Archive for the 'WORK' Category



When Pigs Fly! (Day 3)

poison_apple[1] Having switched over to an iPhone a few days ago, I thought it best to keep a running blog of how things are going: my likes, dislikes, surprises, frustrations, and so forth.  After all, this is a pretty big change for a guy like me 🙂

The reaction to my switchover has been, more or less, as I expected.  A few “traitor” remarks here and there, some “finally”-type sentiments, and the usual “I think you’ll enjoy it” comments that generally don’t seem to have any strings attached.  The biggest surprise (as far as comments are concerned) are those folks who haven’t said anything at all.  It makes me nervous.

For the most part, the experience so far has lacked much fanfare – and I mean that in a good way.  I had to jailbreak my phone (for use on T-Mobile), and that process was a bit more problematic than I’d expected, but that shouldn’t even factor into my thoughts on the iPhone platform.  I’m trying to keep those types of experiences entirely separate from the rest.

Without further ado, here is a quick run-down of my likes, dislikes, etc:

LIKES

  • Stability has been great.  No crashed apps (not that I’ve used tons) and no real issues to speak of.
  • Performance is snappy and consistent.  One of my grips with my Android phone(s) was the sluggishness that I would come across on a regular basis – whether swiping screens side-to-side, opening the browser, or using the maps app.  For that matter, everything could slow down from time to time, and it was aggravating.  Although I’ve seen a few screens on the iPhone chug for a brief moment, they are few and far between.  Even better, the built-in apps (phone, mail, browser, photos, etc.) typically open up immediately.  That’s nice to see.
  • Fairly intuitive.  This is an interesting line item, because Apple (and theIMG_0286 iPhone, specifically) is touted as being the creme de la creme of user interfaces.  While the interface has by and large been easy to navigate, there are a number of things that I wouldn’t call “intuitive”.  Once you know it, of course, it’s easy to use and remember, but they weren’t exactly easy to find.  Case in point: if in the email list view you swipe the right-hand side of an email message, you are prompted with a “delete” button.  Nice!  But I would’ve had NO idea that was there if I hadn’t seen someone else do it.  Also, that particular behavior works on other parts of the UI, but not everywhere.
  • Battery life is quite decent.  I had been on numerous occasions that the battery life was going to be a real sore spot with me, so I was expecting the worst.  I’ve learned to be pretty frugal with my mobile devices, so I did the same here.  3G is “off” (since I’m on T-Mobile), wifi is “off” by default (‘cause I rarely use it), and push email is “off” (I sync every hour).  I do leave bluetooth turned “on”, but I might change that if I find a decent homescreen toggle for that.  All in all, I usually have well over 50% battery by the end of the day, which is about what my Android phone gave me.
  • Fast camera!  The camera on the iPhone 3GS is pretty darned quick – especially compared to the dog-slow camera on the MyTouch 3G.  Fewer “blurry” shots and missed photos is a good thing.
  • Great virtual keyboard.  The iPhone virtual keyboard isn’t great, but it’sIMG_0287 better than just about every other one I’ve used.  On the Android devices, for instance, the stock virtual keyboard was nice looking and fairly responsive.  The HTC version of the virtual keyboard was a step up in many ways, but at the expense of occasional sluggishness.  The ability to hold down a letter and get an ALT character was really nice, though, and I miss that when I’m typing other characters – question marks, commas, etc..  Certainly room for improvement here, but the iPhone keyboard certainly gets the job done.
  • Stock apps are good.  Apple just had to nail this one, and I think they did.  The basic stuff — phone, mail, messaging, browser, etc. – is very well done.  Never particularly exciting, mind you, but it works and works well.
  • Take a screenshot.  With the iPhone, you can quickly hit the Power button and Home button at the same time to snap a photo of the current screen.  Very cool.
  • Double-tap Home for your ‘favorites’.  I don’t know if this is a stock setting or not, but the ability to double-tap the Home button to access my dialer ‘favorites’ is a super-nice touch.  More or less a speed dialer, which I absolutely have to have.  Nice work, Apple!
  • Proximity sensor.  My iPhone buddy, Andy, doesn’t even really think about this one anymore, because he’s been using an iPhone for so long.  Coming from Android, though, it is the bee’s knees!  Basically, the phone goes dark when I’m on a phone call and my face is against the phone.  Pull it away from my face and it lights up again.  Yes!  Not only is it majorly convenient, but it saves battery life and unnecessary phone press mishaps.  Every touchscreen phone should do this, but I have feeling that Apple owns the patent.

