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Mobile (Oh My Oh!)Me – Initial Experiences With Exchange For The Rest Of Us



In my opinion, the bigger story coming out of Apple’s June event was MobileMe – offering Exchange-like functionality to the every-day user. Who better to bring some insight into this new offering than one of their targeted customers.   Gary Harrision, a good friend and long-time GBM reader, has been digging deep in to MobileMe over the past several days and has authored this guest review for us:

Gary Harrison

Like many computer users (especially Mac users), I spent Friday hovering over my web browser, anxiously awaiting the release of the software update for my iTouch, and the roll out of MobileMe, billed as ““Exchange for the rest of us”. What are my first impressions?

In a word, mixed. For context, I need to mention that I’m a typical Apple user. Although I have a lot of experience in the computer world, I’ve come to the point where I want computers to, ““just work.” That’s a big selling feature of the Apple world, and it’s what moved me to embrace it a number of years ago. By and large, Apple delivers on that promise. In my line of work, I live off a tablet (HP TC1100), I develop curriculum and multimedia on my MacBook, and I have an iTouch that I use primarily as a PDA. When Apple announced MobileMe, I thought, ““Right, finally I can have all my data tired together seamlessly!” Did the experience match reality? Not entirely.

First, a word to the wise. NEVER try to do anything Apple on the same day they roll out a major iPhone update. Others have reported on the difficulties they had on getting iPhones activated, iTouches updated, and MobileMe’s installed. After trying for a while on Friday, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and waited till the evening.

Later that day, I got MobileMe working on my Mac. Apple suggests that it works best with Leopard (10.5), but does work with Tiger (10.4). I have Tiger, and discovered that, with Leopard, you get a new ““MobileMe” app, but with Tiger you have to depend on Sync Services, which I’ve always found a bit clunky. However, logging in to my newly converted ““.Mac” account, I found a great looking, Exchange-like web interface — speedy and easy to navigate. Score one for Apple! I checked on my MobileMe online calendar, and it was up and ready to go, although it did have a couple of ““doubled” entries. I don’t know why they were there, but they were easily fixed. However, when I headed over to my Address Book, they whole system hung, and I was left watching the infamous ““spinning wheel”. Two games of Solitaire later, the wheel was still spinning, and Safari was unresponsive, so I forced quit. Score one for the gremlins.

In the process, I’d discovered one glaring difference between Exchange and MobileMe. With Exchange, the process is seamless — every time I log in on my Mac, Entourage connects to the Exchange server, and I’m updated. MobileMe seems to update (push) on a preset time table — 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc. You can choose, and while waiting 15 minutes for the ““push” is not a problem, it just doesn’t feel as seamless as I anticipated it should (remember, I’m in the, ““I want it to just work” camp!).

Updating my iTouch the next day, I found that with only a few setting adjustments, MobileMe was up and running. Expectantly, I made a change in the iTouch calendar, and waited for it to update and waited and waited. The update finally worked its way to my Mac the next day, whereupon I was given the choice of which event I wanted to use — the existing one or the updated one. I suppose that’s a good safeguard, but I had anticipated that the latest calendar change would have automatically taken precedence. At that point I could see a learning curve ahead of me!

It’s when I brought my TC1100 into the system that things got interesting. After updating iTunes, I had a MobileMe icon in my Control Panel. With anticipation, I initiated the session, and logged in. The first thing I checked was the iDisk application, and found the interface easy to use and convenient. I tested it by uploading a one page Word document to my iDisk, and was surprised by the return of the spinning wheel. One game of Freecell later, the document appeared in my iDisk. Ditto for the second attempt. Admittedly, my HP isn’t a speed demon, but I as hoping for a bit faster response (and I am on a fast network at home). However, it worked, and it has made accessing my iDisk from my tablet a lot simpler than it previously was.

Now was the time for the final test. I live and die by my calendar, and I really wanted my Outlook and iCal to be in sync. After backing up my .PST folder, I initiated the link. In just a few minutes, it worked sort of! This was not the fault of MobileMe, but of my understanding of the system. My iCal is set up with a number of calendars of different colors, which are similar to Outlooks categories. I have one for my major client, one for my office, one for my church, one for the amateur radio club to which I belong, etc. When all of these are published under the general title of ““Publish”, they merge into a single calendar on the web, so that clients can check for my available dates I assumed something similar would happen with the sync. Wrong! To my horror, after the sync, my one Outlook calendar was empty, to be replaced by about nine separate calendars, each of which contained only their own respective data. Restoring the .PST folder got me back to where I needed to be, but I could see I needed to rethink my strategy. This was not a fault of MobileMe, but rather a fault of my implementation. Score two for the learning curve component.

I can see I’ll have to live with MobileMe for a bit to fully understand and implement it, and quite honestly, that may be more work than I want. Being in the ““I just want it to work” camp can set up for some unrealistic expectation with computers. Apple sets a high bar with their fully integrated OS/hardware and MobileMe is a new adventure for them, so I suspect it will take a while for the kinks to work through the system. While I’ve barely scratched the surface of what MobileMe can do (e-mail, for example) I’m going to need to rethink my whole approach to this ““Exchange for the rest of us”. But then, that’s the grist for another review!

Gary is the head of a leadership development organization that helps pastors and churches work with greater impact. A former pastor, he has been using computers since the Commodore Vic-20. His first mobile device was a Tandy Model 100 (which he still has) and fondly remembers 300 baud CompuServe internet. He’s married to Marie and they have one wonderful cat. They live in central Wisconsin.


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