Why Mobile-Sync Options for Linux are Lacking

I love Linux, and yet at the same time I find trying to sync my mobile devices with any given Linux distribution to be a complete hassle when using the existing "built for Linux" sync solutions.

SyncCE, among other options, are just not happening in their current form for what I would consider the casual desktop Linux user. Not because there is anything wrong with the software per se, rather the hardware support making localized syncing a possibility is just not there for most people. And maybe I am stretching my opinions out a bit here, but based on the never-ending questions appearing in various forums, it would seem that my thoughts on this are not too far off.

For a number of years, I have watched in slack-jawed amazement as people wasted weeks trying to get their Windows Mobile or BlackBerry devices synchronized with their preferred Linux distribution. Unwilling to waste that kind of time myself, I took a completely different approach. I learned that Evolution for GNOME provided solid MS Exchange support. This meant that I could get myself an Exchange account with one of the hundreds of resellers offering individual accounts for roughly $10 per month. Bundle this discovery with my existing data plan for my mobile, and in a matter of minutes, I had working, two-way synchronization with the greatest of ease!

So where is the problem then? Well, I had to take this on myself rather than seeing anyone from either the Linux desktop or mobile industry providing a solution that, honestly, should have been made more readily available to their users interested in migrating to desktop Linux without diving into an enterprise-level service. This left me using a Microsoft Exchange to sync my Linux distribution. Now granted, there are other options like Zimbra out there. Unfortunately it's just too bad that I cannot find server access as easily or at the same kind of pricing for an individual user that I can with MS Exchange. And this is not even considering the fact that Zimbra is not ready with PIM clients like Evolution "out of the box." The plugin certainly exists, but it is hardly a friendly process to install it for most people.

Mobile Sync -- Funambol & SyncEvolution
Despite a number of attempts for most installable software to sync up mobile devices with Linux these days, the clear winners are those using over the air (OTA) options. Funambol is one over the air option that yields the best chance for success. It has both strong development behind it, and due to its over the air nature, allows users to bypass driver-related headaches found with other mobile sync solutions seen out there for the Linux desktop.

Yes, Funambol is a great option ... for Linux nerds and savvy enterprise users willing to pay for assistance. Sadly, for most people migrating to the Linux desktop, it could not be more useless without extensive study on how to use It. And their latest portal efforts? Just look at the graphics presented on this page -- they are targeting the masses on closed source platforms. This does not represent Linux users from my standpoint, as far as I am concerned. While I am sure they support Linux as a platform, you would not know it from visiting their website at first pass.

Now, to be clear, I am not attacking Funambol. Rather, I'm pointing out the fact that obvious economics have forced this project to cater to everyone but the most obvious market needing a ready solution. This may lead users to seek out a very worthwhile, be it entirely too geeky, project known as SyncEvolution.

SyncEvolution is a fantastic application used by those who are comfortable with a CLI (command line interface). Those of us that are not system administrators, however, find it to be terribly ineffective as a market entrance tool for mobile sync on Linux. That said, anyone wishing to make it work better is welcome to do so ... yet no one from the mobile industry has done anything with it? Why? All it needs is a little polish in the GUI department. Perhaps at this point we need to consider that blaming project leaders for creating and supporting exactly what they intended to provide serves no one. Instead, I think we need to come to expect more from the mobile industry as a whole. Clearly, they should be held with a higher level of responsibility here as they have blatantly refused to support Linux users at every turn.

Most of the tools are already built

RIM, Nokia, and others have some tremendous benefits already put into play for them, thanks to work from the open source development community. Mobile Linux is a great example of this. And to an equal degree, the tools are also in place for these companies to support their Linux using customers.

Yet despite all of this, today's mobile manufacturers do nothing to try to provide support for their customers using the Linux desktop platform. And that is not even the worst of it -- there is already a very strong proof of concept that could be built off of. Its name is Genesis.

Enter Genesis
The idea was a simple one -- take an otherwise solid back-end for syncing mobile devices and make it vastly simpler for the end user. From this, Genesis was born. Based on the belief that syncing a mobile device should not require years of Linux CLI experience, the creator of the humble program has done a lot more than merely provide a solution to those willing to use it. This individual has also managed to make large mobile companies look pretty silly when they to this day exclaim that it would take entirely too much work to create a program that provided the same level of functionality of Genesis.

The downside is that the user must still do all of the backwards editing of config files to get things working on the SyncEvolution side of things, as this is what Genesis works with. The casual user is simply not going to find this acceptable, as other modern operating systems will not require this sort of thing. Sadly, we cannot expect everyone else to pick up the slack here. While both SyncEvolution and Genesis are part of the larger solution, we still need easier integration from mobile phone manufacturers. If they simply bothered to support the OTA options, along with their bundled-a-plenty Windows software that they load down onto CD, it would mean the following things would happen instantly:

  • Considering most desktop Linux users likely use mobile phones, these existing customers would be in a position to provide a stronger customer loyalty to the vendor with enough sense to support their platform.

  • With all of the new phones being released using Linux these days, providing OTA capabilities now vs. later would put that vendor instantly ahead of the curve.

  • And finally, vendors providing OTA sync solutions would find that monetizing this effort would not be difficult at all by simply taking existing open source server solutions such as Funambol, adding a small monthly fee, then providing basic support in the form of a ticketing system.
  • TAGS:

    open source, Linux, Windows, Microsoft, RIM
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