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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.

 

calendar screen shot

 

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 Fusion.

 

Pocket Informant screen shot

 

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.

Stability implications

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 that bright.

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 handheld.

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.

 

WakeupTweak screen shot

 

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 Tweak from 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 operate properly.

 

SKTools screen shot

 

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 well.

Wrap-up

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.

 

Pocket PC Today Screen

 

Overall stability of the X50v remains very good overall in daily usage. Like I said, growing on me…

TO BE CONTINUED…


Last week: Part II of the Palm to Pocket PC Journey

Two weeks ago: Part I of the Palm to Pocket PC Journey

First installment: Tanker Bob Took a Hard Look at the Palm and Pocket PC Platforms and Evolution

 

 


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