Tag Archives: Windows CE

Bye Bye, Laptop?

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The day seems to be getting closer when we can do something that would seem to be pretty obvious: access our pocket-sized smartphone via a bigger screen, keyboard and a mouse. Celio Corp says it’s close.

Celio Corp have two products: their Mobile Companion (pictured above), a laptop like thing that includes an 8″ display, a full function keyboard, and a touchpad mouse. At 1 x 6 x 9 inches and weighing 2 lbs, the Mobile Companion promises over 8 hours of battery life and boots instantly. After loading a driver on your smartphone you can then access it via a USB cable or Bluetooth. (You can also charge the smartphone via the same USB connection.)

Uses? Well, you can say goodbye to coach cramp, where you’re unable to use a normal laptop. You can input data more easily than you might if you just had your smartphone with you. And, of course, you don’t need to bring your laptop.

The second product might be even better. The Smartphone Interface System is, from what I can work out, a small Bluetooth device that connects your smartphone, not to the Mobile Companion, but to a desktop computer, public display or a conference room projector  — these devices connect via a cable to the Interface, like this:

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The important bit about both products is that the Redfly software renders the smartphone data so it fits on the new display (this will be quite tricky, and, because it will carried via Bluetooth, would need quite a bit of compression. The maximum size of the output display is VGA, i.e. 800 x 480, so don’t expect stunning visuals, but it’ll be better than having all your colleagues crowding around your smartphone.)

The bad news? Redfly isn’t launched yet, and will for the time being be available only for Windows Mobile Devices. Oh, and according to UberGizmo, it will cost $500. The other thing is that you shouldn’t confuse “full function keyboard” with “full size keyboard”: this vidcap from PodTech.net gives you an idea of the actual size of the thing:

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this is the keyboard size relative to Celio CEO Kirt Bailey’s digits:

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Until I try the thing out and feel sure that the keyboard doesn’t make the same compromises as the Eee PC, I’d rather use my Stowaway keyboard.

For those of you looking for software to view your mobile device on your desktop computer, you might want to check out My Mobiler. It’s free software that purports to do exactly that for Windows Mobile users.

The Failure of the Smartphone Interface

I still don’t understand why people think that a stylus is a good thing, or that mimicking a Windows environment — designed for navigation by mice and other pointy things — is regarded as a worthy goal for mobile devices.

Take what Walt Mossberg, who has emerged as something of an expert on the new Treos, has to say about them in his mailbag (the URL isn’t a permalink, so don’t know how long it’s good for):

I have reviewed both devices, and I find that the Windows Mobile software on the 700w is considerably inferior to the Palm operating system software on the 700p. Too many common actions in the Windows version take more steps than the same actions on the Palm OS version, and often require navigating menus. You are likely to use the stylus more often in the Windows version as well.

I think in the near future we’ll wonder what the hell we were doing with our mobile interfaces. Why is it harder to answer a smartphone than it is to answer a normal mobile phone? Stylii were designed for sitting in restaurants and at desks, not when you’re standing in heavy pedestrian traffic outside Leicester Square tube trying to find someone’s phone number. Windows was designed for laptops, desktops, more or less anything with a flat surface and a mouse nearby, not for navigating on crowded trains or in fast-moving cars (especially when you’re driving).

Palm still looks good because it’s relatively simple as an interface. But it’s still looking dated, even while we’re still waiting for something better to come along.

The Demise of the Handheld Interface

Am I the only person depressed by the idea that Treos are now going to be Windows Mobile-powered? (It remains to be seen whether there’ll be Palm versions too; it would make sense, at least for a while.)

First off, feel sorry for all the third party developers who came up with great Palm software over the years. Mourn the small file sizes. Mourn the simple interface.

For sure, Palm and the OS had their weaknesses. They never seemed to really improve on the software that was in the Palm IIIs except add some colour. They missed more opportunities than your average Premier League club. And my Treeo 650 still crashes on a regular basis. But Windows? Why has nobody ever questioned the wisdom of mimicking a Windows environment and GUI on a screen the size of a cigarette box? The whole idea of Windows is to have lots of programs open that you can see on your screen and move stuff between. When did anybody ever do that on a Pocket PC?

I hate everything about Pocket PC Windows. I really do. There’s no style, no grace to it. Too many unnecessary lines. Big clunky scroll bars. Silly start menus that are at the bottom or top of screens, making for awkward stylus (or finger nail gestures.) Why is the only serious innovation in this field done by outsiders such as the great University of Maryland-developed Datelens? And what’s so Windowsy about Pocket PC Windows anyway? Why, for example, has Microsoft (nor Palm, for this matter) not figured out how to throw up status messages that don’t take up the whole screen?

Sorry, I’m cranky today. But while I long ago lost hope in Palm turning its software into more than a colour version of its mid 1990s original, I have never been a convert to Windows on a handheld. Is there no vision out there about how we use our portable devices that isn’t just an ugly, stripped down and clunky version of what we have to put up with on our desktop? Why haven’t these wonderfully simple new ideas about interfaces from, say, 37signals spread to the handheld? Or is the future Apple shaped and we haven’t seen it yet?

Infrared Snarfing?

Is the Infrared port on your computer a security hazard?

LA-based Ligatt Corp, a computer security company, reckon so. In a press release issued yesterday, the company says it was able “to gain entry into two out of ten computers and started copying files” belonging to customers at a local Borders bookstore using a Windows CE-powered PDA. This was done by simply pointing the PDA at the target laptop and using a custom built program to grab, or snarf, files on those computers that had the infrared port switched on.

Ligatt’s conclusion: ”The good news is that Microsoft has been careful in deploying appropriate defaults so that it would not be easy for someone to maliciously send you a virus or worm. Amazingly enough, little attention is paid to the infrared port that comes standard with most laptops on the market.”

Ligatt, in fact, is not alone in recognising the vulnerabilities of the infrared port, although it does not appear to be a point often made. I found references to it on websites like LabMice.Net, a laptop security site, and Nottingham University’s inform online, both of which advised users to disable the port, as does Ligatt.

So how big a deal is this? The knee-jerk answer is: Not much. Infrared works over pretty short distance (my tests indicated four feet); you need to have the infrared ports on each device pointed directly at each other; in Windows a notification window pops up should any infrared connection be established; and finally, connection speeds are pretty slow, so snarfing files of any size is probably going to take to long to be that stealthy.

That said, I think Ligatt probably have a point. Infrared is on by default, both with Windows and PDAs (I think). I imagine it’s relatively easy to write software that could bypass the notification window in Windows, and distance (and angle) are not going to deter the committed industrial spy. Infrared may not be the best way in to a computer or PDA, but it is a way, and it’s probably best to turn it off on your machine until you use it.

Pocket PC’s Backdoor

Symantec say they’ve found the first Windows CE (PocketPC) backdoor Trojan, which they’re calling Backdoor.Bardor.A: “Once installed, the backdoor allows full control of the handheld system when it is restarted. When the infected handheld is connected to the Internet, the backdoor sends the attacker the IP address of the handheld device. It then opens port 44299 and waits for further instructions from the attacker.”

There are some limits: The backdoor only affects Pocket PC devices with ARM CPUs.

This follows the discovery of the first PocketPC virus, Duts, last month.