Moving to Microsoft Exchange 2007

Computers and devices connected to a server

You say single point-of-failure, I say synchronized data!

Back in July 2009 I upgraded my mobile phone from an O2 Xda Orbit to an O2 Xda Zest. All was well until I tried to synchronize it with two copies of Microsoft Outlook, one at home, the other at work.

It didn’t work.

Windows Mobile 6.1 won’t sync

A quick Web search showed me that I wasn’t alone. It turns out that there was a bug in that version of Windows Mobile 6.1 on my phone. Microsoft had fixed it and rolled out the update to OEMs but it appears that O2 wasn’t going to let it roll any further.

Diagram of Windows Mobile phone synchronizing with 2 PCs

My Windows Mobile 6.1 phone would only synchronize with one PC

So I was stuck with a phone that would synchronize with only one PC. Which was somewhat bothersome as I was rather used to the convenience of my calendar, contacts, tasks and notes being available both at work and at home, as well as on the go on my mobile phone.

I needed to find another solution.

XTND Connect

The first thing I looked for was an alternative to Microsoft ActiveSync (I was using Windows XP at the time) and I discovered XTND Connect.

I wondered if the problem could be bypassed by using an alternative to ActiveSync.

It couldn’t.

That didn’t work either, which made it quite an expensive mistake. The demo version looked promising but was so highly crippled in terms of functionality that I had to buy the full version in order to fully evaluate it. Which rather defeats the purpose of a demo version, in my view.

Sync2

So I looked around at alternative solutions and it appeared to me that there were only two options left:

  1. Synchronize with an online application (e.g. Google Calendar)
  2. Synchronize to a server (e.g. Microsoft Exchange)
  3. Synchronize to a local folder (e.g. USB flash drive)

I explored the Google Calendar and Google Contacts option but (and for me, it’s a deal-breaker, which is one reason I’ve not gone rushing out to buy an Apple iPhone) one the elements of Outlook that I use perhaps more than any other is Tasks. And I couldn’t sync my tasks with Google Calendar.

I assumed that Exchange would be out of my price bracket so focussed on the second option which led me to Sync2 from 4Team.

Not only does Sync2 synchronize your Outlook calendar, contacts, tasks and notes with a folder of your choosing (USB flash drive, local folder, LAN folder, etc.) it will also synchronize with Google Calendar and Contacts.

I discovered that if I synchronized it with a folder in Dropbox at home I could then synchronize it again from the same folder on my PC at work, without having to worry about remembering to pack my USB flash drive.

Three computers using Sync2 synchronizing with a Dropbox folder

Using Sync2 to synchronize using a Dropbox folder

That has been the solution I have been using for the last six months to synchronize my data between home, work and my laptop.

Occasionally I ran into problems with data not synchronizing properly and so had to either

  • Resynchronize a profile (i.e. make it think it was doing it for the first time again.
  • Delete a profile and recreate it from scratch.
  • Reinstall Sync2 completely.

But most of the time it worked pretty well.

Except that it still didn’t address the issue of my mobile phone being out-of-sync for most of the day, between synchronizations at home.

Hosted Microsoft Exchange 2007

So in January I went in search of an affordable, UK-based hosted Microsoft Exchange account.

After some shopping around I eventually selected Simply Mail Solutions (SMS) based in Warrington. What attracted me about their hosted Exchange 2007 account features were (in order):

  • Only £4.99 per month
  • Full support for Windows Mobile including push
  • Full Outlook Web Access (OWA) in Internet Explorer
  • Out of office assistant
  • Free copy of Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2007

With each device connecting directly to the Exchange server I can guarantee that my data is always up-to-date (server outages withstanding).

Various devices connecting to an Exchange Server

Two PCs, a laptop, a mobile phone and Outlook all connecting to the Exchange Server

Another welcome benefit is that I won’t have the problems of duplicated entries that I’ve experienced so many times when synchronizing multiple devices. Here’s a screenshot I took of Outlook and posted to Twitpic last month showing a repeated entry for “Doug Aitken’s Birthday” duplicated 13 times!

Calendar entry (Doug Aitken's Birthday) duplicated 13 times

Calendar entry (Doug Aitken's Birthday) duplicated 13 times

I can even resynchronize my mobile phone when I’m out and about using my roaming Web add-on from O2.

Conclusion

So far I’m really pleased with Exchange and with the service offered by Simply Mail Solutions (SMS).

I’ve noticed only one outage from Simply Mail Solutions which lasted only a couple of minutes when connection to the server went down, and one period of particularly slow connectivity … but then it was 01:00 in the morning, they were doing some maintenance on the servers (I discovered via a quick support call) and I should have been in my bed!

