Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for the ‘Windows’ Category

Where o where have my categories gone?

Posted by Michael Brown on October 16, 2008

Palm OS users have long had a perfectly simple list-maker and information repository in the memos application. It’s a great place to keep all sorts of information, and it’s always been quick to find using the global find or categories. The great thing about the built-in Memos app is that it syncs with just about any desktop application, like Palm Desktop or Microsoft Outlook. It’s through syncing with Outlook that many people change devices or even mobile platforms. So, for those people like myself, looking to switch from Palm OS to Windows Mobile, there’s something you really need to know if you depend on your Memos/Outlook Notes…

Windows Mobile Notes don’t support categories! So, the first time you sync your device using ActiveSync or Windows Mobile Device Center, all your nicely categorized notes will get dumped all together into the device’s My Documents\ folder, and on the next sync, it will strip the category information off and drop all your Outlook Notes back into one big, un-categorized mess. So, you might want to turn off the syncing of notes in ActiveSync or WMDC until you look at how you want to handle things. One possible option is PhatNotes for Outlook; others include changing the Outlook note title to include the category as a prefix, or organizing your notes by folders in My Documents, which will be reflected in the title of the Outlook Note after the next sync. I plan on testing out a few different options for getting my Outlook Notes onto my new device and working the way I want them, once I get it; with nearly 900 nicely organized Palm Memos syncing as Outlook notes, I don’t want to have a big mess to clean up when I move!

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here. For those looking for ideas to deal with this now, you might want to check out this blog post over at SmartPhone Magazine.

Posted in GTD, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Windows Mobile | Leave a Comment »

Palm Desktop for Vista: Thar be changes here!

Posted by Michael Brown on September 7, 2007

So, as I wrote in the piece “The Desktop is a Dying breed”, I was in the need of PC mobility, for in my house. Well, last week Tiger Direct had a deal on refurbished Gateway laptops, and the price was too good to pass up. Out came the credit card, and a few days later I had my “new” laptop. Like many new laptops, it’s running Vista Home (Premium), which is a different enough beast from XP that many applications don’t work properly. Vista itself is pretty slow on a laptop “out-of-the-box” unless you tune it up, but that’s something for a different day.

Now that I have the laptop, it’s time to see if it could replace my main machine as my personal productivity device. So, I start installing applications and testing them for compatibility. One of the first to install and test is the New Palm Desktop beta for Windows Vista. The Palm Desktop application looks and feels the same as the old one, so I won’t go into it. There are some major changes to the HotSync Manager and some others under the hood that anyone upgrading to Vista and the Palm Desktop Beta should be aware of.

Firstly, when you right click on the HotSync manager icon in the system tray, you only get two choices, as opposed to the many on the previous versions of PD; Settings, and install. Install launches the Vista compatible install tool, which resembles the original install tool and not the newer QuickInstall. The settings option launches the screen below.

HotSync Manager on Vista

Yup, HotSync has been “Vista-fied”. Looks pretty, and surprisingly, is actually very well laid out and organized. Applications is where you will find your conduits. It works much like the old one, where you can double-click to set-up the conduits. You have to click the Show Details checkbox in order to show how the conduits are configured.

HotSync Applications or Conduits

The HotSync Progress Dialog gives you the option of hiding it during the sync progress, which may make some people very happy.

HotSync progress indicator

The HotSync log is now a part of the HotSync Manager itself, and is displayed in the Summary screen when you hit the link shown at the top of the summary screen. The HotSync log is still created as a HTML file in the root of your Palm Desktop User Directory, and HotSync settings are saved in the sync.ini file in the same location.

HotSync Log

The major changes are where it stores your user data. Palm Desktop veterans know that in the past, Palm has stuck data in C:\Palm and later C:\Program Files\Palm or C:\Program Files\palmOne, in a directory that relates to your HotSync user name. With Vista, that has all changed (finally, and for the better!). Palm Desktop program files are stored in, wait for it… C:\Program Files\Palm but your user data is actually stored where user data is supposed to be stored, in your user directory. This means that backing up your Palm Desktop data is just as easy as backing up the rest of your user files. You can see in the picture below how it’s now organized.

