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Synchronizing your PC and Cell Phone with Microsoft ActiveSync

March 15, 2009

in applications,communication,mobile computing,Windows

by David Hakala

Compact, convenient smart phones are increasingly used in lieu of laptop computers for communication and personal information management when one is away from home or office. Consequently, it becomes necessary to ensure that up-to-date copies of your contacts, email, correspondence, and other frequently accessed information are on your phone as well as your desktop computer. You have to synchronize the two devices.

Microsoft’s ActiveSync v4.5 is a synchronization utility widely licensed by mobile device makers for use with smart phones based upon the Windows Mobile operating system. Vendors gussy it up with add-ons peculiar to their devices’ designs, but you can download the original at

Why not just use the CD that came with your phone? Well, for instance, T-mobile added some “features” to ActiveSync’s installation routine that require the Flash viewer application. I have it installed but T-mobile’s buggy code doesn’t recognize that and so will not install ActiveSync. So I downloaded and installed the “vanilla” ActiveSync.

Note: Microsoft ActiveSync works only with Windows XP SP3 or earlier. If you have Windows Vista, your synchronization settings will be managed through the Windows Mobile Device Center. Windows Mobile Device Center is available through the Windows Mobile Device Center page:

Once ActiveSync is installed and running, plug your mobile device into a USB port using the vendor’s provided USB cable, which may be proprietary. ActiveSync will detect the mobile device and begin synchronizing the items shown in the figure below.



ActiveSync also allows you to synchronize with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, so that you can keep your e-mail, calendar data, tasks and contact information updated wirelessly when you’re away from your desktop or tablet PC.

The bad news: ActiveSync can be sidelined by a host of “known issues.” You would think that a simple serial communications link between phone and PC would be sufficient, but Microsoft made ActiveSync a TCP/IP application so it could work remotely with Exchange. Consequently, an ActiveSync session can be interrupted or blocked by firewalls, Internet connection managers, VPN clients, and other Internet applications. And you have to love this troubleshooting note from Microsoft:

“USB hubs and laptop docking stations have not exhibited consistent stability with Windows Mobile powered devices and ActiveSync.”

Sure, blame it on hardware makers instead of ActiveSync. It is highly recommended to connect your phone directly to a PC’s USB port and not through a hub or docking station.

If you encounter problems using ActiveSync, here is Microsoft’s troubleshooting page:

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at


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