Discussions of contact managers and PIMs often take on the characteristics of a religious debate… fierce positions, often adversarial, seldom resolved. This article will avoid that fevered controversy by limiting the scope of discussion to practical tips for users of Act for Windows and any version of the Palm Pilot (personal, pro or III).

Since early last year, Symantec has provided a free utility for synching Act for Windows with the Palm Pilot. You can download this patch free from the Symantec Web site (under products select ACT and select free downloads). The file is about 6 Mb, so pick a time when you can handle a file that large.

Key Features
Bi-directional synchronization of data between ACT! and the Palm Pilot.

Support for Pilot’s Date Book, Address Book, and To Do List applications.

Combines ACT!’s powerful contact management features with the ultra-portability of the Palm Pilot.

Backup First
Before you go any further, copy your whole Act directory folder to some other location, so you can get back to scratch if something goes wrong or you want to easily get your settings back to where you were. I’ll tell you about the most likely problem you will encounter later in this article.

When you install the Act patch, you will functionally alter the way Hotsync works with the Palm Pilot desktop. After the Act update, you will synch all but the memo function with Act for Windows, not with the Pilot Desktop application. This is where judicious use of the “synch” technology comes into play. Theoretically you can dynamically do a two way synch between Act and the Pilot in each function. Real world… this is fraught with danger since you don’t want to risk corrupting your “main” contact database in any way. Just a slight difference in either file (pilot or Act) will cause duplicate entries on both… toxic waste, in my opinion. This can happen fairly easily, so don’t forget that backup before you start.

My solution is to keep the most important data on a one way only transfer. The Act records are my “gold” records… I set the Hotsync to always have the desktop overwrite the Pilot files for “Act activities” and “Act contacts” since I don’t want these fouled with dupes under any circumstances. The “todo” function, I synch with Act and the “memo” function I synch with the Pilot Desktop app.  Here’s how my Custom Hot Sync screen looks to achieve these ends:

How This System Works
This may sound like you’ve given up too much functionality… not really. You just have to remember that you enter all your contacts from the desktop (that’s the best way anyhow, since you will probably record a lot more information on the Act format than you will in the Pilot).

You could synch the “activities” if you really felt the need to, but, again, it’s generally easier and more complete to enter from the desktop. For the odd activity I need to record when I have only the Pilot with me, I just do a quick “todo” entry to remind me to enter it when I’m back at my desk… not the absolute story of efficiency, but in the name of safety, I still use that method.

“Todo” entries, I load from both sources and synch them every day. Once in a while they will dupe if I have made more than one change in an item, but by and large, the synch goes without a hitch. The key for me, seems to be remembering to synch frequently so I don’t wind up making changes on both machines or multiple changes on either one.

Memo notes are not transferable to the Act db. They will continue to reside in the Pilot Desktop app. I use this function for lots of notes and longer items than will fit in Todo. Once synched to the Desktop, it is best to export to some app you will be keeping the record in permanently so you can manage the amount of space you dedicate to “memo” in your Pilot memory.

Other Synch Possibilities
I’ve tried a number of other synch programs. First the Tele-Synch app that sold for $49.95. At the time it was the only game in town, so we Act users struggled with it and put up with the double-synch requirements (synch first from Pilot to Tele-synch and then to Act), but when IntelliSynch for Act was introduced by Puma Technologies ($69.95) sales of other packages just about died. IntelliSynch does everything I’ve described above in the free Symantec link and more… too much more in my opinion, but if you use your Pilot in any specialized way on a recurring basis, you should take a look at it (available in stores or online from Puma ). I don’t think most users need this sophisticated product since the very essence of the Pilot is simplicity not complexity, but the true technoid might want to check it out.

Bottom Line
At the end of the day, the Act link for Palm Pilot is far from perfect at this time (improvements are hinted for Act 4.0), but if you want fairly fast, very simple, pretty accurate synching of your Pilot to your Act contact manager, this will serve you well. The occasional burp in the way of duplicate Todo items is fixed pretty easily by just checking them off on the Pilot and re-synching.