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By Chris De Herrera 
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Trends in Windows Mobile Synchronization
By Chris De Herrera, Copyright 2008
 Version 1.00  Revised 5/21/2008

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One of the most critical experiences users expect after purchasing a Windows Mobile is the ability to synchronize their data with their mobile device. This article focuses on describing the current state of both desktop and Exchange synchronization as well as projecting future trends for Windows Mobile synchronization.

The Current State of Desktop Synchronization

Currently users of Windows Mobile 6.1 devices that wish to sync with Windows XP. For users of Windows Mobile 6.1 that wish to sync with Windows Vista use Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC) 6.1.

Synchronization and Manageability Functionality

Desktop Synchronization

The functionality of both ActiveSync and WMDC are approximately the same with their focus on synchronizing with your Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Inbox in Outlook as well as installation of applications from your desktop. However there are some differences such as WMDC does not allow users to uninstall Windows Mobile applications from their device while synchronizing. With Windows Mobile 5 and 6.x, you can sync your default calendar, contacts and tasks folder and most of the Inbox folders except for the Drafts and Sent Items.

 Also, for the enterprise customers, With System Center Mobile Device Manager, Microsoft has released the ability to enable or disable synchronization via ActiveSync or WMDC. However this device manageability of ActiveSync or WMDC does not allow granularity to address the user options for Outlook synchronization.  Also, developers use ActiveSync or WMDC to test new applications they are creating using Visual Studio.

Reverting back to PPP for Stable Connections

ActiveSync and WMDC both use an underlying TCP/IP connection with your desktop to allow RAPI function calls to synchronize data. With Windows Mobile 6.x, and selected versions for Windows Mobile 5.0, there is a new option to revert to the more stable PPP connection instead of the RNDIS introduced with Windows Mobile 5.0. To enable the private PPP stack, click on Start, select the Settings menu option and click on the Connections tab. Launch the USB to PC application and uncheck the Enable advanced network functionality radio box.

The Current State of Exchange Synchronization

With Smartphone 2002, Microsoft introduced the support for synchronizing with Exchange 2000 using an add-on called Mobile Information Server. With the release of Exchange 2003 Microsoft integrated the functionality that Mobile Information Server offered along with additional device management functionality. In Exchange 2003 and 2007 along with Windows Mobile 2003, 2003 SE, 5.0 and 6.x, Microsoft has added additional capabilities to synchronize and manage more capabilities with these devices as each new release has been introduced.

For a comparison of the features of Exchange synchronization features by client visit  This comparison documents the increased functionality with new mobile device releases and new Exchange versions.

The Trends in Synchronization

After looking back over the incremental improvements with ActiveSync 4.x (see for a summary of the changes for each release), Microsoft has slowed the addition of features to sync with the desktop while focusing on adding support for new releases of Outlook and Windows Mobile.   This is a negative trend when compared with the new features that Microsoft added during the ActiveSync 3.x product lifecycle.

With over-the-air synchronization of Exchange and Windows Mobile, Microsoft continues to add functions with each release as documented above.

Comparing Desktop and Exchange Synchronization

In comparing the differences in the enhancements for synchronization for the desktop and Exchange, it is clear that Microsoft is adding more features to support the enterprise customer. I believe that this trend will continue for Windows Mobile as the Exchange team evolves the functionality of synchronization.   Further the Exchange ActiveSync is supported by multiple hardware vendors from Apple and Symbian as well as Palm. In my opinion, the desktop synchronization via ActiveSync and WMDC has been left to stagnate since the introduction of ActiveSync 4.x.

Future Trends

With these synchronization trends, I expect that more and more end users as well as enterprise customers will use Exchange ActiveSync to get the latest calendar, contacts and tasks information onto their devices. Some companies are already offering hosted Exchange solutions which include synchronization such as Mail2Web (free) which encourages individual users to take advantage of the enterprise functionality of Exchange with their Windows Mobile devices.

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