Palm Desktop folders in User directory

Now, here’s the real problem for those that make use of third-party software like Dimex, Dawn, or any other package that accesses Palm Desktop data directly; Palm Desktop for Vista no longer uses .DAT files to store your PIM data in. They’ve made the switch to using Microsoft Access databases (.mdb) to store the data. That’s a mixed blessing; your old software won’t work unless it’s updated to work with the Access databases, but because they’re now Access databases, it means that it’s likely that there will be more third-party plugins available to use the data sometime in the future. Doesn’t help you now, though.

If you’re thinking “hey, I’ve got MS Access, I’ll just open and modify the databases directly”, you might want to hold off on that, or just open it read-only for viewing. Palm is using a BLOB (Binary Large OBject) to store large amounts of data in each of the PIM applications, and to my knowledge, have not released any information about their formats. If you try to modify a record, Access doesn’t know how to handle what’s in the blob, so it may trash your data. Third party developers should encourage Palm to release information on the formats, or create an API (Application Programming Interface) for others to use to access the PIM data (pardon the pun).

So, if you’re thinking of upgrading to Vista, and you rely on Palm Desktop, here are the key points to consider:

  • The Data is now in your user folder: C:\Users\{Win User Name}\Palm OS Desktop\{PD User Name}\
  • Third-Party Plugins may not work; contact the vendor for support information.
  • Documents to Go version 10 is the only one that works with the new Palm Desktop for Vista, so you’ll have to shell out for the upgrade (I did).
  • Other conduits may not work or may need updated versions; contact your vendor or read the FAQ’s on their website.
  • And finally, Vista is Slooooooooow on a laptop; spring for as much RAM as you can afford, and Google for “Vista Laptop performance tweaks”. That will help a lot!
  • Originally posted to PalmAddicts here:

    Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, Time & Task Management, Treo, Windows | 3 Comments »

    The Desktop is a dying breed…

    Posted by Michael Brown on August 22, 2007

    HP TouchSmart PC
    At least that’s the gist of what I heard a Best Buy employee telling a shopper. The shopper was looking at this new HP TouchSmart “Family PC” and trying out it’s Smart Centre functions. It has a 19″ touchscreen, a Family Calendar, a message center, integrated TV tuner, webcam and microphone, and wireless keyboard, mouse and stylus. It runs Windows Vista, so it has the Media Centre functionality built-in. The shopper thought it was cool, but asked “Why would they make something like this?”. The Best Buy guy said that laptops are outselling desktops 6 to 1, and that most people are buying laptops as a personal item, no different than a PDA, cell phone or music player. He also said that even though some families have a laptop for each family member, they still wanted a “Family PC” for keeping shared files and media, so HP designed something that could go on a kitchen counter or family room table to fit those requirements plus more.

    The funny thing is, I recognized the truth and implications of that right away, because I’m going through a similar situation right now. I’ve built every PC I’ve ever owned from parts I’ve researched and found to meet my needs, so I get everything I need, and nothing extra I don’t. So, when my old desktop needed upgrading, I did the same thing, and just moved my Windows 2000 installation “as-is” to the new machine (it wasn’t quite that simple, but you get the point). And it’s a nice machine: Asus motherboard, 2GB OCZ RAM, AMD X2 2.6GHz processor, SATA II drive. It’s powerful, fast, and… I maybe get to use it a couple of hours a week if I’m lucky! Family life with two young kids does not lend itself to going to the home office and getting some stuff done on the desktop. That can only happen at nap times, or when they finally go to bed (at which point I’m so tired I probably want to go to bed too!). So, most of the time I use my Treo for computing work I need to do (which is what it’s intended for); for when I need more horsepower, I use VNC to my server, and run those applications there. It can get a little tedious after a while though, working with desktop applications running in a resolution of 1024×768 or higher, on a display 320×320 in size!

    Sadly, I’ve come to the realization that I need portability and mobility… for in my house! The Treo does everything I need it too while I’m out-and-about, but I’m really tied down at home using the desktop. I could get a laptop, but I don’t find them as portable or as ergonomic as they could be. So, being a long time Palm user, I’m thinking a convertible Tablet PC is the way to go. It has the pen interface I’ve always liked about Palm handhelds, with the power and flexibility of a portable PC. A convertible tablet is one that has a keyboard like a conventional laptop, but turns into a “slate” tablet with a “twist-and-flip” of the display. The only disadvantage to the Tablet PC is price; they’re still considered a “niche” item with some pricey components in them, and you do pay a premium for that. So, I may end up having to settle for a resonably priced laptop and using my Wacom Graphire 4 tablet with it; after all, I’ve got a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, so something has to give somewhere. Decisions, decisions, but I digress…