There is a balance to be made when using a hosted service like this for such important personal data between:

  1. the reassurance that I have one ‘golden copy’ of data, stored centrally that is accessed by all my devices, and
  2. the potential for it to be a single point of failure: if it goes down completely I can’t synchronize between locations and my data isn’t up-to-date.

But given my previous experience of hours and hours wasted by repeatedly cleaning up corrupted or deleted data through failed synchronizations, and living with the uncertainty that perhaps my work calendar isn’t exactly the same as my home, laptop or mobile phone calendars … I think I’ll stick with Exchange for a while.

Windows Mobile 6.1 broke my life!

O2 Xda Zest

About 3-4 weeks ago my beloved O2 Xda Orbit phone started to act erratically, randomly switching itself off according to its own unfathomable set of rules. It was okay when plugged in, but it was getting increasingly impractical pulling an extension cable along Market Street when I went out for lunch.

I figured that resetting the Xda Orbit to factory settings was what it needed and spent an evening reinstalling everything. To no avail. It would still randomly switch itself o…

Zest

I put up with it over a weekend and telephoned O2 the following Monday morning and ordered a very similar device, the O2 Xda Zest; a rebranded Asus Crystal.

There was so much that I liked about the Xda Orbit: the built-in GPS, WiFi, GPRS Web browsing, FM radio and I could synchronize it with my PCs at both home and work. The Xda Zest seemed to offer much the same, only with a much improved screen (proper VGA 480 x 640 pixels) and a much, much faster CPU.

Except the FM radio.

And, as I discovered to my cost, synchronizing with two PCs!

Windows Mobile 6.1 flaw

You see, I naively followed the assumption that the next version of something would be a little better than the previous version of that something. That’s how advertising has reeled me in so often during these last 30+ years.

“Ooh! look! A new one. It must be better. I want it!”

Isn’t that how it usually works?

Seemingly no-one told the Windows Mobile team that. Because it seems that there was a fundamental flaw in Windows Mobile 6.1: it wouldn’t synchronize with two PCs! Even though that’s one of its key features.

Which seems a bit like buying a new car, getting it home and discovering that it drives on A-roads but not your local streets. You can use it at work, but not at home.

Getting Nothing Done (GND)

Which for many people wouldn’t be a problem, but for the last 3 years that’s been the backbone of my organization system. No matter where I’ve been, at work, at home, out-and-about, I’ve always had a full picture of my appointments, commitments, contacts, tasks and priorities.

When I worked from home, in the parish, things were in many ways easier: I had one PC with which I synchronized my Psion 5mx. It was an almost flawless system. But the introduction of a second base, my office, added a new level of complexity. Windows Mobile 6.0 (just about) handled it admirably using ActiveSync (though quite often more correctly spelled ‘ActiveSink’!). Windows Mobile 6.1, however, has let me down quite spectacularly. And not just me, as a quick Web search will prove.

For the last 3 weeks or so, however, I’ve been at sixes and sevens. Thankfully, because I’ve been backing up my Outlook PST files more often than usual, I’ve not actually lost any data but on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with a lot (a LOT) of duplicated data which is just as time-consuming to deal with.

And all the while not entirely sure of the whole picture of my life, which is rather unsettling for someone who is usually so on top of things.

What to do?

So where do I go now? How do I recover my sense of being-on-top-of-things?

  1. Sync my Psion with both

    I tried that, but again the Psion wasn’t really designed to be synchronized with more than one PC. I get errors, so have to re-sync from scratch and end up either duplicating data or reintroducing data that I’ve already deleted on one of the platforms.

  2. Google Calendar

    I’ve tried to synchronize my Outlook calendar with Google Calendar using Google’s own Google Calendar Sync. But it didn’t synchronize all my events, and what about my tasks?

    I’m going to try out XTNDConnect PC to synchronize Outlook with Google Calendar and see how that works; I’ve already tried it synchronizing Outlook with Windows Mobile 6.1 but it duplicated everything!

    Outlook 2007 will allow me to subscribe to an iCalendar feed, such as that offered by Google Calendar, which is great for when I’m at my desktop — but what about when I’m out-and-about with my my phone (or Psion)?

  3. Remember the Milk

    I then tried Remember the Milk to synchronize my Windows Mobile Pocket Outlook tasks with this online task application. But I have over 100 tasks and it didn’t copy over the categories.

    One “inbox” task list of 120 tasks really wasn’t useful.

  4. Psion

    At the moment I’m currently synchronizing both work and home calendars with different Agenda files on my Psion. It’s not ideal but at least I still have all my data in one place.

