A New Adventure! Windows Mobile and Ubuntu Linux

I've been aware of the existence of the Linux operating system for a long time, but I'd always assumed that it would be too complicated for me to learn and was a bit too geeky. Recently, however, I began hearing about a version of Linux called Ubuntu that was supposed to be pretty easy to use. Flash forward a few weeks and not only have I found that it is relatively easy to use, but it's already replaced Windows Vista as my main operating system of choice for day to day use!

phoneandubuntu

Despite my generally positive experience with Ubuntu, I was almost sure that there would be no way to synchronize my Windows Mobile Outlook information (contacts, tasks, schedule, etc.) with Ubuntu. But after a bit of tinkering this morning I'm amazed to report that I am able to synchronize with Ubuntu! Not only is this fact amazing standing by itself, it is even more incredible when one considers that I cannot even synchronize this data with Vista (see my complaint to this effect here)!

How I Got Here

First of all, let me get one thing clear right from the get go: I'm no Microsoft hater. The only computer-related hatred I bear is towards all things Apple (and before you mention it, yes, I'm aware of the relationship between Linux and the Mac OS). The truth is that while Microsoft products always have their problems, they work for the most part.

There's no one thing that drove me to try Linux, rather that move was the result of a constellation of factors pushing me away from Windows and towards Linux.

Pushing Me Away from Windows:

  • Cost of Windows and supporting applications (the OS itself, Office suite, antivirus, etc.)
  • Inability to synchronize with my Windows Mobile device (without purchasing Outlook separately)
  • Generally being a little let down (and sometimes annoyed) by Vista (don't get me wrong, I like it, just not that much)

Pulling Me Towards Linux:

  • No money required (the OS is free and so are 18,000+ applications)
  • Less security measures required
  • Less resource-hungry (or so I'd heard)
  • One can try Linux without changing one's system in any way (using a LiveCD)
  • The promise of having more control over my computer
  • Its use of the command line (I actually miss using it sometimes)
  • The ability to have the best of both worlds by dual-booting with Windows
  • Sheer curiosity (this was probably the single most determinative factor for me)
  • Good experiences with open source applications like Firefox and OpenOffice

My Setup (Dual Boot with Vista & Ubuntu)

Like many versions of Linux, Ubuntu allows you to run a version of the operating system from a CD (called a LiveCD in Linux parlance), which allows you to give the OS a test drive without having to mess with your existing Windows system. After a while of doing this I decided that I wanted to try Ubuntu on a more permanent basis so I decided to attempt to setup my laptop so that I could dual boot with Vista. Once setup properly, the way it works is that when you turn on your computer, you're presented with a screen that lets you choose which operating system you want to boot up.

Prior to this, I had never worked directly with partitions and it was a little scary and confusing because if you make a wrong move you can really mess up your system (and there are certain things that can go especially wrong if you're messing around with a Vista partition in particular). But with a little research, a freeware program called EasyBCD, and a lot of help from the wonderful people at the Ubuntu forums, I was able to successfully setup a dual boot environment in a relatively short amount of time.

Now I have an ideal way to explore and use Ubuntu and I can always boot up Windows when I need to.

Synchronizing Windows Mobile PIM Data with Ubuntu

The default personal information manager (i.e., the Microsoft Outlook equivalent) in Ubuntu is called Evolution. Actually, it has a very similar look and feel to Outlook.

In order to start synching my Windows Mobile device with Evolution I had to install two programs: SynCE and Multisync. Installation was simple and configuration only took a few minutes (subject to the exception described below). Here's a screenshot of Multisync:

multisync01

The biggest problem I encountered was configuring multisync properly. You see, you can only sync those items that are in identically-named categories. In other words, if you want to sync contacts that are in the "business" category on your phone with Evolution, you've got to have a category called "business" in Evolution.

[Edit: I have since discovered another annoyance: it appears that you can only sync one category of stuff at a time. In other words, if I want to sync all my contacts I have to go into options tell it to sync everything in my "personal" category, sync, and then go back into options and tell it to sync everything in my "business" category, etc.]

I'm not saying that it couldn't be easier. It definitely could. As a general matter, PalmOS devices seem to be supported better in Ubuntu than Windows Mobile devices.

Am I the Only One?

So, have any of you toyed around with Linux and Windows Mobile?

Thanks for the response! I'm looking forward to exploring this OS and learning all I can learn about it.