DISLIKES

  • I’m embarrassed.  You’d probably expect this from a long-time Apple hater, but I’m quite frankly embarrassed to have an iPhone.  I find myself trying to hide it when I can, or just leave it in my pocket.  It’s kinda like I just “came out of the closet”, except  that I didn’t.  The embarrassment factor will likely change over time.
  • Animations up the wazoo!  I like a nice visual cue in the form of anIMG_0284 animation as much as the next guy, but the iPhone is totally over the top, in my opinion.  Screens spring open, rotate, roll back, flip around, whizz, bang, and whatever else.  It’s a bit corny, if you ask me, especially the “trash” animations when you delete a photo.  Geeeeeeez.  Also, if you press and hold a home screen icon, you can move them around (fine), but why do they have to shake the whole time?  Crazy… and ugly.
  • Slippery sucker.  I won’t beat this one any longer, but the stock casing is just plain ol’ slippery – almost requiring a case of some sort, which I don’t like.  Apple should get over themselves and fix this.  It’s dangerous.
  • Not always consistent.  Again, from a company that is viewed as “writing the book” on great interfaces, I find some strange disconnects when using the iPhone.  For instance, the Maps app has a little folding corner in the lower-right.  What’s up with that?  Sure it’s neat, but there’s nothing else like it that I can find.  Why does the top bar (battery, time, etc.) have to look different depending upon where I’m at?
  • Some ugly default icons.  This is a personal preference item, of course,IMG_0285 but some of the stock homescreen icons are flat-out ugly.  In particular, the Photo app (sunflower) icon annoys me, as does the App Store icon.  Also, the Weather app icon really ought to show me the current temperature, rather than showing 73 degrees all of the time.
  • Screen is strange when turned off.  Let me explain, if I can.  I’ve never seen this on another mobile device, but the iPhone screen is almost naked when turned off.  It has a very gray/brown color, and I can clearly see the edges, which are a tad smaller than the screen frame.
  • Just another connector for the collection.  I would like to see some standardization with mobile devices and connectors.  Previous to the iPhone, nearly all of my personal mobile devices used a mini-USB connector.  My phone, our camera, bluetooth headset, and so on.  Now I’ve got yet another connector cluttering up my desk, and I find it unnecessary.  To be fair, the Zune has a proprietary connector too.  Why can’t they just standardize on one and stick with it?  Oh, well.
  • Buttons that are difficult to use.  I’ve used a number of mobile devices over the years, and the iPhone’s physical buttons/switches are among my least favorite – save for the “joggr bar” on the T-Mobile Dash (oh… my… word!).  The iPhone volume buttons are hard for me to find while I’m on a call, the “silent” switch is awkward (in my opinion), and the top ON/OFF switch is difficult to reach one-handed.  I’ve seen better implementations of all three.
  • Needs better volume/silent management.  To be fair, Android wasn’tIMG_0283 any better at this, but the iPhone has no way to automatically switch you in and out of “silent” mode.  Windows Mobile has had an “automatic” profile for years that would put your phone in silent mode whenever you were in a meeting (based upon your calendar events) and return to the normal ring mode when done.  I found a pay app called “Auto Silent” that can do this on the iPhone, but it should be built in.  The “Locale” app for Android takes it even further, but for $10 I’m guessing that a lot of folks will go without.  These types of features oughta be stock, if you ask me.
  • Tethered Jailbreak*.  This is specific to my firmware and hardware type, but it really sucks.  Basically, every time I reboot my phone, I have to connect it to my computer and run “blackra1n”.  Really lame, and slightly unnerving.

There you have it!  More to come in the days ahead…

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When Pigs Fly! (The iPhone Experience: Day 1)

Don't do it... it's poisoned! JUST TELL US HOW YOU FEEL
Before we get going here, let me make something very clear:  I hate Apple.  I’ve hated them for years.  I hate seeing those cheap white ear buds in people’s ears.  I hate seeing that glowing piece of fruit on laptop lids.  I hate seeing people standing on the street corner petting their iPhone as if it brought some sort of pleasure (and maybe it does).  I hate iTunes.  I hate hearing the words “MacBook Pro”, “iPod” or “iMac”.  In fact, I’m beginning to hate any reference to a lowercase letter “i”.  I hate it when Apple is successful.  I hate seeing their billboards or tv commercials.  I hate seeing that purple, “spacey” default background in OSX.  I strongly dislike Steve Jobs (I try not to *hate* people) and generally think he’s a pompous egomaniac.  In fact, I generally view Apple Computers as a marketing powerhouse that bends nearly every word they say, and with little-to-no recourse.  Sometimes I wish the company would just go away, like they nearly did over a decade ago.

That’s how I feel.  Deal with it.

SOME HISTORY
Before you write me off as a complete freak of nature, though, let me explain some of my background with technology and computer companies.  You see, when I was still in grade school, my parents owned a small computer store in Anchorage, Alaska.  They sold IBM PCs, PC JRs, Vic 20s, and Commodore 64s.  Those were real computers.  I grew up using tape drives, dot matrix printers, BASIC, and DOS.  It was gritty, exclusive, and geeky.  I loved it.  Still, back in those days Apple Computer had a very strong foothold in the home and business markets.  Like most every other kid, I used them in school for programming, reports, playing Oregon Trail, and whatever else.  Apple and IBM lived in a 50/50 type of market, depending upon which year you were looking at.

Ahh, Windows 3.1 In the late 80s and early 90s, however, a little product called Microsoft Windows started to make some serious headway.  Neither technically superior nor particularly impressive, Windows began replacing DOS on PCs as the interface of choice.  Sure it wasn’t gritty and grubby like the command line stuff, but it was “PC”.  It seemed like the right thing to do, and so I stuck with it.

