Pimp My Sync
July 3, 2009 9:18 AM   Subscribe

How can I synchronize calendar/contact data among an iPhone, 1 Mac, and (1 or 2) Windows boxes?

I got an iPhone a while back. I'm pleased with it, for the most part. However, I'm not happy with the way it handles information syncing. I'm more used to the way my palm did syncronizing of information -- I could have palm desktop (or, on the mac, some kind of isync software) and all the address and calendar information would be shared between all my computers and my PDA. And a change made on one would be propagated through the rest as the PDA synced with them.

I would like to be able to do the same with my iPhone. In particular, I want to be able to have the iPhone sync with my work calendar and with ical at home.

Here's my setup:
at home, I have a windows box and a mac. the mac has ical and address book and such. the windows box has previously stored address/calendar info in palm desktop. I'm fine with migrating to whatever, there, and might be okay without calendar/address info on it if needed.
at work, I've got a windows box that uses outlook to talk to the local exchange server. itunes can't get to that data, so i assume I need something else to talk to both the iphone and the exchange server. I can't link the iphone directly with an exchange account as my employer doesn't support that.

I don't care if notes get synced among all the devices, and I don't care about to-do stuff or tasks in outlook. I do want my local outlook address book on my work PC to be synced with the address book on my mac, and my exchange work calendar to be synced with ical. And both of those to be synced with my iphone.

The missing sync web page talks about syncing to-do items and notes, not address and calendar data.

Will mobileme do this? Although even at Amazon prices, mobileme is above my price point for annual fees. (And I particularly dislike the fact that mobileme nukes all data it got from the cloud if you drop mobileme, which would add a future de-synchronization of doom).

Is there something else that won't demand an annual fee that will do this? I mean, besides keeping an old palm device around as a sync conduit. (this is actually my current workaround hack for the problem.) It looks like there are several ways to keep the iphone and my mac in sync, but not so much for the iphone/windows-exchange side of things.

I don't care about having a mac.com email address, or sharing and storing pictures/files/websites.
posted by rmd1023 to Technology (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
itunes can't get to that data, so i assume I need something else to talk to both the iphone and the exchange server. I can't link the iphone directly with an exchange account as my employer doesn't support that.

Are you sure? I have a new iPhone that's synced with both my Mac at home and PC at work.

On the mac, I sync music, videos, podcasts and apps. On the PC at work, I sync contacts and calendar, through iTunes. I just selected Outlook and away it went. What I haven't tried is copying contacts and calender into iCal and Address Book as well, but I don't really want my work calendar on my personal machine anyway, so YMMV.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2009

I have my pcs synced with the iphone using the gmail calendars and contacts, which is mostly what I use. I haven't tried syncing my calender and contacts on the Mac with gmail, but I assume it's not that hard.
posted by bone machine at 10:07 AM on July 3, 2009

Response by poster: But I thought itunes can't sync the same information among two computers -- as I understand it, I can sync calendar and contacs between *either* my iphone and my mac, or between my iphone and my work computer. But not both, so ical on my mac doesn't get updated with info from my work exchange calendar.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:07 AM on July 3, 2009

Apart from MM, there's no easy solution. Conceptually, you're going to want to get some kind of two-way sync going between some kind of online service and each of your computers you want to stay in sync. (Two way sync is pretty important, if you just "subscribe" to a calendar, why bother? You could just as well view it online.) So, you need to find a way to sync all of your information from both Windows and Mac, probably to Google.

Then, it's simplest to just sync your iPhone with one and only one computer, for both media and personal information. (It may be possible to two-way sync your iPhone to some online services. Yes, you can sync calendars from one computer, media from another, but the iPhone itself can never be a conduit between computers.)

Anyway, it's possible to do this with Google, but Mobile Me exists for a reason.

(Especially if you sync between multiple Macs, Mobile Me is pretty amazing. It won't nuke anything if you cancel it, I don't know where you got that from, and regardless it never makes changes to more than a small percentage of your data at one time on a computer unless you okay it. It pretty much does exactly what you need and has loads of other features besides. For instance, all my documents on my laptop are saved to a locally-synced iDisk, which everything is backed up to the cloud and also stored locally. (You can do the same with Jungledisk.))
posted by yesno at 10:23 AM on July 3, 2009

I sync calendar and contact info between my iPhone and Google account and I love it. Before Google sync came about I used NuevaSync and was happy with that, but they botched the 3.0 upgrade (though it's since been fixed) and that's when I switched to Google.

Google calendar info can sync with Mozilla Sunbird or Lightning via the calendar provider plugin. I'm not sure about the address book as I do most of my emailing in gmail itself, but I think Thunderbird will handle it reasonably well. Sunbird/Lightning and Thunderbird are all available for Windows and OS X (and Linux if you're interested).
posted by valadil at 12:38 PM on July 3, 2009

I sync my Mac (iCal), PC (Sunbird), and Google Calendar (the Mac and PC are linked via Google Calendar). All the connections are two-way, so I can edit my calendar in either application or online and the change appears on all three. I'd imagine if you then sync your phone with one of the computers, it would join this chain, and all would be synced. I'm not sure about the contact data, but I suspect that can be done through Google as well.
posted by pemberkins at 12:59 PM on July 3, 2009

Response by poster: it doesn't delete the data at all, but i think when you cancel mobileme it unsynchs all data and drops it from the iphone. i'm pretty sure that's what happened when i tried a trial MM subscription.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:11 PM on July 3, 2009

I use MobileMe to sync contacts, bookmarks, and calendars across three Macs and my iPhone. It's been working pretty well for me over the last 8 months with very little headache.
posted by secret about box at 4:50 PM on July 3, 2009

Response by poster: hm. mobileme is being awesome for iphone to mac and at a bonus the idisk is letting me remotely sync omnifocus between the mac and iphone, but it's failing for synchronizing my calendar off of my pc, since the calendar is in outlook and outlook is using exchange server.

apparently, mobileme works for outlook *unless* it is using an exchange server.

(and now i am remembering that the exchange group at msft self-described as the most feared and hated group at msft)
posted by rmd1023 at 4:48 AM on July 11, 2009

Best answer: but there are a couple of different visual basic scripts out there to pull the data from an exchange server via outlook and then dump it in an ical readable format. so i can export-then-import that periodically. which is kind of annoying, but mobileme is eliminiating pretty much all the other annoyances of syncing, so i think it's all a net win.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:07 AM on July 17, 2009

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