If today’s post sounds like a rant it’s because I think it’s important.
Nokia’s N900 is quickly becoming the must-have mobile hacker’s sidearm — and truth be told, if I’m to make good on the promise of this blog’s title, I will probably end up buying one sometime this year. But there’s one thing about the N900’s Debian-based Maemo OS that I find bewildering and infuriating at the same time.
It’s the lack of full support for SyncML — and in its place, Microsoft Exchange (?!)
As you would correctly guess Exchange and the accompanying ActiveSync are proprietary software, and though you may not have heard of SyncML (unless you’ve read my previous blog) it is the exact opposite of Exchange — that is, a platform-independent and open standard for synchronizing data. To be crystal clear, SyncML has been partially realized on the N900 (Exchange is fully supported out of the box) but is lacking a key feature. From the Maemo Sync Wiki:
The N900 provides SyncML over Bluetooth and USB but not IP.
In English, this means that the N900 cannot take advantage of 21st century cloud-computing without using proprietary software from Microsoft. On such an unabashedly open-source device this is… well, it’s inconceivably stupid. Embarrassing even — except that other “open” device manufacturers are guilty of the same crime.
If anyone from Nokia and/or Maemo is reading this I challenge you to provide a single good reason why SyncML over the Internet isn’t possible on the N900, when every single S60 & S40 phone on the market does it just fine. Oh, and don’t bother mentioning SyncEvolution as a workaround unless you’d also care to explain how mixing up phone number fields is a acceptable solution.
As for Android, I don’t even know what technology Google uses to sync PIM data on native handsets. But guess what they use to sync with other mobile OSes? Here’s your answer:
On most devices, Google Sync uses the Microsoft® Exchange ActiveSync® protocol.
This from a supposedly good open-source citizen?
And what of Palm’s webOS? You’d expect that Synergy — their unique selling point that pulls contact data in from disparate sources from Facebook to LinkedIn — would rely on proprietary software. But is there at least Exchange support? Of course. SyncML? Of course not.
It doesn’t matter that Exchange is pretty much ubiquitous in corporate environments. Ubiquity and standards are not the same thing. Standards beget progress, while the end game of ubiquity is a monopoly. See the difference?
I’ve been archiving my email and PIM data for over a decade now, and I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way. I can tell you right now that SyncML works flawlessly when properly implemented, and should be fully present on any modern-day mobile device that dares to call itself open.
End of rant.