Posts Tagged ‘activesync’

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This iPhoneless Life #8 – Full circle

April 13, 2009

iPod Having tried a number of Windows Mobile audio player programs I am back with Windows Media Player Mobile (WMPM), at least for everything apart from audiobooks.  And I am back to AudiblePlayer for the latter.

As I explained in a previous post, I had moved away from AudiblePlayer because it did not support my bluetooth A2DP earphones properly, with the result that the audio (which is mono) was coming out of the left channel only.  I had therefore embarked on a tour of proprietary media player solutions, in the hope of finding one that would play audiobooks properly and (ideally) handle my music and podcasts as well.

I had all but settled on Pocket Tunes, which ticks most of the boxes but is quite expensive. It also offers syncing direct with iTunes, as opposed to my current two-stage solution of  using  iTunes for podcast capture followed by WMP for syncing with the phone. Ironically, it was my attempt to get this iTunes sync functionality working which ultimately did away with the need for Pocket Tunes at all.

To explain how this came about we need to introduce my old nemesis, ActiveSync, into the story. Strictly I should call it WMDC, as Microsoft have rebranded it for Vista in the hope that we’d all be fooled into thinking it really isn’t as bad as we remember it. It turns out that when I installed WMDC on my Vista PC a year ago it was missing certain key drivers.  An updated version was released later but not rolled out automatically. Of course, I had no way of knowing that. But I had noted that some applications for the phone refused to install over WMDC, giving error messages of various descriptions. Where CAB files were provided by the vendor I could use them to get software installed on my phone, but in other cases I was stuck.  For example, I had not been able to get the latest versions of Audible Manager and AudibleAir installed on my PC and phone.  The installs failed and, at the time, I didn’t understand the error messages. It wasn’t stopping me enjoying audiobooks at that point so I didn’t waste time trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

Of course, when I attempted to install the Pocket Tunes iTunes sync software I hit the same issue again, the error message being “Can’t find CE Application Manager“.  This time I was less inclined to give up.  Googling took me to this website. Now being aware that I had an out of date (and incomplete) installation of WMDC I installed the current version.  This had the benefit that I was at last able to install Pocket Tunes iTunes sync and establish that it worked very nicely.

And while about it I also installed the latest Audible software, both to my PC and my phone, now that the path was clear.  This included an upgrade from AudiblePlayer 5.5.0.6 to 5.5.0.7.  And guess what? The new AudiblePlayer supports bluetooth properly so audiobooks play on both channels.  Still mono of course but at least in the middle of my head rather than in one ear only.

Conclusion? I don’t need to spend money on Pocket Tunes. I have gone back to WMPM and am using the latest AudiblePlayer for my audiobooks. Problem solved for an outlay of nil, plus a modicum of perseverance.

Mind you, ActiveSync/WMDC had the last laugh. After I installed the latest WMDC, it wouldn’t sync with my phone unless I removed one of the two established relationships.  I wasn’t sure which one was the one I needed so picked one more or less at random. After the next sync every single appointment had been wiped from my Calendar in Pocket Outlook. Thank you, WMDC. So kind. At least it had the good grace to leave my contacts alone.

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This iPhoneless Life #5 – Audible adventures

April 7, 2009

iPod If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know I’m in the middle of an experiment to find out whether a  modern Windows Mobile phone can do all the same things as an iPhone, and with a reasonable degree of aplomb. That means serve as mobile phone and media player, provide access to email and the web, etc.

So far I’ve been majoring on the difficulties of getting a slick workflow for podcasts. To my great amazement I think I’ve been successful, and there will be more on WM and podcasts in a later post.

For now, though, I’m looking at audible books (eg from audible.com), another mainstay of my out-and-about listening schedule.

Very disappointingly, audible books on a WM device are a far cry from the experience on an iPod/iPhone. With the latter, playing an audible book is just like playing a music file, except that your place in the book remains bookmarked no matter what.  Other than that, the synchronisation via iTunes, selection with click-wheel etc is just as for playing a song or podcast.

