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Synchronizing with the ActiveSync Software

The Pocket PC operating system comes standard with a wide range of applications and interesting features. Because these applications and features are implemented in ROM, you don't ever have to worry about reinstalling them. Even with this rich set of functionality built into your Pocket PC, you will undoubtedly want to expand its horizons by installing new software. Perhaps even more important is the capability of sharing and synchronizing data with your desktop PC. To accomplish any of this, you must establish a connection between your Pocket PC and your desktop PC.

The physical connection between a Pocket PC and a desktop PC is pretty straightforward, and involves one of the following types of connections:

  • USB
  • Serial
  • Infrared
  • Ethernet

USB is the preferred connection type for most users because it's the fastest among non-Ethernet connections. However, not all Pocket PCs support USB, in which case you must rely on a serial or infrared connection. If you have the capability of connecting to your desktop computer via an Ethernet connection, then you might want to consider purchasing an Ethernet CF card for your Pocket PC. Ethernet connections are extremely fast (up to 10MB/s) and result in very quick synchronization. Short of Ethernet, a USB connection is your best bet for reasonably speedy synchronization.

Inside Scoop -

Because most desktop PCs don't have an infrared port, an infrared connection with a Pocket PC is usually established with an infrared USB adapter. An infrared USB adapter plugs into the USB port of the desktop computer and provides an infrared port; you align the Pocket PC's infrared port with it and you're good to go.

Your device most likely came with a cradle, which is used to establish the physical connection between it and the desktop PC. Additionally, the cradle for most Pocket PCs also serves as a recharging unit for the main batteries of the device. The first step in connecting your Pocket PC to a desktop PC is to connect the cradle to the desktop PC. After that's done, you can go ahead and set the Pocket PC in the cradle, in which case its batteries will probably start charging.

Now that the Pocket PC's physical connection is established with the desktop PC, you're ready to tackle the software side of the equation. This is carried out with Microsoft's ActiveSync software, which ships on a CD-ROM standard with all Pocket PCs. ActiveSync is responsible for detecting a Pocket PC connection and allowing you to synchronize and share data between a Pocket PC device and a desktop computer. Synchronization is quite powerful, and is handled at the application level. In other words, you set the applications whose data you would like to have synchronized. You'll quickly learn that ActiveSync is a very straightforward application to use.

Before installing ActiveSync, it's worth making a slight modification to the connection settings for your device. By default, your Pocket PC's synchronization connection speed is set to 57,600Kbps. This speed isn't too bad, but why not go faster if possible? You can go faster by raising the connection speed. Follow these steps to raise the connection speed of your device to 115,200Kbps:

  1. Tap Start, and then tap Settings.
  2. Tap the Connections tab.
  3. Tap the Power Off tab.
  4. Tap the combo box and select 115200 Default as the connection speed.
  5. Tap OK in the upper-right corner to accept the connection speed changes.

Your Pocket PC is now ready to establish a relationship with the desktop PC.


You may be wondering whether the ActiveSync software is available for Macintosh computers. Unfortunately, as of this writing it is not. However, it is possible to use the Windows version of ActiveSync on a Macintosh with the help of a Windows emulation software package called Virtual PC. Virtual PC emulates a Windows environment within the Macintosh operating system, and allows you to install ActiveSync and use it as if it was actually running on a Windows system.

Setting Up and Synchronizing

To begin installing the ActiveSync software, insert the ActiveSync CD-ROM into the CD-ROM drive of the desktop PC with which you are synchronizing your Pocket PC. After a few moments, you will see the window shown in Figure 3.3, which is the beginning of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard.

Figure 3.3 The beginning of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard is the first window you see when installing the ActiveSync software.

Clicking the Next button proceeds to start the installation process. The next window displayed allows you to select the installation folder for ActiveSync. I recommend keeping the default setting, but clicking the Change button allows you to put ActiveSync anywhere you want.


If you have the Autorun feature of Windows disabled, you'll need to manually run the ActiveSync setup program by clicking Run on the Start menu, and then selecting Setup.exe from the CD-ROM.

Clicking Next moves you along to a screen that confirms you have physically connected your Pocket PC to the desktop PC. Upon clicking Next on this window, the Installation Wizard searches for a connected Pocket PC device on the available COM (serial) ports and USB ports. If the device isn't found, double check that the cradle is properly connected to the desktop PC, the Pocket PC is firmly seated in the cradle, and the Pocket PC has a charge on its batteries.

When the device is found, the window in Figure 3.4 is displayed, which asks whether you want to set up a partnership. To synchronize application data, such as the email in your Inbox or tasks in the Tasks application, you must create a partnership between the two machines. Although a partnership is not required to establish a connection and share information between the Pocket PC and the desktop PC, without a partnership you are limited to copying or moving files back and forth between the machines and installing applications. In other words, you won't be able to synchronize data with an application.