Shortly before I was married, the next big iteration of Windows – Windows 95 – sprung onto the scene.  More important than any technological advances was the market saturation.  Microsoft, not the PC market as a whole, had shifted the tide from a strong Apple influence to the Windows world.  In the years that would follow, Microsoft Windows would find itself with over 90% market share.  At that same time, I was getting into building, fixing, and selling computers for a living.  Shortly thereafter, I began work as a “systems administrator” and have been working in this same field ever since.  What types of computers have I been working on for most of these years?  Why Windows systems, of course – servers, desktops, laptops, phones, and so forth.  Microsoft has, in a matter of speaking, kept me employed for many years.

WHY, MAN?  WHYYYY?
I say all of this to somehow explain how and why I could’ve come to having such a hatred of Apple Computers and their products.  They have been a threat to my very livelihood, or at least that has been my perception.  As they’ve become more and more successful over this past decade, I’ve seen my relevance waning somewhat.  As with most threatening situations, the “fight or flight” response kicks in, and neither choice is especially pretty.  It certainly hasn’t been with me.

Not really how I feel... I guess I should’ve seen the signs several years ago.  My good friend and long-time PC buddy, Andy, decided to get a MacBook.  No warning, no discussion – he just bought it.  I actually found out from a mutual friend who told me, “Andy said not to tell Scott”.  For some strange reason, it was a blow to me.  I wasn’t angry at my friend, of course, but rather I felt threatened by the tide of users starting to reconsider Apple once again.  Not too long after, a co-worker purchased an iPhone with a similar caveat — “don’t tell Scott”.  This same sentence has been uttered probably half a dozen times.  Evidently, and without my even knowing it, I became the anti-Apple guy.  Rather than shrug it off, however, I dug in, squared my shoulders, and began to fight.  Here’s the deal with starting a fight, though: you gotta know what the victory, if it ever comes, will look like.  Otherwise, you just end up swinging your arms ad infinitem with no end in sight.

I’ve never been much of a fast learner.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END
A few weeks ago, after repeated frustration with my Android phone (MyTouch 3G… more on that in another posting), I decided that something had to give.  I had to get a phone that I could live with.  Unfortunately, my choices were fairly limited, seeing as how I *had to have* full Exchange sync support, ability to use the phone with T-Mobile, and a smattering of other “must have” and “would really like to have” requirements.  Then it dawned on me: perhaps I could start to tame this hatred of Apple by forcing myself to use their product.  Not only that, but the iPhone – aside from being an Apple product – fit nearly every criteria that I had for a workable phone solution.

I swallowed my pride and set out to get my hands on one.

Yesterday, March 15th, 2010, I received an iPhone 3GS (16GB).  Not my first Apple product, mind you, but the first that I’ve purposely intended to use – and to a great extent.  Also, the irony of me (ME… of all people!) using an iPhone has not been lost on my family, many of my friends, and especially my co-workers.  It’s both a complete non-event (cosmically speaking) and a radical quantum shift — all at the same time.

MOVING ON FROM HERE
So, here we are.  I have an iPhone.  I’m using it.  I make phone calls on it, browse the web, take pictures, and so forth.  I still don’t really like Apple, but maybe that’ll change.

That all-to-familiar unlock screenStrangely enough, I’m ok with myself and this decision.  That may seem like a dumb thing to say – it is a computer company, after all, and just some stupid technology – but you don’t know my brain.  It was a difficult decision to make, but I’m alright with it at this point.  Some of my PC/Windows-lovin’ buddies may call me a turncoat, but that’s ok.  I’m really not.  I will gladly toss this iPhone off of a tall bridge when the next Windows Phone Series devices come out – assuming that they’re as good as they look – but that may still be awhile.  I would also rather use Windows 7 than anything else.  I know my roots, and those are hard to dig up without some very considerable effort.  If some of those roots are as “angry” and “hate-filled” as my first paragraph of this post, however, then I’m happy to be rid Yeah...I covered the back with a picture of Ronald Reagan!  So sue me!!!of them.  Life is too short for those kinds of words and emotions.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be blogging about my experience with the iPhone – both the technology at hand (see what I did there?!) and the changes in me.  It’ll either be extremely exciting or excruciatingly boring.

Like you really have anything better to do than read my blog.

Microsoft Security Essentials (Anti-virus)

I have never, ever been a fan of anti-virus applications.  Why?  Well, as a systems administrator, I’ve seen how more often than not they adversely affect the PC that they’re “protecting” – primarily in the area of system performance.  It drives me nuts.  In most cases, I think the protection they offer is admirable, but at the cost of performance?  No thank you.

mse_v1_promo[1]
When it was announced a year ago (or so) that Microsoft would be releasing their own anti-virus client, the jokes started almost immediately.  Windows has long been flogged as an “insecure” operating system, even though Windows XP’s service-pack 2 (released in August 2004) resolved most of these issues. 

It’s difficult to shake a bad reputation. 

What has been unknown for these many months is what Microsoft’s iteration of an anti-virus client would look like.  Will it be bloated?  Slow?  Will it even provide system protection?  How much will it cost?  Some of these questions were answered with the earlier release of Microsoft’s Live OneCare suite, which garnered very good reviews on all accounts.  Still, Microsoft would find some way to mess up a good thing, right?  Don’t they always??

Not necessarily.

