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I have been covering the Palm Treo 700w phone running Windows Mobile 5.0 since picking one up during the CES in Las Vegas. The phone has been everything I expected and it is filling my needs wonderfully. So what is the one (big) thing I don’t […]

I have been covering the Palm Treo 700w phone running Windows Mobile 5.0 since picking one up during the CES in Las Vegas. The phone has been everything I expected and it is filling my needs wonderfully. So what is the one (big) thing I don’t like about using the Treo? ActiveSync. Yes, the weak link in the Windows Mobile experience is still ActiveSync. Now, don’t get me wrong, ActiveSync is a sophisticated application that is designed to allow synchronization between Exchange Servers, desktops and mobile devices and as such it must be able to handle a myriad of hardware configurations and conditions. The problem with ActiveSync 4.1, the current version that must be used with devices running Windows Mobile 5.0 like the 700w, is that when something goes wrong it is often without warning and with so little information that correcting the problem is very difficult.

When I first set up the Treo in Vegas I did not have my Exchange Server information readily available so since I needed a quick sync to the Tablet PC I configured syncing to go directly to the Tablet. This worked fine, it took about 45 minutes which I figured was due to the number of contacts in Outlook (over 4,000). Once it finished the initial sync it worked flawlessly and subsequent syncs took a couple of minutes. All was happy in the Windows Mobile world. Upon return to my home I decided to set up syncing so contacts, calendar and email would sync directly (and wirelessly) to my Exchange Server. ActiveSync makes it easy to configure this and in a couple of minutes the first sync attempt to the Exchange Server fired off automatically. This initial sync took 9 hours! No indication why it was taking so long but since it was late I just left it running all night. Shortly after waking the next day I checked it and it had completed successfully. I should have known that such a long sync time would be a forebear of things to come.

Subsequent syncs worked fine, with the three data types mentioned above syncing with the Server and Notes, Favorites, and Tasks syncing to the Tablet PC. I don’t know why ActiveSync will not sync Tasks with the Server (it won’t let you) but it worked and I was happy. Until last night. At the end of the day I connected the Treo to my Tablet via USB and ActiveSync started giving me an error and cancelling as soon as it tried to sync the Favorites to the Tablet. I received a vague error message directing me to the ActiveSync Troubleshooter in the help file. This directed me to a link on the Microsoft site that produced a “web page not found”. Dead end.

Over the next two hours I tried everything imaginable, I deleted the partnership and started over from scratch. I rebooted the Tablet and Treo numerous times. I finally was able to get the settings menu for Favorites in ActiveSync (unless I deleted the partnership it was always grayed out) so I could turn off the syncing of them to see if that got past the problem. Sure enough this worked and it got past this point when it started erroring out with Notes. Same “delete the partnership” process and I turned off syncing Notes. Next was tasks, which syncs Ok.

So my configuration now works fine as long as I don’t try to sync my Notes (there’s only one note in Outlook) or my Favorites to the Treo. Although for some strange reason this morning when I connected the Treo to the Tablet via USB Windows XP gave me the “new hardware detected” and reinstalled the drivers, even though it’s been recognizing the Treo for weeks. Wireless syncing with the Server, which has been the one area of the syncing process that has always worked rock solid, this morning is aborting with a message that the security certificate on the server is invalid. So now even that won’t work. The certificate was apparently good a few hours ago but I guess now I will have to track down my host for the server and make sure that’s not it. So now I’m not able to sync anything but Tasks on the Tablet. No scratch that, after waiting a few minutes wireless ActiveSync works fine so the server certificate is really OK.

The sad part of all these ActiveSync woes is that they are the same problems that have plagued Windows Mobile (and previously Windows CE) users for years. The process is still the same, intermittent but totally fatal errors “just happen”, and the usual result is to hard reset the mobile device, which wipes everything back to a factory state. So you start over, constantly in fear that at some point it will all happen again, and the vicious cycle continues. This problem is even worse in ActiveSync 4.x with Windows Mobile 5.0 devices because the backup and restore option has been removed in this latest version. There is no provided way to properly back up the device. It’s like a sync treadmill you can never get off.

By James Kendrick

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  1. 9 hours for the initial sync with your Exchange Server?! That sound really odd, especially when you compare it to Ciccone’s experience. I think he mentioned on the podcast that it was done for him in the time it took for him to ride the elevator from one floor to another. Very odd. I picked up the 700W on Tuesday based on hearing you guys talk about it on the show. I love it so far, especially since I know that I’m getting over on Verizon by using my unlimited data plan with my Sony Vaio laptop. I cancelled my pc card EVDO account, and I’m using PdaNet. Thanks for that suggestion!! The one thing that bugs me about the Treo is also ActiveSync. Whenever I connect the treo to my notebook, ActiveSync kills my WiFi connection. Reinstalling the app does no good. It’s a very strange thing.

