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# Wednesday, 05 April 2006

Mio 168 RS

In the process of "going legit" with my laptop (i.e. getting rid of all commercial software I won't pay for, trading proprietary software for free/open-source alternatives etc.) I've reached several important conclusions:

  • There are very few commercial applications I can't live without (specifically, Windows; Visual Studio; Total Commander)
  • Some free/open-source alternatives are actually superiour to their commercial counterparts (Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice.org [Hebrew version] are three such examples)
  • The sheer amount of tools and applications I require just to get things done is astounding

Despite the impressive efforts by the free/open-source community, there are still a few areas where commercial companies (in this case, Microsoft) have the upper hand: PDAs. I was recently handed down a MIO 168 RS handheld which my dad replaced, and ended up trying to learn the quirks of Windows Mobile and how to best make use of it.

Apparently the whole deal of synchronizing with mobile devices is not as trivial as you'd think; there is only one standard, SyncML, which is apparently supported only in part and inconsistently by various mobile devices, and is basically not supported by Thundebird (nor, to my knowledge, Outlook). The Windows Mobile connectivity solution from Microsoft, known as ActiveSync, is perfectly adequate if you intend to use Outlook; however I do not own a license for Outlook (one is provided with the PDA, however it is for the obsolete Outlook 2002) and would prefer to keep using Thunderbird anyway.

The one glimmer of hope is an application called FinchSync - a combination of java sever on the PC and a .NET agent installed on the PocketPC device (strange, wouldn't you agree?). There are several problems with this solution:

  • It is incredibly cumbersome. Having to install a seperate server and client application is in itself a chore, but having to install the server application on each and every host machine is really very annoying.
  • Although it supports .ics files (which appear to be the standard calendar file format used by Mozilla applications), these files do not appear to be employed by the Lightning extension to Thunderbird by default and I couldn't figure out how to get it to work.
  • Finally, the software works over TCP/IP; this was probably the easiest solution, however PocketPC devices that are not WLAN-capable are not configured for TCP/IP by default; it might be possible to configure a TCP/IP bridge over the device's USB connection, but up to this point I have spent so much time with so few results I've conceded that there is no way to do this easily.

As you can see, in this case Microsoft takes the cake: synchronizing to anything but Outlook is a real chore, if not next to impossible. I'd consider getting a license for Outlook, but at roughtly $70 for an academic license of a version of the software that's three years old and about to be replaced it's hard to justify the expense; additionally I would much prefer to keep using Thunderbird as my e-mail client of choice.

With the upcoming competition from Office 12 and the far-superiour integration of Outlook in the corporate environment along with its tight integration with PocketPC-based solutions (which I've come to understand are the majority in this market segment), the open-source alternatives are in pretty grave trouble.

Wednesday, 05 April 2006 05:44:30 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
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