Teepo
20.10.2008

Keeping in sync

Keeping in sync


Challenge:
Synchronizing email, calendar, contacts, tasks and Firefox bookmarks on all the systems I use.

Initial setup:
I currently have two computers and a smartphone in active use (plus a couple of laptops occasionally, but these don't play an important part in this set). In the beginning, I already had my home computer and the Windows Mobile smartphone in sync by using MS Outlook, Kerio MailServer and ActiveSync. Kerio MailServer pretty much covers all the features of MS Exchange, so that set alone covered calendar, contacts, tasks and email between the home computer and the smartphone. The changes are naturally visible on the Kerio webmail as well.

At the office, we have a quite standard combination of MS Outlook and MS Exchange. From this set, I just need the calendar and Firefox bookmarks. The other stuff I can access via remote connetion from home, or via Kerio webmail if I'm at the office, so there's no need to have email, contacts and tasks synchronized in every direction. Less clutter that way.

As an added bonus, I use the Events application of Facebook, so those calendar events need synching as well.

My solution:
Calendar
Getting the office Exchange to sync with the smartphone was not possible using ActiveSync, as it only supports one server source. That was already used by Kerio. I knew I needed some kind of intermediary relay service, so I opted to use Google Calendar. Google provides a Windows utility for Outlook synchronization, so setting up a one-way push from Outlook at the office towards Google Calendar was a breeze. Just to make sure the calendars don't mess up each other, they are present as separate instances at Google Calendar.

Google Calendar now functions as kind of a central repository for calendar entries, as I found out it was possible to push Facebook events there as well. To do this, there is an application called fbCal in Facebook. It uses an external site (http://www.fbcal.com/) to retrieve the events from Facebook and then create a feed of them in ICS-format. I then added that feed to Google Calendar as an external calendar.

Now, the next challenge was to sync stuff between Kerio and Google Calendar. I couldn't find a way to perform the sync directly on server level, but had to resort to a solution on the client side. Using Google's own Calendar Sync for this wasn't an option, as it doesn't support synchronizing several calendars (as far as I can tell). Furthermore, my home computer isn't running when I'm not at home, so I had to come up with something else.

What I needed was a client that's practically always on, and that of course is the smartphone. After a bit of googling I found OggSync, which is a nifty piece of software capable of doing just what I needed it to do. For automation and handling several calendars, you have to go pro on that one and pay a license fee, but $29.95 is still quite reasonable. It now runs automatically on the background synchronizing between Kerio and Google Calendar. What still remains to be seen, is how it affects the battey life of my smartphone. It transfers quite a bit of data and the Finnish 3G network isn't the most battery-friendly out there...

Bookmarks
I had previously used Google Browser Sync for synchronizing Firefox bookmarks between home and office, but that service was suspended around the time Firefox 3 was published. As Mozilla Weave is still highly experimental and I don't want more toolbars, I decided to start using Foxmarks. The service itself is a pretty simple one and it even provides the possibility to use my own server over WebDAV. Plus it has far less moving parts than my calendar sync, which is always a bonus :-)

Tasks
Even simpler. As recommended by a friend, I recently started using Remember The Milk and yet again Google Calendar saves the day. I do have to admit it's still far from perfect, though. As of yet I haven't found a way to sync the tasks to my smartphone. In a way, OggSync can do this, but only as calendar events. Not good. The MilkSync application could be nice, but that might take up too much resources on my smartphone. We shall see...

  • Computers, Windows, Data communications, Mobility

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