That Syncing Feeling
Mac-owning newcomers to Palm devices have some justification for feeling confused these days.
A year or so ago there were reports that Palm would no longer support the Mac for synchronization. Well, things aren't as simple as that.
With the Palm TX, you get a copy of the Palm Desktop application--almost exactly the same application I used to use in 1997. It's hardly changed at all.
And for the basics, it works. If you don't mind keeping all of your data in Palm Desktop--all of your addresses, calendar dates, memos, and so on, it works just fine. And some people might prefer that to the far more complicated alternatives that we'll look at in a moment.
Palm Desktop might be old, but it has the same kind of appeal that Eudora has--the UI might look like something from OS 9 days (well, uh, it is something from OS 9 days), but compared to many modern applications it is small, fast, light, and easy to use.
So you can simply install Palm Desktop and use it for everything and you might well be happy with that, but there are plenty of disadvantages.
The most important being that you're stuck inside Palm Desktop. If you want to make use of the widespread integration of Apple's own Address Book and Mac OS X, you can't. If all of your calendar stuff is in iCal to start with, you're going to have to move it all over to Palm Desktop, which is no easy task and might well be a manual, typing-every-entry sort of thing. Euw.
But wait--there's an alternative to this. You can carry on using iCal and Address Book and still sync your data to your Palm--all you need is iSync (which is included on every Mac with Tiger) and something called the iSync Conduit.
(For the uninitiated, conduits are little translators that help move data between a Palm device and its host computer. They're supposed to make sure that synchronization problems are kept to a minimum, and that data is copied in the correct formats, so it can be effectively used by the Palm. At least, that's the theory.)
You might assume--as I did--that the iSync Conduit will live with all the other conduit files, in /Library/Application Support/Palm Hotsync/Conduits. But by default, it's not there. How do you sync without it? I tried, over and over again, but the iSync program steadfastly refused to recognize my Palm TX over Bluetooth, WiFi, or direct USB connection. For over two hours, I fumed and fussed because I simply couldn't understand what the problem was. According to Apple, I didn't need to install iSync Palm Conduit because I already had a version of iSync newer than 2.0.
As always in situations like this, it's user error that's the problem.
Stupid me! I hadn't opened iSync, clicked on Devices, and then on Enable Palm OS Syncing. Doh!
Then I hadn't realized the next obvious step--I had to go to the Hotsync Manager application, open the Conduit Settings window, double-click the new iSync Conduit, and tick a box saying "Enable Palm iSync for this device."
How Dumb Could I Get?
Forgive my sarcasm, but this series of obscure, hard-to-find steps demonstrates something pretty clearly: for Mac users, the Palm platform is no longer as simple as it used to be. Complexity and confusion have crept in. Sure, I'm new to the modern Palm platform, but I'm reasonably computer-savvy and I was astonished that it took me this long to work out how to get things working, even at this basic level.
So now I had iCal, Address Book, and the Palm all talking to one another. But the consequence of using Apple's iSync software and conduit is that they prevent you using Palm Desktop's features anymore. Several of your existing Palm conduits are moved to make way for iSync's dominant settings (you are, at least, told that this is happening).
There are problems with Apple's implementation of the sync process, outlined in detail on Giant Mike's Palm Resources site, namely:
An event created in iCal will show up as unfiled in the Palm (and events created on the Palm can only go into one of your iCal calendars). If you create a bunch of events, it's very time-consuming to re-categorize them all in the Palm. Also, multi-day events sync as a single day on the Palm. The only way around this is to create multiple events in iCal, one for each day.
And even worse:
When you install the iSync conduit, the default MemoPad conduit gets replaced with an out of date model, which does not work with Palm OS 5 devices. To fix this, you must navigate to /Library/Application Support/Palm Hotsync/ and replace the Memos Conduit in the Conduits folder with the one that has been moved to the Disabled Conduits.
The weirdest bit is that the web page that finally showed me exactly what I had to do to make these dumb machines talk to one another was one owned and published by Mark/Space, creators of several Palm applications, the most pertinent of which is Missing Sync, a third alternative to the synchronization dilemma.