Is There TRUTH in Sync Services?

by Matthew Bookspan Apr 03, 2007

In last week’s article, I mentioned that I was going to elaborate on my experience(s) with Apple’s sync services. I must say that the inherent value proposition of sync services is very clear and generally works reasonably well. However, if you’ve had my series of misfortunes, you might think otherwise….

First, I will do my best to explain how sync services work. Essentially, within the core of sync services lies the “Truth.” When you use sync services, your data lies in the truth and then apps sync with that data (contacts, calendars, and more). The apps that support sync services include Address Book, iCal, Entourage, Missing Sync, and many more.

Thus, the apps do not sync with each other, they sync with the truth. For more details on the inner workings of sync services, please see this link.

Now, when everything works, it works. And yet when bad data gets into the Truth, then oh boy. Get ready for the chaos.

Here are examples of issues I have faced:

* Loss of all contact and calendar data—yikes!
* Duplicates, duplicates.
* Did I mention duplicates? Maybe I should say triplicates? Or Quintuplicates? Is that a word? grin

Ok, so let’s talk about #1. This is the scariest of all. How did it happen? Well, when sync services is updating (whether locally or with .Mac), and you do one of the following on your laptop:

1) Not notice the menulet moving (reflecting a sync) and close the laptop.
2) Run Plaxo on the Mac (watch out here).
3) The Microsoft sync services app crashes.

It’s frightening to lose data, no matter what the cause. Thankfully, I always keep backups. Still, it is very annoying to have to go through the backup/restore process as sometimes (and in my case) the data was not as current as what I lost.

In case #1, this was just a learned experience and the most shocking. In mid-sync, I close my MacBook lid and then…surprise! Go to send an email and there are no contacts. Nice. I think I had my MacBook all of six weeks when this happened. Made me really question why I moved to the platform, as I had never lost data like that before on my Windows box. Nevertheless, I went to my backups (thank you .Mac Backup) and restored the data and re-synced. Started breathing easy again….

In case #2, I had the opportunity to run into a unique (and low-hanging fruit) bug using their product that would cause all of my contact data to go kablooie when syncing with sync services. Now that was very annoying, as I really enjoyed using Plaxo within Outlook on Windows. Still, the issue happened to me twice and I am no longer a user of the service.

In case #3, I would go to Activity Monitor and see the CPU spike (and hear my fan running quite loudly). In the list, there would be the Microsoft sync service application sitting in the red. Ugh. I’d force quit (big mistake) and once again, there goes the data. I have learned that you just sit it out and let the app restore itself. When it did, the fan would calm down, the app would sync, and all was well in the world.

In an unrelated case, and when using some beta software, I ran into the multiplicatives. Meaning, I would see tons of dupes after a sync. This just became a tedious work process to get rid of the dupes. At one point, I had to delete all of my sync services data and start over by re-importing the data (from a backup—again).

Interestingly, all of the above cases happened in different memory conditions (some low, some normal). Regardless, it makes you really tread lightly when using sync services. Frankly, I had no idea that sync services would be so fragile. The funny thing is that my wife has not experienced any of these problems on her MacBook (roughly the same config as mine) and she uses the same applications as well. Maybe I am just blessed. wink

After nine months of Mac re-ownership, I have learned that there are many great features within OS X Tiger. Sync Services is one of those great features. Just respect the Truth, and you will be ok.



  • Ah yes.  But you haven’t experienced You Sychronise have you!!  I synch a directory with all my documents, photos and other valuable bits to my servers so that they get backed up to tape.  Yesterday, for no apparent reason, “You Sychronise” turned into “I delete” and deleted EVERY SINGLE F***ING FILE in my sych folder.  All 3.4GB of it…

    Thankfully it realised its mistake and copied everything back down at 5pm - or started to…  I saw it was copying in “the wrong direction” and cancelled it…

    Extra thankfully everything was in the trash.  Every tried to restore 7,867 files from the trash?

    If Apple every want to get serious about corporate use of Macs they are going to have to provide tools to synch reliably to Windows servers.

    And if they havent got synch working to their own servers, that is truly a worry…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Apr 03, 2007 Posts: 124
  • Stephen,

    I know the team that wrote the product. I do feel your pain. I hope that both Apple and 3rd parties improve their sync experiences so that users can trust the systems to prevent data loss.


    Matthew Bookspan had this to say on Apr 03, 2007 Posts: 12
  • Matthew, you have summarized my experiences with .Mac in general. Works great when it does work, sucks when it does not. I have the duplicate and lost data before plus the Sync resolver is very frustrating. .Mac was probably an April fools joke on how bad the developers could make a product and some one at marketing took to be real. I am actually looking into creating my own .Mac replacement which won’t be the real thing but close to it.

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Apr 04, 2007 Posts: 70
  • Tanner, I’ve been recommending Google services as something to look into and take seriously as a .mac replacement.  And it’s totally free.  And instead of integrating with the OS, it integrates with your browser.

    Google mail replaces .mac mail.  And since it is online, it’s always synced to every computer you have that is online.  Best of all, it will not only allow you to download via a pop3 client, it will also check a pop3 account via Gmail.

    Google calendar is not only a full featured calendar, but also syncs with iCal so that you can sync events to other iCal compatible devices like an iPod.

    Gdisk is basically an iDisk clone that uses your Gmail storage instead of .mac storage.  You get roughly 2.5 times as much storage for free.

    There are also all kinds of plugins developing for use with other apps that sync with or utilize your Google account.  There’s iPhoto2Gmail, that lets you send iPhoto files via your Gmail account.

    About the only thing left to write home about with .mac is “integration.”  But the integration isn’t all that great.  It’s painfully slow and offers comparatively little storage.  And even if it weren’t it would hardly be worth the $100 a year they charge.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 04, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Beeblebrox, I have considered Google’s offerings and their online word processing has helped me with school projects and such but I had heard that while you can use Google Calendar with iCal it’s read only which would be a deal breaker for me. I had tried Gdisk but the file upload was very, very, very slow on a very fast connection.

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Apr 04, 2007 Posts: 70
  • So… if a piece of hardware doesn’t support syncing is it because it “Can’t handle the Truth”?

    I crack myself up.

    simo66 had this to say on Apr 05, 2007 Posts: 78
  • My life is always on the run. And with my all three remote jobs, I spent a lot of time reading and performing thorough research on sync applications, to make my work easier. With all the gadgets available out there, I invested in what I thought as being best web analytics tools, so that I can keep track on the indicators I am interested in. This fits our life environment perfectly and when I say this I am referring to this battle between time, space and access to information.

    Sandy had this to say on Oct 28, 2011 Posts: 7
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