  5. Hosted Microsoft Exchange

    I have also been considering buying a hosted Microsoft Exchange account. That way — I guess — I could access all my data from work, home or on the move on my phone or via the Web. But I don’t have any experience of Exchange so would welcome people’s comments/thoughts.

It’s been a frustrating time, but I am willing to move on and use something else … I’ve just not found the right solution yet.

Error’d: Attention required

Microsoft ActiveSync - Notes: attention required.

What a tremendous error message I received the other day while trying to synchronize Outlook with my O2 Xda Orbit (running Windows Mobile 6). In the status column opposite the Notes icon I got the message: Attention required.

Above it, against my profile (Home) written in red the same message: Attention required. But this one was a link.

So I clicked it. And got a pop-up window with the meaningful message: Notes: attention required.

Kind of wish I hadn’t bothered now! Still, at least I gave it some attention.

There’s some folks I know who could really do with that alert window — actually, not so much for them but those around them!

iPhone launch

O2 Xda Orbit

So … it would appear that the new Apple iPhone 3G was launched today. (That’s obviously not a photo of the new Apple iPhone 3G above, or even the old one. That’s my O2 Xda Orbit running Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.)

I didn’t know that until today. Until I started reading folks’ posts (called tweets) on my Twitter stream, and watching videos on Qik.

It would appear that the Worldwide Apple Cultâ„¢ managed to keep that news well and truly hidden from me. Well done!

Our man in Milton Keynes

Documentally … well, documented the day fabulously well. From getting up to arriving at the Apple store in Milton Keynes, standing in line, being served, going to the Apple store loo (!), and at one point even had one of the Apple assistants holding the camera while he unwrapped the Apple iPhone packaging — the man’s a genius!

Okay, I’ll qualify that last sentence. He’s not a genius simply for unwrapping a box. That could have been done by a simpleton.

No, there was an inclusiveness in that Apple adventure today in his Qik videos, that reflected something of the excitement and camera-derie (sic) of the day.

I watched a couple of other videos on Qik today, of folks standing in other queues, outside other Apple stores, in other towns and … well, they were probably about as embarrassing to watch as they were to make: no-one wanted to speak with the poor fella with the camera.

This is my favourite Qik post — cutting to the chase — this is the moment that the boxed Apple iPhone 3G became Christian’s. I love the cheer! The Apple Cultâ„¢ as one.

What’s new?

So, what’s all the fuss about? The new Apple iPhone 3G has:

  • 3G network connectivity so you can surf the Web
  • Built-in Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Install 3rd party applications
  • ‘Push’ email, contacts and calendars with Microsoft Exchange

Wow! Cool! I can see you’re already impressed.

My Microsoft Windows 6 powered O2 Xda Orbit mobile phone has had three of those facilities for … well, since I bought it in April 2007, and I don’t want the fourth: Push email. I’m happy to synchronize it with Microsoft Outlook 2003.

Meanwhile, back in St Andrews …

My colleague Kevin came into work today with — can you guess?

That’s right, it was a new Apple iPhone 3G. Oh, sorry, did I not tell you? Apparently the new model was launched today.

He got the last one in St Andrews. Of course, when I say “the last one” I also mean the eighth one in St Andrews.

He wasn’t even intending on getting one. He just happened to pass The Carphone Warehouse on Market Street and decided to join the small queue that was already forming.

A few minutes later the manager emerged from the store and said,

Good morning potential customers of St Andrews in Fife. Thank you for your patience. I can announce to you, the consuming public of this Royal and Ancient Burgh, that we have a grand total of eight new Apple iPhone 3Gs.

So if I may, I shall ask the first eight customers who have formed this orderly and polite queue outside the shop window of my shop to kindly step inside and off with the rest of you, to your daily routines.

My best wishes to you should you quest further afield in search of this technological wonder which, if you ask me, has three out of four of the built-in functions of the O2 Xda Orbit a telephone that came onto the market over one earth calendar year ago.

And that was it. Those eight lucky fellas got their hands on a shiny new Apple iPhone 3G.

Well, seven of them did. The guy at the front of the queue, who’d been there since 5:00 am and who had been thoughtful enough to bring with him a wicker chair unfortunately hadn’t been thoughtful enough to bring with him his wallet!

I think the official and international response to that is: D’oh!

… and finally

This coverage of the launch, which happe… what do you mean the launch of what?! This coverage of the launch of a new kind of chocolate washing powder in New York City was brought to my attention by the splendid Sizemore:

… and rudely

And for those of you who like to read rude words on the internet, like ‘bum’ and ‘squelch’, there is always Maddox’s review.

