Archive for October, 2009

Windows Mobile 6.5: My review

October 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve had 4 cell phones in my life, 3 of which were Nokia phones. Two of those ran Symbian S60. My latest phone is the HTC Touch Pro2, which runs Windows Mobile. 4 years of using Symbian based Nokia phones moulded me in how I came to view phones. Using any other type of phone, I felt lost. Such was the case when I first used the Touch Pro2.

The Touch Pro2 came with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional on it. It was partly covered up by HTC’s Touch Flo 3D applications, which helped to ease me in, but underneath it was still Windows Mobile. Raw power, but rather unpolished I felt. Certain logical places for applications or settings were not there, and as a result I felt a bit lost.

Still, I persevered and grew to like 6.1. It was pretty stable, and I had only just got into finding out about the tons of applications that run on the platform. I could multitask much better than on any of my old Nokia phones. Into this mix however, Windows Mobile 6.5 was released.

On release day, I downloaded the ROM from HTC’s website. Before I flashed it, I had to find a way to back up all my stuff on the phone. Here again I ran into a brick wall, as unlike Nokia’s PC software, there is no easy way to back up a Windows Mobile phone. Eventually I discovered and used Microsoft’s MyPhone service, which while working, felt very disjointed.

Flashing the phone took roughly 10 minutes for the actual flash, and about 7-8 for the phone to do its first boot procedure. I was greeted with an updated version of Touch Flo 3D, and various other screens had been updated, but underneath precious little really had changed from 6.1. Most of the screens had been changed to make input options slightly larger, so as to make it more finger friendly, but in the end the stylus is still a necessity.

Windows Mobile 6.5 includes some extra applications like Microsoft’s Facebook application, the Windows Marketplace and so on that were previously separate downloads. Unfortunately I’ve seen memory usage go up, which can make the phone feel sluggish at times. I’ve also run into a bug where downloading weather data will cause the Last Battery Charge information to be deleted.

Overall, I feel like HTC didn’t spend a lot of time polishing this update. I hope that they will release more updates to help speed up the phone.

To add to the chaos, I read an article on GSMArena that stated Windows Mobile 6.5.1 was being worked on, which had a lot of proper new features. Now I am actually hoping that HTC will release that for us instead. I’ve read that the real focus of Microsoft is bringing out Windows Mobile 7 next year, which is fair enough, but I do hope that they won’t forget us still out there using current versions.

In summary, I have to say that Windows Mobile 6.5 as it stands now feels like a pretty weak release from Microsoft. It’s designed to just keep us hanging on until Windows Mobile 7 launches. Time will tell how history judges 6.5

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Windows Group Policy

October 11, 2009 Leave a comment

When it comes to configuring Windows advanced computer settings on a wide scale, little if nothing can touch Windows Group Policy. Built into Windows versions since Windows 2000, the settings it can configure has grown with every release, where it now numbers over 2400 on Vista, according to Wikipedia. This level of control is probably the main reason Windows based computers rule the corporate world. Nothing in Linux, BSD or Apple comes close.

I’ve been playing with Group Policy for a number of years now, but only lightly. I’ve never had the chance to study it in depth or try out some of it’s features. It has also caused me some grief from time to time when a policy wouldn’t apply to a computer, but apart from that it has made my life as a Windows Admin much easier.

One of the additions to Group Policy introduced with Vista is the option to finer control removable devices such as flash drives and memory cards. Since the rise of the AutoRun based trojans a few years ago, having the option to deny read or write access to a flash drive is a big boon for those trying to control infections.

Unfortunately, this only works on Vista and above. XP does not have this feature available. I’ve seen some half hearted solutions to the problem by modifying a system file called USBSTOR.SYS and messing around with system services.

I’ve recently come across something called Group Policy Client Side Extensions which promises to make things even easier. Should this work as explained, I will be able to do things like create shortcuts on Desktops of users, which is not possible with standard Group Policy.

Group Policy can get very complex, but if done right it is a rewarding tool to work with.

Group PolicyLocal Policy on my Windows x64 Vista Ultimate

Microsoft Web Platform Installer

October 11, 2009 Leave a comment

For years, the LAMP stack has been a success story of the open source world. Based on the components of Linux, Apache web server, MySQL and PHP/Perl/Python, it has enabled many fantastic applications to be built: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Moodle and more. The ease of use for developers and admins has lead to this stack being almost the de facto standard for hosting these applications.

Generally these packages also worked under Microsoft’s web server, IIS, but usually with some difficulty in setting up and maintaining the site. Most of the projects help forums are for those who run it on the LAMP stack. Downloads are usually zipped, and need to be set up manually. Linux distros such as Debian may have the packages in their repositories, but they may be a little out of date.

Microsoft finally decided to help people who run Windows Servers to be able to easily join in on the party. The result was the Web Platform Installer, more information can be found here

While the focus of the tool seems to be to promote ASP.Net based applications, PHP based applications are also available and supported. Indeed, supporting these PHP applications has made installing products like Moodle and Gallery a lot simpler, as the package has scripts that set up the correct rights on folders, connection to the database and more.

The Installer sets up various aspects of IIS for you, installs a Microsoft SQL Express Database, PHP and other tools you will need for the applications.

At the moment, the number of applications is still quite small, but it is growing. Applications I wish to see in the future include PHPBB3, MediaWiki, and most importantly, Joomla. Microsoft does not package the applications themselves, but rather provides the guidelines and tools to create the packages. Hopefully members of the above mentioned communities will band together to package the apps to eventually have them appear in the Installer.

The Installer makes life easy in many ways, but it is not the be all end all. Admins still need to test the security of their websites, directory permissions and so to ensure the most secure website possible.

Overall, I really like this tool and hope that in time it will continue to grow and offer more and more killer applications. Microsoft have done sterling work to get PHP to run better and faster under Windows, and this is hopefully a sign of even more things to come.