Earlier this year, the beta of Microsoft Security Essentials was released and the results were quite surprising. 

  • No Bloat: Less than a 5 meg download for the 64-bit version.  Seriously.
  • Responsive: Your system feels nearly ‘no load’, even while a full system scan is taking place
  • Cost?: Free

The one thing that I cannot comment on is the level of protection that this anti-virus suite provides, though I’m going to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt on this one.  Why?  Just because they’re Microsoft?  No, actually – more because their Live OneCare product (upon which this app is based) has already been given a thumbs-up in this regard.  I expect that tradition to continue.

So… note this date in history: I am for the very first time recommending an anti-virus product.  Check out Microsoft Security Essentials

Would like to read a more in-depth review?  Sure thing.  Head over to this site.

mse1  mse3 mse4mse2

Quick Look: T-Mobile MyTouch 3G

t-mobile-mytouch-3g-300x274[1] Last December, I purchased the T-Mobile G1 – the very first Google Android-based handset to market.  Although it seemed like a good idea at the time, we just weren’t ready for each other.  The OS was in its early stages of development, and I wasn’t ready for a “learning experience”.  A few months later, I sold my G1 off to some unsuspecting 20-year-old and ran back to my T-Mobile Dash.

So what’s the deal now?  Why am I talking about the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G?  It’s pretty simple: it was time (again) for a new phone.  The Dash was going on 3.5 years old, and simply didn’t offer what I needed – better speed, a touchscreen, and a “fresh face”.  I kicked around the notion of getting another WinMo device, but the phones that I really wanted were pretty darned expensive – even purchasing them “used”, which would’ve left me without a warranty.  The MyTouch 3G (MT3G) release date was just around the corner and it piqued my interest.  A slightly larger ROM size (vs. the G1), smaller form-factor, bigger battery, and – most importantly – an OS that has matured since the G1 launch.  After checking out the early reviews, I decided to place a pre-order and renew my contract for another 2 years.

<gulp>

mytouch[1]

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
T-Mobile really upped the ante in the production and marketing of this phone.  The packaging is impressive, and comes with a nice zipper case, adapters,t-mobile-mytouch-3g-androi-phone-01-r3media-540x303[1] chargers, and most everything you need – including a screen protector, if that’s how you roll.  It feels like T-Mo put some real thought and effort into making the MyTouch a successful product – beginning with the launch, and  (hopefully) followed-up with good, long-term support.  We’ll see.

The MT3G is a very nice looking phone.  It looks decent enough in online reviews, but much better in person.  I have the “black” variety, but (evidently) the “white” and “merlot” look very nice as well.  Your choice.  This is also a very sturdy handset that feels good in the hand.  While it’s smaller than the G1 – mainly due to losing the physical keyboard – it still feels very well-built without feeling heavy.  In fact, it’s roughly 25% lighter than the G1, which is nice. 

The back of the casing is smooth without feeling dangerously slippery.  The buttons are of good quality, save for the trackball which always feels cheap to me – whether on the G1, MyTouch, Blackberry, or whatever.  Personal preference, I guess, because a lot of people seem to love them.

All in all, the MT3G gives a good first impression.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?
myTouch I just gotta say this: “MyTouch 3G” is a truly horrible name.  I feel silly typing it, and I’m embarrassed to say it out loud.  They’re really pushing this “my” thing – make it your own, each is unique, etc. — and I understand that completely, but “myTouch”? 

Ewww.  Icky.  Lame.

Moving along now…

ANDROID… ALL GROWN UP
google_android_[1] Aside from the hardware changes (as compared to the G1), the MT3G is sporting the newest revision of the Android OS — version 1.5, dubbed “cupcake” – which is also what G1 owners have automatically upgraded to.  This is certainly more of an evolutionary upgrade to the Android operating system, but they’ve made some very good changes.  The “onscreen keyboard” was a must and really works very well,  voice recognition is in there, an updated browser, video recorder, stereo bluetooth support, and a lotta bug fixes.  Essentially, it’s keeping pace with the likes of the iPhone, which isn’t an easy task.  That said, considering that this OS is less than 1-year old, Android is a pretty impressive feat – with more features coming this year!  I’m not a huge fan of Google, to be honest, but for the anti-iPhone person out there (like me!), Android is one of the best options out there.

10[1] Perhaps equally as important to the long-term viability of the Android OS is the 3rd party support.  What the OS lacks in features/usability is often compensated for with downloadable apps, utilities, and other such “niceties” that make Android just that much better.  Case in point: I initially begrudged Android for how many clicks were required to simply call the ten people I spoke to most often.  With a free application like ‘Any Cut’, however, I can easily make shortcuts on my home screen to those contacts/numbers.  In other words, what used to take 9 clicks on the phone, now takes only 4 – which is much more inline with what I’ve been accustomed to on my T-Mobile Dash.  Quite simply, the app support for Android is growing – and continues to grow on a daily basis.  While most of the stuff is useless, there are many handy utilities that I really rely upon now.

