Reader Dale Creekmur has been ferreting around in Activity Monitor and finds an entry that concerns him. He writes:
When using Activity Monitor I find that my Mac's CPU activity increase greatly when something called Microsoft Sync is running. I quit that process, and CPU activity returns to normal. My questions are: What is this process? Is it needed/useful? And how can I (or should I) eliminate it entirely from my iMac to prevent its returning?
For the benefit of readers who are unaware of Activity Monitor's many glories, the lowdown: You use Activity Monitor (found in /Applications/Utilities) to see how your Mac is occupying its time--the processes its running, the amount of memory (both real and virtual) consumed by various processes, and etcetera. If your Mac is running slowly, it's not a bad idea to fire up Activity Monitor, click on the %CPU heading, and see which processes (or applications) float to the top. If one process/application appears there almost constantly and is eating up several dozen digits of your CPU, you could have a problem (though if that process/application is churning away on something serious--rendering video, for example--that's to be expected and the churning will stop when the job is complete).
With that out of the way, on to your questions.
1. With Microsoft Office 2008, Microsoft introduced the ability for its email client, Entourage, to synchronize contacts with Apple's Address Book, events with iCal, and Entourage Notes with MobileMe. The process tasked with doing this was called Microsoft Sync Services. It would do this noble work if you opened Entourage's preferences, clicked on Sync Services, and enabled any of these three syncing options.
With Microsoft Office 2011 (with Service Pack 1 or higher) you could also use these sync services (though in this case it appears in Activity Monitor as SyncServicesAgent).
2. As for its usefulness, it depends on how you manage your contacts and calendars. If you sync this kind of data with iCloud, Outlook's Sync Services do you no good whatsoever as Entourage and Outlook's syncing is not compatible with iCloud (they don't support the CalDAV and CardDAV standards used by iCloud). If you manage this data only on your computer, it could be useful if you want events and contacts that you create in these Microsoft applications to appear in Apple's Address Book and iCal.
3. To prevent it from running, simply turn off Sync Services in Entourage or Outlook's preferences.