It’s All in the Translation

It's All in the Translation

By Robert J. Elisberg

 

  • XTNDConnect PC
  • TWW Notes

June, 2007.

Handheld devices are, in a perfect world, simplicity itself. Hook yours

up to a synchronizing cord, press a button, and you're done in moments,

with all your information from Outlook updated onto you're the

handheld. But life is not a perfect world. There actually are human

beings who don't use Outlook. (Shocking, I know, but true.)

If

your Personal Information Manager (PIM) is IBM Lotus Organizer, for

example, one of the better-known third-party PIMs, you're in for

trouble. Out of luck is a better phrase, because it's impossible to

transfer material directly from it (or many other PIMs) to a handheld.

So, what to do?

Enter

conduits. These are programs that step between your PIM and handheld.

In essence, they translate the information so that each can read the

other. And then, life as you know can finally go on.

XTNDConnect PC 6.0

The

upgrade of XTNDConnect PC comes with several new features largely

focused on making it more user-friendly, along with support additions,

such as for photos (though only for Microsoft Outlook), added device

compatibility and up to 11 languages. For most people, however, it's

the usability issues that will be the centerpiece.

The program

installs very easily, asking several preference questions during set-up

— most notably what device and PIM you want synched. But of course

everything is configurable after installation.

The program is full of settings to

configure, though XTNDConnect PC does its best to make most clear and

easy to use, with an improved "GUI" (that's Graphical User Interface,

the snazzy word for how the screen looks). Without question, some

choices will be confusing, but generally the more bewildering are those

which only power users will want to dive into.

Starting out, you

simply check off which items you want to sync — Contacts, Calendar,

Tasks and Notes. This latter (in the case of Lotus Organizer, which I

used to test here) is a significant improvement in 6.0. This is the

Notepad section of Organizer and wasn't available in an earlier 5.0

version of XTNDConnect PC, the program's biggest downside at that time.

That's no longer the case.

The Options tab includes a one-way sync

(which overwrites the handheld only) or two-way (which transfers

material back-and-forth). The handling of this is an example of one of

the improvements for clarity that exists in the upgrade. Easy choices

are laid out, telling you precisely what actions will be taken.

One

caveat: you have to individually select your choice for each item (ie,

Contacts, Calendar and so on), rather than a single click that will

cover the full synchronization. On the downside, though very easy, this

requires several extra steps and can get overlooked. On the upside, it

gives users full control over each item, should you happen to want some

synched one-way, and others two-way.

For people who have multiple PIMs,

XTNDConnect PC now allows for creating more than one profile, and will

allow you to pick-and-chose what you wanted synched between them all.

Also, with version 6.0 you can make your handheld your main PIM-data

device, rather than your home desktop or office computer.

Filters

determine how you'd like data to be handled — for instance, rather

than synching your entire Calendar or just the current day, you can set

a range and synchronize material that starts two weeks before the

current date through the following 26 weeks. The screen uses clear

descriptions in actual English, not in Computer Geekspeak. You're also

now given the choice of how you'd like deletions handled, which allows

for added protection.

With any translator conduit, you have to

"map" or link up the fields on the handheld device with those of the

PIM software you're syncing from (in this case, as mentioned, Lotus

Organizer). With some conduits, this can be an utterly bewildering

process, since what the conduit calls a field (ie, Business Address)

can be different from how the PIM handles the same thing (for example,

just Address). XTNDConnect does an incredibly smooth job of this,

making the process almost hands-off. Indeed, surprisingly, the links

with Lotus Organizer were perfect, requiring no changes. I added one

field, but that was for a personal preference.

(Editing and

creating new linked fields is generally easy. Editing is be done with

drag-and-dropping, which worked like a breeze. Oddly, though, when I

tried this using the Edit button, it was bewildering. This turned out

to be because the Edit button does a completely different kind of field

editing than drag-and-dropping. Also, although the Create button worked

easily, it wasn't apparent at first that you have to click the "Clear"

button to remove an existing link before then creating a new link.)

When you launch XTNDConnect PC for the

first time, it does a Full Synchronization, though after that it only

syncs material that's been changed, making the process extremely fast.

You can always force a Full Synchronization at any time, though, if you

want.

Since the initial set-up of conduits has the potential of

being confusing, there's a reasonable chance you'll need the Help files

at first to explain a few options. XTNDConnect PC handles Help material

much better than most program. Not only are there normal entries, but a

very user-friendly "chart" in a separate menu bar walks you through

using the software, step-by-step — and from whatever point you step

in. (In other words, it doesn't necessarily start at Step One, but

rather whatever Help item you look up, the "chart" will appear at that

exact place.) This chart also serves as an excellent tutorial, starting

with its "Welcome" screen. Although several explanations weren't as

clear as one would wish — for instance, an illustration didn't match

the description — most were.

I had some odd glitches when I first ran

a synchronization. The program froze up halfway through — although it

appeared to still be running. I waited a long while before the reality

became clear. And that, in turn, froze my handheld. But after manually

shutting things down and trying again, everything ran fine. One other

oddity: in the To Do's data that got transferred to my handheld, there

bizarrely were three ancient items, from years ago. I simply deleted

them, and everything has continued to run perfectly ever since.

(There

was also one other small problem, with an easy workaround, that

concerned synching with AutoSynchronize selected. This turned out to be

a bug in the software, which the company set to resolve in their next

maintenance release. Their tech department handled everything expertly,

and it was good to see the software's Log feature put to good use in

resolving the issue.)

Over all, XTNDConnect is very easy to

set-up and use. And of course once it's configured, you can forget

about it completely, as synching is automatic. It's extremely fast,

handles complicated field mapping easily, and happily now includes the

Notepad field for Lotus Organizer.

There are a few downsides to

the program. Most notably, a handful of items are still unsupported

from Lotus Organizer. Most are minor, though of interest — for

instance, in the Address Book, it doesn't support middle names or

initials, though that might be a result of the handheld hardware

configuration. It also won't support Lotus Organizer's Planner (which

schedules blocks of times) and Anniversary sections. And if you set up

any user-defined fields, XTNDConnect doesn't appear to support all of

them. Nothing hugely significant, but worth noting,

The bottom

line is that XTNDConnect PC 6.0 is a very good program, solidly

improved from before, and with many excellent attributes. Ease and

simplicity high among them.

TWW Notes

  • Coming

    Soon to a Search Page Near You. Until now, if you wanted to search in

    Google, you had to pick between which topic (or what Google calls,

    "Silos") you wanted — for instance, Web, Videos and Pictures searches

    had to be done individually. Google has now announced a Universal

    Search page, which should be appearing very soon, if it hasn't already.

    The initial Universal Search page is scheduled to cover Web, Books,

    Local Search, Images, News, and Video, all integrated into search

    results. Other content sources will eventually follow.


Note:

The Writers Guild of America, East neither implicitly nor explicitly

endorses opinions or attitudes expressed in this article.

Copyright 2007, Robert J. Elisberg. All rights reserved.

Robert J. Elisberg

has written about computers for such publications as C/NET, PC Games,

CD-ROM Today, Yahoo! Internet Life, E! Online and Hollywood

Screenwriter. He also wrote a regular technology column for WGA.org

Online and the Television Academy Online. A screenwriter, he served for

five years as a member of the WGA, west website editorial board and

Editorial Advisory Committee.