ActiveSync: why is it so awful?

As a user of Microsoft's ActiveSync for some years, I've always viewed it as an essential but utterly shoddy piece of software.

As a user of Microsoft's ActiveSync for some years, I've always viewed it as an essential but utterly shoddy piece of software...

It's essential because I need it to sync my Outlook data with my portable device; it's shoddy because it regularly hangs, crashes and misaligns that data for no apparent reason.

I had hoped these issues might have been finally resolved by shifting to a more recent device. I've long been using a PDA from Toshiba -- who ditched that market some time ago -- which is running an older version of the Pocket PC operating system.

However, testing an O2 XDA Atom, running Microsoft's much-hyped Windows 5.0, I've run into all the same problems plus a whole batch of new ones.

Indeed, it took me several attempts just to get the device to sync to Outlook on my desktop, and ActiveSync was, unsurprisingly, the main culprit -- the Atom itself works very nicely so far otherwise.

The selling point for Windows Mobile devices is supposed to be easy integration with desktop Windows platforms.

To my mind, easy integration is not defined by any of the following:

  • An online troubleshooter that can't download its own graphics correctly.
  • An inability to deal with any kind of firewall software.
  • Having to spend 40 minutes upgrading ActiveSync with the usual compulsory reboot rubbish.
  • Watching Windows try and install the same device as "new" three times in a row.
  • Displaying a synchronisation screen with absolutely no indication of progress.

A quick roam over the Web suggests that I could actually be suffering from even more problems -- getting ActiveSync to work with any kind of direct USB connection seems to be more a matter of good luck than good management.

That said, knowing I'm not alone doesn't make the endless waiting any easier.

Microsoft has always been something of an also-ran in the mobile arena, overtaking Palm just in time to see BlackBerry grab all the enterprise mindshare.

If Bill Gates and company are even vaguely serious about this space, though, the software is going to have to actually work out of the box, not after hours of tinkering.

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