This was brought to my attention by a visiting consultant today. And I thought I spent too much time on the internet!

The paragraph that made me laugh the most was:

[The iPhone is] not three devices in one any more than my laptop is you morons. Using Jobs’ loose definition of what constitutes a separate device, technically my laptop can be considered 8 devices in one:

  1. A clock
  2. A calculator
  3. An “Internet communications device”
  4. A phone (I can make voice calls with my modem)
  5. A pornographic media storage device
  6. A video player
  7. A word processor
  8. And an “iPod” (see below)

Fife on wheels, Scotland on Rails, Gareth on Twitter

Bike

Fife on wheels

I can’t remember … much actually! No, I can’t remember any other new year where I’ve been clobbered with quite so many bugs as this one.

I seem to have had at least one new stomach bug or virus each month. Some months I was greedy and had at least two.

So I approached going out on my bike for a half-hour cycle last night with some trepidation. I still didn’t feel 100% and I didn’t want to push myself over the edge. Or indeed pedal myself over the edge. But I went out, all the same.

My word! Did I feel great today!

(Answer: yes.)

So I went out again this evening.

Scotland on Rails

I predict that tomorrow I’ll feel even greater.

Or at least I would, if it were not for the fact that I need to be picking up my colleague (Dougal*) in St Andrews at 06:30 and driving to the two day Scotland on Rails conference in Edinburgh.

Gareth on Twitter

I don’t expect to be blogging from the conference, but I shall likely be Twittering from my electric mobile telecommunications device. You can follow me at http://twitter.com/garethjms.

By the way, Scotland on Rails isn’t about railways or trainspotting, it’s about Ruby on Rails, a programming framework brought to life by the lovely folks at 37Signals.

Footnote

* My colleague isn’t really called Dougal. He’s called Kevin. But since he introduced me to colleagues at the University of Edinburgh during a meeting there last month as Darren I’ve been calling him something different every time I see him. Even if his enquiry is important to us!

Text truncated on device

O2 Xda Orbit in cradle

The problem

Here’s something that I found annoying a few weeks ago, until I found a hack: when I have particularly long text notes stored in my Outlook tasks and then synchronize them with my Windows Mobile 6-powered O2 Xda Orbit phone/PDA I discover that the notes are truncated. I get this message at the foot of notes:

[Text truncated on device]

Which is really annoying, because I track a lot of projects using these notes, and on a couple of occasions I’ve lost notes that I really needed to refer back to.

The hack

After a search on the Web I discovered on the PocketPC magazine forum that there is a hack to get around this. The forum topic is ironically called “Active Sync MS Mobile 2005 Truncated Contacts Issu”.

  1. Download and install a Registry Editor for Windows Mobile — I used the demo version of Resco Explorer 2007.
  2. Open up your Registry and apply this hack: [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\ActiveSync] “BodyTruncation”=dword:00005000.
  3. Switch off the screen, then reboot the PDA.
  4. Wait 3-5 minutes after rebooting to absolutely make sure that the Registry has been updated.
  5. That’s it … when you next sync your PDA you should be able to sync longer notes.

O2 Xda Orbit desktop cradle

O2 Xda Orbit phone in cradle

When I first got my O2 Xda Orbit I decided to get a desktop cradle so that my shiny new phone could sit upright, alert and ready for me to answer a call rather than slumped lazily on its back.

However, I struggled to find one that was guaranteed to work with an Xda Orbit, and any that claimed to didn’t back it up with photographic evidence — they only had photos of the HTC P3300 sitting comfortably in its new desktop home.

Keep it in the family

It would appear that the Xda Orbit is a variant of the HTC Artemis; other models in this family are:

  • Dopod P800
  • Dopod P800W
  • HTC P3300
  • MDA compact III
  • Orange SPV M650
  • Xda Orbit

but some users claimed that the location of the USB port on the base of these machines was slightly different from model to model and so while the cradle might work for one machine it wouldn’t work for another. I don’t know whether this is true or not.

What I bought

In the end, having read quite a few reviews, I took someone’s advice (and a gamble) and ordered what claimed to be a “O2 Xda Orbit desktop cradle” from Discount Sat Nav on eBay for about £4.99 + P&P. Bargain!

And to my delight it worked! … as demonstrated by the photograph above. In fact, I now have two: one for home, the other for work.

It would appear that there are two models available: one with a spare battery charger or one without. Mine also came with a USB cable and an A/C adapter cable for quicker charging.

Where to buy

Here are the locations that I’ve found that sell this kind of cradle:

I hope that’s helpful to someone.