Monday, January 26, 2009

Windows 7 Beta Gadgets and User Account Control

If you are running the Windows 7 Beta and have turned User Account Control (UAC) completely off, you may have noticed that the desktop gadgets no longer work. Turn UAC back on, even at a minimum level, and they start working again. Want to have them work all the time? Just add this little registry hack:

No need to restart your machine, just run the desktop gadget gallery and your gadgets will magically reappear.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Helpful Development Tools

I use Visual Studio 2008 for my daily development. I've found these tools useful in assisting me. If you are a fellow developer, you might find them useful too.

Source Code Control client for Subversion servers. Integrates into the windows shell, providing handy shortcuts for checkouts, updates, and commits.

SVN client plug-in for Visual Studio. Allows you to perform SVN commands from within the IDE.

Plug-in for Visual Studio that can automatically generate XML documentation comments. This is really handy. If your naming conventions are pretty good, it takes a pretty good guess at the appropriate comment. You just have to tweak it after it fills in the majority of the boilerplate.

This is a help in so many ways. If you use NUnit for unit testing, it provides unit testing integration. It performs a much broader set of syntax checking for you than the default IDE does. Ever wonder how many of those using statements are really necessary? This will tell you. It also hunts down opportunities to simplify your code, and to eliminate potential bugs. Worth the license price, but if you don't want to pay it you can always use the "beta".

Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools
Even though I develop on a Vista x64 platform, I've installed this set of tools for one reason: tail.exe The tail program included with this service pack works just like the UNIX tail command. It shows the last few lines of a file. This is very useful if you want to monitor a text log, or some other file that is being updated by an application.

KB957912 - Update for Visual Studio 2008 SP1 Debugging and Breakpoints
One of the most frustrating parts of debugging a multi-threaded app in Visual Studio 2008 is that the debugger will sometimes revert back to run mode. This happens whenever an exception is thrown in any thread, even if it is caught. This update for visual studio 2008 service pack 1 corrects that issue. This is a must have patch for anyone doing multi-threaded coding.

Those are the main tools I've found useful. If there are any tools you feel like you can't live without, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Windows Mobile and My Dell Axim x50v

A little more than three years ago when I switched jobs, I used part of my signing bonus (yeah, remember those?) to purchase a Dell Axim x50v. At the time, this was the crème de la crème of PDAs. It had a true VGA screen (640x480), a powerhouse processor (624MHz) and oodles of built in memory (64MB). It had all of the ports and signals you could ask for: SD card, Compact Flash, Bluetooth, IrDA, and USB dock for PC. At the time of purchase, it was running Windows Mobile 2003 SE. Windows Mobile 5 was just on the horizon, and Dell promised to make that image available to any Axim buyer.

If you remember, my first one arrived DOA. Fortunately, my replacement arrived quickly. I loved this little device. I made daily use of it, tracking my calendar, e-mail, notes, and playing some music as well. There were a couple of irritations though. The biggest was the built-in version of Internet Explorer, which was just plain awful. The second was that the device had a bad habit of needing a soft reset about once a week.

Fast forward roughly six months and Dell has a version of Windows Mobile 5 available. Anxious to see what the new rev offers, I requested my CD and received it that week. I loaded it up, and regretted it immediately. It crashed. A lot. I found myself constantly tagging the reset button on the back of the device. A few weeks later Dell issued a downgrade CD so that you could revert to 2003SE. I did that immediately. Not long after Dell quietly released a new build of WinMo5. The reviews from the users of the newer model Axim x51v were quite good, but apparently my model used a variety of memory that WM5 just didn't agree with. While it rang much better than Dell's initial release, it was certainly far from perfect. I stuck with it though, for two reasons. One - the new version of IE was an improvement, and Two - it was able to display Powerpoint slideshows.

I continued to have good success with my Axim throughout 2006. The next year I was promoted, and as part of my promotion I started to carry a Blackberry. The Blackberry was doing everything I needed from the Axim, so I stopped carrying it. It became a toy for my son to play bubble breaker on. What a sad state for this gadget. If you've read my recent posts, you know the Blackberry is no more, so I dusted off the Dell. I was very pleased to find that it was still very useful. Still, the constant resets were driving me nuts.

Dell is out of the PDA market. The x51v, their last hurrah, is three years old, and Dell never released updated ROMs for these devices. Microsoft has moved on with version 6 and 6.1 of there Windows Mobile platform. After a bit of searching, I found that there was still a niche group of avid Axim fans who had ported Windows Mobile 6.1 to their favorite PDA. Response to this hack were pretty good, so I decided to give it a shot. Here is a blurry-cam review of the process of flashing my device.

Reading the image from the SD card

Writing the image to flash

Erasing storage

All done, ready to reboot

First time setup

Upgraded to Windows Mobile 6.1

I have no idea if this will be an improvement over my WM5 experience or not. I'll give it a few days use to see what happens. I still have my original Dell discs and I can flash it back to WM5, or even 2003SE. Hopefully this will result in a better experience with my Axim.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I'll admit it, I'm hooked on Twitter. I initially scoffed at this simple social web app, considering it the stuff of pre-teen girls. Y'know, folks you normally think of as being "all a-twitter". I get it now. I think it appeals in the same sort of way that you find people addicted to their BlackBerry. It is information overload.

