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This chapter is from the book

Connecting to Your Desktop PC

The Pocket PC operating system comes standard with a wide range of applications and utilities. Because these applications and utilities are stored in ROM, you don't ever have to worry about reinstalling them. Even with this rich set of functionality built into your Pocket PC, you will undoubtedly want to expand its horizons by installing new software. Perhaps even more important is the capability to share and synchronize data with your desktop PC. To accomplish any of this, you must establish a connection between your Pocket PC and desktop PC.

Making a Physical Connection

The physical connection between a Pocket PC and desktop PC is pretty straightforward and involves one of the following types of connections:

  • Universal Serial Bus (USB)

  • Serial

  • Infrared

  • Ethernet


Because most desktop PCs don't have an infrared port, an infrared connection with a Pocket PC is usually established with an infrared USB adapter. An infrared USB adapter plugs into the USB port of the desktop computer and provides an infrared port. Practically all notebook PCs include an infrared port these days, so you can probably forego the infrared USB adapter if you have a notebook PC. To communicate with a desktop or notebook PC via infrared, just align the Pocket PC's infrared port with the port on the desktop or notebook PC, and you're good to go.

USB is the preferred connection type for most users because it's the fastest among non-Ethernet connections. However, if you are still using Windows NT on your desktop computer, USB is not an option because NT doesn't support USB ports—you must use a serial port. If you have the capability of connecting to your desktop computer via an Ethernet connection, you might want to consider purchasing an Ethernet CF card for your Pocket PC. Ethernet connections are extremely fast (up to 10MBps) and result in very quick synchronization. Short of Ethernet, a USB connection is your best bet for reasonably speedy synchronization. Besides, most Pocket PCs come with a cradle designed to accommodate a USB or serial connection and to also serve as a battery charger.

Installing Microsoft ActiveSync

Your device's cradle is handy because it provides a convenient way to establish a physical connection between the device and a desktop PC. The first step in connecting your Pocket PC to a desktop PC is to install Microsoft's ActiveSync software on your desktop computer.

ActiveSync ships on a CD-ROM with all Pocket PCs and is responsible for detecting a Pocket PC connection and allowing you to synchronize and share data between a Pocket PC device and desktop computer. Synchronization is quite powerful and is handled at the application level. In other words, you set the applications whose data you want to have synchronized, and ActiveSync handles the rest. ActiveSync also provides a means of accessing the Pocket PC file system from your desktop PC, which can be very useful. The good news is that ActiveSync is a very straightforward application to use.


In case you're itching to hook up the cradle, let me warn you that the ActiveSync installation is specifically designed to work smoothly if you install the software first and then connect the hardware. So, be sure to install ActiveSync first; you'll get an opportunity to connect the cradle during the ActiveSync installation in just a moment.


You might be wondering whether the ActiveSync software is available for Macintosh computers. Unfortunately, as of this writing it is not. However, you can use the Windows version of ActiveSync on a Macintosh with the help of a Windows emulation software package called Virtual PC. Virtual PC emulates a Windows environment within the Macintosh operating system and enables you to install ActiveSync and use it as if it were actually running on a Windows system.

To begin installing the ActiveSync software, insert the ActiveSync CD-ROM into the CD-ROM drive of the desktop PC with which you are synchronizing your Pocket PC. After a few moments, you will see the window shown in Figure 3.3, which is the beginning of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard.


If, for some reason, you have the CD-ROM Autorun feature of Windows disabled, you'll need to manually run the ActiveSync setup program by selecting Run from the Start menu and then selecting Setup.exe from the CD-ROM.

Figure 3.3 The beginning of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard is the first window you see when installing the ActiveSync software.

Clicking the Next button starts the installation process. The next window displayed enables you to select the installation folder for ActiveSync. I recommend keeping the default setting, but clicking the Change button allows you to put ActiveSync anywhere you want.

Clicking Next moves you along to a screen that confirms you have physically connected your Pocket PC to the desktop PC. Of course, this involves connecting the cradle to the desktop PC (via USB or serial) and plugging the cradle into a power source. After the cradle is properly connected, set your Pocket PC in the cradle, power it up, and click Next in the ActiveSync Installation Wizard. Upon clicking Next, the Installation Wizard searches for a connected Pocket PC device on the available USB and serial ports. If the device isn't found, double-check that the cradle is properly connected to the desktop PC, the Pocket PC is firmly seated in the cradle, and the Pocket PC has a charge on its batteries.

