Although Palm, Inc. seems to have lost interest in the Macintosh (see "PalmSource to Drop Mac Support in Palm OS Cobalt" in TidBITS-717), stalwart Mac developer Mark/Space continues to offer Mac synchronization support for owners of Palm OS handhelds. The Missing Sync for Palm OS 5.0, released last week, brings handheld syncing into the present.
Sync Services -- One of the under-the-hood changes in Mac OS X 10.4 was the addition of Sync Services, a set of technologies that Apple uses to synchronize data between .Mac and the built-in Address Book and iCal. However, Sync Services also enables outside developers to hook into the system, which Missing Sync now does. Bypassing Apple's iSync conduit settings, Missing Sync directly syncs Tiger's Address Book and iCal databases.
This approach offers a few advantages: you can maintain category designations between the computer and the handheld, take advantage of more contact fields (in recent Palm handhelds), and presumably enjoy better compatibility with Tiger going forward. (Existing third-party conduits are still supported.) A helpful synchronization assistant makes it easier to set up all the conduit sync options.
More Media Sync -- Earlier versions of Missing Sync offered the capability to copy digital music files and photos to a handheld's memory card. Version 5.0 takes the next logical step and provides synchronization of iTunes playlists and iPhoto albums of your choosing. Of course, you can't play back protected AAC songs purchased from the iTunes Music store on a Palm device, but that's due to Apple's choice to not license their FairPlay digital rights management. To avoid a lot of unnecessary copying, I recommend creating a Smart Playlist in iTunes that excludes those types of files, which can be marked as the playlist that Missing Sync uses.
Missing Sync's iPhoto synchronization offers the capability to choose not only which albums to sync, but also to resize the photos to cut down on how much storage they use; a separate setting can ensure that a given amount of memory (such as 5 MB) remains free on the storage card. In my testing, the resizing capability was useful not for minding the storage space on my Tungsten's memory card, but for cutting down the time it takes to copy the files; I sync using Bluetooth, which is fine for basic calendar and contact information, but it can really bog down when working with multi-megabyte files.
Another new feature, folder synchronization, enables you to copy the contents of a folder from your Mac to the handheld as if it were a removable drive. Several recent Palm devices offer the capability to mount on the desktop as USB drives, but this feature automates the copying for you. If you use software such as DataViz's Documents To Go, you can edit Microsoft Word or Excel files on the Palm device, then transfer the new version back to your Mac's desktop without requiring the Documents To Go conduits.
More Flexibility -- One of the features I liked the most about the previous major release of the Missing Sync was the capability to use custom sync profiles (see "Missing Sync 4.0 Fills Palm Gaps" in TidBITS-743). I don't always want to back up everything on my Palm, so I can run a minimal set of conduits that just synchronizes the calendar and contacts. Missing Sync 5.0 adds connection-aware profiles, so I can perform a quick sync via Bluetooth and a more thorough backup when I dig out my USB cable.
Another feature introduced in version 4.0 was a new Mark/Space MemoPad application that provided a way to view your memos on the Mac (something Apple's iSync conduit ignored). In the new version of Missing Sync, that application gains Spotlight searching and memo sorting.
The Missing Sync 5.0 costs $40 for an electronic version (a 16.3 MB download), or $50 for retail-packaged CDs. Upgrades from version 4.0 are free to those who bought it after 01-Oct-05; for everyone else (including owners of any previous Missing Sync product), upgrades cost $25.