ablog_The Problem with PDA's

30 November -0001

There is an enduring problem with PDA’s that plagues pretty much all electronic organization devices - half life. I’ve been using a PDA pretty much since they first showed up on the market. I’d rave and rave about how wonderful they made my life, the ability to organize my schedule and keep track of phone numbers was amazing. The problem was, no matter how well I documented material, and no matter how religiously I synchronized my device, the data would be destroyed at some point. I began to think of this as the PDA half life. Over time the volatility of the data seemed to increase until it reached a boiling point at which it would blow up. This half life is up to about a year now, which in my estimation is quite a long time, but losing a year’s worth of data sucks.

The problem with PDA data is that there’s no easy way to back it up. PDA data is only accessible through proprietary formats, which are almost always accessible via a GUI exclusively. This means there’s no simple way to automate and script a backup, or even to restore from a backup. At my last data loss, not only did the backup fail to restore the data, but became corrupted, so I lost my backup after I tried to restore the data to the device!

In my ideal world I’d like to have a PDA that synchronized with good desktop software. Not even complex stuff, just notes, to-do items, contacts and calendar data (asking for e-mail too is a little much in my opinion). This data should be stored in some sort of format so it can be mirrored easily, so I can create a copy on another machine. In all the years I’ve run a database I’ve never lost any db data. I mirror the data twice daily to another machine, so that even when the data is destroyed, it’s easy to recover. No such luck with your PDA.

Why in the world hasn’t someone in the open source world stepped up and developed a solution? I mean Palm is a pretty standard platform, there are tools for building synchronization conduits, and calendar, contact, memo, and to-do formats are all pretty standard these days. It should be a simple matter to build my dream software.

In fact, I began poking around online and the scary thing I found was that there simply isn’t much in the way of open source software for these tasks. There is a total dearth in this area which is shocking. Even something as simple as an open source calendaring application has all of two serious projects - Sunbird and Chandler (OSAF). Sunbird doesn’t have any Palm synch conduits and Chandler has been in beta for YEARS now. I mean - come on!

I can’t be the only one with this problem. Does everyone simply shell out money for an Exchange Server and the latest version of Outlook? Surely people don’t actually use Palm’s Palm Desktop software - it’s so ugly and retro it looks like some vestigial piece of Windows 95!

I’m going to continue beating my head against the wall on this one, but I’m afraid in the end I may have to write my own software, which is annoying and daunting. Personally I don’t have 60 hours lying around to write code - but I’m shocked some grad student hasn’t come along and done it before. Keep your eyes out for Mad Irish Calendar though!