Panel: Sync Between PC and Non-PC Won't Get Easier

Synchronizing data between various devices, both mobile and PC, is hard, very hard and because of that, no one standard will emerge for users looking to sync up the data on their numerous devices. This was the consensus of panelists at a Comdex conference session titled "Synchronization: Connecting PC and non-PC Devices," held here Tuesday.

"In the next three years, 75 percent of corporate workers will be mobile at least 25 percent of the time. It is not going to be a one-size-fits-all Wintel (Windows/Intel) monopoly like its been in the past, its going to be a real hodgepodge and that's not a bad thing. It creates innovation. But convergence is not going to happen in the traditional sense," said Jack Gold, the chair of the panel and vice president, Web and collaboration strategies, with analyst group Meta Group Inc. Also on the panel were executives from a trio of synchronization companies -- Synchrologic Inc., Puma Technology Inc. and FusionOne Inc. -- along with a Palm Inc. executive.

Though some standards for synchronization are already emerging, such as the XML-based data synchronization protocol initiative for mobile data, SyncML, there will not be any overarching convergence, according to the panel. "Bluetooth and SyncML will ease the burden," but synchronization is and will remain problematic, agreed Bill Jones, vice president, product management and marketing at Synchrologic.

"We will see convergence happening only with data, with the data that people carry," said Tom Hunt, vice president of marketing with Puma Technology.

"We need to promote data. We need to get to the point where data is more important than the device. Where it needs to move to is where data is a fluid part of the Internet. That's the key challenge of synchronization," said David Multer, senior vice president of engineering and chief technology officer of FusionOne.

Gold pointed out, as mobile devices such as mobile telephones, PDAs (personal digital assistants), desktop machines and notebook computers continue to proliferate, users will not only become used to dealing with a variety of devices -- including the PC -- they will actually prefer that way of working.

The panel was also clear about where they believe synchronization is not heading. "Different people will have different needs for synchronization. And synchronization will not take the same road as a simple FTP (file transfer protocol)," said Puma Technology's Hunt.

Synchrologic thought "PIM (personal information manager) sync would become a commodity and I wish we had not thought that because it hasn't happened," Hunt said.

FusionOne's CTO Multer said that customers will not tolerate the loss of any of their data between devices, but at the same time synchronization "cannot be reduced to a commodity because vendors will fight on the area where they think their product is unique."

"Synchronization will be standardized (to an extent) if not commoditized," agreed William Maggas, chief technology officer of Palm Inc.

"The future of synchronization is rather insynchronous. It's messaging-based," Maggas said. And even more important, in the future, synchronization will have to be invisible, he added.

"If SyncML is going to be successful, it's going to have to be transparent for the user and good in its performance," agreed Multer.

Jones of Synchrologic believes that while SyncML is a good initiative and "a good building block" that will provide common functionality within the next 12 to 24 months, synchronization technology will have to become more secure. "Handhelds by their very nature are the security hole for corporate IT. We must move to encrypted data on the device," Jones said.

And corporations will want to keep a lot of their data behind their own firewalls and not farm out the synchronization of all of their data to companies such as Puma Technology, Synchrologic and FusionOne, which is yet another challenge for standardizing synchronization.

"If you notice, the three guys here in the sync business all have gray hair," Hunt joked.

Speaking to the many users in the audience responsible for finding a way of getting their corporation's data synched up, the panelists had some practical advice. "Look at the completeness of the solution offered by a synchronization vendor and make sure the vision of the vendor aligns with your (market) vision," and how your company happens to work, Jones said.

"Synchronization should be hard for the vendor not the user," Multer said. He also agreed that users should "look for support for synchronization that fits the model for how you work with devices."

Palm's Maggas stressed that synchronization should "be easy and transparent, it should be easy to do the job in terms of performance. And synchronization really needs to solve a problem," he said.

Maggas then referred to Palm's announcement, made Monday, of its Internet service, MyPalm.net, designed to give users the ability to wirelessly download programs, update calendars, shop for products through the Palm Store and gain access to news, sports and financial information sources. [See "Palm Unwraps New Net Services," Nov. 14.]Another option to look for in synchronization in the near future is being able to sync programs via Web portals "Yahoo (Inc.) to wireless synchronization, it's coming. We're all working on it," Jones said.

FusionOne can be contacted at +1-408-399-5620, and on the Web at http://www.fusionone.com/. The Meta Group, in Stamford, Connecticut, can be reached at +1-203-973-6700 or at http://www.metagroup.com/. Puma Technology, in San Jose, California, can be contacted at +1-408-321-7650, or at http://www.pumatech.com/. Synchrologic, in Alpharetta, Georgia, can be contacted at +1-770-754-5600, or at http://www.synchrologic.com. Palm, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at +1-408-326-5000 or http://www.palm.com/.

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