Not so with WM, the problem being that Mobile WMP will not play an audiobook file in the .aa format used by audible.com.  Audible Download Manager will download to WMP on your PC, WMP then plays the audiobooks and you can sync the .aa files to your WM device, but you then need to use Audible’s AudiblePlayer to actually play the books on your phone.  It’s not the end of the world, and AudiblePlayer is well suited to its purpose (revolting green colour scheme aside).  It’s just clunky to have to use different tools when the whole experience is so seamless and simple with an iPod.

I also had some teething problems to overcome, one relating to my pet hate ActiveSync (rebranded as WMDC on Vista) and another involving bluetooth headphones.  More on that in later posts.

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ActiveSync ravaged laptop finally nursed back to full health

April 16, 2008

Vista busy cursor The XP Thinkpad which ActiveSync all but crippled is finally back to normal working, nearly two weeks after the event.

The complication is that it uses IBM Access Connections (hereinafter “AC”) to connect securely to the corporate wifi and AC takes over some of the wifi functionality normally provided by Windows built-in networking components. It looks like when you install AC, the relevant bits of Windows are disabled to prevent conflicts.

Now after the ActiveSync-induced crash had ripped the heart out of my laptop’s wifi connectivity the only way I had been able to get it working again had been to reinstall Windows networking from the Windows Control Panel. That had got me past the fundamental hurdle but had the downside of reinstating some Windows components that clashed with AC. So what I got was a laptop that could connect to a wifi but was very temperamental, could take ages to lock onto a given wifi in a stable way, and frequently dropped connections even with Wireless Zero Configuration turned off.

The only fix was to reinstall AC because I knew that would send the unwanted bits of Windows networking back to sleep. I had been reluctant to do that because it meant I lost all my preset configurations, but there was no other way so I bit the bullet.

The laptop now connects to wifis as reliably as it ever did and I have set up all my wifi configurations again so all is back to normal, no thanks to (spit) ActiveSync.

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Learning to be underwhelmed … with WMDC

April 12, 2008

Vista busy cursor Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC for short) is nothing more than a light makeover and rebrand of ActiveSync for Vista. The software is (mostly) the same. The name has been changed to protect the lazy.

I have only just nursed my laptop to an acceptable level of health after ActiveSync did its utmost to emasculate its connectivity. It still plays up occasionally. Admittedly, nothing like that had ever happened before but no way was I going to take any more chances with that laptop.

I have a Vista desktop (hence this blog) so decided to give WMDC a whirl. Microsoft have had years to get this sorted. Surely it would have to be an improvement on ActiveSync as we have come to know it.

It is billed as part of Windows but is not part of the install as shipped. Rather, when you connect a Windows Mobile device via say a USB cable Vista detects it and automatically downloads and installs the latest version of WMDC. It is a long, slow process with little reassuring progress confirmation.

Once installed and running, well, it looks very different from ActiveSync, but that’s only the top level interface. Whenever you dip into any of the more detailed functionality the dialog boxes that pop up look awfully familiar. I took that as a bad sign.

I set WMDC up to synchronise my calendar and contacts only, essentially to capture them into Outlook from my outgoing Windows Mobile device (an O2 XDA Mini S) so they could be copied over to my new WM6 device (an O2 XDA Stellar) on a subsequently synchronisation. The first leg seemed to go fine, albeit very, very slowly. I then hooked up the Stellar, established a new relationship (as it is a separate device) and synchronised with the same Outlook profile. That seemed to go fine too, except when I checked that all my appointments etc were safely replicated I found that far too many of them had gone AWOL.

I had to step through the calendars on both WM devices, one day at a time for up to a year ahead, to identify missing items manually and beam the missed ones across, one at a time, using bluetooth. At least all the contacts had copied over correctly.

It’s not that the manual tidy up was all that onerous. It’s a matter of trust in the software. The whole point of ActiveSync/WMDC is that it should provide reliable data backup and enable you to move your living data intact between devices when you upgrade your PDA or PDA-phone.

While I’m having a jolly good gripe, what about Outlook profiles? I didn’t want my WM device data copy exercise to interfere with the data on the family copy of Outlook on the Vista desktop. Unfortunately, you can only maintain completely disparate Outlook data sets by using separate Outlook profiles, and you can’t switch profiles from within Outlook itself. You have to use the Mail applet in the Windows Control Panel which has been a component of Windows for eons, remains unchanged in Vista and looks utterly archaic.

