Sync Your PDA without Sync Software

OR : How Standards Saved The Day.

I had an unusual request yesterday, a user had purchased a new Palm based PDA and they wanted their addressbook and calendar put onto the device but they didn’t want the deviced placed in their cradle or have any extra software installed on it. It was for a one time only sync so a little lightbulb went off inside my head and I knew exactly how to do it.

Most PDA’s and personal organisers know how to import and export using a standard format, for address books this format is called vCard (.vcf) and for calender entries it is called vCal (.vcs). Both these standards are common in most software however unfortunitly Lotus Notes only supports the exporting of vCards for the address book.

The Address Book :

The address book was the easier of the two. Just do an export of the address book into a FAT V3 vCard. This is a single file that includes all the the selected addresses. You can do this directly using the File Export function in the Notes client, just make sure you set the export type to the correct format.

The Calendar :

This involved an extra step. The first step is, as before, export the calendar to a single file. When doing the export, however, you will notice that there is no option to select vCal as the export format. Instead you need to export the file using the Structured Text format. Now that you have a text file with all the calendar entries the next trick is to convert it into a vCal type file. vCal files are just standard text files except with a totally different formatting to the one you just exported. You could write a routine to convert the file into the correct format but if your like me then you will want to do it the lazy way. I did a quick search of the web and found a small utility that somebody had written to convert Lotus Notes Structured Text exports of a calendar into vCal files. You can find the program here : http://www.theossoft.net/handy.html

And Onto The Device :

Ok, so now we have our two standards based files, one for the addressbook and one for the calendar. How do we get them onto the device without putting the device into the cradel? Well that was the simple bit. Infra-Red ports on laptops and pdas will allow you to transfer files at the touch of a button. Transfer the two files onto the PDA, the PDA then recognises the file formats and imports them into the correct applications.

Standard import and export functions a very handy. Hopefully Lotus Notes will have direct exporting of vCal files in the future.

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4 comments on “Sync Your PDA without Sync Software
  1. Philip Storry says:

    Standards are good, yes. However, it depends on how well the software supports them.

    The vCard standard has been around for ages – 1998/99, I think. Yet support isn’t great in some cases.

    A specific example I know of is that many versions of Outlook don’t actually support multiple vCard objects in a vCard file when importing. They read the first item, then stop. This is certainly an Outlook quirk, and I know about it only because I wrote a quick-and-dirty vCard splitter for a friend so that he could get his 200+ vCards from his Palm into Outlook, without having to resort to using pirated software.

    Just now, for fun, I tested the Windows Address Book’s importing of vCards – this basic tool, provided with Windows since Windows 98 (If I recall correctly) actually does better than Outlook did!
    Well, almost – it accepts all vCards in the file, but prompts you to accept each and every one of them. There are over 80 in the test vCard I was using, so I got bored after ten or so clicks of “OK” on the contact page it displays for each vCard object it finds… So I clicked cancel.
    Whoops, that stops the whole import. So, you can import your vCard file with multiple vCard objects into the Windows Address Book, provided you want every single vCard and don’t mind clicking on OK a lot.
    I’m not sure that’s much better than Outlook. I’d much prefer it to display a list of names, or to just blindly import all the vCards…

    I’m not getting at Microsoft specifically here, those are just two examples from my own experience. I’m sure I could have found problems when testing Notes, or my preferred internet email client (The Bat). Basically, when you start to look at vCard support, you realise that it’s just not fully there yet in far too many applications.

    I read the full vCard 2.1 spec to check whether multiple vCards in one file is allowed, and note that the spec allows for far more complexity than most of the vCards I’ve ever seen would need – I wonder how well those advanced features are supported? It’s certainly not going to encourage me to look at the vCalendar standard too hard, anyway – that’s newer, and has had even less time to have an impact.

    Which is not to say that your article is wrong – but I do think that support for these standards is rough, even when the standard seems established – and to be honest I wouldn’t rely upon it unless I’d done some quick and dirty tests beforehand. Especially if I were going to have to tell my boss that I could or couldn’t do something via them.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    You can hold down the neter key when importing into the address book, and it really goes quite fast.

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  3. Miles says:

    Hi,everyone,who can provide me java_based source to handle wab2vcard?thanks a lot.

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  4. Rick Paterson says:

    I have a user who wants to synchronize their Notes Calendar into Outlook. I tried the WinHandy app with Notes 6.5 and just got a lot of empty calendar entries. Anyone know if somebody has tweaked this app for Notes 6.x? Or did I do something wrong?

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