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How to sync your Pocket PC with Thunderbird - Mobile Minute

Today we're going to look at two methods for syncing your Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone with Mozilla Thunderbird. One is the easy way, the other is the free (and cross-platform) way.

ActiveSync with ThunderbirdBirdieSync

BirdieSync is a commercial application that does a beautiful job of synchronizing Events, Cards, Mails, and Tasks between Thunderbird and a Windows Mobile PDA or Smartphone.

The program integrates with ActiveSync 4.2 or 4.5, which is great news in that it provides a familiar interface for most Windows Mobile users. It's also bad news, because there's no ActiveSync client for Mac or Linux users, and in fact, Microsoft has replaced ActiveSync with Windows Mobile Device Center. So this is a Windows XP only solution for now.
Installation is pretty self explanatory. A small file is installed on your mobile device, taking up just about 260KB, and then BirdieSync's installation wizard that walks you through the rest of the process.

The first time you run Thunderbird after installing BirdieSync, you'll be asked to configure your new settings.

Birdiesync2

Before you start your first synchronization, make sure to open ActiveSync and unselect your Outlook Appointments, Contacts, and Tasks, otherwise you'll get unresolved items when you try to synchronize.

Also, on your first synchronization, you may want to make sure to click the option to combine items on your device and computer. On my first attempt, I accidentally selected "replace items on my device with items on the PC" and wiped out all of the information on my PDA. Luckily I was able to restore all my data from a backup file made this morning. The second time I tried to synchronize, there was no problem, and all of my appointments showed up in Thunderbird.

I chalk the error up to the fact that I had hundreds of appointments on my PDA, but none in my new Lightning extension calendar.

Overall, I'm quite happy with BirdieSync, but there are two problems:
  1. The program only runs on Windows XP.
  2. It has a pretty steep price tag, at 19.95 €.

FinchSync

Unlike BirdieSync, FinchSync is freeware. It's also Java-based, making it platform independent. You should be able to run it on Windows, Mac, or Linux machines. But it also take a lot more work to set up, and there's no guarantee everything will work properly once you do.

There are two parts to FinchSync, a PC-based Server, and a PDA-based Client. First, let's set up the server.

Since FinchSync is based on Java, all you need to do is download finchsync.jar and save it in the directory of your choice. Double click on it, and you should get this window.

finchsync1

You may get an error message when you first open FinchSync, but that's because it's default port is set to 80. Let's change that, by clicking on File, and then Server Configuration. Pick a number, any number between 0 and 65535 (but if you wan one that's not currently in use, you might want to try one between 8080 and 8087). Restart FinchSync and the error message should be gone. If it's not, try another number.

Next, click on the Sync Sources tab to configure FinchSync to synchronize your Thunderbird contacts, appointments, and tasks.
  • Click on the Add button.
  • Enter a name (calendar, personal contacts, whatever you like) and click next.
  • If you know where Thunderbird stores your calendar and addressbook files, click Browse to find them, otherwise click Scan Disk. On Windows and Mac systems, the scan should take less than a minute to complete, but there are some reports that it takes much longer on Linux machines.
finchsync2
  • Select the source you'd like to use, click next for configuration options, or finish if you want to accept the default configuration.
Now let's add a client. Back at the main menu, click the Clients tab.
  • Click Add to create a new client.
  • Enter a name.
  • Enter a password that is at least 6 characters.
  • You can enter a description if you like.
finchsync3

And that's it for the PC side. Time to install the PDA client.
  • Download the installer file.
  • Copy it to your Windows Mobile device.
  • Click on it and it will install to your device's main memory.
finchsync client1
Now let's configure it to work with your desktop.
  • Browse to the Programs menu on your mobile device, and select FinchSync
  • Click the Config button.
  • Select Server.
  • Click the Add button.
FinchSync client2

  • Enter a name for your server.
  • Enter your host IP address.
  • Enter the port that you configured FinchSync to open.
  • Enter the client username and password that you've already chosen on the PC server.
  • Click OK.
You're all set. Now comes the moment of truth. From the main screen, select your server, and then press Sync it! First your Windows Mobile device will scan its own internal database, then it will compare that data to the files on your computer, and a few moments later you should be syncing.

FinchSync client3

I say should be, because about five minutes later, my PDA gave me an error message telling me that I need a newer version of Microsoft's .NET Compact Framework. I upgraded my .NET Compact Framework, and got the same error message the second time I tried syncing.

Conclusion

Until Mozilla builds official support for syncing into Thunderbird, or Microsoft builds official support for Thunderbird into ActiveSync/Windows Mobile Device Center (ha!) we have to rely on third party applications to sync Thunderbird with a Windows Mobile PDA.

FinchSync, while free is pretty hard to configure, and while some users report success with it, I've been unable to get it to work. Work is also underway on SynCE, a Linux based Windows Mobile synchronization solution.

If you have both Thunderbird and Outlook installed on your system, probably the best way to synchronize your device is to find a way to synchronize the two desktop programs. Then you can continue to sync your PDA with Outlook, but never actually open Outlook. If anyone has a good suggestion on how to set this up, please let us know, and perhaps I'll feature the solution in a future Mobile Minute.

But if you're running Windows XP, and want an easy to install and easy to configure solution, I'd highly recommend BirdieSync. While it does come with a significant price tag, there's a 21 day free trial available. I would highly recommend backing up the PIM data on your PDA before running BirdieSync for the first time..

Tags: birdiesync, commercial, finchsync, freeware, mobileminute, synce, synchronization, thunderbird

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