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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Paid services

Next let's explore two options that you have to pay for: Apple's MobileMe and hosted Microsoft Exchange services.

MobileMe

Apple's MobileMe offers a hosted e-mail account (which includes push e-mail support for iPhone and iPod Touch users), online storage space and data-sync services for $99 a year. As you might expect, MobileMe is largely geared toward Mac and iPhone or iPod Touch users. The service allows syncing of contacts and calendars across multiple Macs (via Address Book and iCal) and PCs (via Outlook and Outlook Express with the addition of a MobileMe applet for the Windows XP/Vista Control Panel).

It also supports over-the-air sync (via Wi-Fi or 3G) of such information with the iPhone and the iPod Touch. MobileMe also includes a sophisticated Web interface for all the MobileMe applications, including e-mail, contacts, calendar, online photo albums and movie galleries, and iDisk storage space.

For Mac users, MobileMe provides some additional features. It allows syncing of not just typical personal data, but optionally of some Mac OS X configuration data, including bookmarks, system settings, encrypted password data (known as Keychains), e-mail accounts and Dashboard widgets. In effect, it allows Mac users to automatically keep two or more Macs essentially identical in configuration.

MobileMe also includes a feature called Back to My Mac that allows Mac users to access their computers remotely from any other Mac connected to the Internet, with no need to manually configure connections for file sharing or screen sharing.

For iPhone users, the service also sports a new feature called Find My iPhone as part of the new iPhone OS 3. This feature uses the iPhone's GPS capabilities to locate a lost or stolen iPhone and present the location to the user on a map using the MobileMe Web site. It can also be used to remotely wipe all data from a lost or stolen device or to play a sound and/or display a message on your iPhone (which is helpful if the device is simply lost in your home, car or office).

Despite some early birth pangs with MobileMe when the service launched alongside the iPhone 3G last summer, Apple has since made multiple upgrades to the service and largely appears to have resolved many of the issues that plagued its introduction.

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