Figure 3.4 The next window of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard allows you to set up a partnership, which is necessary for synchronizing application data.

Assuming you selected the Yes radio button to set up a partnership, the Select a Personal Information Manager window appears next. This window prompts you to select the desktop application to be used for synchronizing appointments, contacts, and tasks. You will probably want to keep the default settings of Microsoft Outlook, unless you use some other personal information manager.

The guts of the partnership are established in the Synchronization Settings window, which is displayed next (see Figure 3.5). This window allows you to select the specific applications you want synchronize with. Resist the temptation to select all of them, because you will likely only be interested in synchronizing certain types of information. As an example, I typically synchronize only the Calendar, Contacts, Inbox, and Tasks applications. Following are the applications that can be synchronized:

  • AvantGo
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Favorite
  • Files
  • Inbox
  • Notes
  • Tasks

Figure 3.5 The Synchronization Settings window allows you to select applications you want to synchronize with.

You can fine-tune the settings of the synchronized applications by selecting an application in the list and then clicking the Settings button. Figure 3.6 shows the settings available for the Inbox application.

Figure 3.6 The Inbox Synchronization Settings window allows you to customize the manner in which email messages are synchronized via the Inbox application.

If you compare the options selected in this figure to the default settings of your Pocket PC, you can see that I made a few changes to the default settings. The Include File Attachments option allows you to receive attachments along with email messages. Although this is a very useful feature, you need to be careful about limiting the size of the attachments so that you don't receive enormous files along with email. The ActiveSync check box under the Outbox Folder options allows you to send email from your Pocket PC through your desktop email client, which in this case is Microsoft Outlook. In other words, you can enter email messages while out and about with your Pocket PC, and then when you get home set the Pocket PC in its cradle and have the email automatically sent through your desktop PC's email service.

Inside Scoop -

I've found that it is useful to turn on the Include File Attachments option and limit the attachment size to 100KB. That way, when a relative sends you a whopping 2MB MPEG video of junior's first steps, you won't be wasting precious RAM or synchronization time.

Click OK to accept the Inbox Synchronization Settings, and then Next to accept the Synchronization Settings. You will then see Figure 3.7, which is the end of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard.

At this point, you can click the Finish button to finish the installation and begin using ActiveSync. ActiveSync automatically begins synchronizing the applications you selected during installation, which might take a few minutes depending on how much information you have stored in each application (see Figure 3.8). The really neat thing about ActiveSync is that it's automatic in its approach to synchronization. To test it out, try modifying a piece of synchronized information on the desktop PC and watch for Active Sync to spring into action and synchronize it on the Pocket PC. The same thing applies to modifying synchronized data on the Pocket PC.

Figure 3.7 The final step of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard clarifies the completion of the ActiveSync installation.

Figure 3.8 Synchronization can take a few minutes if you have a lot of information to be synchronized.

You can tell that synchronization is complete because the circular green icon in the upper-right corner of the ActiveSync window stops its animation; the small green ActiveSync icon in the system tray also stops its animation. More importantly, the status of each of the types of synchronized information turns to Synchronized as shown in Figure 3.8 for the Calendar type.

One thorny issue in regard to synchronization is the potential conflict that arises if you modify a piece of synchronized data on both the Pocket PC and the desktop PC before synchronization takes place. Which version of the data does ActiveSync accept and use as the basis for synchronization? When this type of conflict occurs, ActiveSync flags the data item as "unresolved" during synchronization. Then, you must resolve the conflict by selecting one of the versions of the item as the correct one.

Inside Scoop -

If your Inbox consists of several subfolders of archived email, you might be concerned about all this mail getting synchronized with the Pocket PC. This is not a problem because ActiveSync synchronizes only with the Inbox of the desktop mail client, meaning that the only email synchronized with the Pocket PC is email present in the Inbox folder of your Pocket PC; any other mail folders are ignored.

One option for handling synchronization conflict resolution is to always let your desktop computer win. In other words, you're saying that in the event of a synchronization conflict, always replace the version on the Pocket PC with the desktop version. This makes sense for many users because your desktop PC is likely to have the latest versions of all application data. To set this option in ActiveSync, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Options button on the main toolbar.
  2. Click the Rules tab.
  3. Click the middle radio button, which indicates that the item on the device should always be replaced. The other radio buttons correspond to options that allow you to leave a conflict unresolved or replace the version on the computer with the Pocket PC version.
  4. Click OK to accept the Conflict Resolution options.

