Sync Windows Mobile Calendar, Tasks and Contacts between more than one device. ~ Ask The Admin

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sync Windows Mobile Calendar, Tasks and Contacts between more than one device.

Hey boys and girls!

Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you could sync calendars with somebody who is seemingly unconnected? On top of that, you wished that somehow, by some magical force, those calendars can sync automatically, wirelessly and invisibly; involving no further effort beyond the initial configuration, and that this calendar should follow you wherever you go. Naturally (who wouldn't, right?).

So here is my situation:

Fiance' 1.5 wants to perform a systems upgrade to wife 2.0.

Now we've teamed up towards common goals before. Planning a vacation, weekend getaway or even organizing a trip to the movies takes some collaboration right? After all, we're busy people in this day and age. We have our own agendas. But now we are faced with the largest team effort we have ever faced collectively, together. It's not the vows I'm talking about, it's not the commitment. It's not the prospect that this is the person you will be staring at for the rest of your life. No. That doesn't scare me one bit. What scares the holy crap out of me is planning the wedding. This big, monster of a team collaboration project. If you succeed, you win the reverence and admiration of over 150 guests, including family members, friends, coworkers, and possibly bosses. If you fail, FOR SHAME TO YOU (as my Russian family would say). Pure embarrassment. So basically, failure is not an option. So fiance' 1.5 and I were faced with a conundrum. How do we stay in sync? How do we go about speaking to multitudes of wedding service providers and making appointments with these people simultaneously, while being able to see at a glance whether or not there are any appointment conflicts. So this is our problem - we need to stay connected, within a 10 minute lag time from one another - no more, no less. But who has the time to call each other every 5 minutes, and in between other phone calls, to make sure were not conflicting?

So first I'll list what we are working with:

  • A PC at home with Activesync and Outlook, synced nightly with:

  • An AT&T 8525 HTC Hermes with an unlimited internet plan - this is my phone.

  • An AT&T Samsung Blackjack - this is my fiance's phone - never synced, EVER, WITH ANYTHING - she never even knew it could do that.

At first I started insisting that her and I come home at the end of each day, and enter any and all appointments into MY outlook, and then add herself as a meeting attendee. This creates an email which is sent by Outlook that automatically enters the appointment into her phone, and is updated on my phone when I sync via USB every night. This idea looks great on paper, but requires a bit of a commitment to come home every night and devote X amount of time transferring scribbled notes into outlook.

So at first I searched for a way to sync via IP address. No Dice. It seems M$ removed this after version 3.4 of Activesync . My only recourse was an Exchange server. Now I've never used Microsoft Exchange, and I'm only now becoming familiarized with what Exchange can do for a person, team, or organization. In my case, Exchange would allow my fiance' to enter an appointment into her phone, real time and it syncs with my phone. Since Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition doesn't allow you to add attendees to an appointment, and Windows Mobile 6 doesnt know what to do with vCal items in email, Exchange Server is a requiem for this to work. Considering we're on a tight budget for time and money as it is, enter mail2web.

From the mail2web site:

"mail2web LIVE, our free Exchange Email solution goes beyond webmail to provide calendars, task management, contact lists, advanced rules for sorting messages, and even ActiveSync capability."

mail2web LIVE is just one of the many services this site offers. You basically sign up for a FREE (love that) mail2web live account. A free live account comes with alot of task and personal management features. It's no coincidence that it supports all the various PIM information types that Outlook supports such as Calendar, Tasks, Contacts, Email, and others. For my purposes, I only wanted to use the calendar feature, since I didn't want any of my fiance's contacts, nor did she want any of mine. So of all the features mail2web LIVE offers, Calendar was the magic bullet.

I started off by opening the free mail2web account. This process entailed divulging practically no personally identifiable information about myself. Basically choosing a username, and the desired email address to which I'd like the account associated. As soon as that was complete, there appeared an interesting button with the words "configure your mobile device for this account". Hmm sounds almost too tempting... could this be a trap? It's just too convenient. Clicking this link yields a popup with links to downloading auto-configuration files. For some strange reason this config file didn't work for me. However further digging revealed a "Control Panel" page with an "Activesync Settings" sub-panel. This page is dynamically generated to contain the exact settings for your mail account. Which is the main reason I can't link you guys and girls straight to the page. This page contained all of the settings needed to manually set up my phone to Activesync via this Exchange server, which contains my personal account hosted by mail2web. At this stage I'm presented with a choice on my phone, by activesync, as to which points of information I'd like to have synced with this server. Since this mail2web account is strictly for the purposes of synchronizing my calendar with my fiance's, I was very careful to be sure that only the "Calendar" checkbox is checked. If you're using this service as your personal activesync server, that you and only you will be using, you can just as well check every box and have all your information conveniently backed up to mail2web's servers. But I have a different evil scheme.

My scheme involves both mine, and my fiance's phone, syncing to this ONE account for the sole purpose of retrieving and synchronizing the calendar, and only the calendar.

While this is not what the service was originally meant for it is technically possible, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't go against any of their policies or T's & C's, so I used it to my advantage.

When I was done setting up activesync on my 8525 to sync over the air every 10 minutes with my new mail2web account, I grabbed my fiance's Blackjack and did the same with her phone. I set up her Activesync to connect to the server provided to me by the mail2web Account Control Panel's Activesync Settings sub-panel. Now her phone and my phone are magically sharing 1 calendar. And this calendar updates the Exchange Server every 10 minutes when her phone syncs up. This information is grabbed by my phone every ten minutes when that syncs up, and this information is transferred to my home PC's instance of Outlook when I hook up to USB to charge every night. This works perfectly vice-versa as well, when I enter a calendar item into my 8525.

It is now a seamless and invisible background task that her and my phone perform, and we are totally in sync. Now, when she makes an appointment with a florist for Wednesday of next week at 8:30 PM, My phone knows about it no more than 10 minutes later. And when I look at my calendar to make my own appointments with a Videographer, I'll see instantly not to mess with Wednesday evening of next week, unless I want to be watching other peoples wedding videos at 10:30 PM on a weeknight, after spending 2 mind-numbing hours in a flower shop.

This is truly the closest I've ever felt to my girl, and we really are connecting in a way that not many other couples have connected in. My only gripe with this process is that I keep thinking I have a manicure appointment on Tuesday. She better hope I don't show up and try to claim it.

I hope this helps some new couples get their schedules together, or some business partners sync their collective work schedules up. I'm positive this free service mail2web provides will help lots of people discover the benefits of collaboration, Windows Mobile style.

Commodore 64 (the one you used to paly Bruce Lee on)