Here are some favs…

  • Locale – great for setting phone conditions based upon certain criteria.  For instance, when the GPS detects that I’m “at work”, then set the phone volume to 50%.  How cool is that?
  • HTC Keyboard – although the standard Android virtual keyboard is good, the HTC variant is even better.
  • Any Cut – put handy shortcuts to most anything… right on your desktop!
  • VirtueBible FE – this free Bible reader is really well made, which markers and memorization support.
  • SMS Popup – I really like the way this no-frills, free app handles incoming SMS/text messages.  Should be built into Android!
  • Robo Defense (Free) – a super-fun tower defense style game.

Android has more work to do to be the “de-facto mobile OS”, but they’re making great strides with very good community support.

POINT BY POINT
It seems only fair that I look at my previous review and hit on the negative points I made.  Have they resolved these issues?  Let’s find out…

  • Consistency: I had made some initial dings against Android in the area of “consistency”, and sadly I think that this (for the most part) still holds true.  There are still those occasions when the trackball is necessary, when a long-press doesn’t exist, and when hitting the MENU button does nothing.  More than anything, I guess, you get used to these things.  Every operating system has its “quirks”, and Android is no different.
  • Home Screen Area(s): I had also complained that the Android home screen – which is broken into a “virtual desktop” type arrangement – would typically be unknown to the casual user.  This is still the case, of course, and many updated ROMs are taking this even further – with 5 or 7 virtual desktops!  Chock this up to a “feature”, I suppose, as it’s just how Android functions.
  • Notification Bar: The top portion of the home screen houses the “notification bar”, where items like missed calls, voicemail notices, and text messages go.  In the early build of Android, it seemed like ‘swiping’ this area down to view it was somewhat iffy.  Be it a software or hardware change, this really appears to be much more responsive on the MT3G.android_marketplace[1]
  • Menu: Bringing up the menu to get to your applications is something a lot of folks will do quite frequently.  If you have tons of shortcuts on your desktop, then I suppose you may see the menu less than most, but I’m guessing that 90% of installed apps are still launched by opening the menu, scrolling, finding the icon, and tapping it.  Sadly, the performance of the menu is still pretty pitiful – and I’m not sure why.  Whereas the notification bar is very smooth, the revealing of the menu is choppy and distracting.  Hopefully the next version of Android will resolve this, as it’s a fairly noticeable portion of the OS.
  • Performance: I know that the Android team has gone to great lengths to improve the all-around performance of this OS, and it’s really paid off.  The basic functions: phone calls, messaging, email, etc., are quite snappy.  The occasional app can still bog the phone slightly – certainly noticeable when downloading/installing a new app – but for the most part it all moves and responds well.  I rarely feel a need to restart my phone, as it almost seems to move better over time.  Nice!
  • 3G Speed: Whether it be a phone issue, OS issue, or phone network problem, the 3G speeds were nothing to write home about on my G1.  I’m happy to say that the 3G speeds are now quite snappy, especially compared to the old Edge network.  As a comparison, the 1MB Simple Mobile Speed Test from DSL Reports showed a 1,538 kbit/sec download speed on the 3G network (full bars).  Impressive!  That same test using the Edge network came back with a measley 125 kbit/sec.  Ouch :( 
  • Dropped Calls: During my brief (few month) stint with the G1, I had an noticeable increase in dropped calls.  Hardware issue?  OS?  3G network?  I’m really not sure, to be honest, but the MT3G has performed very well in this area.  Maybe 1 dropped call in the past few weeks?  Whatever the number, it’s very low.
  • Stability: The Android OS – as well as this phone – continues to be very stable, with very few applications “hanging” or requiring a force close.  This was mostly a non-issue before, and it continues to be so.
  • Quick Dialing: As I noted previously, the default dialing experience with Android (and other “full-featured” phones, to be honest) leaves a bit to be desired.  Unlocking the phone, finding a person, clicking on their name, and selecting/dialing their number seems to take way longer than necessary.  This is my opinion, of course, but such a basic function should be much easier.  Thankfully, apps like Any Cut allow you to make shortcuts to particular numbers for particular contacts right on your desktop.  In my case, my left-hand virtual desktop is dedicated to my “speed dial” and “speed message” favorites.  Unlock the phone, swipe to the left, and click the icon.  Done!
  • Voicemail: With my G1 phone, I had noted that something seemed to receive a “voice command” while I would be checking my voicemail.  I don’t know what the deal was there, but it happened fairly frequently.  With the introduction of the MT3G, T-Mobile has also introduced a long-needed functionality: visual voicemail.  As a downloadable app (free), I can simply launch Visual Voicemail, look at the list of voice messages, and play whichever one I like.  I can rewind, fast-forward, or delete them as I please.  The biggest gripe I have right now is that the Visual Voicemail app doesn’t pipe audio out to my bluetooth headset, when connected.  Strange, but not the end of the world.  I also assume that they’ll fix this is a coming release.

3RD PARTY ROM SUPPORT
One of the most exciting things about Android + HTC devices is the ability to “root” and install 3rd party ROMs.  In fact, this really contributed to my leaning toward another HTC phone.  Although my Dash was initially easier to load up with a 3rd party ROM, the MT3G is probably even easier with the 1-Click Root method, which I’ve taken full advantage of.  At this point, I can download any 32B-compatible ROM from the XDA Developers site, copy the .zip file to the SD card on my phone, reboot, and install a new ROM. 

