Microsoft: Sync Framework isn't Google Gears

Tools add data, file and device sync skills to applications that go offline on occasion

Microsoft's just-previewed Sync Framework is a "completely different animal" from Google's Gear browser plug-in, the company countered, rejecting comparisons between its synchronization-building tools and Google's offline application add-on and APIs.

"We're doing something different from Google," said Anthony Carrabino, a senior product manager for SQL Server. "Sync Framework is really a tool that lets developers build applications that can sync any data -- files, contacts, it could be anything -- over any type of protocol.

"Developers won't have to worry about how to sync data," he claimed. "They won't need to custom code sync functionality for their applications, but can use this common framework."

Unlike Gears, which Google launched in late May, Sync Framework's purpose is not only to provide a way to save data both locally and in the cloud -- a prerequisite for enabling a Web-based application to work offline. "It's a general purpose tool. It's not just for applications, but also for services and devices," Carrabino said.

One way to think of Sync Framework is as an extension to ADO.Net, the data access components of Microsoft's .Net, Carrabino said. Developers already familiar with ADO.Net will be the first up to speed with Sync. "They'll be able to leverage what they know," he said.

That data-centric stance also applies to Microsoft's Sync Framework developers, who are housed within the SQL Server group. "The Sync team works in that group, a team within a bigger team," Carrabino said. "But we're not just enabling SQL Server. It just happens to be that the database lights up the story really well. If you can handle sync for the database, we figured you can handle it for everything."

Sync Framework, which Microsoft this week released as a Community Technology Preview (CTP), one of the terms the company uses for a beta, will be delivered in pieces, with the first scheduled to ship with Visual Studio 2008. That development environment will release to manufacturing before the end of the month, Microsoft announced at its TechEd Developers 2007 in Barcelona this week. Other parts will appear in SQL Server 2008, such as Visual Studio set to officially launch in February. The CTP will give the company a chance to collect feedback from programmers, then adjust its components and timetable.

Carrabino would not commit to a schedule for a final, polished release of the framework.

The framework itself is made up of several components, including a runtime, and several prebuilt providers that developers can call using Windows APIs to handle the synchronizing chores. Microsoft has built ready-to-use providers for syncing file systems between, say, PCs and removable media; syncing RSS and Atom feeds using Simple Sharing Extensions; and syncing relational databases, including Microsoft's own SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server Compact Edition.

Those providers, as well as any that Microsoft crafts in the future or others built by developers, are completely reusable, Carrabino said. "Outlook's offline synchronization with Exchange -- where you're working with mail offline when you jump on a plane, but then sync and pull new mail when you land -- is complicated. To add that kind of functionality [to other applications] requires a lot of work for a development team.

"Sync Framework can build Outlook-like functionality, you put it on the server, and you're good to go."

The framework, stressed Carrabino, is data agnostic, protocol agnostic and device agnostic, which is one reason why Microsoft is confident that developers will take to it in enough numbers to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. "What's cool about the common framework is that the more it's used, the easier it will be to create sync applications. Independent software vendors, for example, will be able to tell their users that their data can follow them wherever they go.

"Just add sync, that's our motto."

CTP1 of the Sync Framework can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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