SyncML comes of age

The wired world is fast becoming untethered territory in which a veritable horde of pocket-sized blinking boxes shuttles data all over the place. Historically, the technology for synchronizing that data with desktop machines and servers has been based on different proprietary protocols, each supporting a limited number of devices, systems and data types.

Roughly two years ago, a group of companies with an interest in the evolution of wireless decided to find a better way.

''We were all finding that there was no standard protocol or specification for data synchronization,'' Gregg Armstrong, CEO and president of Starfish Software told eADT. ''We all agreed that we needed to have some common way of describing the data and exchanging it between devices and back-end systems, particularly as we got into over-the-air environments.''

Armstrong, along with colleagues from Ericsson, IBM, Lotus, Matsushita, Motorola, Nokia, Openwave and Symbian, joined forces to establish a single, synchronization protocol based on XML. By the end of 2000, the initiative produced the first specification of SyncML.

SyncML became the leading open industry standard for universal synchronization of remote data and personal information across multiple networks, platforms and devices. It provides software developers with a framework for developing interoperable data synchronization products. The SyncML Initiative publishes the specification of the format/protocol, architectural specifications, interface specifications and the source code for a reference implementation of the data synchronization framework.

''We've seen widespread adoption starting in the wireless marketplace with the handset vendors and the wireless operators,'' Armstrong said, ''but we are now seeing lots of support in the enterprise application space. Many of the companies we are working with today see [a standard synchronization protocol] as a requirement of their future solutions.''

Armstrong's company, Starfish, which was acquired in 1998 by Motorola as a wholly owned subsidiary, has had some big wins with its own SyncML-based product offerings. IBM recently chose Starfish's TrueSync product as part of its WebSphere Everywhere access platform.

TrueSync is a component of Starfish's Managed Mobility solutions. The TrueSync infrastructure is designed to provide end-to-end synchronization for wireless data services, enterprise applications, mobile devices and corporate infrastructures.

The SyncML Initiative continues to refine its common synchronization protocol. It holds bi-monthly SyncFests, at which member organizations test interoperability in live, real-time environments. The SyncML spec is available free on the SyncML Web site (,8764,403,00.html).

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at


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