And at the risk of revealing the full measure of my ignorance, what is a NIX OS? If it's a Linux term I probably don't know it yet =)

Ooohhhh....it all makes sense now. Thanks nosredaekim!

Happy linux travels Psionandy! Windows Mobile still has a way to go in Ubuntu but, as I mentioned in the post, I can sync better with Ubuntu than I can with Vista (because I don't have Outlook).

Whoa, lot's of comments! Let's do a few responses at a time:

To those of you who said that you were disappointed because you thought that I got Ubuntu working on my phone....sorry =). I guess the graphic (phone + Ubuntu logo) could give one that impression. But as Aaron pointed out, Ubuntu is currently working on a mobile version (take a look here: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MobileAndEmbedded ).

Grant: one word of caution. My Samsung uses WM2003SE...you might have a different experience with WM5.

Brian: Yes I'm talking about its relationship to FreeBSD/nextStep. I was simply referring to the fact that they both originated from Unix.

James: I'll concede that all three OSes have their advantages but I still hate all things Apple.

My original beef with Apple was that they represented a dumbing down of the computer. From the one button mouse to the cartoonish interface, every Apple I saw (not many I admit) looked like a toy. Over time they evolved into prettier machines than most Windows devices, and the sort of people around me who started using them were the sort of people who tended to prefer pretty things over functional things. I always hear people say that those who really know computers have Apples. That's certainly not true of anyone I've met. Without exception, every person I know who uses an Apple knows less about their machine (and computers in general) than an average Windows user. The Apple users I know treat their computers like a magical box and its annoying as hell to discuss anything computer related with them because all they know about computing is that stuff looks pretty and they can click on it.

The second reason I've always disliked Apple is because there has never been a decent selection of software for them (this may have changed, has it?). I belong to that camp of people who believes that it doesn't matter how great your machine or your OS are if there's no software for it. The most recent proof that Apple still doesn't understand that software should be paramount is their decision not to allow third-party apps for their iPhone. I was going to actually give the thing a chance before I heard this. Now, I'm not even going to go look at one. Software is what makes an OS functional. The decision not to allow it for the iPhone is just stupid. But Apple knows that there a million dumba#$%s out there who will just be wowed by its pretiness and who don't need software for it, so long as its pretty.

Third, while you said it was judging a book by its cover, I hate the culture that has sprung up around Apple stuff. When I see those commercials (which are admittedly funny) I just picture a bunch of ignorant dummies who don't know anything about their computers pointing their finger at Windows users and its annoying.

James: thanks for your reply. In truth, it's about time that I give Apples another shot...take a fresh view of them. The only problem is that none of my close friends who live around here use them and I'm certainly not going to buy one. How about this: next time I have the opportunity to look at one, I'll give it as openminded a shot as I can.

The only thing I remain absolutely adamant about is the iPhone. If they don't allow third-party apps then I want NOTHING to do with it!

Brandon: Thanks for the remarks and good luck getting WM5 or 6 to work! I'll keep your experience with Apple in mind if I ever get a chance to examine one again.

Lucas: What kind of downloads are you talking about?

Ozeed: I've never used Windows ME and so I couldn't tell you how to go about installing it with Ubuntu. I would check the Ubuntu forums for help. Sorry I can't be more helpful.

An update: I still have Ubuntu on my laptop (dual boot) but I have switched back to using Vista most of the time. There are several reasons for this:

(1) I need Windows Mobile support. I simply install too many programs to reliably use an OS that doesn't allow me to install WM programs. Also, I have programs on my Windows Mobile device that require a pass through internet connection (rss readers, etc.). Finally, I use True Connect to be able to "move off my screen" and onto my Windows Mobile, which allows me to mess around with my device from my laptop. Until these things are possible in Ubuntu I don't think I'll be able to rely on it for day to day use.

(2) I am a gamer. I play Civilization IV and Galactic Civilizations II all the time as well as a handful of other games. There are plenty of options available on Linux (through DOSBox, Wine, etc.) but nothing that allows me to play Civ IV, etc. yet.

(3) If I'm going to use Ubuntu (or any other distro) I want to get to know it thoroughly. This will require a large chunk of time that I haven't had yet.

