It’s no secret that the default Outlook Tasks application in Windows Mobile 6 isn’t great, and given that I use tasks almost as much as the calendar—perhaps even more so—I’m always on the look-out for a dedicated application that will handle them better.
I was therefore delighted when I discovered pTasks, which describes itself as “a replacement for the default Windows Mobile task manager” with a “finger-friendly user interface”.
It costs £2.69 from the Windows Phone app store.
Rather than paying for something that I don’t know if I wanted to keep I went in search of a free, early beta release. I found version 0.5f (the current, paid-for version is 1.5) and gave it a test drive.
An important note is that it requires the .NET 3.5 framework installed first.
Imagine my surprise when I added a new task, “Blog about pTasks”, and reviewed the details:
How efficient am I! I’ve just completed a task nearly 2490 years early.
One of my favourite Windows 7 gadgets is the Outlook Appointments gadget. As gadgets go it’s pretty simple: it shows me upcoming appointments. From Outlook.
But oddly, only when Outlook is open.
Anyhow, when I upgraded Microsoft Office from 2007 to 2010 a couple of weeks ago I discovered that it no longer worked … it just complained that it didn’t have the correct version of Outlook installed.
But there is a simple hack:
Make sure that you can view hidden and system files (Control Panel > Folder Options > under View tab select “Show hidden files, folders, or drives”).
Close the Outlook upcoming appointments gadget.
In Windows Explorer navigate to C:\Users\YOURNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets\OutlookAppointmentsGadget.gadget\en-US\js\” where YOURNAME is the name of your user account.
Open the file “outlook.vbs” with Notepad (or other text editor; personally I wouldn’t use WordPad).
On lines 22 and 42 change the two occurrences of the number “12” to “14”.
Save the file.
Open the Outlook Appointments gadget again.
Outlook Tasks gadget
The same hack also works for the “Outlook Tasks” gadget.
It looks like someone has released pre-hacked versions of Appointments and Tasks called iOutlook which work with Outlook 2010. The iOutlook Appointments one now offers 3, 5 or 10 appointments.
Back in July 2009 I upgraded my mobile phone from an O2 Xda Orbit to an O2 Xda Zest. All was well until I tried to synchronize it with two copies of Microsoft Outlook, one at home, the other at work.
It didn’t work.
Windows Mobile 6.1 won’t sync
A quick Web search showed me that I wasn’t alone. It turns out that there was a bug in that version of Windows Mobile 6.1 on my phone. Microsoft had fixed it and rolled out the update to OEMs but it appears that O2 wasn’t going to let it roll any further.
So I was stuck with a phone that would synchronize with only one PC. Which was somewhat bothersome as I was rather used to the convenience of my calendar, contacts, tasks and notes being available both at work and at home, as well as on the go on my mobile phone.
I needed to find another solution.
The first thing I looked for was an alternative to Microsoft ActiveSync (I was using Windows XP at the time) and I discovered XTND Connect.
I wondered if the problem could be bypassed by using an alternative to ActiveSync.
That didn’t work either, which made it quite an expensive mistake. The demo version looked promising but was so highly crippled in terms of functionality that I had to buy the full version in order to fully evaluate it. Which rather defeats the purpose of a demo version, in my view.
So I looked around at alternative solutions and it appeared to me that there were only two options left:
Synchronize with an online application (e.g. Google Calendar)
Synchronize to a server (e.g. Microsoft Exchange)
Synchronize to a local folder (e.g. USB flash drive)
I explored the Google Calendar and Google Contacts option but (and for me, it’s a deal-breaker, which is one reason I’ve not gone rushing out to buy an Apple iPhone) one the elements of Outlook that I use perhaps more than any other is Tasks. And I couldn’t sync my tasks with Google Calendar.
I assumed that Exchange would be out of my price bracket so focussed on the second option which led me to Sync2 from 4Team.
Not only does Sync2 synchronize your Outlook calendar, contacts, tasks and notes with a folder of your choosing (USB flash drive, local folder, LAN folder, etc.) it will also synchronize with Google Calendar and Contacts.
I discovered that if I synchronized it with a folder in Dropbox at home I could then synchronize it again from the same folder on my PC at work, without having to worry about remembering to pack my USB flash drive.
That has been the solution I have been using for the last six months to synchronize my data between home, work and my laptop.
Occasionally I ran into problems with data not synchronizing properly and so had to either
Resynchronize a profile (i.e. make it think it was doing it for the first time again.
Delete a profile and recreate it from scratch.
Reinstall Sync2 completely.
But most of the time it worked pretty well.
Except that it still didn’t address the issue of my mobile phone being out-of-sync for most of the day, between synchronizations at home.
Hosted Microsoft Exchange 2007
So in January I went in search of an affordable, UK-based hosted Microsoft Exchange account.
After some shopping around I eventually selected Simply Mail Solutions (SMS) based in Warrington. What attracted me about their hosted Exchange 2007 account features were (in order):
Only £4.99 per month
Full support for Windows Mobile including push
Full Outlook Web Access (OWA) in Internet Explorer
Out of office assistant
Free copy of Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2007
With each device connecting directly to the Exchange server I can guarantee that my data is always up-to-date (server outages withstanding).
Another welcome benefit is that I won’t have the problems of duplicated entries that I’ve experienced so many times when synchronizing multiple devices. Here’s a screenshot I took of Outlook and posted to Twitpic last month showing a repeated entry for “Doug Aitken’s Birthday” duplicated 13 times!
I can even resynchronize my mobile phone when I’m out and about using my roaming Web add-on from O2.
So far I’m really pleased with Exchange and with the service offered by Simply Mail Solutions (SMS).
I’ve noticed only one outage from Simply Mail Solutions which lasted only a couple of minutes when connection to the server went down, and one period of particularly slow connectivity … but then it was 01:00 in the morning, they were doing some maintenance on the servers (I discovered via a quick support call) and I should have been in my bed!
There is a balance to be made when using a hosted service like this for such important personal data between:
the reassurance that I have one ‘golden copy’ of data, stored centrally that is accessed by all my devices, and
the potential for it to be a single point of failure: if it goes down completely I can’t synchronize between locations and my data isn’t up-to-date.
But given my previous experience of hours and hours wasted by repeatedly cleaning up corrupted or deleted data through failed synchronizations, and living with the uncertainty that perhaps my work calendar isn’t exactly the same as my home, laptop or mobile phone calendars … I think I’ll stick with Exchange for a while.