The Missing Sync for Palm OS 5.1

While PalmSource seems content to let Palm Desktop and HotSync software for the Macintosh suffer from neglect, Mark/Space’s The Missing Sync for Palm OS 5.1.2 continues to improve. It has now become an indispensable option for any Palm OS-based PDA or smart phone owner looking to make the most of their Mac connection.

While your Treo or new Palm PDA may ship with software that will allow it to synchronize with your Macintosh, the HotSync software Palm includes is slow and clunky, and hasn’t changed in several years—it is not up to date with changes in Mac OS X like Tiger’s Sync Services, for example. Mark/Space, meanwhile, has incorporated a slew of enhancements in its venerable Missing Sync software to keep it current, including support for Sync Services. This means better integration with Apple’s iCal, Address Book, and iLife applications. It also means more robust and reliable connectivity regardless of whether you use USB or Bluetooth to connect your PDA to your Mac.

What’s more, Missing Sync is now Universal and runs natively on PowerPC and Intel Macs alike. I had no problem synching a Treo 700p (   ) smart phone to my Intel iMac using Bluetooth. On its first connection, The Missing Sync asks you some questions about what content you want to sync—address book information, for example, or calendars and tasks. It will, by default, install the Missing Sync application—which lets you mount PDA or smart phone-based memory cards on your Mac’s desktop for easier file transfer—along with a handheld version of SplashPhoto (a photo album application) and TimeCopy, a utility that makes sure your PDA’s clock is always synced to your Mac’s clock.

New features since we last looked at Missing Sync for Palm OS (   ) include support for color-coded calendar categories, handy for separating personal tasks from business ones (and matching whatever calendar color scheme you use in iCal). If you want to take photos of the kids with you on your Palm device, The Missing Sync can facilitate—just tell it which iPhoto album or albums you wish to sync, and it’ll take care of the rest. And The Missing Sync can do the same for iTunes playlists, so if there’s some music you’d like to listen to without lugging an iPod, it’s also an option.

The usual rules apply regarding the transfer of DRM-protected files, such as music downloaded from the iTunes Store—this music won’t play on Palm PDAs or anything that isn’t an authorized computer or iPod. This also reveals one shortcoming of The Missing Sync—if it encounters an error, such as trying to transfer a DRM-protected song it knows your PDA can’t play—it’ll make a note in the log and will even advise you that an error has taken place—but it won’t provide you with any more detailed information. You have to hunt for the entry in the log to figure out what went wrong.

Regardless of whether you’re using Bluetooth or USB, sometimes syncing between a Mac and Palm device can take a long time, depending on what you’re doing. Data updates, for example, take less time than full backups; for me, it’s usually about five minutes.

The Missing Sync does an excellent job of providing you with feedback, telling you how far along it is in the overall process and in individual tasks, by presenting you with separate progress bars--one shows you the progress of the total synchronization, the other shows you the progress of the specific task (such as installing a new application or backing up a file).

Of course, The Missing Sync still allows you to configure multiple profiles for each device, so if you don’t want the software to back up your handheld each time you sync, you can specify what you want it to do.

I’d love to see Mark/Space add some scheduling capability so you can program it to Back this up every [n]th time you connect instead of having to do it manually. And, because of the way Sync Services work, some people have reported problems syncing one device with two Macs. But I didn't try this.

Mark/Space is also making it easier for people to buy products for their handhelds by incorporating a Shop tab into the Missing Sync’s interface—this lets you purchase software, which you can download on the spot, or buy hardware accessories that can be mailed to you. I guess it’s nice to make it easier for people to grab products they didn’t know they needed, but there are plenty of places for me to find that content online, too.

If you use third-party software that depends on Conduits—Palm parlance for passing information between the Mac and the PDA—you’re in luck. The Missing Sync 5.1’s support of third-party conduits is better than ever, including the Mark/Space Conduit for AvantGo, various airlines, DocumentsToGo, PocketQuicken, and many others. Mark/Space has also made available its programming details for third-party Palm application developers so they can update their code.

Macworld’s buying advice

With Palm Desktop and HotSync you can get by, but The Missing Sync for Palm OS 5.1.2 makes your handheld shine as brightly as your Mac does. It’s definitely worth the $40.

[ Peter Cohen is a senior editor at Macworld.]

Two progress bars show you how far along you are in a complete sync and in a specific syncing task, respectively.

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