One thing that appeals to me about Twitter is the eavesdropper aspect. I follow the hosts of my favorite podcast (ExtraLife). It's fun to see what they are up to each day, and it also gives a preview of the topics for the weekly podcast.

Another appeal is getting regular updates from my friends. I've found a couple of my friends are on twitter, and it is nice to get a quick update from time to time. One friend in particular has family in Israel, and his tweets let us know if his family is in rocket range or not.

Twitter is ubiquitous too. I can post an update from my cell phone (SMS Text message), from my PDA, or from any device with a web connection. On my PDA I've settled on using PockeTwit, which is really nice. I don't tweet from my phone, as that is a bit expensive on a pay-as-you-go plan. On my desktop I had been using Twadget, but now I'm using TweetDeck and find that I prefer that interface. Twhirl is pretty good too.

If you are like me and have considered Twitter to be a high schoolers' tool, I suggest giving it a chance. You can follow me at

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Of MIDs, UMPCs, Netbooks, and Laptops

CES is always a time to get a preview of a few of the products we'll be seeing throughout the year, and a lot of products we will never see. Over the past couple of years one gadget type that continues to gain ground is the small form-factor computing device. They go by a variety of names and come in a variety of sizes: Mobile Internet Device (MID), Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC), and Netbook. In each case these devices are larger than a cell phone but smaller than traditional laptop. They are also less powerful than their deskbound cousins, but what you give up in power you often get back in battery life and portability.

Netbooks look like the best bet to me. Essentially just a smaller, less powerful, more energy efficient, cheaper laptop, these devices are perfect for the average college student. Some come with a simple version of Linux, some run Windows XP, and some even run Vista. They are able to get all of the basics done: word processing, internet browsing, e-mail, etc. Most can be had for under $500, with some dropping below the $300 mark. This is perfect for the person who needs an inexpensive and simple way to get online.

MIDs and UMPCs are a different story though. These devices sometimes run Windows XP or Vista, and sometimes not. They are smaller, and possibly more power efficient, but in almost every case they are more expensive than a basic laptop. I really can't see the market jumping on these as they just aren't practical. The idea is that you need something more than what your cell phone provides, but you don't want to carry around a laptop. With prices anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 it is really hard to see where these devices make sense. One example of these devices is the WiBrain. It eschews a keyboard for the keypad you might find on your cell phone. It runs Windows. But would you really spend $700 or more on this rather than getting either a) a small laptop or b) an iPhone? I don't see it.

For some reason, gadget industry is enamored with this device type. Sony just released the Vaio P, which they don't want to call a netbook, but it is. Unfortunately, it isn't going to be priced like a netbook (suggested price starts at $900). There is also the upcoming Viliv S7. In my mind these devices aren't going to catch on unless the prices come down to $500 or less. If you are spending over $500 it makes much better sense to buy a full blown laptop. Even when springing for all of the bells and whistles you would be hard pressed to spend more than $1,200 on a well equipped laptop these days. Compare that to the $2,000+ price that some of these MID and UMPC devices are asking, and the justification just falls apart.

I would be interested in one of these devices if it could replace my Axim PDA, and only if it did so at relatively the same price as my PDA. Three years ago I paid $500 for the Dell Axim x50v. At the time, it was the most powerful PDA on the market, and I still use it today. It runs Windows Mobile 5 (and some industrious hackers have made it run WM 6). It has hooks to supports bluetooth and WiFi out of the box, and you can add a GPS unit if you like. It compares quite favorably with the iPod Touch. To me, what I have seen of the Viliv S7 looks interesting as a replacement for my aging PDA, but only if the price is under $500. For more than $500, I would rather just get a small netbook (like an Asus Eee or MSI Wind).

Working in a technology company, I get exposed to a variety of gadges: both those necessary for our work as well as the toys in the office the guys like to get. I'm surrounded by incredible cell phones with what I would say is equivalent computing power to most of these UMPCs, MIDs, and netbooks. The iPhone is the most common, with several folks also carrying around WM6 smart phones. There are even a couple of iPod Touch units in the office. Several also carry around a laptop or netbook from meeting to meeting. What I have never seen is a MID or UMPC. Who really buys these things, and why?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Twitter on Windows Mobile

I've been playing around with Twitter the last couple of days. I can see the allure: short form updates. It is much easier to send a 140 character or less tweet than it is to compose a blog entry. I think the two forms (blog and tweet) don't necessarily compete head to head, as a tweet is more useful for a status update and a blog is a better venue for elaboration.

Since I'm back to using my PDA (Dell Axim x50v running Windows Mobile 5), I was looking for something that would allow me to track and post updates from it. I first tried Quakk. It certainly looked pretty, and it was able to pull in my friends timeline. A couple of things made me continue looking though. First, the Quakk interface looks great on the QVGA (320x240) screen of most PDAs, but on the true VGA (640x480) of my Axim all of the offsets were messed up. The bottom text was layered on top of the update text. Add to that the second issue: it wasn't able to send a tweet. Every attempt received the same error message, regardless of the update type.

In searching for an alternative I tried PockeTwit. The screenshots really don't do this app justice. It has a very "iPhone" feel in that you can use your finger to scroll through updates. This app correctly pulls in my friend timeline and allows me to post updates. The interface is formatted beautifully on the VGA screen. The application is compatible with Windows Mobile 5 and 6 devices.

If you are a twitterer and have a Windows Mobile device, I highly recommend it. You can follow me at