Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Plaxo solves my sync issues

If you have multiple computers in several locations, and portable "smart" devices that carry a lot of the same information as your computers, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to keep the data on all devices current.

Keeping my data current has been an ongoing quest for me since working on a Windows PC at home and a Mac at work. At first it didn't matter much to me. Then I saw how valuable keeping mailboxes synchronized could be. Soon bookmarks became an issue. For a while, I would export my bookmarks from my work computer by html to a zip(!) drive, carry it home, import it into my home browser.

Over the years, my expectations have grown regarding keeping my devices in sync. My device quantity has grown as well. I currently work from a PowerBook G4, a desktop G5, a Windows XP P4, and now, thanks to my dad off-loading his Treo, a Windows Mobile device.

I have already written about the value of using the Google Browser Sync plugin for Firefox. This not only uses your existing Google account to keep your bookmarks synchronized across however many computers you want, it also will sync your history, cache, and site logins and passwords. This is very handy!

I also sychronize my Mac iCal data with my Google calendar using Spanning Sync. This allows me to update shared calendars that are shared with our staff, published publicly for our volunteers to see, and personal family calendars with my wife.

Further, my iCal, Address Book, Yojimbo, Mail settings, Transmit Favorites, Notes, Dashboard Widgets, and Keychains between my two Macs are synchronized through .Mac.

All this synchronizing is a delicate balance to maintain. One innocent failure and entire calendars are duplicated, erased, or corrupted in some other way. The problem to date has been the Treo. Windows Mobile does not make any software to synchronize data with Macs. Third party apps I have tried (three to be exact) have failed miserably to sync to Windows Mobile.

I don't care about my calendar or bookmarks syncing. All I care about is my contact list. I just want to see that show up on my phone and then when I make an edit on my phone, see it reflected back into my address book on my computer(s).

After trying yet another attempt at syncing with a third party app, I decided it wasn't meant to be. I seriously began considering the iPhone. (But I'm with Sprint!)

So PLAXO steps in. A bizarre web site that syncs all of your social web apps: blogger, facebook, flickr, twitter, even Amazon wish lists and puts them into one place. It also synchronizes your calendar (perfectly, I might add) AND your contact list. This wasn't important to me, and frankly scared me a little bit when I pushed the sync button the first time (what if it disrupted my perfect little world of sync harmony?), but I like to try new gadgets and services, and couldn't resist. I pushed the "go" button.

I'm glad I did! It worked perfectly, and continues to work with no troubles. Then I discovered this little sync tab on their site that included all these other services--including Windows Mobile. Really? I thought. Since it worked so well with my Mac, I thought I'd try it. So I took my Treo cradle home, put it on my home computer, found my copy of Office 2003, installed Outlook, downloaded the updates to outlook, and ....success! I now have two-way syncing from my phone to my Address Book in a very unusual way.

Track this "signal path" for adding a new contact to my Address Book beginning with my desktop at church:

Desktop -->thru .Mac --> Laptop
Laptop --> thru Plaxo --> Outlook on PC at home
Outlook --> sync services --> Treo

The cool thing about it is that if I make an edit or a change on my phone, I can stick it in the cradle, and within 30 seconds, my laptop is updated with the new data. I feel like in some ways the whole thing is a hack, a huge bandaid that really only partially works, because it only synchronizes my contacts, (so far) nothing else.

However, if you are not on Plaxo, I would recommend checking it out--even if you only use the sync services.