palm synchronization

Boy, that Apple Palm synchronization conduit sure does suck. Is this actually complicated for some reason, or have they just not touched the code in a decade? Why hasn't some third party yet written a replacement? Does the fact that even the Missing Sync people haven't fixed this mean that it's hard? Or that for some reason I'm the only one who cares?

These fields (and probably others) are not synchronized: Calendar event "Location" and "URL"; Address book "IM", "Web Site", "Birthday", "Picture", "Middle Name" and "Nickname". Most of these fields actually exist in both places, they're just not sychronized, so there's really no excuse.

I also whined about this on the Apple feedback page, but I don't have any reason to believe that's anything but a black hole. (Is it?)

<lj-cut text='"Dear Linux People..."'>

"Dear Linux People..." I am, incidentally, gleefully awaiting the first doofus who comes here and says, "If you were running the One True OS you could write it yourself, you whiner!", then I'll ask, "Do the Gnome or KDE conduits handle this right?" and they'll say "No, but that's not the point!" and I'll say "Choke on my fuck!" and then someone will post it on Slashdork. So let's not, 'k?

Update, Nov 2005: The new version of Missing Sync is out now, and comes with its own conduit that fixes most of these problems.

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43 Responses:

  1. inoshiro says:

    when I went into the Apple bugreport option and recorded how the WDS between my Airport Extreme and Airport Express crashed when I did certain kinds of traffic patterns, I was actually called by an Apple engineer trying to verify my report. The solution lead to the 5.5.1 update for the Airport Extreme (etc).

    I suspect if you bugreport it properly, it will be handled correctly, as my experience with Apple tech support have been good. However, this was a different division (firmware of Airport devices vs. iSync related software division).

    • jwz says:

      Sure, but that's a crash. I expect to be ignored on this one since it's not possible that they're actually unaware of this problem... They have surely just chosen not to fix it for whatever reason.

      • inoshiro says:

        It took me about 20 minutes to properly lose both my Palm calendar (complete school/work schedule for next year + social events), and all my contacts stored on my Palm. I have backups that are somewhat out of date, but there was still an appreciable amount of data loss.

        I now understand exactly your pain in the situation. It's very, very evil that iSync relies on Palm's HotSync. Palm's software also freaks out because I just have too many memos (since I take notes on my Palm, and my memodb is > 2mb).

        It's a shame, because I was able to sync with my phone really, really easily, and now have a complete copy of my redone schedule on my phone.

  2. taiganaut says:

    The Missing Sync people have their hands full with The Missing Sync for Windows Mobile right now. They released (I think -- I was in the closed beta but I've been busy and ignoring it for a while) but there are still a lot of issues.

    It's a different platform, but they may have temporarily reassigned some developers or something.

  3. dasht_brk says:

    So lemme get this straight:

    You have two pieces of software, each of which
    has a little database of records, each record
    a set of keyword-value pairs. All of
    these keywords are simple names (we could generously
    decide they are space-and-capitalization insensitive
    strings). All the values could trivially be strings.
    Or, heck, to be really baroque -- strings along with
    a standard mime type -- maybe even a little mutlipart
    with variant forms (but now we're getting *way* out
    there). Frankly, one could get by quite handly with
    something as finite and simple as a lisp alist over
    a few basic types.

    Now you want to merge these lists of records between
    two instances -- fair enough.

    Everytime someone adds a new field, the programs have
    to be updated?

    What the hell?


    • jwz says:

      "What the hell" indeed. But I think it's worse than that: I don't think any new fields have been added to either side since dinosaurs ruled the earth. At least, I seem to recall this same set of fields being present in the address book on the PalmOS side back in the '90s. (Ok, maybe "Picture" is relatively new.)

      • dasht_brk says:

        It's funny how stupidity reinforces itself. I mean, ok, so you're use case is screwed because it turns out not to be popular enough but if it had been popular enough -- there could have been a little mini-industry of adding new fields and updating programs to handle those fields. Economic growth, profiting the few, as their reward for investing in a dumb architecture. It didn't happen in this case but it does often enough -- well, more than enough. Well, most of the time. Well, at every opportunity.

        But, you've got a practical problem to solve for now and I don't have an answer so I'll shut up for now.


  4. How about this: You stop complaining about how your computer doesn't work, and we'll stop telling you new ways to make your computer not work.

    • jwz says:

      Oh, was I forcing you to read this? A thousand apologies. The exit door is unlocked.

    • roach2600 says:

      Complaining about things not working, in a closed-source environment, is how things get better. We notice things that are broken or odd or that could be better, then someone else hopefully listens, and then it gets fixed.

      Unhappiness with the status quo is how innovation occurs.

      People who complain about something without suggesting an alternative are utterly annoying.

      But when Jamie complains, there's often a clear solution that would make life easier.

      That is what computers are about, right?

    • suppafly says:

      I kinda enjoy his posts.. i reminds me how stupid the people that think macs 'just work' are.

