Lemon Soufflé: an application re-risen

By Graham K. Rogers

Early June produced a bumper crop of new software and updates: iMovie, QuickTime, Keynote and its 1.1 update, and Bluetooth. Among them was the 1.1 update of iSync; but for a while it looked as if this was a lemon.

The idea behind iSync is really sound: an application that synchronises data from various devices. With the Palm and a Bluetooth phone, all of my contact details would just need to be entered once (on any one of the devices). Any appointment, similarly, is just entered on one device and synchronised with the others.

When the beta version of iSync was released, I gave it a try and, although it worked well enough, one of the main reasons I removed it from my hard disk was that I preferred to use the Palm Desktop with its sharp fonts rather than the fuzzy pastel shades of iCal, Apple's calendar application. The iSync beta operated without any problem with only the computer and the Palm.

With the arrival of iSync 1.0 there began to be a strong case for dumping my bias against iCal (weekly calendars are not too bad), so I downloaded the application. With the Palm, additional software (included with the download) is used to alter the way the data conduits work: the Palm desktop is no longer used. iSync uses iCal and the Mac's Address Book. This makes even more sense as the address book is used by both Mail and by Safari.

There were two minor problems with the phone's calendar: untimed events (such as Thai holidays) were not shown; and events were several hours adrift. I can live with the former, particularly as I already have these prominently displayed on the Palm and in iCal. The latter was a matter of altering international settings on the phone (the default is GMT and Bangkok is several hours away from London).

Then iSync 1.1 was listed for download. Since Bluetooth connectivity has become more popular, there had been a need to update software to cope with the new phones and other devices coming onto the market. The update of iSync deals with this question and several devices from Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, Siemens, Motorola, and Palm, plus iPods, have been added.

The normal procedure is download, automatic unpacking, installation, use. All of the applications I mention above had been that simple; but not iSync. After installation, I could see no Palm device in iSync because I had not also downloaded the updated Palm iSync conduit. This had arrived automatically with earlier downloads but was now a separate download. When that was added, however, things went from bad to worse and the software stopped when trying to synchronise Safari (browser) bookmarks: a function I cannot use as the .Mac account is not activated.

After running a series of maintenance tasks, I decided to delete the new version and return to the one that had worked. Part of the clean-up requires that all the tiny references are hunted down and eliminated. Fortunately there is a FAQ on the Apple iSync forum. I slowly worked my way through these. Of course, when iSync 1.0 was reinstalled, that was not working either. In desperation, as the sun came up (metaphorically), I removed the lot and returned to the Palm desktop. I synchronised the data and slept.

One of the ways I keep up with information about OSX is via user forums. The iSync forum had risen in volume from about 20KB to over 100KB each download, and it was clear that I was not the only one in trouble. I joined the party and whined as loud as I could; but politely.

Patiently, one of the volunteer Helpers (who seemed to have a Cupertino vocabulary) patiently went through problems and solutions. I am a firm believer in the idea that computers (like motorcycles) are man-made, so repairable. At the beginning of the new week I set to fixing this problem following Helper FJ's syggestions.

To ensure that the computer was clean of iSync, I followed the instructions on the iSync FAQ and also downloaded a cleanup utility, then ran Disk First Aid from the installation disks. Thus far, no problems.

As the Safari bookmarks may have been giving me some grief, it was suggested that everything pertaining to Safari should be deleted after backing up the bookmarks file. I strongly advise anyone not to create a backup in a folder you are going to delete. A new download of Safari followed and that was installed easily. It took a short while to replace the lost bookmarks.

Finally, iSync itself. I installed the iSync application, then the iSync Palm package and activated the conduit in the Palm Conduit Manager. Then I started iSync. The Palm appeared in the window. In the "Devices" menu, I selected Add Device and the software found the already-paired Ericsson T39m. I clicked twice to add the device.

With a Palm included as one of the synchronisation devices, the process is started from the Palm cradle and not from the iSync application. This time, the process was the same as when I had last used version 1.0 of iSync and data was transferred with zero problems. Of course, having used the Palm desktop for a few days, there were now three copies of each event on the Palm and I went through a cleanup proces, re-syncing each time.

Unlike other installations the update caused changes in settings that for some meant re-pairing, entering settings again, and other instabilities. As The Register commented, with the number of problems revealed in the first 24 hours, Apple ought to have spent more time seeding a 1.1 beta.

Over the last year or more, with all the downloads that Apple has sent my way, I suppose it was inevitable that, sooner or later, something would go wrong. With some hard work and a certain amount of frustration we managed to get the lemon to rise again, but I needed the patience of Job. Or patience with Jobs. I am now waiting for iSync 1.2.

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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