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Introduction

Sony Ericsson M600i

Sony Ericsson M600i

In the electronic world these days, the emphasis is on convergence, but placing all your functionality into a single device isn't always a good thing. A pet peeve of mine has been the addition of cameras and music-playing capability in phones. My old Nokia 6230 had a camera that I used only twice in a little over two years, and although it seemed great at first, its music feature was also used only a couple of times.

When I looked for a replacement phone, camera and music features were at the bottom of my "must-have's" list. The staff at the various shops thought I was a bit odd after I told them! Am I the only person who thought this way? I hope not! When I wanted to listen to music, I used my iPod; when I wanted to take a picture, I used my Canon Ixus; when I wanted Sat Nav (satellite navigation) during a drive, I used my TomTom.

Still, convergence is not all bad. I think Media Centers are brilliant, and nowadays, I couldn’t live without my Windows Media Center Edition (MCE). Also, the ever-growing PDA-functionality of phones isn't being utilized enough by us.

Considering that you always carry your phone with you, wouldn't it make sense to have all your contacts, your calendar, and maybe even your email with you as well? It's true that phones have had such features for some time now, but they have only recently become an integral part of the phone rather than an afterthought.

But how to keep contacts, calendar, and emails all in sync? When I purchased my new Sony Ericsson M600i, its software for drivers and synchronization weighed in at a whopping 120 MB! Adding insult to injury, the software slowed my entire computer down and recognized only about half the time when my phone was plugged into the USB port. In addition, every time I got home or back in the office, I also had to remember to plug in the phone or turn on Bluetooth.

To simplify my life, I set out to find a way to keep my information and devices synchronized with the following requirements in mind:

  • The solution must be free. You can’t beat the value for the money.
  • The solution must enable me to sync anywhere and at any time.
  • The solution must use a minimal amount of data, since I'm charged at the slightly exorbitant rate of around $4.50/Mb for any amount over my monthly 3 Mb GPRS allowance.

Fortunately for us, a few years ago some forward-thinking people formed the Open Mobile Alliance, an organization that set out to create a set of open standards to facilitate the synchronization and management of mobile devices in all their forms.

Originally called SyncML, the standard had its name changed recently to the slightly less catchy "Open Mobile Alliance Data Synchronization and Device Management" (OMA DS and DM).

Like all good open standards, numerous implementations exist, but the project called "Funambol" (formally known as "Sync4j") caught my eye. A mature, powerful, Italian and American project, it comes highly recommended and offers commercial and open source editions of the product.

Excellent documentation, covering both Windows and Linux installations, exists for the Funambol project. There are also client plug-ins for many devices (including the iPod!) that come with excellent documentation. The important ones to note are the server and Outlook instructions.

In this article, I will introduce Funambol, some of its features, and details to get you up and running. My assumption is that you're an individual who has an Internet-facing server and wants your schedule to stay up-to-date or you're a small company that wants to keep the field staff in sync with the office.

I'm also making the assumption that your phone has SyncML (since nearly all mobile phones manufactured in the past three years have the functionality), and that you use Windows clients with Microsoft Office Outlook. Note that the device management side of things will not be addressed in this article.

One last note before we begin: although free services are available that can perform these tasks—one of these services being Mobical, which worked well when I played with it briefly—the article is for people who like to get their hands a little dirtier!

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