to my phone. Forget it. There are no drivers for my phone on Linux. Like the majority of such hardware, the manufacturers have made no effort to support anything other than Microsoft Outlook. Hence the reason it’s so popular: You have to use it if you want to sync with 95% of the phones on the market.

This is the point where things start to get complicated. No, really.

The method by which I’ve managed to sync is thus:

I reboot my girlfriends laptop into it’s Windows XP partition and power up Microsoft Outlook. You have no idea how vile this makes me feel. I feel soiled. Anyway, 75% of the time the Nokia software will realise I’m there with my phone and might want it to do something. My phone doesn’t have Bluetooth and the laptop doesn’t have IR, so I’m stuck with USB. And 25% of the time I may as well have stuck the cable up my arse. Regardless, it mostly works. It syncs my phone contacts and calendar with Outlook. It also syncs my to-do and notes from the phone too, which is good as I used my phones notes function to write and maintain shopping lists as well as jot down the odd reminder when I’m out (a notebook and pen would be quicker but anyone who has seen my handwriting and knows what a bad memory I have will understand why I do it this way). This is all well and good, but how does this all reach Google? While on my searches I discovered GooSync who apparently do a good job of syncing your phone with Google apps. They also support the Nokia 6070, problem is that it’s a premium service and my employment future is unsure. So I’ve opted for more kludge. Google, rather nicely, have a Calendar Sync software that syncs up quite neatly with Outlook. So that’s grand, but the GoogleMail contacts still prove a problem. How did I do it?

I exported my contacts as .csv and exchanged them between GoogleMail and Microsoft Outlook. Then I spent hours fixing the mess. I now have a headache and a hatred for everything. For one of the first times in my life I wished I had less friends. i’m sure it’s all out of date anyway…

Apparently, Google are planning to follow up their much welcomed support of IMAP in GoogleMail with LDAP. This will take the edge off somewhat, but the main problem is the lack of proper standards amongst providers and a lack of support amongst hardware manufacturers for anything other than the “industry standards” like Microsoft Outlook

What we need is more acceptance of free and open source software, more openness by hardware developers and less pandering to sluggish old giants like Microsoft.

In future I’ll make sure any hardware I buy is Linux supported; This is the only way people like me have of getting our needs noticed, by boycotting companies that only support closed source, proprietary platforms.

If this rant comes across as negative or pessimistic, then forgive me. I’m frustrated by this and have been for the many years I’ve been attempting to synchronise various things with other things and failing to some degree or another. If anyone has any tips of suggestions then please feel free to leave them with me.

Something to say?