Keep your stuff in sync: A guide to online data syncing services

Let Google, Yahoo, MobileMe or another service provider synchronize your contacts, calendars, e-mail and personal data for you.

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For personal users working with Outlook on a PC, a range of third-party tools can accomplish similar tasks, though none is yet built into Outlook or available from Google. They include the following:

  • Goosync, a server-based solution that supports syncing of calendars, contacts and tasks (note: although pricing for Goosync is in British pounds, the service is available to U.S. customers; exact pricing varies depending on current currency-conversion rates).
  • KiGoo ($9.95/year), a downloadable application that offers syncing of calendars and contacts between Google and Outlook
  • SynContact, free software that syncs only contacts.

With Google's recent addition of support for Microsoft ActiveSync for mobile devices, you can also now sync an iPhone, iPod Touch or Windows Mobile device to your Google Contacts and Calendar. Because ActiveSync is natively supported on these devices, there is no additional software to install, though there are limitations when it comes to the number of calendars that Google will allow you to sync.

If you are using a BlackBerry, you can download a sync tool from Google to accomplish similar tasks.

Another option that offers support for a somewhat broader range of devices is NuevaSync (currently free while in beta), which relies on ActiveSync to integrate support for Google Contacts and Calendars with the iPhone, iPod Touch or Windows Mobile devices, as well as Nokia-branded smartphones and a number of Palm OS devices. In addition, NuevaSync will sync devices with Plaxo, a social networking integration service that we'll discuss later in the article.

A word of caution: In general, be aware that Google's very broad range of sync options can become too much of a good thing. If you sync between a very large number of different devices and computers -- as well as make changes to your personal data via Google's Web site -- you can encounter sync conflicts and confusion when the same set of data is not synced to every device.

Finally, while not directly related to sync capabilities, it's worth noting that your Google Calendar information can be shared with other Google Calendar users and that you can easily subscribe to a number of other event calendars. Both of those options expand your ability to collaborate using Google's offerings.

Windows Live

Windows Live is a combination of free services from Microsoft that includes e-mail (Hotmail), online storage (SkyDrive), calendaring, messaging (MSN/Windows Live Messenger), photo sharing and editing, and online search and collaboration tools. Windows Live is designed to serve as a central hub for all those online activities, either directly through the Web or via a Windows-based PC.

Hotmail (rebranded as Windows Live Hotmail) also offers the ability to integrate e-mail from third-party providers that offer POP access (including most ISPs).

The service is designed to sync with Outlook. In addition, Windows Live Sync automatically syncs files from both Windows and Mac OS X with SkyDrive, and it syncs users' photos and movies from Windows desktop applications. The system also supports a Facebook plug-in for photos. (For more information, check the Windows Live Blog.)

On the mobile side, Windows Live at this point primarily supports access from Windows Mobile devices, though support for some features via BlackBerry and other mobile phones is included. (There is no specific support for the iPhone or the iPod Touch).

Support for the iCalendar standard is included, which allows Outlook, Apple's iCal, Google Calendar and most other modern calendaring applications to accept event invitations received by e-mail. It does not, however, offer direct sync with other tools via the iCalendar standard.

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