Friday, February 27, 2009

Windows Mobile 6.5 - Follow-Up

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article criticizing Microsoft for the lack of innovation in Windows Mobile 6.5.  Engadget has had a flurry of articles on the topic over the past month, and there is an interesting trend in the comments.  Most commenters are getting into heated fanboi arguments over which is better: iPhone, WM6.5, WebOS, etc.  To me this argument misses the point of the chief criticism towards Microsoft and the Windows Mobile 6.5 offering.  The point is not to compare WM6.5 with iPhone and others, but instead to compare WM6.5 with WM6.1 and previous versions.  Microsoft has stated that WM6.5 will probably not be available until the end of the year, and at that time will only be available on new phones.  So the question is, is WM6.5 enough of an improvement over WM6.1 to purchase a new phone?

It is clear to me the answer is no.  There simply isn't enough new here to warrant upgrading a phone to get the new OS, especially when considering the high cost of smart phones with or without contract.  Microsoft really needs to do something to breath new life into Windows Mobile if they want consumers to upgrade to a new phone to get the OS.

Is the OS Relevant Anymore?

I just read a post from @absenth referencing an article in Linux Journal about the relevancy of the OS.  The crux of the article is that, due to the transition to Cloud Computing and Software as a Service, the host OS is becoming less important.  Users are less concerned over the version of Windows or MacOS that the system is running, and more concerned with finding a good web browser and an office suite.  This trend is most visible in the netbook arena where most offerings include a stripped down version of Linux at a reduced price.  

So is the OS relevant?  If you were presented with a new laptop, and you had your choice of running Windows, MacOS, or Linux, would you have a preference?  How much would you pay for your preference?  I don't have any hard evidence, but I suspect that the average person would pick Windows if price were not a factor.  That would be my choice.  It would also be my choice when choosing an OS for a family member or non-technical friend.  I know my family members are familiar with Windows, and familiarity means fewer calls to me for tech support. That's worth at least $30-$60 from me.  On the other hand, I would choose the Linux variant for myself if it meant saving $100.  

I like the trend towards cloud computing, and I think it can only mean good things for consumers as the OS and hardware become less important.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Experiment: Pico-ITX as Hulu Client

I tried a little experiment tonight.  I wanted to see if my Artigo Pico-ITX machine could act as a Hulu client.  I cleared off the machine and installed Ubuntu 8.10.  After installing the flash plug-in for Firefox I pulled up Hulu and loaded a 30 second clip from Family Guy.  The audio was perfect, but the video was very choppy.  I checked the resource monitor and the CPU was just getting hammered.  I guess I'm a little disappointed that even with a 1GHz processor and 1GB of memory, this little machine can't display streaming video.  YouTube suffers from the same stutter.  This is unfortunate, as I had hoped to connect this box to my HDTV as a quick and dirty web video streamer.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Windows Mobile 6.5

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) is underway, and all your favorite cell phone makers are there pitching the future of their products.  Microsoft is at the event in a big way to introduce Windows Mobile 6.5.  This facelift to WinMo 6.1 is hyped as the new, touch friendly version of the interface.

I'm not very excited about this update.  I think MS is right to call this a 6.5 rather than a 7.0.  There just isn't enough there.  And to make matters worse, it doesn't achieve the goal of making the interface a one-handed touch only affair.  

When I first purchased my PDA, it was running Windows Mobile 2003 SE.  I used the WM 5.0 upgrade when it was available, and recently upgraded to WM 6.1.  So what has changed in the Windows Mobile experience in the last 6 years?  Very little, to be quite honest.  If you have an old Windows Mobile PDA collecting dust in a drawer somewhere you could pick up the WinMo 6.5 devices on display and feel right at home.  The only significant change that I have noticed is that I am not required to soft reset my device on a daily or weekly basis anymore.  Taking six years to simply get the device to work is a sorry excuse for progress.  It is time for Microsoft to really rethink how to approach the mobile market.  If not, Apple, Nokia, Palm, and others are going to bury them with the smart innovations they are putting into their latest phones.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Google Sync

After I gave up my BlackBerry, I switched back to using my Dell Axim PDA. I'm very happy with it, and I'm having great luck with Windows Mobile 6.1 One thing that I have struggled with is to find a way to synchronize my mobile calendar, contacts, and e-mail with my Google calendar, contacts, and e-mail. Actually, I should not include e-mail, as that was always easy to do. You can synchronize either via POP or IMAP, whichever you prefer.

So next up was calendar synchronization. My goal was to find a solution that would synchronize my work calendar with my google calendar, and both my Google and work calendars onto my PDA. The first app I tried for this was Google Calendar Sync for Mobile Devices (GCSfMD). This is an application that runs on a Windows Mobile 5.0 or later device and synchronizes the calendar data on the PDA with the Google Calendar. The advantage here is that my work calendar would sync to my device, and then GCSfMD would modify the calendar to also include my Google Calendar appointments. Unfortunately GCSfMD is a one way sync. If I change an appointment on my Google Calendar my device is updated, but if I change an appointment on my device, the Google Calendar is unaltered. So my next attempt was to use Google Calendar Sync. Although the two have very similar names, they behave in very different ways. Google Calendar Sync synchronizes your Outlook calendar directly with your Google Calendar. It is a two-way sync, so if you update either your Outlook Calendar or your Google Calendar, the updates are synchronized between both. This is a great app, and I have gotten great use out of it the last few weeks.

This left contact synchronization. There simply is no good solution for synchronizing Outlook Contacts and Google Contacts. Likewise, the only application that I found that will synchronize my mobile contacts with Google Contacts is OggSync.

Fortunately, today Google released Google Sync. Google Sync works with Windows Mobile and iPhone devices to synchronize both the Calendar and Contacts with your Google data. Best of all, it required no installation on my PDA! I simply modified my ActiveSync setup to point to the Google Mobile server, and everything synced up perfectly.

A couple of questions you might have:
  • Why not just use the device web browser to check the Google sites directly?
That would be perfectly acceptable...if my device were a phone. It isn't, and I don't want to pay the extraordinary rates carriers are asking for all you can eat data service. By synchronizing my device, the data is available offline. So even if I'm in the car I still have access to all my calendar, contact, and e-mail data.
  • How do you merge the data?
I still need Google Calendar Sync. Google Sync will sync your device data with your Google data, but it will not merge with your Outlook data. I still use Google Calendar Sync to merge my Google Calendar with my Outlook calendar. There is still no solution for merging my contact data, but I'm okay with this because I can live with only having my personal contacts on my device.
  • Can I sync my device with both Google and Outlook?
At this time, no. Windows Mobile and iPhone both restrict you to a single synchronization source. You'll need to decide how you want to approach it. For me, I've chosen to make Google my primary data provider, and I sync all of the other data with Google. You may prefer to sync with your Outlook data, in which case you will need to find alternative applications to sync up.

In an ideal world, my device would sync and store all of my various calendars, contacts, e-mail, and data from as many sources as I wanted. Until then, the combination of Google Sync and Google Calendar Sync will fill the void.