Tales from the Dark Side, or is that
the Light Side? An In-Depth Look at Making the Switch from Palm to
Pocket PC, Part III
Posted May 1, 2005 by Tanker Bob
Week three finds the Dell
Axim X50v growing on Tanker Bob. I’m still testing and
reviewing things on my Palm Tungsten
T3, so the comparisons and
contrasts become ever more perceptible as time rolls along. This
week also brought an interesting event, but more on that later.
Complex is as complex does
I mentioned two weeks ago that Pocket PC programs tended to cost
a bit more than Palm apps that do the same general task. On further
reflection and after a broader view of the PPC software market, most
applications for the same functions run close in price. I’ve
only found a few programs that fetch a significantly higher price
than comparable Palm apps. The upside is that PPC apps tend to be
more feature-rich than Palm apps—even the best Palm apps. That
can be both a good and a bad thing. While you tend to get a lot for
your money, the learning curves can be daunting at times.
As a concrete example, let’s take my favorite Palm OS application, Datebk5.
It’s a fairly complex Personal Information Manager (PIM) program
fashioned around its core calendaring function. I couldn’t
do without it on my Palm. Pocket
Informant came highly recommended when I searched for a similar
app on the PPC. There are other alternatives that I will investigate
and review, most notably Agenda
Datebk5 has a good bit of the functionality of PI, accomplishing
a great deal using a text-based interface. Standard tasks follow
the built-in Palm Calendar app and therefore require little initial
learning curve. PI has some resemblance to Pocket Outlook and functions
similarly. On the other hand, PI seems to pack even more features
and power than Outlook on the desktop. Every screen has been carefully
crafted for both ease of use and commonality across functions. It
also supports the multiple category assignments of Outlook. After
just a short period of use, I’ve come to appreciate the extra
measure of power and grace of PI’s design. Both Datebk5 and
Pocket Informant 2005 master their platforms, but the latter’s
platform supports its greater power and elegant GUI interface.
The Hard Crash
Well, it was inevitable sooner or later, but I hit the hard reset
wall in my second week. I’d been heavily experimenting with
the Today screen. I had loaded beta 3 of Pocket
Breeze 4.3 after a couple of days of stable operation. The next
day, I executed a program and the Axim locked up hard. I soft reset
it and the screen stayed blank. At that point I couldn’t do
anything, including turning the Axim on. After several minutes, the
screen came up and announced a memory error. After several attempts
executing the dialog box’s recommended button presses, I finally
had to hard reset the Dell. Fortunately, I had just backed it up
that morning to the CF card with Sprite
Backup, which I keep loaded in Built-in Storage (BIS). After
the hard reset, I simply restored from the card and was back in operation.
I only ever had one non-voluntary hard reset
on a Palm OS device in six years or so. I encountered that when
I stupidly messed with the Palm’s memory setup without the
necessary knowledge of what I was doing my first week in the game.
Consequently, encountering one in my second week of PPC life caught
me off guard. That was a week ago and all has been well since then.
Pocket Breeze updated to Beta 4 that very day, though I can’t
fault PB beta 3 for certain for the hard reset.
I have since been advised that messing with
the Today screen can be hazardous to stability. Running a beta
version of any software in the Today screen at my tender PPC age
probably wasn’t all
Important Safety Tip
This proved to be a learning experience after the recovery as well.
Sprite restored the Dell perfectly and put me back in action. I had
to reset the date and time, though, something the Palm retains even
after a hard reset. The Built-in Storage contents survived the reset
without incident as expected. The surprise came when I put the Axim
in its cradle later in the day.
Upon the first ActiveSync after the hard
reset and restore, ActiveSync assumed that all the data on the
Axim was older and should be overwritten by the desktop information.
That may have been because I didn’t
reset the date and time until after the restore, but I’m not
sure. Since I had added calendar items, the Axim’s calendar
possessed more current information. With Palm’s HotSync, I
could tell the program to overwrite the desktop information from
the handheld. Not so with ActiveSync. So, I manually created the
new appointments in Outlook and then synced the Dell.