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  2. Ouch — sounds like a pain. In setting up Windows Mobile devices in the past, I found that you have to choose which method to synch each “object” (mail, tasks, notes, etc.), and stick with it, or problems arose. If I just did calendar and mail wirelessly, I had less issues. Coulda been my ignorance though! :-)

    Quick question JK, does Activesynch on the 700W allow you to synch ALL folders (not just inbox)? I assume so since it iw WM5.0, but thought I would check anyway. I have the Treo 650, and it is pretty reliable synching with Exchange (most of the time, I had issues while at CES), but will NOT allow sub folders or peer inbox folders to synch. Major shortcoming for me, so I am considering forking over the money for the 700W.

    Watching your “pain” closely first though! :-)

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  3. I could not help but comment, but that the Treo 650 Hotsync (PalmOS) is rock solid like always.

    Bringing up the old Palm vs PPC debates…

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  4. Odd stuff…

    At #1, Wi-Fi being stopped on the Windows Mobile device while using ActiveSync is a known “feature”, and this is for security reasons, since now ActiveSync uses an IP-based synchronisation instead of the older method. There’s a small application released last week – you can Google for it.

    At jk… The 9 hour sync seems odd. ActiveSync doesn’t show the time elapsed, but only the last sync time. While in the cradle it actually syncs on a schedule, every few minutes. Perhaps you saw this “Last Sync Time” and thought it was a single one?

    About the long time anyway… 4,000 contacts? It will take time to sync this. Sync on Windows Mobile is slower, since it now uses Flash memory instead of RAM. I have 1,000 contacts and my initial sync to Exchange was something around 10 minutes – not counting the time for email sync (I keep my Inbox under 50 items all the time anyway).

    Have you hard reset (Clear Storage) the Treo before switching the sync between Outlook to Exchange? I recommend doing a clear synchronisation to Exchange, and if you have used the device before on another synchronisation accepting the “Replace all content” is not good enough, IMHO.

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  5. Your tasks won’t sync until you put SP2 on Exchange 2003. As for the 9hr sync, there is something wrong with your server or active directory. I can do a full sync over GPRS in about 30 minutes, and that includes 600 contacts (well short of your 4,000), several hundred appointments, tasks, and nearly 500 emails, about 20% with attachments.

    The sync takes about half the time if over WiFi or if I am docked and it is using the PC’s fast connection to the server.

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  6. The 9 hour initial sync time with the Server is accurate, I left it running when I went to bed and it finished shortly after I checked it. Most of that time before deciding to let it run overnight was in the “looking for changes” stage. Let me also elaborate- once that initial sync finished successfully subsequent syncs to the Server over EVDO only take a couple of minutes.

    I am syncing a few of my email folders and sub-folders but not that many and limited to the last 2 weeks.

    I agree I am heading for a hard reset but that was the point of my post. This should not be the solution for something that was working fine one day and then a few hours just developed problems. That’s the problem with ActiveSync. When it decides to “go bad” it goes all the way and solutions are limited.

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  7. I assume you went to Microsof tsupport? Your pocket PC and your PC keep detailed logs of what occurs during syncronisation, reading these can help troubleshoot specific information… this is how to enable verbose sync logging on your device (from http://support.microsoft.com/kb/330461/en-us):

    Verbose Logging
    You can also turn up logging on the device to gather more information for troubleshooting purposes.

    To enable logging on the device:
    1. Click Start, point to Programs, and then click ActiveSync.
    2. Click Tools, click Options, click Server, and then click Advanced.
    3. Minimize the keyboard.
    4. Change the logging level to Verbose.
    5. Close the Options dialog box.
    The log is saved in text format in the WindowsActiveSync folder.

    The log file is cleared at the beginning of each synchronization session. To retain the log file, copy or rename the log file before you start another synchronization session. To copy the log file:
    1. Synchronize your PocketPC device with the server. If the synchronization fails, synchronize until the point of failure.
    2. Disconnect your PocketPC device to prevent the log file from being overwritten if an automatic synchronization is scheduled.
    3. In Windows Explorer, expand My Device, expand Windows, and then locate the log file that is in the ActiveSync folder.
    4. Rename the log file.

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  8. Thanks for the good information, Paul.

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