  5. duskwuff says:

    The feedback page is indeed a black hole, as is Safari's "Report Bug" button. Radar is less so. Why, they actually have humans read it before marking it as "DUPLICATE" or "WON'T FIX"!

    All snarkiness aside, though, it's universally agreed that iSync sucks. It's rumored that its suckiness is a result of Palm insisting for a long time that all synchronization go through their ancient Palm Desktop* application. Try Missing Sync instead; I've heard that It Sucks Lessâ„¢.

    *: which is itself a modified version of CLARIS ORGANIZER!

    • jwz says:

      I hear the completely opposite rumor. Everyone else seems to be saying that the actual conduit is written by Apple, and both Palm Desktop and Missing Sync are built on top of that unchangable layer. As reported by people actually using it (i.e., not you) Missing Sync does not solve any of these problems. It has a bunch of extra features that don't interest me, but no fixes.

        • duskwuff says:

          Darn. All the Palm-using folks I'd talked to had said any number of wonderful things about Missing Sync. Not owning a Palm myself, though, I was never able to confirm any of them myself. I guess it isn't all that people make it out to be, then.

          Why must all software suck?

          • jwz says:

            It sounds like Missing Sync does add a bunch of features, they just aren't features that interest me. If I used it to listen to MP3s, or took a lot of categorized notes on it, I might care, but I don't.

  6. There is a database semantics problem here that makes sync between a Palm and Apple's AddressBook "a hard problem": the fields don't all map 1:1. I have this problem too, with a Samsung SPH-i500 (also a Palm 4.x phone).

    It is akin to the old problem of gatewaying E-mail between the Internet and various proprietary E-mail systems, back in the day (having written/operated a few such gateways, I have some idea of what I'm talking about). The formats are never identical, so you always have some semantic information loss.

    The only true fix for the Palm/Mac sync problem is for one side or the other to adopt the other's database format, en toto. Everything else will be a heuristic half-measure, and will have various degrees of suckage.

    • jwz says:

      That's may be true for the fields that don't exist on both sides (like "URL") but not for the fields that do exist on both sides (like "IM" and "Location"). Those are a total no-brainer.

    • dunham says:

      This is not a particularly hard problem. And it's already possible to transfer the data if you use Palm's conduit to sync to it's ugly desktop thingy, save to iCard and import into the address book. It's just sheer laziness on Apple's part (and Gnome, KDE, etc) that their conduit doesn't work write. (The data format is very similar to the previous addressDB, even.)

      If Palm hadn't gone to the effort of providing a fake AddressDB database on the device, for backwards compatibility, Apple would have been forced to fix this a few years ago. (I was terribly disappointed when I got Tiger and this still hadn't been fixed.)

  7. ciphergoth says:

    How would running Linux make it any easier to fix the problem yourself? You could just as easily squander months of your life trying to write an open-source Palm synchronizer under MacOS as Linux, surely?

  8. ralesk says:

    Ten points for the Gentoo reference.

  9. sneakums says:

    Trying to do anything with computers is always a mistake, in my experience. You're lasting a lot longer with OS X than I did, though.

    By the way, a horizontal rule would look real nice there instead of those ugly dashes. "border: none; height: 1px;" and a background-colour of whatever shade of green it is you're using should be blend in nicely. Unless you like dashes, of course.

    • jwz says:

      HR stupidly defaults to gray instead of the prevailing foreground text color, and I can't be bothered to remember what CSS stupidity you have to do to fix that, so I just never use it. Dashes or underscores work fine.

  10. hexapod says:

    have you filed a bug report with the missing sync folks? At least one of the fields you mention (Birthday) appears to be supported:

    (though it's hard to tell because the list is confusingly for both Palm and WM.

    • jwz says:

      I mailed them asking "if I bought your product, would it fix these problems?" but they haven't written back yet.

    • jwz says:

      The Missing Sync folks wrote back:

        "Thanks for your interest. You're right - we can't make the Apple iSync conduit do what it doesn't already do. However, we are developing our own conduits and will be offering a new product that includes these conduits within the next couple of months. To learn when it's available, please sign up for our announcement list."

  11. brianenigma says:

    You also forgot to mention that (at least in my experience), the only address to get synchronized is "Home." If you have a personal contact with both a home and office address, only the home address gets synched. If you have a company address book entry with the address in the "Work" address field, it doesn't get copied to the Treo. You need to put the office address in "Home" for it to actually synchronize! Because that makes sense.

  12. chloralone says:

    I've heard rumors that it's just the Treo syncing that sucks with iSync.

    And I've always had great luck with normal Palms (Tungstens, older models, etc).

    PS: Linux is dead, Netcraft confirms it. Holy shit if I see one post about how that horrid, shitty piece of software JPilot does "everything I want and more", I'll hunt the bastard down and sodomize him with his MAtrix DVD collection.

