Web-based synchronization for you and your company

Serious PDA users live in fear of losing their devices. I still recall the ashen face of a coworker, at the Comdex show a few years ago, when he discovered he'd left his PDA in a taxi. All his business contacts and appointments were gone, and he had no hope of retrieving the device. I'm facing the same predicament as I write this column: I've misplaced my Palm VIIx. A call to Palm confirmed that nobody has used my device's built-in wireless modem, so I'm pretty sure it's not stolen. I'm not traveling at the moment, but even if I lost my device while on the road, I could still access my contacts and appointments through any Web site—thanks to a service called MyPalm.

MyPalm, which Palm introduced last year, synchronizes PDAs against data stored on the Web, rather than data stored on a particular PC. The service offers a solid alternative to PC-based synchronization that will benefit any PDA user who travels. Best of all, Palm has built MyPalm on a scalable technology that you can customize for corporate use.

Using MyPalm
To use MyPalm, you need a Palm m500, m100, VII, V, or III device. You also need a wired or wireless modem. The Palm VIIx and VII include a built-in wireless modem, but other models require you to obtain Palm's Mobile Internet Kit (MIK), which lets you use an add-on modem—or a Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) or personal communication services (PCS) cell phone—to connect. (For information about the MIK, go to http://www.palm.com/software/mik.) Next, fill in the online form at http://my.palm.com to open a free MyPalm user account. (Palm VIIx and VII users can use their Palm.net username and password; simply select the Palm VII/VIIx users check box on the logon screen.)

By default, MyPalm's top-level display shows a Date Book page, as Figure 1 shows. To synchronize the Date Book page with your personal information manager (PIM), select Download Sync from the Sync menu, on the page's upper right side. Doing so downloads a 5.5MB executable file (mypalmsync.exe) that contains a MyPalm-customized version of Extended Systems' XTNDConnect PC synchronization utility.

Mypalmsync.exe's Windows-based installation program will prompt you to select from a list of components, including translators for Palm Desktop and Palm OS devices; Microsoft Outlook 2000, 98, and 97; Lotus Notes 4.6 and R5 and Organizer 6.0; Act! 2000; FrontRange Solutions' GoldMine 5.0; and Microsoft Pocket PC devices. If you select the Palm OS Device translator, you'll no longer be able to perform direct synchronization (through Palm's HotSync) between your PDA and your desktop PIM. (A long pop-up message warns you before you make your selection.) Using MyPalm without the Palm OS Device translator is possible, but it's a complex procedure that I don't recommend. (Also, you can always switch back after trying MyPalm.) Go ahead and select Palm OS Device, along with whichever PIM or groupware you're using (e.g., Outlook).

After you complete the setup process, a new XTNDConnect PC menu appears in your Start menu's Programs folder. The contents of this menu depend on the components you selected in the previous step. The most important options are Synchronize MyPalm with Outlook (or whatever PIM or groupware you selected) and Synchronize MyPalm with Palm OS Devices. If you select the first option, an XTNDConnect PC for MyPalm dialog box appears. This dialog box contains check boxes for the PIM components that MyPalm is capable of synchronizing. Select the components that you want, then click Synchronize. If you aren't connected to the Internet, MyPalm prompts you to connect. Then, XTNDConnect PC synchronizes data with your MyPalm Web account. This PC-to-Web synchronization process might take a few minutes, depending on which items you've chosen to synchronize and how many entries your PIM database contains. When this process is complete, you can refresh the Date Book page to see your appointments and contacts.

Now that your PC data is available in MyPalm, you can easily synchronize your PDA with the data from your MyPalm Web account by selecting Start, Programs, XTNDConnect PC, Synchronize MyPalm with Palm OS Device. This Web synchronization is the first of MyPalm's advantages: You're no longer limited to synchronizing with the PC on which your PIM resides.

To experience other advantages, click the Download MyPalm mobile portal link on the left side of the MyPalm Web page. When you download the 1.8MB mypalm.exe mobile portal, a standard setup program starts. (As with most software for Palm devices, this program requires a HotSync operation to complete installation.) Now, tap the device's MyPalm icon to start the portal, which provides a standard selection of news, shopping, and entertainment links and presents two new features of special interest. The first feature is a fully functional Web browser with access to Google's Web search engine.

The second feature, which is more profound in its implications, is currently available only to Palm VIIx and VII users. The Date Book Update link—below the Date Book heading on the device's top-level MyPalm menu, which Figure 2 shows—lets you wirelessly synchronize the date book on your Palm VIIX or VII with your MyPalm Web account. The process is one-way only (from the Web to the device), so you'll still need to perform a HotSync operation through a PC at some point. However, this feature lets Palm VIIx and VII users get updated appointments on the run.

Palm VIIx and VII users get another MyPalm feature that isn't yet available to users of other devices—Web access to email from a wireless iMessenger account. This feature provides a useful PC-based alternative to reading email messages directly on the Palm VIIx and VII. For more information, go to http://www.palm.com/wireless/email.

Why MyPalm Matters
Consider how MyPalm benefits the mobile user. You get automatic backups that are accessible from any PC that has a standard Web browser. You can lose your PDA, and you can lose your PC, and your crucial PIM data will be waiting for you on the Web. Also, you can synchronize from any PC that has HotSync Manager and mypalmsync.exe installed—not just from the PC on which your PIM resides (or a PC connected to your corporate groupware). If you have a Palm VIIx or VII, MyPalm lets you synchronize your date book information with your device directly from the Web, without requiring you to connect to a PC.

Perhaps that last option foreshadows the future for PDAs and other mobile devices. MyPalm's underlying technology (which Extended Systems provides) is completely scalable. Corporate IT shops can use MyPalm to deliver server-based synchronization to PDA users or even to create a Web-based portal similar to MyPalm that runs on the corporate intranet.

MyPalm isn't perfect. Entering data directly onto the Web site can be a slow process, and although you can view data relatively quickly, you must contend with banner ads. The wireless-synchronization option is currently limited to Palm VIIx and VII devices—but as an owner of one of those devices, I must say I'm impressed.