Lucian, thanks for the tip! I'll look into it since I still haven't found a solution (and I was looking as recently as yesterday)

Thanks for the comments. You're right I don't have much experience with Macs and you're also right that the inability to sync Windows Mobile devices with Windows Vista is a travesty (I just posted another post about this a few hours ago!). And while I think it's probably true that Macs tend to be more stable than Windows this is less and less true as Windows matures. I have had no stability with Vista and had few with XP. I'm glad we can find some common ground in our liking of Ubuntu!

I feel your pain Tariq. Hopefully, someone will find a solution to this problem eventually (one that works better than the existing, too clunky, solution). It seems like Ubuntu favors offering support to PalmOS devices more than Windows Mobile devices. That's unfortunate as well.

Incidentally, a new distro of Ubuntu comes out today (10/18/2007). I wonder if it makes any improvements?

Paul,

Actually, I've run into a bit of a problem in this regard. You see, I recently upgraded Ubuntu to 7.10 on my laptop but have completely forgotten how to configure SynCE and MultiSync in the meantime (I tried the other day).

Let me try to figure it out again and I'll post back here in a few days once I figure it out.

Ahhh, I tried to go through the steps again but apparently there are too many partnerships on my device now, which prevents me from going too far in the process.

I won't be able to continue until I can figure out how to delete partnerships from the devices itself...does anyone know how to do this?

Hey Paul,

Sorry to disappoint but I'm using Vista and nothing is displayed when I sync (I think you're thinking of ActiveSync, which isn't used in Vista).

Unfortunately, I won't be able to help you until I figure this problem out =(

Ummm...thanks for that very "enlightening" comment...

Hi Becky,

Better late than never, right?

I need to go back and edit the original post because after initially going back to Windows for a while, I've been consistently using Ubuntu (7.10) for a few months now. I probably boot into Windows once a week.

Everyone is entitled to their preferences and I simply prefer Ubuntu but I don't hate Vista or anything (although it disappointed me in several ways...one of the main one's being the inability to sync problem that you mentioned).

I think I'm at a point now where I can truthfully say that I will never switch back to Windows on a permanent basis. However, having said that, I'm not at the point where I feel comfortable deleting Windows entirely. It still has its uses, and so I'll probably straddle the fence for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for posting.

Clint, thanks for the comment. I'm visiting family right now and won't be able to test out your suggestion for another week or so. Having said that, I don't recall there being any option to delete a partnership though (even though I know that I have two partnerships because that is the problem!). Whenever I connect my device to my laptop it simply connects without incident (because I've already created a connection with it) I'll report back here after I've been able to test it.

Ubuntu is the best! Good luck getting your T Mobile Wing to sync with it (although I've heard that things are more complicated with WM5 and WM6 as far as syncing goes than they were with WM2003).

If I remember correctly, it's available in the repos...

AG, you raise some good points. I agree with you that the populace shouldn't be forced to learn about the registry and DLLs just to get basic computer functionality. The thing that bugs me is when people just want to be able to point and click, never care to learn anything else, and then complain when their limited knowledge doesn't adequately meet their needs. Many of the things that led you to Macs have led me to Linux =)

I agree with you that the mobile field is in limbo but I don't think it's because of poor software IMHO. If one is willing to shell out some cash, there are a ton of great Windows Mobile programs out there. The default stuff that comes with the OS, though, is sorely lacking. I think the real reason for the limbo is that the manufacturers can't really decide if they'd rather increase the power of mobile devices or focus on ease of use, two ends which don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive, but which sometimes work at cross purposes.

Thanks for your post and stay warm up there in Alaska!

Brett: no, I am not unfortunately. This is one of the things that I'm still waiting on. It's only a matter of time until someone fixes this though...

Good suggestion Jamie, but my concern, mentioned above, is that I'm an attorney and have to maintain certain confidentiality standards. I'm not too comfortable with putting my schedule, etc. out into the Internet and would prefer a solution based on my laptop...

Michele,

Your English is GREAT!

I wish I could help you but unfortunately there is no solution to your dilemma that I'm aware of. This is a major lack in the otherwise superb Ubuntu. I'm confident that there will be eventually be a solution but it may be a while.

I will let you know if I find anything and I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful.

Ben

Ben! I found your post very

Ben! I found your post very helpful, and your comments below it are very informative too, but I wonder where did all the other comments you're reffering to go? I can't see any comment from anyone except yourself. Is it anything wrong with me or have the other comments been deleted?

 

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