Tuesday, March 25, 2008

iPhone to Meeting Maker GoBetween

The folks at PocketMac have created a niche made up of software shims to connect mobile devices like the iPhone to enterprise organizer systems. In this case I shanghaied a buddy of mine at the University of Hawaii Information and Technology Services (ITS) group to help me wring out their link between his shiny new iPhone and MeetingMaker. With a stable that includes links between Lotus Notes and Blackberry/iPhone/Windows Mobile 5&6, this PocketMac has been catering to the mobile user that has been feeling left out when on the road.

The key issue here is that no two mobile phones are completely identical and due to marketing sparkle, new features are driving extremely short mobile phone life cycles. The pain point here is just how to migrate to the new platform and just how far out over the bleeding edge you can go without giving up connectivity to the enterprise. These questions really are the basis of why we see two basic product ladders. Consumers are driving demand for the latest sparkly, but the enterprise wants some sort of consistency for connectivity and road warrior support. This model, though, went all to pieces when the iPhone exploded into the market ... and has left IT support scratching its head on just how to provide consistency for such a new platform. The answer has been with the folks at PocketMac in the form of a series of niche market "shims" that provide the data manipulation necessary to connect these disparate platforms. What these shims do under the hood is create a maze of code to mashup the database on the mobile device to match the expectations on the enterprise application (like MeetingMaker or Lotus Notes) and make a best guess as to what the user was attempting to do with field customization. In this case, the UH ITS group and Chris have made some changes that required a bit of tech support time to labels in the calendar. From reading the e-mail thread between Chris and the PocketMac folks, it seems like they're responsive and genuinely willing to jump through some hoops for the users. In fact this story got delayed a bit while Chris and I were put under NDA for a beta version that fixed Chris' need for an SSL connection to his MeetingMaker server. I'm glad to say that my NDA is now lifted and the SSL connector is now part of the normal code for this product.

Here are some testing notes from Chris Zane with a few clarifications added as we got answers back from PocketMac Tech Support:

MeetingMaker GoBetweenconsists to a two-part solution, the SyncManager and GoBetween. Chris Zane of the UH ITS group describes the installation as easy with no annoying reboot required. Once installed he found himself navigating to the "advanced" tab to tweak the connection to his MeetingMaker server.




Notice that he seems to have an option for several different mobile devices, in his case he chose specifically to sync only his calendar.

Chris mentions: For calendar, click on Appointments and then choose what categories to sync. This is where it got a bit confusing. We had a very difficult time syncing specific MeetingMaker calendars and iCal calendars together. Tech Support provided a method that sometimes worked. Perhaps it was our setup on MeetingMaker and the fact that some of our labels were already changed from the MeetingMaker defaults. In the end, we resorted to trial and error and finally got something working reliably.

Answer from PocketMac Tech Support:
1. MeetingMaker Label and iCal calendar syncing:
We're looking into a pop-up window to allow one to move the iCal calendars and MeetingMaker Labels to align them with one another. Right now we have it set, so, users need to review and configure three different areas (iCal,MeetingMaker Advanced Preferences and MeetingMaker Labels). This process can be confusing and steer beginner users away from configuring their synchronization preferences. This would be a version 2 update.


Chris Zane: Once we got past the calendar name/label syncing, it worked as advertised. New iCal events in specific calendars showed up on MeetingMaker with the appropriate label and viceversa. We could then sync these calendars to our iPhone correctly.


Chris Zane: When events are deleted, the GoBetween application pops up a window to ask what to do - either restore the event from the other system (i.e. you delete on iCal, it'll restore the event from the MeetingMaker system), or sync the deletion. This probably occurred since we were using two way sync - if we had selected overwrite iCal, changes on MeetingMaker would be automatically synced to iCal. There is also an option to overwrite MeetingMaker. For those who use both (i.e. an iPhone and MeetingMaker) an automatic sync, regardless of deletions, etc, would be ideal.





Chris Zane: All in all it works as advertised, there are a few rough edges on matching calendars. Credit goes to the PocketMac tech support who were more than willing to assist in getting things working.

Brian Chee: So while Chris had a few rough edges, I should point out that the PocketMac tech support was very responsive and were able to get almost everything in Chris' punch list either fixed or confirmed that it will be fixed in the next release.

So thank you very much to Chris Zane of the UH ITS group for letting us experiment on his shiny new iPhone. All in all this looks like a pretty good solution for those using MeetingMaker to provide services to their remote user PDA's/SmartPhones.

Chris Zane is an IT Specialist for the University of Hawaii Information Technology Services, Technology Infrastructure Group; and as such provides support to the Advanced Network Computing Laboratory at the Main University of Hawaii campus.

Posted by Brian Chee

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