Google Owns My Ass

Sit back, my droogies, and let me tell you a tale of techno-disappointment and e-frustration…

I am, as they say, an “early adopter”, someone who tends to embrace technological innovation slightly earlier than the bulk of humanity. I had an email address in the late 1980s, back when you had to explain to people at parties what that meant and why it was useful. (Sort of like explaining Twitter to non-Tweeters today, and always getting the ignorant, dismissive response, “Why would anyone want to do that?!!”) I got my first PDA, a Palm Pilot, in the late 1990s, and enjoyed its various short term progeny, the Palm III and Palm IIIe for years before moving on to the Handspring Visor, which was the shiny “Mac”-type version of the Palm workhorse.

At parties I would get ooohs and ahhhs because my Visor also came equipped with a module that you could stick into its top, the “Eyemodule“, which –gasp!– allowed you to take a digital photo! Here’s a standard, tiny and blurry black-and-white self-portrait taken on the Eyemodule about 10 years ago:

Most people at this time enjoyed internet access via dial-up service. Kids, that meant that you had to use the phone line to check your email and download your porn, on something as slow as a 56K connection. My PDA was ahead of its time because it had a phone jack that allowed me to plug in to any phone line, dial up my ISP, and download my email… to my handheld device!!!

Around this time, cell phones were coming into common usage. The first generation Watphone was this monstrosity, built by Sony, and provided by ClearNet, the precursor to Telus:

It was heavy enough to use as a weapon, inefficient enough to burn a hole through the fabric of your pocket, and bulky enough to get the ladies’ attention if you kept it in your front pants’ pocket.

Eventually, the Visor also came with a game-chaning new attachment, the Visorphone, which allowed you to dial your phone directly from the PDA! Worlds of wonder, indeed!

Predictably, the PDA world and phone world finally came together. Thus, the “smartphone” was born. (See this 1996 Podium article on the ascension of the smartphone by Andrew Currie.)

Since my data was all in the Palm world, I gravitated to the Treo line of smartphone products, beginning with the flip-top 90, mostly because I could pretend I was using a Star Trek communicator:

The 90 and 180 both had the fun flip top, but were tragically fragile. I documented by early attempts to repair them in this 2005 post.

And so I progressed from the 90 through to the 180, 270, 300, 600, 650 and 680. My first attempts to deviate from the Palm world are documented in my June 2007 post, where I briefly –and foolishly– attempted a brief flirtation with Windows Mobile 5.

Eventually I moved on to the Treo 680. My 680 has kept me in good stead for the past few years:


(Or, as my technophobic massage therapist calls it, my “C3P0”)

So what’s the big deal? Frankly, Palm OS is a sufficiently stable and useful platform. More importantly, it syncs with Palm Desktop, the lightest, most stable and useful PIM (personal information manager) I’ve ever found.

But Palm OS was invented for an unwired world. It really hasn’t changed much in over 10 years, back when it revolutionized the industry on the Palm Pilot. The world abandoned Palm OS some years ago, and no updates have been forthcoming. The OS is crappy for web browsing and for integrating the new generation of “cloud” services; thus its phones often crash when you try to make a phone call while an email message is downloading. It really cannot multitask.

But all the new smartphones have crappy PIMs. Now, I write a monthly blog for MicroSoft, which means I really shouldn’t rag on their products. But you know what? Outlook sucks. It really does. It’s bloated and virus-friendly, often crashes, and tries to take over every function on my computer. Palm Desktop beats it in every category that is important to me. But Outlook is the preferred PIM for pretty much every existing smartphone on the market.

Thus my dilemma: if I wish to evolve beyond the confines of Palm OS, I also need to give up Palm Desktop. My blog post of Jan 2009 detailed this dilemma, and even reported that I found a solution: Airset. Except that Airset isn’t a real solution, just a stop-gap to ensure that some of my data is stored somewhere Cloud-like.

The news: I have purchased a Palm Treo Pro, which runs Windows Mobile 6, but is still friendly to the lineage of Treos that I adore so much. Yes, I would buy a Palm Treo Pre, but they are way too expensive right now. In either case, I still need a solution for converting all my data from Palm Desktop format to something –anything!– else. It seems I cannot avoid using Outlook.

Okay then… where to begin? There is supposedly an easy way to do this. Palm offers a special “conduit” for syncing the old Treo directly with Outlook and thus creating a whole new world of data. The problem is that… it does not work. At least not for me. At least not entirely. Custom fields created in the address book need to be manually mapped, one by one. I have 1500 address book entries, so that’s not gonna fly.

Then there’s the issue of the profile photos I associate with each of my contacts (yes, each of YOU). They also do not transfer over to Outlook, neither 2003 nor 2007.

So, to make a long story short, I spent several days trying solutions. I tried something called Companionlink, which sounds like a Seniors dating service, but is actually a third party syncing solution. Not only did it not work, but my attempts to force it to work eventually caused a core dump on one of my computers, forcing me to shift work over to another computer. (Luckily, my tiny condo is populated by 6 computers, none of which is particularly useful.)

Then I tried PocketMirror, which sounds like something you’d buy at Pervs-R-Us, but which is in fact a third party sync solution specially made for Palm OS devices and Outlook. It works… sorta. But it doesn’t transfer over those all-important profile photos.

Then I tried PocketCopy, which is meant for a one-time transfer of data from Palm Desktop to Outlook. Weirdly, this worked partway… which was a start!

Long story short, after trying a slew of third party solutions –some purchased and some pirated– and after literally rendering one of my computers unusable and crashing two more –and after having to painstakingly convert several items by hand– I now have one computer fully loaded with a version of Outlook that also has a complete mirror of my Palm Desktop data.

And that’s 90% of the problem solved right there.

The remaining 10% has to do with syncing my device to Outlook, which is a special kind of hell. The activesync process doesn’t always work, is heavily bloated and sometimes results in corrupted data (in my experience). So the solution I found was this: sync once to get the data from Outlook to my device, then from then on, sync “over the air” directly with the Google Cloud using Google’s MicroSoft Exchange service.

First attempt: works like a charm. Google owns my ass.

Lingering problems:

  • Sometimes it doesn’t work
  • It doesn’t sync tasks or notes
  • Google calendar doesn’t seem to go back more than a year, whereas my data goes back many years
  • If I update a profile photo on Google contacts, that photo does not get transferred to my device during the sync
  • Google Calendar has the annoying habit of stretching all the birthdays in my contacts list across 48 hours

All this to say…. Maybe I’ll get a Palm Pre after all.