Anyone out there who uses a Windows Mobile device (Pocket PC or Smartphone) will be familiar with Microsoft’s ActiveSync software. Ugly, irritating and very user-unfriendly, ActiveSync has been causing problems for users for years. Perhaps that’s why MS have finally decided to lay it to rest and replace it with the brand new (and, yet again, snappily titled!) Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC).
There’s no doubt that the new tool offers some serious improvements on ActiveSync’s design and performance. Now adopting a fully-integrated GUI, the WMDC finally feels like a native part of the OS rather than just an add-on. Features for handling music and images are finally introduced and look pretty good (the photo-tagging option is a nice touch). Aslo improved are connection stability, file browsing and setup, making WMDC a much more complete and reliable solution than ActiveSync ever was.
That’s not to say, however, that WMDC is flawless. There are numerous problems with the new program, including some which will definitely prove to be deal-breakers for some users. For example, PocketPC2000 and PocketPC2002 devices are simply not supported by WMDC. The reasoning behind this decision seems somewhat dismissive of users who might own these older devices (Jason Langridge: “[If you’ve got a 6 year-old device]… I’d doubt you’d be running the latest version of Windows”). Bizarrely, WMDC can sync with Outlook 2007 but not with Vista’s new built-in ‘Mail’ or ‘Cal’ applications.
WMDC also fails to reinstate the popular WiFi connectivity option which was removed from the previous version of ActiveSync, with Microsoft citing security concerns for the absence of this handy feature. We’ve already seen that security improvements are among the most important changes in Windows Vista: trying to improve a reputation which has been tarnished by frequent virus attacks and security holes was justifiably one of Microsoft’s main concerns in developing the new OS. But we’ve also already seen what happens when added security is added with little thought given to how irritating it can be. There are similar problems with WMDC which, by default, has its access to devices blocked by the OneCare firewall.
Windows Mobile Device Center is proof that Microsoft realised that ActiveSync was no longer a supportable inclusion in their latest OS version. There’s no doubt that it’s brighter, packed with extra features and more secure. But for many users, it’s still not good enough… indeed, it might be enough of a reason not to upgrade to Vista at all.