You can see how Vista has become bloated out of all proportion. Microsoft never get rid of anything in case they break some legacy application support. They just layer on wads of new functionality, like a lazy interior decorator that glues the new wallpaper over the old because they won’t make the effort to strip the walls to the plaster and reline properly. To understand Windows you don’t need a software engineer, you need a software archaeologist.

Oh, and after synchronising the Mail applet/Outlook get locked in the current profile. You have to reboot to free up profile selection. Come on Microsoft, we’re talking about real functionality here which is important to people. Forget the 3D interface and other eye candy. This is what really needs to get sorted, so pull your finger out.

And I do hope WMDC never pulls a nasty trick like ActiveSync did to my laptop or we might have to reacronymise WMDC as Weapon of Mass Destruction for Computers.

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Learning to hate with ActiveSync

April 3, 2008

Vista busy cursor I try not to “do hate”. It’s a matter of personal philosophy. The very act of hating someone or something reduces us to the level of the objects of our hate.

But I make an exception for Microsoft’s ActiveSync. In that one case, hate is perfectly justified. In fact, no negative emotion directed towards it is too extreme.

Even during Vista’s endlessly-rotating-blue-bagel-riddled infancy I did not begin to come close to the desire for murderous revenge regularly engendered by ActiveSync, Microsoft’s lame effort at software for synchronising Windows Mobile devices with MS Outlook.

Since my family started using Windows Mobile devices in 2003 (the original O2 XDA and subsequent incarnations) I have synchronised with Outlook as infrequently as I think I can get away with. It has always been such an utter pain, from the frustration of getting a connection (USB, infra-red, bluetooth, wireless, piece of string with a plastic cup at either end … ActiveSync can fail to locate them all) to the unpredictable and alarming threat of synchronising in the wrong direction thus deleting all one’s new contacts and appointments … and latterly dismembering my laptop’s network connection capability.

Yes, ActiveSync rendered my XP Thinkpad unable to connect to a network via LAN or wireless. Violent, painful death would be a megillion times too good for it, could software but be subjected to torture and assassination.

It started when I upgraded my XDA Mini S to an XDA Stellar. I was in danger of making a second exception to my “no hate” rule for the former’s telescopic stylus which suffers from a congenital design fault and becomes very loose in its storage hole after a while. The stylus would fall out almost every time I picked the Mini S up unless I was very careful. I lost the two that came in the original box and two more from a pack of spares I had to buy from O2. I found myself going to great lengths to carry the phone upside down, to enlist some help from gravity in my stylus-retention challenge. Even so, people would keep finding random disembodied styli lying around the place and returning them to me.

Enough! It had to go, hence the XDA Stellar. A far better bit of kit anyway, and thankfully equipped with a non-collapsible securely stowable stylus.

O2 XDA Stellar

You’ve guessed the downside. I had to get my non-SIM contact details across to the new phone. I hadn’t used ActiveSync in months. I tried infra-red to connect. Slow, but experience had taught me it was less disaster-prone than the USB cable method. No dice. ActiveSync did not want to know. Reluctantly, like an utter fool I resorted to USB. No only did this fail to produce a connection, it caused an ActiveSync freeze-up and general computer crash which left my laptop bereft of any TCP/IP based communication capability whatever.

It has taken me days to get any improvement. I have followed any number of Microsoft Technical articles, checking settings and reinstalling parts of Windows. The biggest help has been uninstalling the ethernet and wireless devices from the Control Panel and allowing Plug and Play to rediscover/reinstall them on a reboot. LAN and wifi are now both operational again, although the latter seems to take ages settling down. It keeps losing the wifi connection and reconnecting every few seconds, for the first 10 minutes or so after a reboot or switch from LAN connection.

Maybe my experience with the Windows Mobile Device Center in Vista will be better. I’m going to try that next, since there is no way I’m letting ActiveSync loose on my laptop again. Who knows? It might turn out out to be the best reason yet to be grateful for Vista.

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