Thursday, 27 July 2006

The truth about Pocket PC

Many of my regular blog readers must be wondering why I didn't publish anything on my blog last night (I'm sure there's a very round number of people out there wondering about it). Well, wonder or not, I will tell you why: because of my Pocket PC.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: my pocket PC is very powerful - it has wireless, bluetooth, it's a phone, it runs applications of all sorts - but it is so unreliable and so full of bugs that I often think its purchase was a major waste of money.
Last night I got to think about that again when I installed the new version of Skype on my Pocket PC.
On paper, this would be a wonderful application to install on a PDA that has wireless. Just imagine the following scenario: You're somewhere abroad and you want to make a call, but you know that with global roaming fees each minute costs you $7.50. So instead of picking up you PDA to make a normal mobile call, you go to the nearest Starbucks (or whatever place you find that has free wireless), and call for free (or almost for free) using Skype. Wonderful. Not only wonderful, but I'm also sure that in 10 years time or so this is going to be the way we'll be making most of our calls with.
Anyway, back to reality. I had an old version of Skype on my PDA, but I wanted to have the new one which is tailor made per PDA model, so I uninstalled the existing version.
I downloaded the new version to my desktop, and installed it on my PDA for the first time. It ran and everything, but it wouldn't connect in order to make a call.
I uninstalled and reinstalled, doing a soft reset in between, but got the same results as before.
So I downloaded another version of the same software, this time directly to my PDA. This time it wouldn't run, but get stuck on the login screen trying to login.
I did a soft reset and repeated the feat to get the same result. I did it again, and this time it did manage to login after 5 minutes or so of trying - not a good result, given the rate in which wireless gobbles battery power.
I thought everything was honkey dorry and that I'm about to be able to go to sleep, but then I noticed that the mobile phone part of my PDA stopped working. I did a reset and it didn't recover; on the second reset I noticed it gave me a warning, saying only emergency calls can be made. I did yet another reset, and this time I got an error message saying my SIM is damaged.
I started picturing the scenes of me trying to recover my SIM at the Elizabeth Street branch of Vodafone, doing the full 100 points identity test, and living for who knows how long without a mobile phone (not that I use it much, and not like I can't get a cheap prepaid SIM instead; it's just the hassle of letting people know my new number). But worst of all I was thinking of having to abandon the splendid package I am on now, Vodafone No Plans, which no longer exists because it was just so good (1c a second - and that's all).
I took the last step possible before giving up: I dismantled the battery, took the SIM out, and put it in again. And then it worked. And then I went to sleep, tired and quite unhappy.

So what's the morale of this story? Basically, that the Pocket PC operating system is as stable and as reliable as a cease fire in the middle east. Naturally, it's a Microsoft product.
Behavior like that makes you think twice and more before installing stuff or thinking of new uses for your PDA, because you never know which old features would stop working once you go for new stuff.
But it's not only that. There is just a constant stream of small bugs that get under your skin. Things like an alarm warning that wouldn't go away even after you dismiss it, forcing you to reset the PDA. Things that never happen on a Palm.

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