Those are slightly oversimplified steps, but not by much.  Seriously. 

The most impressive ROM I’ve used so far is the eViL HeRo v1.6xb ROM, which is really fun to look at, but has some performance issues on this hardware.  Thankfully, HTC has revealed a *very promising” Hero update that oughta resolve many of the performance updates with this version of the Android OS.  I’m really looking forward to that, and will dedicate a separate write-up to that experience.

MAKE IT YOURS
In addition to the 3rd party ROM support, one of the most impressive features of the Android OS is the ability to really customize and make it yours.  Not to rip into the iPhone too heavily (you already know that I’m no fan), but every single iPhone I’ve seen looks the same – save for the wallpaper.  It’s a screen  with 16 icons or so, flipping to the right for more icons, and on and on.  Very boring, if you ask me, but that’s the Apple world – absolute control over the user experience, which (in all honestly) has served them well.  It’s not what I want, though.  I want my own world where I can tinker, fiddle, customize, and make it unique.  I do this on my computer desktop, and I want the same with my phone.  The WinMo world offered this, and (even more so) the Android OS does as well.

SUMMARY
Call me crazy, but I’m quite happy with the MyTouch 3G phone – name aside.  This is an attractive, fun-to-use, well-built phone that really competes well with the likes of the Palm Pre and iPhone.  I mean that very seriously.

htc_magic_2[1]With several more Android-based phones due out this year, prepare yourself for the onslaught.  You’re going to be seeing a lot more “Google phones” from different carriers.  That is ultimately a good thing, as the OS and app support will continue to thrive, but also means a certain “loss of exclusivity”, which has thus far really belonged to T-Mobile.  Still, I’m quite happy with this phone right now, and it will certainly keep me happy until I find out what Microsoft has in store with the upcoming WinMo 7.

Thanks for reading.

Visual Voicemail… it’s about time!

One of the few (if only) things that have attracted me to the iPhone is the “Visual Voicemail” feature – the ability to see your collection of voicemails and play any message you wish.  As someone who receives a lot of voicemail messages, this is not just desirable, it’s borderline critical.

Case in point.

During our recent vacation, I received a phone call that I thought was from my wife at our condo.  I missed the call, but wanted to see if she left a message and time was of the essence.  Unfortunately, I had 9 voicemail messages that I needed to wade through first – and some of them were several minutes in length!  Doesn’t it make sense to be able to simply play whatever message I like without having to listen to (or skip through) 8 other messages first?  Absolutely… and it took Apple forcing this upon the network carrier before AT&T made their network function this way.

Let’s get with it, folks.  This is bone-headed, “duh” kinda stuff.  Our old corporate Comdial phone system – installed in 1999 – had this capability with a simple desktop app.  But most of our cell phones can’t do this 10 years later? 

Lame.

Anyhow, I’m thankful to see that T-Mobile appears to be implementing Visual Voicemail sometime this summer.  I don’t know which phones it’ll work with, but it’s a step in the correct direction…

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I’m also looking forward to their “Rhodium” phone! 🙂

REDUX: upgrade your T-Mobile Dash to WM6.1

This time last year (or so), I posted an article on upgrading your T-Mobile Dash phone to Windows Mobile 6.1 – the latest WinMo build available for these phones.  While that article is still very valid and useable, I thought it best to revisit this topic with more current information, including the WM6.1 ROM that I’m now using.

I’ll be rehashing much of the info from my previous post (no sense reinventing the wheel!).  That said, this article should be able to get you from your current state (WM5, WM6 or WM6.1) to the Windows Mobile 6.1-based “EnergyROM”, which I’m liking very much.  Even better, many of the tweaks that I posted in my previous article are no longer necessary – they’re built right in!

Here we go…

First of all, this write-up assumes that you have a fully-functioning T-Mobile Dash phone operating on the U.S. network.  It also assumes that you know how to use your phone fairly well, as not everything is spelled out for you.  Lastly, this procedure may void your warranty, so please be aware of that.

What you’ll need:

  • A functioning, usable T-Mobile Dash phone (aka HTC Excalibur) on the T-Mobile network
  • Windows PC (XP, Vista or Windows 7 –> what I use)
  • USB sync cable to connect your phone to your PC
  • To download this ROM file and unzip it to a local folder on your computer.  The desktop works fine.
    (Note: you will need a RAR compatible unzip program like WinRAR.)

If you’re already confused, then this upgrade isn’t for you.  Otherwise, please continue…

UPGRADING THE ROM

  1. Turn off your phone, remove any MicroSD card you might have, and boot the phone back up again.  When the phone is fully booted (and usable), connect your phone to your PC via your USB sync cable.  Windows should recognize your phone and either 1) launch ActiveSync/Windows Mobile Device Center (pictured), or 2) see it as a removable drive.  Fine.  Things are working normally.

