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A Periodic (P)review Of Leaping Forward

By: Johan

Saturday, April 9

SyncML & Connectivity Solutions

I've been looking at ways to better spend my time when not at the office. At work we have excellent super-efficient systems in place that get all tasks done promptly. Whether it's because of IT systems or simple company policies, we get the job done in no time.

Not so at home! Inefficiency at home is a pain in my existence at the moment and will be eradicated soon. I recently bought a great desk with pigeon holes and filing systems so now my pile of stuff is neatly tucked away. But still not dealt with entirely! My PC resembles the same situation. I haven't done a fresh install in 18 months now and everybody experienced with Windows knows that means trouble day in day out. Since IT is the cornerstone of any system nowadays I have identified my PC is a major part of the cultprit.

I used to have my Cassiopeia EM-500 Pocket PC PDA with me all the time when going to uni. Synchronized with Outlook it provides a nice mobile platform to keep your PIM (contacts, calendar, tasks and notes) solution with you all the time. I haven't really used my PDA for a while and my recent switch to Thunderbird as my preferred e-mail and news/syndicated content client meant that synchronisation has become impossible. This is why many think of Thunderbird as a quality substitution for Outlook Express but not for Outlook.

However, today when googling again for a synchronization solution I stumbled across the Java based Sync4j software. Sync4j is a SyncML mobile application platform. SyncML (now consolidated into OMA (the Open Mobile Alliance) DS (data synchronization) specifies a standard way to synchronize data between a mobile device and a server. SyncML DM (device management) specifies a way to remotely manage a mobile device from a server. Sync4j supports both standards and is a server solution to connect all your users and devices via 'Principals' determining which user can synchronize which device with which other device.

In laymen's terms, this cross platform software enables you to synchronize your mobile phone with your e-mail client, PDA, laptop etc. When you're out and about you can enter a new calendar entry on your SyncML enabled mobile phone and synchronize this with the server. At home your Outlook, PDA or other devices can tap into the database and synchronize the newly entered data.

A group of Open Source synchronization enthusiasts have launched ScheduleWorld. Running on Sync4j this is a web based front-end where you can manage all sorts of data. Not only can you view your calendar and contacts anywhere in the world via ScheduleWorld, you can also tap into many other sources of syndicated data. You can browse TV listings, weather forecasts anywhere in the world, read your favourite blogs or other RSS/Atom based sources and more. ScheduleWorld also enables you to look in your colleague or friends' diaries to see when they are available for a meeting.

ScheduleWorld also connects to their LDAP server. Thunderbird can be configured to tap into its address book this way. So you can export your contacts list from your phone for instance to ScheduleWorld's Sync4j server and pull it in to Thunderbird via the LDAP directory. Thunderbird even supports auto complete based on LDAP directory entries.

I got my phone, a Siemens SX1 with SyncML support built-in, to connect to ScheduleWorld quite easily via WAP/GPRS. However, the documentation wasn't too clear and contacs synchronization turned out to not yet be fully supported via ScheduleWorld. When I locally installed a Sync4j server it worked a lot better. Too bad I don't have a fixed IP available. The latest Sync4j also supports synchronization of Tasks, Notes, Files, iCalendar and vCards next to standard XML based Calendar and Contact entries. My phone's SyncML application only features configuration entries for the remote contacts and calendar database though. But I guess there will be up to date Java apps available for download and installation on the phone to enable this new functionality as well.

I couldn't figure out just yet how to export my current Thunderbird address book into the LDAP directory or Sync4j database yet either. And all of this seamingly great stuff didn't solve my PDA issue yet. But then I found more projects based on Sync4j via links on their website. MultiSync is one of them.
MultiSync is a free modular program to synchronize calendars, addressbooks and other PIM data between programs on your computer and other computers, mobile devices, PDAs or cell phones. MultiSync works on any Gnome platform, such as Linux.
They on their turn mention the SynCE project, which attempt to provide a means of communication with a Windows CE device from a computer running Linux, FreeBSD or a similar operating system.

All these efforts focus on Linux based systems. Sync4j is also available for Linux and ScheduleWorld is Java based so works on Linux as well. Thunderbird (and FireFox) can be downloaded in the form of a Linux distribution too so all of this tells me to give ditching Microsoft's prducts altogether another go. Skype is available for Linux as well and all that together with Star Office should leave me with no reason to not make the switch for definite now.

I have successfully installed Linux Red Hat 9 before and worked for it a bit, mainly for educational/entertainment reasons. The only reason I didn't stick with it was my inability to figure out the filesystem and how to actually install stuff. Sounds pretty dumb especially since installing software on Windows is such a breeze (double click and follow the wizard's instructions) but I truly couldn't work out at the time how to decompile software and install it. Might have to get a book on it this time.

So... The plan is to format the current Linux partition (forgot the admin password) and re-install one of the available distro's. Then I'll turn it into a killer workstation with FireFox, Thunderbird, Skype, the Gimp, Apache & PHP + MySQL and Zend Studio for development and all other necessary stuff like Media Players etc. Finally I'll turn it into an efficient PIM server able to sync PC, Laptop, Phone & PDA with Web based access as well. And all of it for free!


Blogger MarkSwanson said...

Events, ToDos/Tasks, Contacts now sync perfectly to/from SyncML devices like cell phones and to/from Sync4j clients.

June 26, 2005  

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