Sunday, June 22, 2008

Software Review: BusySync

BusySync Review

BusySync was one of the top rated products from MacWorld 2008. I immediately got a review copy and have been happily using it ever since. Though I had some initial setup problems, the product has worked so well that I simply forgot to review it. A program that works in the background and does what it says it will do is quite a refreshing surprise!

BusySync has two major functions. First, it allows you to sync with Google calendars. Google has functions that allow users to share calendars with the optional ability to edit someone else's calender. However, getting Google to sync with your iCal is key. That's where BusySync comes in. Purchase and install BusySync with a one time charge of $25, and you'll be able to sync your Google calenders with iCal on your Mac. On initial view, this sounds very ho-hum. You may not even use Google calendar, so why care? Ah, becuase Google is Google and everyone syncs with Google. For example, if you have a Mac at home and a PC using Outlook at work, Google can act as an intermediary to sync your iCal with Outlook. If you don't have an iPhone with Mobile Me, send a text message to Google and it will put an appointment on your Google calendar, and then BusySync will transfer it to your Mac.

But wait? Doesn't Mobile Me allow you to share calendars? Why even mess with Google? Ah, Mobile Me allows what they call "calendar sharing", but like at most museums, you may look, but not touch. If you share a calender with someone via iCal, they can't change the information. Sometimes that is good. The Lawrence Apple Users' Group 2.0 has a shared iCal. We want members to know about events, but not change them. However between myself and my spouse we need the ability to change events and have it appear on each other's calendar. Friends call and move the dinner party from Monday to Wednesday, I want the ability to change both of our calendars (and if you don't trust your spouse on your calendar, well can't help with that). In addition, I use BusySync and Google to control an associate's service call calender. I can put service calls on his calendar, and if he changes the time because a customer is running late, the changes show up on my iCal. I allow him to subscribe to my iCal via Mobile Me, because I don't want him to change my calendar, only view it.

The other function of BusySync is the ability to sync between iCal without paying the yearly Mobile Me fee. If you are sticking with Mobile Me because of the ability to sync calendars between multiple computers or multiple people, save that $99 a year (Shh, don't let Steve hear that). Some people work with sensitive data and don't like the fact that Apple can see their schedule. BusySync running under Leopard allows SSH syncing between computers, so the data travelling across the Internet is secure.

When I setup BusySync, I had some initial problems. Google did not like the amount of appointments I had. I was trying to sync five years worth of data and it was too much data to send to my Google calendar at once and Google thought I might be spamming myself. After some very helpful suggestions from the developer, I archived my old appointments and let Google pick up just the new ones. That's one great thing about artisan software: you speak directly with the developer. I didn't have to wait on hold with off-shore tech support only to have them tell me to reformat my Mac. Sometimes I notice that if I change the time of a recurring appointment, the next time BusySync works it's magic, it shows both the changed time and the recurring appointment. This somewhat makes sense, and it's easy to see and fix. BusySync logs all of the changes it makes, so tracking down problems is easy.

BusySync realizes that it's working with important data--all the appointments in your life. It makes up to five backup copies of your calendar, so if it or you make a mistake, there is a easy way to restore. I wish Apple's SyncServices did that. More than once I've had a weird sync and all my data get corrupt. If I didn't have TimeMachine, I'd be in a world of hurt! Thanks BusySync.

Also thank you to BusySync for not just responsive tech support, but an extensive, detailed, and updated online help system. Syncing is complex and BusySync has numerous diagrams to illustrate this difficult concept. I had some trouble figuring out my overall sync strategy and BusySync's website made it crystal clear. Can we say that about MobileMe?

My only major complaint is the fact that you can't have more than one Google account configured within BusySync. I have work and personal Google accounts and I'd like both to sync to my iCal. The workaround is to have my personal and work Google calendars talk with each other, and then I sync both to my iCal. Also on my wishlist is the ability to specify how many days of syncing I want on a calendar. I would like to BusySync to allow me to only sync the past 30 days (or any number I choose), similar to how you sync your computer with your iPhone. BusySync's syncing is all or none. Either you sync all items or you sync no items. This lack of flexibility prevents me from giving the program a perfect five dogcow rating--and a gentle nudge for features to include in the next version.

PROS: Does a great job of syncing calenders between computers, and between google without yearly fees. Software is stable and reliable with great tech support.
CONS: Locks you into one google account and "all or none" syncing

Four out of Five DogCows


Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right