So, be forewarned: ActiveSync seems to assume that the desktop information
is always the most current after a hard reset and restore on the
An alarming development…
Windows Mobile 2003 has a well-deserved reputation for unreliable
alarm performance. After some research, I’ve found that this
could be due to the way WM2003 updates alarms every night. At midnight,
the PPC wakes up for 15 seconds by default to handle the coming day’s
alarms. However, sometimes this isn’t enough time to complete
the housekeeping chores. If the OS doesn’t finish with the
alarms in 15 seconds, then those it did not handle will not sound
at the time to which the user set them. Not good.
Fortunately, a number of developers provide a solution.
One approach involves increasing the wake time during which WM2003
can handle all set alarms. Most developers recommend 60 seconds for
this function. I chose the free Wakeup
Burr Oak Software, although a number of tweak utilities and some
clock software will also perform the basic function of changing the
timer. This little gem not only resets the wake up period to a user-specified
value (one minute recommended), it also offers to wake the PPC to
full power mode in case that’s needed for some reason. Another
problem in WM2003 involves spurious duplicate alarm notifications
being created after soft resets. These can accumulate over time and
slow the PPC down significantly. WM2003 cleans these up with a weekly
routine. Wakeup Tweak will also let you clean these up, but will
do so on command. Very nicely done.
Registering the difference…
Pocket PCs share a major feature with their desktop siblings—the
Windows registry. The registry is simply a database that holds the
system and application data required to operate the device and the
software on it respectively. Palm OS uses the Saved and Unsaved Preference
files for exactly the same thing. If your registry on your PPC or
your preference files on your Palm become corrupted or overburdened
with entries pointing to nothing, your device or software may not
But knowledge brings power. After installing, trying, and then uninstalling
an incredible amount of software, my Axim’s registry started
to fill up with leftover settings and entries that pointed to nothing.
After a week of this, the Dell refused to ActiveSync anymore. Bringing
my desktop Windows knowledge to bear, I promptly sought a registry
cleaning tool to restore operation. I settled on SKTools,
although Memmaid and
perhaps others may also suffice. After deleting a large number of
leftover registry entries that pointed to non-existent processes
and programs, I restored the Dell’s ability to ActiveSync.
A note of caution: Steer clear of the temptation to automatically
delete anything from the registry, and ensure that you back up the
entries that you delete. SKTools backs up deletions in the registry
by default. If you have a PPC, you need a registry maintenance tool
to ensure smooth operation.
Staying in control…
One gem offered for a last note this week: On my
T3, I used Win-Hand
Anywhere to control my Windows XP Pro desktop from my Palm
T3 over WiFi or Bluetooth. That came in hand occasionally, especially
over WiFi from other parts of the house, and I hoped to find something
for the Axim that would do the same thing.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Terminal
Services Client, which came on the Dell, hooked into Windows Remote
Desktop on the PC. One must enable Remote Desktop service on the
PC and open any firewall software on the target PC to it in order
to achieve a connection. This can open your PC to significant risk
if you have an always-on Internet connection protected only by a
software firewall on that PC. Tanker Bob uses a hardware router with
a built-in firewall in addition to the Windows XP Pro SP2 firewall
on the PC. So, an opening for Remote Desktop only opens it to my
local network and not to the Internet. Your mileage may vary. Performance
over WiFi proved excellent and Terminal Services functioned very
After speeding through program trials involving
literally dozens of installs/uninstalls last week, this week proved
to be a maintenance learning experience. Although the tools on a
PPC differ from those on the Palm, the basic idea remains the same.
Leftover preferences on the Palm or spurious registry entries on
the PPC both negatively affect their respective platforms. On all
handhelds, regular (I recommend daily) full backups provide priceless
recovery capability should the worst come to pass.
I believe that I have my Today screen where I want
it. I have the date/time at the top, Pocket Breeze 4.3 Final Beta
with the calendar and todos next, spbPocket Plus program tabs under
that, and UpTime at the bottom. The theme is America from Microsoft.
Very tidy, functional package that meets my needs.
Overall stability of the X50v remains very good overall in daily
usage. Like I said, growing on me…
TO BE CONTINUED…
Part II of the Palm to Pocket PC Journey
Two weeks ago: Part I of the Palm to Pocket PC Journey
Tanker Bob Took a Hard Look at the Palm and Pocket PC Platforms