Missing Sync: iPAQ Syncing Done Right

One of the things I was quite interested in was syncing a Windows Mobile device with a Mac. While it would be pretty simple for device OEM's to make an iSync plugin for their devices, or for Microsoft to provide one like they do for Windows, none of them do. On the one hand, this makes sense. Most Windows Mobile devices are sold to corporations, and their sales to individuals are weak at best. Most enterprise environments want the complete Exchange + Outlook + Outlook Mobile stack, so support for OS X or Linux isn't needed. Luckily, mark/Space has created their own suite of tools to allow a Windows Mobile device to sync.

Initial Setup

Missing Sync is not easily found in a trial version. It's not listed on their site, but I could find it on third party sites in a 14 day trial. The installation was pretty simple; open the disk image, and run the installer. After installation, a setup assistant opened to set everything up. To be safe, I initially over USB. I followed the instructions, and within a few seconds I'd successfully connected. Missing Sync uses a plugin architecture to sync different types of data. For example, there is a different plugin for iCal data and for Address Book cards. Each plugin is disabled by default, which is probably a good thing so no data gets synced that you don't want. Most plugins have some simple configuration. The iPhoto plugin lets you choose the albums to sync, while the Finder plugin allows file synchronization to be set up.

Notes and Voice Recordings

Notes is an interesting data type, as there isn't an application built into OS X meant for note taking. There is Stickies, and the equivalent Dashboard application, but neither is suited for many notes. Missing Sync comes with it's own application, called "Mark/Space Notebook" to handle this. It works reasonably well, and includes support for Voice notes. You can also sync notes to Entourage and Yojimbo, but it would be really nice to just sync notes to files, where they could be processed by any other application. OmniFocus support would be great!

Media Handling

Media handling via Missing Sync is very good. You can sync music and videos from iTunes, as well as photos from iPhoto. Unfortunately, through no fault of the software, the iPAQ is a pretty poor unit for music, and even worse for video. Even over USB, the transfer rate is abysmal, meaning that transfering a single album takes minutes, instead of the seconds it should. If I were seriously considering using an iPAQ to replace an iPod, I'd probably end up purchasing a SD card and using that instead.

Polish and Detail

There are quite a few small, but useful, features, which really help to make Missing Sync shine. It includes a built-in plugin to sync time, as Windows Mobile 5 doesn't include network time support. Even on Windows, time isn't synced to an iPAQ. The help included with Missing Sync is very clear and well written. This was a sharp contrast to the documentation included to sync with Windows. The other useful feature of Missing Sync, especially compared to the Windows Mobile Device Center, is that it is completely connection agnostic. Once a connection is set up, it doesn't care if you use USB, Bluetooth, or a network connection (for older iPAQ's) to sync. On Windows, switching between USB and Bluetooth is a real pain.

In the end, it's a pretty serious failure on Microsoft's part that Missing Sync provides a better experience than their own supported Windows software. After using Missing Sync, I can't imagine supporting actual users with Microsoft's software; it's no wonder that RIM and Apple are eating Microsoft's lunch.