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Industry Standard

Can you synchronize all your information devices?


January 28, 2000
Web posted at: 11:57 a.m. EST (1657 GMT)

by Mark Frauenfelder

(IDG) -- Where does your digital information reside? On your desktop? Laptop? Palmtop? Smartphone? Pager? You've probably got it scattered around all your devices, redundantly and inconsistently.

Which can lead to problems. Like, say, that appointment with the company in Ohio, which your PDA is telling you is on Tuesday. Or is it Wednesday, as indicated by your Outlook calendar? You could call, but the number's back home on your PC. You're at the Cleveland airport, scratching your head and trying to remember the name of the place.

Obviously, life would be a lot easier if you could get all your data to jibe. And you can, with a synchronization program that compares files on your handheld devices and your computers, two at a time, and updates the records on both of them.

Smart cell phones

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that synchronization is just as complex as it sounds. It means merging information between different systems that are using different applications and that have different database structures. Whew. It was hard enough meshing data between two devices directly connected to one another. But now that PDAs are headed for the scrap heap to be replaced by CIDs (aka connected information devices), which make it easier than ever to leave your notebook computer at home synchronization can mean attuning several wireless devices at a time, a nightmarish task involving endless dialog boxes with arcane settings and modem-initialization codes. It's enough to make you dig your Daytimer out from the bottom of your desk drawer.

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Three companies are competing to solve the synchronization hassle: Puma Technology, Starfish, and FusionOne. Each is taking a different approach, but the goal is the same: Give people access to all their digital information from any device cell phone, PDA, desktop machine, notebook computer without having to directly connect the data together. Change an appointment anywhere, update it everywhere.

Beyond that core service, the three plan to offer a variety of head-spinning features that will alter the way you think about your mobile phone or handheld. Imagine adding a new contact to your Web-based address book and seeing it appear on your phone seconds later. Or booking a flight reservation on Expedia and getting the itinerary sent automatically to your Palm computer and your secretary's scheduling program. Or changing your address in Outlook and the change is reflected in your friends' contact managers.

Essentially, the aim of synchronization is to transform notebooks, handhelds and smartphones from bottled-up data gadgets to electronic straws that take regular sips from a central database maintained on the Internet. The change is coming in waves.

"The first wave, which Puma pioneered, was device-to-device synchronization, trying to support as many different PC applications as possible," says Ross Rubin, VP of research and development at Jupiter Communications. The second wave is Starfish's multipoint sync. FusionOne's multidevice syncing, the third, is done asynchronously: Each device gets the latest version when it's turned on.

Read the unabridged version of this story:

Show opens window on post-PC era
November 17, 1999
Nokia, Palm join forces on handhelds
October 15, 1999
Father of cell phone eyes revolution
October 14, 1999
Gates demos WinCE smart phone
October 13, 1999
Motorola products show wireless focus
October 13, 1999
Electrolux, Ericsson join to connect homes
October 11, 1999
Internet World: Handspring grabs the spotlight
October 8, 1999
New WAP phones offer Net access
September 23, 1999
Son of Palm - cheaper, faster, expandable
September 13, 1999

Coming Soon: Wireless Instant Messaging
(PC World Online)
Intel creates wireless group
The top ten personal information managers that will keep you on the ball in the years ahead
(PC World Online)
Punch Offers Knockout Web File Sharing
(PC World Online)
Free Web service lets you update your calendar and other documents across many devices
(PC World Online)
Wireless data encryption due for handhelds
Year 2000 World
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Starfish: Global Synchronization and Integration of Wireless and Wireline Devices
Puma Technology - Empowering the Mobile Enterprise!
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External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
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