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  2. With your phone connected to your PC, double-click on the “auto.bat” file from the EnergyROM .rar file that you downloaded/extracted in the earlier steps.winmoUpgrade02
  3. The ROM update utility will start.  You should be greeted with a command prompt box telling your to “remove SD card and reboot…”.  We’ve already done this, so hit Enter (any key) to continue.  The ROM will be copied to your phone.winmoUpgrade03
  4. The screen should read “execute SPL now…”  Hit Enter one more time.winmoUpgrade04
  5. Now, hit the middle (silver) button of your phone d-pad.  The screen on your mobile phone should turn white.
  6. Back at the CMD prompt (DOS box), hit Enter once more to continue.winmoUpgrade05
  7. The GUI for the ROM updater should launch.  Keep the defaults and select any “I agree” statements when prompted.  The ROM update itself takes about 5 minutes or so.winmoUpgrade06

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  8. Update successful!  After the update, your phone will reboot by itself and run some behind-the-scenes configurations, which might take awhile.  This is normal.
  9. Upon rebooting again, you will see the Windows Mobile desktop, which is followed up shortly by the “Connection Setup” dialog.  Choose your cellular operator and hit OK to apply those settings.
  10. For whatever reason, this ROM update sets your time, date and time zone quite strangely, which may adversely affect some program installs.  So, go ahead and set those settings now.  Go to START > SETTINGS > Clock & Alarm > Time & Date.
  11. Finally, your phone should be ready-to-go with the WM6.1 EnergyROM.  Congrats!!!  You can re-insert your MiniSD card, if you like.

INSTALLING THE ‘MINI OPERA’ BROWSER

Although this ROM comes with a newer version of the mobile Internet Explorer browser, it leaves some things to be desired.  I’ve found that the (free) Opera Mini browser is very nice to use on these phones, can browse most any website, and is really quite fast – even over the Edge network.

Here’s how to install Opera Mini, if you like.

  1. On your phone, select Start > Internet Explorer
  2. Click the right soft button for the Menu, and select Go To Web Address
  3. Hold the backspace arrow to delete the current text.
    (Note: to disable the XT9 predictive text, hold the Alt key + Space Bar to bring up that menu.  Choose ‘ABC’ from the list.)
  4. Type in mini.opera.com and hit Enter
  5. When the page loads, choose the bottom most option that says “If this version fails to install…” and click the center button on your d-pad
  6. On the next page, select the top option for “Download Opera Mini! (English, Multiple Certificates)” and hit the center button.
  7. Click the left soft button to Continue.  Click OK at the <root> option prompt.  Click Continue again.
  8. Click OK at the warning screen
  9. Click OK at the Security screen
  10. Opera Mini will download and install.  Click YES to launch when prompted.
  11. Click YES at the initial Permissions screen for Opera Mini.
  12. At the Permissions screen, select “Yes, always.  Don’t ask again” and hit OK to continue.
  13. Opera Mini will finish its install.  Click “Accept” and you’re done.
  14. Finally, within Opera Mini, choose Menu (left soft button) > Tools > Settings.  Deselect the “Auto-complete address input” and “24-hour clock” options.  *Highly recommended*.  Hit the left soft button to Save.
  15. Opera Mini is ready-to-rock!  Enjoy 🙂

Note: Opera Mini is a java application, so you won’t see an ‘Opera Mini’ link on your Start Menu.  Instead, launch the Java application, and then launch Opera Mini from within it.  You can assign a hotkey to the Java app, or use MortScript to make Opera Mini its own “program”, so to speak.  More on that in the near future.

PARTING THOUGHTS

The T-Mobile Dash  continues to surprise me with how well it performs after all these years.  Hey… this sucker was originally released in late 2006!  The continuing dev support, especially at XDA Developers, is nothing short of astounding.

Even better, the EnergyROM has breathed additional life into this phone, which is really cool.  It looks great, is a bit faster, handles low-memory situations better, and incorporates a lot of the tweaks I really love.  Very nice work, NRGZ28!!

I hope you enjoy it too 🙂

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Getting to know you, Windows XP Mode “beta”

One of the Microsoft products recently announced and released (in “beta” form) is something called ‘Windows XP Mode’.  Without getting too deep into the product description, this product will allow you to run older, legacy apps within Windows 7 – and presumably the next version of Windows Server.  It may not appeal to the typical end-user, but this functionality is likely critical for corporations looking to adopt Windows 7 within the workplace.

WHY?
It may not be readily apparent to most Windows users, but there is a huge need for legacy application support within any version of Windows.  Microsoft would love for each person and each company to immediately adopt the latest version of Windows, Office, Exchange, and every other product they release, but this is clearly unrealistic – both from a cost and support standpoint.  Upgrading to the latest and greatest software can be expensive, and in many cases the hardware upgrade needs further compound the cost considerations – especially in the current economic climate.  Also, many companies rely upon older, occasionally in-house apps, for the company to function.  Rollouts of new hardware, applications, or operating systems are typically methodically planned out and budgeted for.  Running legacy applications under the newest (more stable, more secure) operating system is a pretty big boon to many companies.  It doesn’t alleviate the increased hardware requirements, but the pricing on state-of-the-art hardware is dropping daily.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
’Windows XP Mode’ is really a tweaked version of the Virtual PC platform that Microsoft has had for years.  Many companies rely heavily upon virtualization for testing, legacy app support, and lower hardware overhead in server farm scenarios.  Rather than a single box running a single OS, which is relatively inefficient, more powerful machines can be running 5, 10, 20 (or more) OSes concurrently – each distinct in and of themselves, but sharing foundational hardware, such as the CPU, RAM, network access, and so forth.  This is just one example.

