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Sync Squabble Between Microsoft and Google Confusing Users

Some users updating their Mail, Calendar and People apps on Windows 8 and Windows RT systems seem to be having synchronization problems with various Google Apps.

Microsoft delivered updates on Tuesday to its Mail, Calendar and People apps via the Windows Store. However, users have reported that they are unable to sync their calendars after the update. For instance, a reader of the Windows blog, "mjlenox," described the problem, as follows, in a March 26 comment to Microsoft's announcement of the updated apps:

"Unfortunately, what you fail to mention is that what used to work in the old app -- sync'ing with a Google account calendar, now no longer works," the reader wrote in the Microsoft post. "I don't care whose fault it is, there are those of us who spend a lot of money with both Microsoft and Google, and you're doing us a HUGE disservice by taking away something that once worked. I use(d) the Calendar app daily to manage my schedule, which was really my Google calendar and kept me in sync with my Android phone. NOW THAT IS ALL GONE."

Google's Move
Google had announced some changes that would take place on Jan. 30, 2013 following its decision to drop support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) in its Google Sync product. That decision wasn't supposed to have affected Google's paying customers, but it did affect users of the free Google Apps, who wouldn't be able to sync new accounts (in addition, Google got rid of new free business accounts back in December). Supposedly, existing accounts would continue to sync for both current free users and paying customers, according to Google. Adding to the potential confusion, Google announced that a separate product, called "Google Calendar Sync," had hit its end of life and no longer would be supported by Google on Dec. 14, 2013. These details are outlined in a "Google Sync End of Life" support document here.

Another point of confusion specifically relates to calendar syncing. Google offered to extend that capability "through July 31, 2013," but just for Windows Phone users. However, no such support was extended to Windows 8 and Windows RT users wanting to sync Google Calendar with Microsoft's Calendar app. For those end users, Microsoft offers this support page, which has been updated to reflect the new updated Mail, Calendar and People apps.

"In light of Google's decision to change its support for EAS, we are now using IMAP for those customers that wish to connect their Gmail accounts. More information on how to synchronize Google services on your Windows or Windows RT device is available here."

Calendar Sync Only for Google Apps Customers
Life is complicated for users trying to sync apps, both with the new updated Windows 8/Windows RT apps or the earlier ones. And, unless the user is a Google Apps for Business or Google Apps for Government customer where EAS is still supported, calendar apps can't be synchronized. Here's how Microsoft's support page depicts the situation for those with the new Windows 8/Windows RT apps:

"To sync your email and contacts, you'll need to remove your existing Google accounts and reconnect them. It's important to note that if you have more than one Google account, you can only get your contacts for one account. And you'll no longer be able to sync your Google calendar with the Calendar app."

End users who don't have the new Windows 8/Windows RT apps and who are trying to establish a new sync connection after the Jan. 30, 2013 date also are out of luck in synchronizing calendars, unless they are subscribers to Google's paid services.

"Unfortunately, with Google changing the way it supports EAS, your Google calendar can't sync with the Calendar app," Microsoft's support page states.

With that amount of complexity associated with Google's dropping of support for Exchange ActiveSync, end users are likely to be mad. Which side they blame -- whether that's Google or Microsoft -- likely will be a toss up.

However, a spokesperson for Google confirmed that Google made no technical software changes that altered its declared Jan. 30, 2013 service-term changes. In a phone call on Tuesday, the spokesperson explained that Google and Microsoft's responsibilities lie on the client and server sides, respectively. According to this line of reasoning, while Microsoft updated its Mail, Calendar and People apps for Windows 8 and Windows RT systems, nothing changed on Google's side.

ActiveSync and Corporate Politics
Google claims to have made the decision to drop Exchange ActiveSync use for its nonpaid customers because it was supporting the open protocol CardDAV instead. Google also indicated earlier this month that its support for CalDAV was going to be limited, suggesting that IT pros and developers look to using its Google Calendar API instead.

Microsoft, for its part, has said that it plans to support CardDAV, CalDAV and IMAP protocols going forward on the Windows Phone OS side, according to a blog post by Michael Stroh. It's rumored that Microsoft will add CardDAV and CalDAV support to Windows Phone sometime by mid-2013.

With regard to the discontinued Google Calendar Sync, there may be the possibility that sync services will be supported between Microsoft's Outlook Calendar application and Google's Calendar app by means of third-party support. Google mentions this possibility in a help page for Google Calendar Sync, but adds that such third-party support would be unsupported by Google.

Google's decision to drop Exchange ActiveSync can be taken at face value -- that it opted to use an open protocol instead of Microsoft's proprietary solution, which entails royalty payments. Google had announced that move as part of a general "winter cleaning" in which a number of its applications were dropped from support. (Some of Google's applications apparently have had a less than four-year lifespan, on average, according to a Guardian journalist's reckoning.) However, the two companies haven't played so well of late, having engaged in numerous legal spats.

The bad blood started with Microsoft, which began extracting intellectual property revenues from equipment makers using the Google-fostered Android mobile operating system. In return, Microsoft has faced legal resistance in the form of FRAND patent claims by Google. The legal tussle eventually reached a point at which Microsoft responded by bringing up Exchange ActiveSync intellectual property claims against Google. Given that history, it's possible that this larger legal maneuvering and financial decision-making by the two companies has led to the general synchronization confusion that now affects many end users.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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