iPhone 3G and my MobileMe Universe (on Windows)

December 3, 2008

Technology

Connecting the Dots with MobileMe (a brief how-to)

The goal was straightforward – bring the following disconnected contact database, tasks lists and some semi-synchronised calendars 1) into a single ecosystem, and 2) to include the iPhone as a peer.

Thunderbird email addresses (from Desktop1)
Windows Address Book (from Laptop)
Palm Desktop (and Palm Tungsten) calendar
Palm Desktop contacts (from Desktop1)
Palm Desktop tasks (from Desktop1)
Remote calendar (for use at Desktop2)
Nokia 6300 mobile phone contacts

In short, I was converting from a Palm Desktop calendaring environment (with a phone and email application containing disconnected address lists) to one that included all my contacts, calendar and tasks synchronised together – irrespective of location (Desktop1, Desktop2, Laptop or iPhone).

What’s involved?

In terms of research – a lot of hard work.  However, with right tools (the low down about which I am about to share), it is possible.

First, an Explanation About MobileMe

MobileMe is a peer data store (just like your PCs or Palm handheld are peers in that syncronisation relationship).  Effectively, I’m going from:

Desktop1 » Palm Handheld » Desktop2

To a peering arrangement where the links between the device are not serial, but intermeshed:

Desktop1 + iPhone + MobileMe (Web Interface) + Desktop2

So, at this is really important, any device can be used to master* a change for what is, effectively, a single shared database (for each of the calendar, contacts and tasks) which sync using the MobileMe ecosystem (cloud+iPhone+Windows MobileMe control panel).  Once you have the whole thing setup, it’s incredible – change something on the iPhone and it’s almost instantly updated on any number of desktops which are running the MobileMe synching control panel, and on the MobileMe web interface.  Make those changes on any device and the results are the same (given a congruous set of preferences on each device).

* perhaps that wasn’t the best word to use in the context of peer-to-peer networking

Just one note about the MobileMe Calendar – it lacks the appropriate granularity for single calendar editing, so you’ll need to read this detailed post about Category & Label Colouring not Supported in MobileMe Calendar but also note that multiple calendars are easily created in Outlook (by embedding subfolder calendars), however before Outlook 2007 you do not get a merged view – so either you need to a) be aware of the limitation in Outlook and so always check all calendars/subcalendars, or b) you need to confine your Calendar viewing to the MobileMe Calendar view (online via browser).

Tools you’ll need

Calendaring client – I loathe Outlook, but since MobileMe doesn’t sync with Palm, I needed to convert

CompanionLink’s DoubleLook – to convert Palm Desktop’s Calendar format to Outlook (2002).  I first tried Stratbase’s Convert Me, but worked unreliably | there are others untried.

Email Client – I was sticking with Thunderbird (hell will freeze over before I leave that excellent app)

[This is a work in progress] An Syncing Application - one that keeps your Outlook Contacts and Thunderbird Address Book in sync (I had toyed with the idea of setting up Outlook Contacts as an LDAP server and many other options 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, though I chose to wait for the Funambol and SyncKolan projects to mature – Funambol can apparently sync Thunderbird Address Book to Outlook Contacts via a Funambol account, but that’s a bit wobbly, so I’ll come back to this later).  I will also gave try the Toltec LDAP server which makes Outlook Contacts available in the form of LDAP (a good idea), but the LDAP was either misconfigured (by me) or Thunderbird spends way to much time passing parameters to it.  For now, I’ll just spawn emails from Outlooks Contacts.

iPhone (duh!)

What to do

  1. Convert your Palm Calendar to Outlook (using DoubleLook)
  2. Merge your contacts lists together (and spend the next six months cleaning up the dupes :-/)
  3. Install the MobileMe Control pabel on all PCs with which you require synced data (not web terminals)
  4. Set up syncing Calendar and Contacts accordingly in MobileMe Control Panel (I chose Sync Now, then Automatically)

After that, you’ll spend most of the next week soaking up the wonder achieved by rearing your own little information ecosystem.  In theory, it should save you/me a lot of time.

What I don’t like about the solution?

So far, there isn’t a lot to dislike.  However, there are some bugbears along these lines:

  • Field mapping of contact details between Outlook and MobileMe Web are a little janky
  • Editing Contacts in Outlook is a pain
  • Editing Contacts is MobileMe Contacts is pretty and sensible, but slowwwww!

What else do I need?

Not much.  I don’t need Google Calendars, because MobileMe provides a useful calendar (though should I ever need to share my calendars that issue will need revisiting).  I’ve opted not to use MobileMe for Email as it seems somewhat problematic (speed issues), and whilst it does provide ample space and email aliasing (once you’ve signed up for a year), it’s, well, not GMail (which I can access quite happily on my iPhone.

This is a work in progress – links to watch:

Mozillazine’s excellent article “Sharing Address Books”

A promising title for Thunderbird LDAP but frighteningly brief “Using Outlook and OE contacts with Thunderbird or Mozilla Mail

Update 7th Jan 08: Switched to Outlook 2007 & E-mail Mapping

I’ve switched to Outlook 2007, the main benefit which is to overlay multiple calendars (work, play, etc).  So far so good, though $170 for the upgrade just to get a calendar application is a tad steep

I have noticed that emails entered in the email fields in MobileMe or direct into the iPhone map strangely.  Here are the results of a couple quick experiments:

Created in … Viewed in … Email Field Mapping
Outlook iPhone E-mail 1 > Work
E-mail 2 > Home
E-mail 3 > Other
MobileMe E-mail 1 > Work
E-mail 2 > Home
E-mail 3 > Other
iPhone Outlook Work > E-mail 1
Home > E-mail 2
Other > E-mail 3
MobileMe Work > Work
Other > Other
Home > Home
MobileMe Outlook Curiously, it did not synchronise back to outlook (limit on duplicate contacts?)
iPhone Home > Home
Work > Work
Other > Other
Other > Other

Feedback or contributions?

I’d love to hear from you with some more ideas.

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About Justin Moss

An information and engineering technologist. Unabashedly opinionated, open-minded and an oft overthinker. Born Sydney Australia, home of the 'Southerly Buster'

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