When the device is found, the window in Figure 3.4 is displayed, which asks whether you want to set up a partnership. To synchronize application data, such as the e-mail in your Inbox or tasks in the Tasks application, you must create a partnership between the two machines. Although a partnership is not required to establish a connection and share files between the Pocket PC and desktop PC, without a partnership you are limited to copying or moving files back and forth between the machines and installing applications. In other words, you won't be able to synchronize data with applications.

Figure 3.4 The next window of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard enables you to set up a partnership, which is necessary for synchronizing application data.

If you own two Pocket PCs and are having trouble synchronizing them both with one desktop PC, see "Identifying Multiple Pocket PCs" in the "Troubleshooting" section at the end of the chapter to find out how to solve the problem.

Assuming you selected the Yes radio button to set up a partnership, the Select Synchronization Settings window is displayed next (see Figure 3.5). This window enables you to select the specific applications with which you want to synchronize. Resist the temptation to select all of them because you will likely be interested in synchronizing only certain types of information. As an example, I typically synchronize only the Calendar, Contacts, Inbox, and Tasks applications. This is ultimately a personal decision, however, and it has everything to do with how you intend to use your device and what Pocket PC applications you plan to use on a regular basis. Following are the applications whose data can be synchronized:

  • AvantGo

  • Calendar

  • Contacts

  • Favorite

  • Files

  • Inbox

  • Notes

  • Pocket Access

  • Tasks


AvantGo is a Web-based information service that specializes in offering Web content in a form that is easily viewed on handheld devices such as Pocket PCs. AvantGo content is designed for offline browsing and is therefore synchronized with your Pocket PC through ActiveSync.

Figure 3.5 The Select Synchronization Settings window enables you to select applications with which you want to synchronize.

You can fine-tune the settings of the synchronized applications by selecting an application in the list and then clicking the Settings button. Figure 3.6 shows the settings available for the Inbox application.

If you compare the options selected in this figure to the default settings of your Pocket PC, you can see that I made a few changes to the default settings. The Include File Attachments option enables you to receive attachments along with e-mail messages. Although this is a very useful feature, you need to be careful about limiting the size of the attachments so that you don't receive enormous files along with e-mail. You'll notice that the standard Outlook e-mail folders are listed in the Mail Synchronization Settings window. If you have created subfolders beneath the Inbox folder, you can open the Inbox folder and check specific subfolders to be synchronized; by default, only the Inbox folder itself is synchronized. E-mail synchronization is useful because it enables you to create e-mail messages at any time and then send them when you synchronize with your desktop PC.

Figure 3.6 The Mail Synchronization Settings window allows you to customize the manner in which e-mail messages are synchronized via the Inbox application.


I've found that turning on the Include File Attachments option and limiting the attachment size to 100KB is useful. That way, when a friend sends you a whopping 2MB MPEG wedding video, you won't be wasting precious RAM or synchronization time.

Click OK to accept the Mail Synchronization settings, and then click Next to accept the Synchronization settings. You will then see the screen shown in Figure 3.7, which is the end of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard.

At this point, you can click the Finish button to finish the installation and begin using ActiveSync. ActiveSync automatically begins synchronizing the applications you selected during installation, which might take a few minutes depending on how much information you have stored in each application (see Figure 3.8). The really neat thing about ActiveSync is that it's automatic in its approach to synchronization. To test it, try modifying a piece of synchronized information on the desktop PC, such as an e-mail message, and watch for Active Sync to spring into action and synchronize it on the Pocket PC. The same thing applies to modifying synchronized data on the Pocket PC—it automatically updates on the desktop PC.

You can tell that synchronization is complete because the circular green icon in the upper-right corner of the ActiveSync window stops its animation; the small, green ActiveSync icon in the system tray also stops its animation. More importantly, the status of each of the types of synchronized information turns to Synchronized in the ActiveSync window.

Figure 3.7 The final step of the ActiveSync Installation Wizard clarifies the completion of the ActiveSync installation.

Figure 3.8 Synchronization can take a few minutes if you have a lot of information to be synchronized.

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