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Make Your CE Connection
As I often do, I'm typing this column on an airplane. Right now, I'm about 30,000 feet over Nevada. What's different about this flight is that this time I'm writing comfortably from my airplane seat. That's because my Windows CE-based pocket computer is small enough to make the tray table seem huge.
I'd like to check my e-mail while I'm up here, but I can't establish a dial tone on the in-flight phone. For now, I'll have to settle for connecting from my hotel room, car or just about anywhere else on land.
If you're using Windows CE, you should know how to set up communications between your pocket computer and your PC. Take a look at chapter 2 of Microsoft's Handheld PC User's Guide on the CD-ROM that comes with your pocket computer. You can find out a lot about communicating with Windows CE there. However, what the guide fails to cover is how to connect Windows CE directly to the Internet.
Connections 101: Modems
On the road, most communications between your pocket computer and the outside world go through a telephone (we'll get to some exceptions a bit later). You need a modem, which, depending on your needs and hardware, might be wireless or wired, add-on or built in. The built-in software modem on the Philips Velo 1 I'm using operates at speeds up to 19.2Kb per second. With other pocket computers, I've used a Megahertz XJack 28.8Kbps and a U.S. Robotics Megahertz AllPoints Wireless PC Card that operates at 2400 bits per second-not a bad speed for plain-text messages.
A wireless modem has obvious advantages, but the AllPoints is slow, and you need service from a specialized-and expensive-wireless service provider. (See WinLab Reviews in this issue for a review of WyndMail for Windows CE.) Wired modems are cheaper, but you need to find a phone line. And if you use a normal PC Card modem in most WinCE-based pocket computers, you'll need an AC adapter-otherwise, the 5-volt modem will drain your 3V worth of AA batteries in minutes.
Connections 102: Terminal Emulation
So you have a modem installed in your pocket computer. Next, you have to choose between text-based terminal or remote-network connection.
The text-based terminal option works with old-fashioned bulletin board system (BBS) access and remains an option for CompuServe and some other nationwide service providers. You'll find basic instructions for setting up Windows CE's terminal application in chapter 13 of the user guide. Here's a trick that's not covered in the guide: Microsoft assumes that all terminal connections will require dialing a phone number. If you run into a situation where that's not true (as I have when troubleshooting a wireless modem), you can get around it. Set up a new connection, click on the Configure button on the Session Properties/Communications tab, then check the "Manual dial (user supplies dial strings)" box on the Port Settings tab. You'll still have to fill in a phone number, but it will be ignored. Instead, you'll get a simple terminal window into which you can directly type modem commands.
To anticipate your question: I'm sorry, but there's currently no way to write a connection script in Windows CE's Terminal app. You have to log on manually. Perhaps a third-party developer will help us out with that.
Connections 103: Connecting to the Internet
I discussed terminal emulation first, because it's a first step to making a much more useful connection-to the Internet. Most Internet connections begin with dialing the phone, much the same way modem connections do.
Windows CE establishes Internet connections from the Remote Networking folder of Programs/Communications (chapter 12 of the user guide has all the gory details). Here's a tip for travelers: If you have a CompuServe account, you can get Internet access from practically any city. Set up a Remote Network connection using the local CompuServe number for the city you're in. When you get to the "Make new Dial-Up connection" dialog, click on the Configure button. From the Port Settings tab, check the "Use terminal window after dialing" box.
When you dial in to CompuServe, a terminal window will appear, into which you can type CIS. You'll see a lot of garbage characters in response, because, like in NT, the terminal window in Windows CE remote networking lacks the option to strip the high bit on an 8-bit connection. Don't let that throw you-just wait until it stops, then type in your UserID. You'll see more garbage. Wait until it stops, then type in your password. Yet more garbage will appear. Type PPPCONNECT (see sidebar "Remote Internet"), press the Enter key-and click on the OK button on the terminal window. It will close, but it will leave you with a live Internet connection.
Connections 104: E-Mail and Web Browsing
We finally have a live Internet connection (CompuServe's a worst-case scenario; most ISP connections are much simpler). Now we can start to get some work done.
All Windows CE-based pocket computers ship with Microsoft Pocket Mail. It shows up as the Inbox icon on the CE Desktop and looks like the Exchange client from Windows 95. It's actually an Internet Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)/Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) compatible mail client. That means you can use it with almost any ISP's mail system. Unfortunately, you can't use it with proprietary mail systems like CompuServe's or Microsoft's-you can't read Microsoft Network e-mail from Windows CE.
Chapter 10 of the user guide covers configuring Pocket Mail, but one thing may not be immediately clear: Before using Pocket Mail with any service provider (such as an ISP, or WyndMail for wireless messaging), you have to set up the service. You do this by using the Service tab on Pocket Mail's Compose/Options dialog. Click on the Add button for a list of the services available. Pick Internet Mail to set up an SMTP/POP3 connection. You may see some others, depending on what optional software comes bundled with your pocket computer (the Velo comes with Nimble Fax, which lets you send mail to any fax machine). If you install a third-party mail service, it will add extra entries to this list. But you still need to add the relevant service.
I find myself using Pocket Mail a lot, especially on trips. But it's Pocket Internet Explorer, Microsoft's CE Web browser, that draws the oohs and ahhs when I show Windows CE to someone for the first time. Unlike Pocket Mail, Pocket Internet Explorer isn't burned into the ROM on most CE palmtops-you'll have to install it from the CD that comes with your pocket computer. Microsoft did this because Web browsers tend to change over time.
Early CE units like the Casio Cassiopeia A-10 came with Pocket Internet Explorer 1.0, but newer units come with the much-improved Pocket Internet Explorer 1.1. The upgrade features local Web page caching, proxy server support and the ability to copy Web page text to the Clipboard. If you got the old version with your palmtop, you can download the new version-in addition to the latest update to HPC Explorer and an incredibly cool add-on called Pocket Automap Streets-from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsce.
Connections 105: Other Options
There are other communications apps for Windows CE. Ruksun Software Technologies (http://www.corus.com) offers freeware telnet and ftp apps. Symantec's pcAnywhere CE (see WinLab Reviews, June) lets you control a regular PC from your CE unit. RiverRun Software Group (203-861-0090) and LandWare (201-261-7944) have add-ons to enable CE-based palmtops to communicate with proprietary mail systems like cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail. Several fax apps for WinCE give you a quick way to print, provided you have access to a fax machine. For an exhaustive list of these apps, check the CE Software link at http://www.winmag.com/windowsce.
In the future, I'll be writing about more communications topics like HPC Explorer 1.1 with Pocket Internet Explorer 1.1, Pocket Automap Streets, and support for Office 97 and NT. I'll also devote a full column to wireless communication, which I touched on here. Wireless communication is so important to CE because it lets you connect from just about everywhere...maybe it'll work from this plane someday.
John D. Ruley is WINDOWS Magazine's senior technology editor and Windows CE columnist. He's also the author of Networking Windows NT 4.0, Third Edition (John Wiley & Sons, 1996). Contact John at WINDOWS Magazine's online locations or at the e-mail addresses here.
Windows Magazine, July 1997, page 255.