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Week five finds Tanker Bob deeply immersed in the Pocket PC world. After an intense crash course, he now finds himself able to answer questions from others on the forums. Scary!

Incursion into the dark side

Just when you think that you’ve seen it all, somebody comes along with something you never considered. StyleTap Platform snuck up on the community in just this way. It emulates the Palm OS 5 environment on the Pocket PC platform, and does so very nicely. Though still in beta, it supports Palm-only applications like BibleThumper and ShadowPlan very well.

Although this make migrating from Palm to PPC less painful, it doesn’t by itself provide a reason to move. The environment will be more compelling when it supports more complex programs like Star-Pilot. There are a number of these complex Palm apps that have no counterpart on Pocket PCs. StyleTap’s Platform will hopefully ease that pain.

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Miscellaneous musings

Pocket PCs could take a few tips from the Palm OS. At the top of my list would be a separate volume control for the alarm system. I don’t want the normal system sounds to be loud, but I want the alarm high enough to wake the Yellowstone bears in January from Florida. Palm OS can do that, but Pocket PC is “one volume fits all.” Come on, Microsoft, you can do better.

Now Palm’s turn: The Dynamic Input Area (DIA) of the newer devices like the Tungsten T3 and T5 continues to challenge programmers. Alternate input systems like Fitaly cannot pop punctuation windows up over the area, nor make context-based dynamic changes to their displays there. Pocket PC users must have experienced serious amusement as T3 input developers struggled to tame the DIA, since PPC devices have has a programmable DIA for years. For example, MessagEase on the T3 works great, but the PPC version shows all capital letters on the keypad when shifted. Palm has a “shift indicator” arrow in the main display, but it only works with standard (read: unformatted) text fields. Worse, Palm refused to release details of the DIA programming interface to developers. Great support, eh?

Reaching out and touching the net

WiFi networking screams on the Axim. Web pages load about as fast on the Dell Axim X50v as on the desktop, and transferring large files flies. Tanker Bob measured Internet file downloads at 2 Mbits/sec (250 KBytes/sec) through a cable modem! Dell did this one right.

Another handy trick: Synchronize your data with ActiveSync from anywhere in your home or business via WiFi. The Dell accomplishes this by setting the local wireless connection as “Work” and then checking the “This computer connects to the Internet” box on the proxy screen. These settings provide access to your network shares, ActiveSync, and the Internet. As I’ve previously observed, networking on a Pocket PC comes seamlessly. The current version of ActiveSync 4.0 does not sync over WiFi or any TCP/IP network. Tanker Bob will not be upgrading from 3.7.1 until it does, no matter how much prettier or faster it is.

 

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File managers like Total Commander Pocket and Resco Explorer access network share drives over wireless as easily as if they were on the handheld. In Resco, the process looks pretty much like on the desktop. Total Commander Pocket requires use of their directory hot list, which is easy and works great. I’ve tried most Palm OS networking programs, and they don’t come anywhere near the stability and ease of use of a PPC right out of the box. This provided Tanker Bob’s primary interest in Pocket PC in the beginning.

Multi-tasking mania

Pocket PCs can run programs and threads in the background, something of which Palm OS can only dream. When I lived primarily on the Palm side, I couldn’t image of what practical use this would be on a small screen. Now I know.

Handy examples of useful multi-tasking include working on anything in the foreground while ActiveSyncing in the background (local or WiFi), spell-checking a document while answering your mail, and downloading a large file while reading the news in iSilo. It also provides better task switching than Palm OS because every program in the background stays just where you left it. Some Palm apps remember where you were when exiting, some don’t.

There can be problems with multi-tasking, however. Some combinations of programs don’t play nice together. For example, if Pocket Informant 2005 runs behind TextMaker, then some of TextMaker’s interface icons will not appear. Worse things happen resulting in lockups or just odd behavior, the latter usually comes in the form of video relics or non-responsive screens. In my experience so far, multi-tasking more than three apps, even if memory is plentiful, invites trouble. Microsoft has more work to do here.

 

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Speaking of task switching, have you tried Magic Button? It’s a super program that, amongst other things, puts icons for background programs on the task bar at the top of the screen. Just tap on an icon to switch to that program. Tap on the little house icon to go to the Today screen. You can make it disappear just by tapping and holding on the upper right corner of the screen. What a great implementation and at a great price--free! On older devices, it can also add the clock and volume control to the task bar. Did I mention that it also makes the infamous X = close application rather than minimize?

Just call me Darth...

Some will argue that it would prove inevitable, other will try to burn me at the stake for heresy. The Dell Axim X50v and Windows Mobile 2003SE have captured my heart and my pocket. It packs too much power into too small, attractive, and functional a package from which to walk away. For example, I created this entire article on the Axim, including the screen captures (Resco Screen Capture, a part of Resco Photo), image resizings (Resco Photo), and image insertion (TextMaker). If you want someone to blame for my capture by the dark side, take aim at Lisa and Tong here at MobileTechReview. I’m innocent.

That doesn’t mean that this series will end. I’m still learning new things relative to both platforms. Stay tuned for next week when Tanker Bob will tackle true VGA mode and more...

CONTINUED ...

Last week: Part IV 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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