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I got lost taking the lady who's now my wife on our first date, and I still have trouble finding my way around-especially while driving in strange cities on business trips. Invariably, I wind up pulled over on the side of the road, trying to figure out where in the heck I am and how I can get where I need to go. Fortunately, I now have a weapon that helps me out of those jams. It resides on my Windows CE-based pocket computer.
Pocket Automap Streets comes bundled with Microsoft's 1.1 update to Handheld PC Explorer (HPC Explorer)
HPC Explorer is the application that runs on the companion desktop or notebook PC to which you connect your Windows CE-based pocket computer. It provides the necessary communications infrastructure to move data and programs back and forth between the two.
HPC Explorer installs from the CD-ROM that comes with all Windows CE-based pocket computers, using a standard Windows 95 setup program. The new version's enhancements include compatibility with Windows NT 4.0, support for Office 97 and the ability to synchronize Microsoft Outlook with Windows CE's built-in contact manager, calendar and task manager applications. You can still use earlier versions of Office (including Schedule+)-a good thing for those of us who don't automatically upgrade to the latest versions as soon as they come out.
Important as these features are, I think the most significant enhancement that version 1.1 brings to the party is Pocket Automap Streets, which you'll find in the Automap folder of the 1.1 CD-ROM.
Pocket Automap Streets is a cut-down version of Automap Streets Plus, an application that Microsoft acquired from NextBase Ltd. in 1994 and enhanced. The desktop version combines a point-and-click interface with a CD-ROM containing detailed highway maps of all 50 states with a searchable database of hotels, restaurants, museums and other points of interest. You can also create "pushpins," annotating the map with notes on locations that interest you.
The CE version doesn't support pushpins, and the interface isn't as simple to use. Of course, the nationwide map and database that fills an entire CD-ROM won't fit in a CE-based pocket computer's limited memory. Microsoft provides a fairly limited subset on the 1.1 CD-ROM: 40 maps of the downtown areas of major cities. If you want more than that, you'll have to spend $49.95 for a copy of Automap Streets Plus, which lets you select any portion of a map and export it in a CE-compatible format.
Those 40 maps cover most of the places you're likely to go on business. I've already used the maps of Seattle, New York, San Francisco and Sacramento, Calif. To quickly find a location, you type the street name or full street address into a dialog box. Pocket Automap Streets gives you a detailed street map showing the precise location. The Find Places feature will locate a specific point of interest, such as a restaurant, hotel or museum.
A travel friend
As I write this, I'm packing for a trip to San Diego to attend a conference. Both the hotel where I'm staying and the one where the conference is taking place are in the database. Finding them will be much easier because of Pocket Automap Streets. I can just use the Find Places feature.
Pocket Automap Streets also lists San Diego International Airport, I'm happy to report. Airports often get left out because of one major limitation in the software: You can't control the level of detail in a map. Every map includes all local streets in the area of interest. Thus, to keep the file size of the Seattle map reasonable, Microsoft restricts it to the area around downtown Seattle-completely missing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. If you have Automap Streets Plus, you can rectify this by exporting a custom map that shows the airport, but there's no convenient way to show the highways that connect it to Seattle without creating a multi-megabyte export file.
What frustrates me is that I know the technology to do that already exists. Both Pocket Automap Streets and Automap Streets Plus automatically suppress unwanted detail as you reduce the magnification in Zoom mode. With user-customizable levels of detail in Export (and pushpin support on the CE version) Streets Plus and Pocket Automap Streets would be perfect. As is, it still rates an A-minus. It really is that good. It makes the HPC Explorer 1.1 CD-ROM worth getting, whether or not you care about Office 97 or Windows NT 4.0 compatibility.
If you bought your CE unit back in the bad old HPC Explorer 1.0 days, you can download the new software from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsce.
Just putting an electronic street map on a computer you can carry around with you is pretty impressive in its own right. I've found that showing Pocket Automap Streets to people is the fastest way to get them thinking about the significance of pocket-sized computers. But it's hardly the end of what can be done with mapping technology. When I first looked at the CE developer's kit, I was fascinated to find that one of the examples was a device driver for a Global Positioning System (GPS) card. GPS is a satellite-based navigation system developed by the U.S. armed forces. It creates an artificial constellation of satellites that a GPS receiver can detect by radio 24 hours a day. Just as a navigator with a sextant can determine his position if he can see a constellation in the night sky, a GPS-based navigator can locate itself at pretty much any point on the face of the earth.
Now imagine combining Pocket Automap Streets with GPS. You'd get a moving map display, where your location on the map would be updated automatically. This exact capability is already available for Automap Streets Plus, when used on a Windows 95-based notebook computer with a compatible GPS receiver. Notebook computers, though, are generally too large for comfortable use when driving or walking. A Windows CE-based pocket computer makes more sense, though it's not perfect where driving is concerned.
Makers of luxury cars and even rental car firms offer GPS-equipped automobiles. Soon you might see voice recognition incorporated into GPS, so you can query the system without using a stylus or keyboard. As I write this, WINDOWS Magazine has learned that Microsoft will soon demonstrate such a system for Windows CE developers. It's code-named "Apollo," and I expect it to be shown publicly later this year.
In the meantime, you can download GPS demo software for Windows CE from the TeleType Co.'s Web site (http://www.teletype.com/gps). The company has been developing moving map software for Apple's Newton and now has a version for WinCE. The maps are less detailed than those in Pocket Automap Streets, but they cover larger areas. TeleType GPS also supports aviation maps.
Tip of the month
When you install HPC Explorer 1.1, it changes the default file conversion type for Pocket Word to Word 8.0. That's fine if you use Office 97, but some of us don't-and converted files can't be read by older versions of Word or by the WordPad applet that's bundled with Windows 95 and NT 4.0. You can get around this problem by resetting the file conversion: Start HPC Explorer 1.1, connect your pocket computer and select Tools/File Conversion. Then pick the H/PC Desktop tab, select Pocket Word 1.0 Document as the file type and click on the Edit button. You'll get a list of different file types. If you select Word 7.0/95 for Windows&Macintosh, you'll actually get a Rich Text Format file that can be read by WordPad as well as by all versions of Word for Windows from 7.0 on. You can use the same approach to change the file conversion for Pocket Excel.
That's all for now. Just remember to pull over when you need to check the map-that will keep things safe for you, me and everyone else.
John D. Ruley is WINDOWS Magazine's senior technology editor and Windows CE columnist. He's also principal author of the book Networking Windows NT 4.0, Third Edition, (John Wiley & Sons, 1996). John maintains our CE Web page at http://www.winmag.com/windowsce. You can reach John by e-mail at email@example.com or at the e-mail addresses here.