Another synchronization option that you might want to consider is the synchronization mode, which is available under the Sync Mode tab in the ActiveSync Options dialog box. There are three possible settings for the synchronization mode, which determine when synchronization takes place:

  • Continuously while the device is connected
  • Only upon connection
  • Manually

The default setting is the first one, which is guaranteed to provide the most accurate level of synchronization because the device is constantly synchronizing as data changes. If you aren't so concerned about up-to-the-minute synchronization, then the second option is reasonable, too. In this case, the device is synchronized upon being connected to the desktop PC. Keep in mind that you can still manually synchronize whenever you want by clicking the Sync button on the main ActiveSync toolbar.

Exploring from a Desktop PC

Synchronizing via ActiveSync is the automated way to keep your Pocket PC and your desktop PC on the same track in terms of application data. ActiveSync also supports exploring the Pocket PC, which basically lets you use Windows Explorer on your desktop PC to explore the file system of the Pocket PC. In doing so, you can move, copy, or delete files between the Pocket PC and the desktop PC. To explore your Pocket PC, open ActiveSync by clicking Start, Programs, and then Microsoft ActiveSync, followed by the Explore button on the main ActiveSync toolbar. This results in an Explorer window appearing that shows the My Documents folder in the Pocket PC file system (Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.9 Exploring a Pocket PC device begins with the My Documents folder in Explorer.

Watch Out!

Unfortunately, it might be necessary for you to switch the synchronization mode to Only Upon Connection to circumvent a bug in Pocket Money. Although I've yet to cover Pocket Money, it's worth pointing out that the current version is very sensitive about continuous synchronization and can corrupt its own database. The safest thing to do is set the synchronization mode to Only Upon Connection. This information is covered in more detail in Chapter 15, "Using Pocket Money."

Double-clicking the My Pocket PC icon takes you to the root level of the file system where you can directly access the familiar My Documents and Program Files folders, among others.

Because the standard Windows Explorer application is used to explore the Pocket PC, you are free to copy and move files by dragging and dropping them between Explorer instances. So, to copy or move files between the Pocket PC and the desktop PC, you just open another Explorer window and explore your hard drive. From there you can drag and drop between the two Explorer instances with ease. Behind the scenes, ActiveSync is handling the actual file transfers, but it is seamless from your perspective .

Backing Up Your Pocket PC

ActiveSync includes a powerful backup feature that I encourage you to explore and use on a regular basis. By regularly backing up your Pocket PC, you minimize the chances of losing valuable data due to a battery problem or some other more serious accident such as dropping your device in water. The backup feature in ActiveSync is accessed via the Tools menu; the Backup/Restore command on the Tools menu takes you to the Backup/Restore dialog box, which is shown in Figure 3.10.

Figure 3.10 The Backup/Restore dialog box in the ActiveSync application allows you to perform a backup on your device or restore a previous backup to your device.


ActiveSync can also be launched by double-clicking the ActiveSync icon in the desktop system tray.

The two radio buttons in the Backup/Restore dialog box allow you to choose between a full or incremental backup. A full backup always backs up everything on your device regardless of whether you've backed it up before, whereas an incremental backup backs up only information that has changed since the previous backup. Incremental backups are faster and take up less space on your desktop computer's hard drive, and are probably the best backup approach to use unless you don't plan to back up your device frequently.


As long as ActiveSync is running, you can also explore your Pocket PC from Windows Explorer by clicking the Mobile Device icon in the My Computer window. You can open the Mobile Device icon to reveal the entire file system of the Pocket PC.

Near the bottom of the Backup/Restore dialog box is a check box that allows you to automatically back up your device each time it connects via ActiveSync. Although this might seem like a lot of overhead in terms of information transfer, if you choose the incremental backup approach, then automatic backups are pretty quick. This is a great way to guarantee that your device's contents are always safely stored away on your desktop computer in the case of a problem. The Change button in the Backup/Restore dialog box allows you to change the name and location of the backup file on the desktop computer.

When you are ready to perform a backup, click the Back Up Now button in the Backup/Restore dialog box. Figure 3.11 shows the backup process taking place.

Figure 3.11 The backup process can take a while if your device is full of data.

After performing a backup, it is very easy to restore information to your device. To restore a previous backup, click the Restore tab in the Backup/Restore dialog box. Figure 3.12 shows this dialog box, which is pretty simple.

Figure 3.12 The Restore tab in the Backup/Restore dialog box allows you to restore backed-up data.

To restore backed-up data to your device, close all applications running on the device and then click the Restore Now button in the Restore tab of the Backup/Restore dialog box in ActiveSync. Unlike the backup process, you can't abort the restore process after it begins. It is important that you don't use your device until the restore process finishes.

Inside Scoop -

It's generally a good idea to back up your Pocket PC at least once a month.

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