The difference with ‘Windows XP Mode’ is the ability to install an application in the virtualized environment, but run it on your desktop machine as a (seemingly) normal, standalone product.  For instance, I may have Office 2007 on my desktop machine, but have a need to test against Office 97 upon occasion.  Installing concurrent versions of Office on a single machine typically equals bad mojo.  Don’t go there.  With ‘Windows XP Mode”, however, I can literally have Word 2007 and Word 97 launched side-by-side, though they are technically running on separate operating systems in separate spaces.  Pretty cool, and it will really be a life-saver for many companies – including the place where I work.

FEATURES

  • Windows XP SP3 core
  • USB Support
  • Folder sharing between the Host PC and Guest
  • Clipboard (cut & paste) sharing
  • Printer redirection
  • Appearance of a “native application”
  • More features

LET’S TAKE A LOOK
For starters, head over to the ‘Windows XP Mode’ page, check the system requirements, and then download the necessary installers.  Any new-ish PC running Windows 7 “RC” should be able to support it.  You’ll need to first install a Virtual PC “beta”, and then the ‘Windows XP Mode’ “beta”.  Sadly, running the ‘Windows XP Mode’ installer first didn’t inform me that I was missing anything, so I was a bit confused. 

Follow the steps and you should be ok.

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(Note: I had Virtual PC 2007 SP1 already installed on my machine, which it didn’t like.  Uninstalling VPC2007 allowed me to continue, though I don’t know what other functionality I’ve lost at this point.)

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Once you’ve walked through both installers and rebooted your PC, you should be ready to launch ‘Windows XP Mode’ for the first time.  Note that it’s referred to as ‘Virtual Windows XP’ in your Start Menu.  I don’t know what name they’ll eventually settle on.

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You are prompted to provide a password during the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ initial setup.  The username cannot be changed, so don’t try it.  It’ll be interesting to see how security issues are handled in the long run.  Will the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ session make the host PC more vulnerable to malware and/or viruses?  Is it segmented from the host PC?  Questions that I do not yet have answers for.

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Once the setup is complete, you are presented with a typical Virtual PC-type session of a Windows XP desktop.  It is quite simply just Windows XP (SP3) running in a Virtual PC environment.  Nothing fancy here.

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Interestingly, ‘Virtual Windows XP’ automatically maps the drives available on your Host PC.  For instance, our corporate S: drive (containing software installs, etc.) is immediately available within the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ session.

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My test install of Office 2000 ended in a “fail”.  It thought that I was installing from a Remote Desktop session, which is somewhat strange.

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Better yet… let’s try installing Office 97!  The setup launched and completed without a hitch.

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Without really knowing what to do next, I closed the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ window like I would any other application.  A very brief “hibernating” dialog box showed up, and that was that.

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In my Start Menu once again, I now have a listing for ‘Virtual Windows XP Applications’, which was populated automatically after the Office 97 install.  I simply click on ‘Microsoft Word’ like I would any other application, and away I go!

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My initial launch gave me an interesting screen making reference to my previous “logoff” and what I’d like to do next.  I chose the ‘Open Virtual Application’ option and continued.

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The ‘Starting Virtual Application’ dialog.  This seems to be pretty standard when starting your first virtual app session.

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After a brief flash of the Virtual PC desktop (strange!), Word 97 was up and running in its own windows space – just like any other app.  For whatever reason, it started out stretched across my dual-monitors.  After a quick resize, it was fine.

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The ‘Save As’ dialog in Word 97 has access to my same mapped drives.  Also, the ‘My Documents’ folder maps to the same location as my Host PC.  It looks a bit strange in this form, and could confuse some users.  Still, I’ve performed nearly no configuration during this process, and I can save a Word 97 document to my network share.  That’s kinda cool.

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The taskbar icon doesn’t really show me that Word 97 is currently open.  Rather, I have a generic ‘Virtual Windows XP’ icon.  Mousing over the icon, however, gives a bit more information.

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Closing Word 97 is completely uneventful.  It closes like any other application, with no further dialog boxes or adverse behavior.  Is ‘Virtual Windows XP’ off at this point?  I don’t know.  Presumably it hibernates quickly upon closing.

FINAL THOUGHTS
For the most part, ‘Windows XP Mode’ (aka ‘Virtual Windows XP’ aka whoknowswhat) has met my expectations.  Aside from the initial install confusion on my part, everything went pretty smoothly.  This page helped clear things up.  Having installed apps automically show up in the Start Menu of my Host PC was unexpected, but a very nice surprise.  Performance seems reasonable, with initial application start times of around 30 seconds (resuming the virtual OS from hibernate, it seems) and consequent application launches being almost instantaneous.  I have yet to perform any real testing of the virtualized applications themselves.

As I mentioned previously, this functionality is a huge boon for many companies out there, while most home users will either be unaware of this product, or won’t care.  Clearly the product needs polish – especially around the install process and application “launch” strangeness – but is otherwise a pretty impressive outing.  I look forward to testing additional applications and subsequent releases of ‘Virtual Windows XP’.

Thanks for reading.