    As far as the “Family PC”; I think it’s a concept that will work well. As more and more of our daily interactions become digital, and the pace of our lifestyles increases, the calendar on the fridge just won’t cut it anymore. We’ve had a home server running in the house since 2003; it’s the central repository for all shared media and files, the mail server, HTPC recording backend, and a VNC terminal server (for access by my Treo, or for long running operations on a desktop application). It’s the hub of our home systems, as it’s accessible from everything from my Treo, to my desktop or my wife’s work laptop, to devices like the HTPC and the MediaMVP we use for viewing various media like TV programs and movies, family pictures and videos. I’m too much of a DIY person to run out and buy something like the TouchSmart (it’ll be more fun to try and replicate the same functionality using Open-Source components and my choice of hardware). But I can honestly say I can see it as the hub in many a household, tying together laptops, UMPC’s, PDA’s and smartphones, keeping the family organized and in touch in the coming digital era. Having something like this allows you to have a common repository for family information, as well as a common message centre. Imagine being able to forward VoIP voice mail (or Video voice mail), voice or video messages from family members, ink notes, or even the grocery list to a family member’s Treo, with just a few taps of your finger. Or how about making dinner arrangements, and having it entered into each family members calendar automatically, available when they next sync. The possibilities are endless; think your group calendars at work, but applied to the home and combined with the power of Internet Calendars.

    Apple could easily make something similar to the SmartTouch PC with a Multi-Touch iMac, an umbrella package like SmartCentre, and many of their existing software packages (iCal, Front Row, iPhoto, iTunes, Inkwell, etc). The desktop as we know it is dying in the home; it will become a niche market for power users, system builders, and gamers with the need for speed. Evolution is happening in the home, and the Family PC won’t look like it’s boxy brethren of old; slick new fashionable designs, combined with powerful user interfaces and family organizational tools will make this a pleasure to use, and more interesting than sticky notes and the calendar on the fridge that nobody bothers to read. This new class of “Family PC” is huge; this may be a big step towards the Jetson’s home of the future.

    Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

    Posted in Inter-operability, Open Source Software, Palm, PalmAddicts, PC, PIM, Productivity, Time & Task Management, Windows | Leave a Comment »

    Windows Vista – making you choose between your Palm and your PC

    Posted by Michael Brown on April 25, 2007

    Since the launch of Windows Vista, there has been a lot of buzz on forums, mailing lists and websites; some people like it, some don’t. What you really need to know is that upgrading to Vista may mean making a tough choice; which do you value more, your Palm or your PC? If you upgrade to Vista, you’ll have to forego syncing your Palm as you used to.

    Palm’s Vista Support Page is the place to visit regularly if you are thinking of Vista. Here is a quick summary of the state of the Palm nation when it comes to Vista:

  • Quick Install does not work.
  • The nice folks at BT Solved have come up with their own version of a Quick Install utility(freeware), which is Vista Compatible.

    Palm Vista Simple Installer
    Palm Simple Vista Installer Set-up MSI file

  • You’ll need to download updates to Palm Desktop, especially if you Sync to Outlook using Palm’s Conduits.
  • Personally, I think Palm’s Outlook Conduits are crap; do yourself a favour, and look at Chapura’s Pocket Mirror. I use Pocket Mirror Pro myself.

  • Documents to Go version 9 and earlier DO NOT work on Windows Vista. Period. Even Docs To Go 10 has issues, since it relies on Palm Desktop (which presently has issues). Check the DataViz website for updates on their compatibility.
  • Personally, I don’t think Vista is worth the frustration of upgrading. I’m still running Windows 2000 myself, because I didn’t see Windows XP as a worthwhile upgrade either. And don’t get me started on that whole “Windows Activation” garbage; plenty has been written on that before. Just see what Google has to show on the subject. So, if you value your Palm or Treo, don’t go the Vista route (at least for another year, until all the issues have been worked out). If you really have to upgrade your computer, maybe consider a Mac + The Missing Sync, or Linux (Ubuntu is a popular choice), which usually has Palm Sync capabilities provided by pilot-link.

    Posted in Palm, Technology, Treo, Windows | Leave a Comment »