    • darkengobot says:

      Man, I sure do hope that you're right on that. I'm about to upgrade my IIIxe to a Tungsten E2, and reading jwz's problems have nearly driven me to return to a paper organizer. iSync has (more or less) worked well with my Nokia 3660 over Bluetooth, but if it craps out on a Palm, I was going to burst into sissy tears.

      • chloralone says:

        I have a 3620, and the Palm Tungsten C, later an E* syncing worked approximately a "smidgen" better than syncing with the 3620.

        * Don't ask, the C was fan-fucking-tastic. I regret selling it.

  13. mark242 says:

    Apple is still pissed about the Newton not surviving. The handheld group must be taking out their revenge, to this day.

  14. unwiredben says:

    On the Palm OS side, there are the classic databases, and then there are the new Palm PIM databases. These were introduced with the Tungsten T3 and are on all newer devices from Palm. The newed PIM DBs were introduced to map more closely to the field set that's in Outlook to be better able to sync with that software, since a large number of PC users used Outlook rather than Palm Desktop.

    However, there was a break -- the old conduits would still sync the old set of fields, not knowing the schema for the new DBs. In fact, there's a slightly buggy compatibilty layer on the devices with the new PIMs that exposes the old database and watches for changes to those records, which it then merges into the new database.

    The old address book only has fields for last name, first name, company, four tagged items, address, city, state, zip code, and country. All the other fields you see on your 650 were added recently and won't sync using conduits that use the old format.

  15. rico99 says:

    After I upgraded to Tiger (sometimes I ask myself why...), I somehow ended up
    with a new version of iSync that is quite annoying.

    If I enable the iSync pulldown (with the little icon) in the menu bar, selecting
    'Sync Now' used to work just fine. But now when I select it, it only syncs my
    .Mac account. But it doesn't sync my BT cell phone addressbook/etc. YET, if
    iSync is open (ie running), it syncs both .Mac and cell phone just fine. WTF?
    To make matters worse, there USED to be a menu selection called "Open iSync".
    They've now replaced that with "Open .Mac Sync Preferences". Great.

    So my choices are to leave iSync running all the time. (annoying) Or to launch
    it from the dock whenever I need to sync my cell phone. Before this "upgrade"
    all I had to do was click on the iSync icon in the menu bar.

    Isn't it just amazing how people can take something that's just fine and make it
    suckier over time?

    (And yes, I reported this behavior to Apple. I'm almost sure it got filed in the
    "so what" bug category.)

    • jwz says:

      My phone's USB cable has a sync button on it, so I just press that; it does the iSync and quits it when it's done.

  16. edouardp says:

    This comment has no useful information. I wanted to be upfront about that.

    (Like the Billy Connelly show where he starts with "There's swearing in this show. A great deal of swearing. So if you don't like swearing ... fuck off now. Because I wouldn't want you to sit through it and come and tell me afterwards it annoyed you. And if you're a journalist, fuck off anyway.")

    Anyway, yes, iSync sucks like that. BUT IT COULD BE WORSE. Back when I was using Linux as my main OS, I tried to get Evolution (a fine mail program IMO) to do the Palm syncing thing with some open source Palm stack. And it would randomly decide to duplicate contacts on every other sync. And once I had two copies of the same person on one end of the conduit, it would faithfully try to ensure that the other end had he same duplication too BECAUSE THAT WAS IT'S JOB. After a while (before I really noticed, as it would put new duplicates into the "Unfiled" folder) it would randomly duplicate one of the duplicates, and then I would have three or four copies of the same person.

    Then I decided that was one more thing that didn't work in Linux and gave up trying.

    Mac OS X at least doesn't screw up my data. I've learnt to accept that some help in managing various devices (Palm, Cell, Computer [and iPod for shits and giggles]) is better than no help. Which is in turn a hell of a lot better than pretending to work and secretly fucking with your bits.

    My advice is to try and take a positive view - as in "iSync just saved me two hours work", rather than "iSync still left me with two hours work to do". The glass is half-full, my friend, not half-empty.

    Or perhaps that's just me - years of dealing software, both commercial and free, has left me trying to find a coping mechanism for all the stupidity. "At least it didn't piss on my carpet". Half-full man, half-full.

    • cranaic says:

      Look, I'm honestly not trying to be a snarky, retro-luddite, but what do people actually use their palms for that's necessary, and not just gee whizzery. Most of the people I talk to use them as address books and to hold a few notes. Everything else--gameboy emulator, photo storage--is fun but not essential. I sold mine after I got an ibook because it was just collecting dust. I think it was the fourth palm I'd owned.

      • jwz says:

        I definitely find it "non-essential", in that I got by just fine without one until a few months ago, but I do find it very, very convenient to have an editable copy of my calendar and address book on my phone -- which is always with me anyway. Being able to check my email and do AIM and play Tetris and Solitaire are a nice bonus.