Learning to be underwhelmed … with WMDC

April 12, 2008

Vista busy cursor Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC for short) is nothing more than a light makeover and rebrand of ActiveSync for Vista. The software is (mostly) the same. The name has been changed to protect the lazy.

I have only just nursed my laptop to an acceptable level of health after ActiveSync did its utmost to emasculate its connectivity. It still plays up occasionally. Admittedly, nothing like that had ever happened before but no way was I going to take any more chances with that laptop.

I have a Vista desktop (hence this blog) so decided to give WMDC a whirl. Microsoft have had years to get this sorted. Surely it would have to be an improvement on ActiveSync as we have come to know it.

It is billed as part of Windows but is not part of the install as shipped. Rather, when you connect a Windows Mobile device via say a USB cable Vista detects it and automatically downloads and installs the latest version of WMDC. It is a long, slow process with little reassuring progress confirmation.

Once installed and running, well, it looks very different from ActiveSync, but that’s only the top level interface. Whenever you dip into any of the more detailed functionality the dialog boxes that pop up look awfully familiar. I took that as a bad sign.

I set WMDC up to synchronise my calendar and contacts only, essentially to capture them into Outlook from my outgoing Windows Mobile device (an O2 XDA Mini S) so they could be copied over to my new WM6 device (an O2 XDA Stellar) on a subsequently synchronisation. The first leg seemed to go fine, albeit very, very slowly. I then hooked up the Stellar, established a new relationship (as it is a separate device) and synchronised with the same Outlook profile. That seemed to go fine too, except when I checked that all my appointments etc were safely replicated I found that far too many of them had gone AWOL.

I had to step through the calendars on both WM devices, one day at a time for up to a year ahead, to identify missing items manually and beam the missed ones across, one at a time, using bluetooth. At least all the contacts had copied over correctly.

It’s not that the manual tidy up was all that onerous. It’s a matter of trust in the software. The whole point of ActiveSync/WMDC is that it should provide reliable data backup and enable you to move your living data intact between devices when you upgrade your PDA or PDA-phone.

While I’m having a jolly good gripe, what about Outlook profiles? I didn’t want my WM device data copy exercise to interfere with the data on the family copy of Outlook on the Vista desktop. Unfortunately, you can only maintain completely disparate Outlook data sets by using separate Outlook profiles, and you can’t switch profiles from within Outlook itself. You have to use the Mail applet in the Windows Control Panel which has been a component of Windows for eons, remains unchanged in Vista and looks utterly archaic.

You can see how Vista has become bloated out of all proportion. Microsoft never get rid of anything in case they break some legacy application support. They just layer on wads of new functionality, like a lazy interior decorator that glues the new wallpaper over the old because they won’t make the effort to strip the walls to the plaster and reline properly. To understand Windows you don’t need a software engineer, you need a software archaeologist.

Oh, and after synchronising the Mail applet/Outlook get locked in the current profile. You have to reboot to free up profile selection. Come on Microsoft, we’re talking about real functionality here which is important to people. Forget the 3D interface and other eye candy. This is what really needs to get sorted, so pull your finger out.

And I do hope WMDC never pulls a nasty trick like ActiveSync did to my laptop or we might have to reacronymise WMDC as Weapon of Mass Destruction for Computers.

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  1. Thanks Hank, but this is a blog on MS, Vista, general experiences, etc. Maybe there’s less on Vista these days because I’ve run of out things to complain about, or Vista has got better or both.

  2. Enjoyed this one too. You ought to write a book or at least a big blog on MS, Vista, Outlook and your experiences. Hank

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