Learning to hate with ActiveSync

April 3, 2008

Vista busy cursor I try not to “do hate”. It’s a matter of personal philosophy. The very act of hating someone or something reduces us to the level of the objects of our hate.

But I make an exception for Microsoft’s ActiveSync. In that one case, hate is perfectly justified. In fact, no negative emotion directed towards it is too extreme.

Even during Vista’s endlessly-rotating-blue-bagel-riddled infancy I did not begin to come close to the desire for murderous revenge regularly engendered by ActiveSync, Microsoft’s lame effort at software for synchronising Windows Mobile devices with MS Outlook.

Since my family started using Windows Mobile devices in 2003 (the original O2 XDA and subsequent incarnations) I have synchronised with Outlook as infrequently as I think I can get away with. It has always been such an utter pain, from the frustration of getting a connection (USB, infra-red, bluetooth, wireless, piece of string with a plastic cup at either end … ActiveSync can fail to locate them all) to the unpredictable and alarming threat of synchronising in the wrong direction thus deleting all one’s new contacts and appointments … and latterly dismembering my laptop’s network connection capability.

Yes, ActiveSync rendered my XP Thinkpad unable to connect to a network via LAN or wireless. Violent, painful death would be a megillion times too good for it, could software but be subjected to torture and assassination.

It started when I upgraded my XDA Mini S to an XDA Stellar. I was in danger of making a second exception to my “no hate” rule for the former’s telescopic stylus which suffers from a congenital design fault and becomes very loose in its storage hole after a while. The stylus would fall out almost every time I picked the Mini S up unless I was very careful. I lost the two that came in the original box and two more from a pack of spares I had to buy from O2. I found myself going to great lengths to carry the phone upside down, to enlist some help from gravity in my stylus-retention challenge. Even so, people would keep finding random disembodied styli lying around the place and returning them to me.

Enough! It had to go, hence the XDA Stellar. A far better bit of kit anyway, and thankfully equipped with a non-collapsible securely stowable stylus.

O2 XDA Stellar

You’ve guessed the downside. I had to get my non-SIM contact details across to the new phone. I hadn’t used ActiveSync in months. I tried infra-red to connect. Slow, but experience had taught me it was less disaster-prone than the USB cable method. No dice. ActiveSync did not want to know. Reluctantly, like an utter fool I resorted to USB. No only did this fail to produce a connection, it caused an ActiveSync freeze-up and general computer crash which left my laptop bereft of any TCP/IP based communication capability whatever.

It has taken me days to get any improvement. I have followed any number of Microsoft Technical articles, checking settings and reinstalling parts of Windows. The biggest help has been uninstalling the ethernet and wireless devices from the Control Panel and allowing Plug and Play to rediscover/reinstall them on a reboot. LAN and wifi are now both operational again, although the latter seems to take ages settling down. It keeps losing the wifi connection and reconnecting every few seconds, for the first 10 minutes or so after a reboot or switch from LAN connection.

Maybe my experience with the Windows Mobile Device Center in Vista will be better. I’m going to try that next, since there is no way I’m letting ActiveSync loose on my laptop again. Who knows? It might turn out out to be the best reason yet to be grateful for Vista.

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  1. My son has just “gone Mac” and is already evangelizing, just like you. I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity to try out his new toy every now and again, see what I reckon.

    I can’t quite give up on Windows because that’s the mandatory platform at the large firm where I work. But then having a moan on this blog is all part of the fun.

  2. Dude… seriously… it pains me to watch all the trouble you go through trying to get stuff to work like it should.

    Start logging all the time you spend troubleshooting stuff. It’ll make you sick.

    I used to be exactly like you. Then I decided that I no longer had the time in my life to devote to trouble shooting my stuff and being Microsoft’s unpaid Q.A./Technician. I’m a PC repair guy and I can’t afford to be fixing or having troubles with my own computer while dealing with customer’s troubles as well.

    I’m 6 months on a Mac now and will never go back. So much happier. Crashed only once in that time and haven’t had to troubleshoot almost anything. And if I do, it never takes more than 5 minutes to solve easily.

    It’s that week or 2 learning curve for OS X and the $ to switch over that sucks.
    Start with a Mac Mini to test the waters. Or get a $399 OpenMac from Psystar.

  3. I posted this on my Newsvine column and was rewarded with a fascinating insight from a fellow Viner who is in the know about ActiveSync, having been involved professionally in the past.

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