Tuesday, 18 December 2007

A new office

Along the lines of my other workplace stories:

I work for a software, electrical and mechanical style company. My part has always been software related, so where I work is not always important. With the exception of the occasional PLC to program, or switchboard to test, I can work from home, work, plane etc. We've suggested before that the software "arm" of 3 - 4 people move closer to the city, freeing up some space for other employees that need to be near our workshop. This has always been knocked back straight away though.

Recently things have been looking up for the company in general, which is good news. However, I hear rumblings that the MD / GM type people want to open a new office close to the city - coincidentally in the same suburb that these people live... I wonder if there will be enough room for me, but then do I want to work there (given who will be in the same office...)?!

Dear Mum

Here's a poem that I wrote (I think - I found it on my computer) for Mother's Day last year. One of the problems of having a bad memory is that I can't even remember my own blunderings... Anyway, I'll retain copyright on it until someone finds the original. I seem to recall putting it in a Mother's Day card. Feel free to use it (for non-commercial use :)

Dear Mum,
Today's a special day for you,
A day we tell you how much we care
For all the things you've done for use
From clean clothes to brushed hair!

So today let us look out for you
We'll clean up, wash up, smile
But it's not just Mother's Day that counts,
We'll do this every while!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Geek Code

It's been around for a long time, but is it dead?  Well, maybe.  Anyway here's mine updated:

Version: 3.1
GCS/MU d? s++: a- C+(++++) UL++++ P+++>+++++$ L+++$ E+ W++ N !w t@ tv++ b++
DI++++ G h r+++ y++++

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Final Destination for Gnome?

The Gnome 2.22 (and 2.24 - 2.x) roadmap has been released [1].

I wrote in July about the anti climactic release of gnome 2.18 [2] and I was hoping that Gnome would release some exciting features for the user and for the developer in the next few major releases. Well, I am once again disappointed. 2.20 seems add instability, and the outlook for 2.22 is grim.

According to the Gnome Footnotes RSS feed:
The roadmap is based on feedback from current GNOME developers and other community members.

We hope this roadmap increases the awereness about the future steps of the project inside and outside the community and helps us to look forward and plan where we want to go.
I find it hard that community member feedback has not included better gnome-screensaver management (Gnome still ships with only 4 basic screensavers, among other issues); or better evolution stability and usability (evolution 2.12 locks up for longer and more frequently than previous versions on simple actions like changing folders; it still does not show the correct account when sending mail, and so on).

Gnome, I still use you, but the reasons are becoming fewer and fewer. When the only remaining reason is "because kde takes too long to compile" then perhaps you will fall into the application graveyard, where we sometimes visit to pay our respect, wondering "whatever happened to ..." or "they were good once".

[1] http://live.gnome.org/RoadMap
[2] http://nthrbldyblg.blogspot.com/2007/07/gnome-218-prepare-to-be-underwhelmed.html
[3] http://www.gnomedesktop.org/node/feed

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Zimbra + Evolution =

... Zimbrolution?!

What the Zimbra am I talking about? Zimbra is "open source server and client software for messaging and collaboration - email, group calendaring, contacts, and web document management and authoring"[1] that we are trialling at work. Essentially for me that means its a neat web interface to my mail, calendar and contacts.

But the problem with all these webmail webcalendar apps is you may send an email or make a contact on the web interface, and you don't have it in your normal mail client. You may use exchange or something like that, but if you're a die-hard Linux user such as myself, you're often left high and dry.

Enter Zimbraevo[2], the Zimbra Evolution Connecter. It's an add-on to Evolution[3] that lets you synchronise your mail, contacts and calendar with Zimbra.


OK, so I've convinced you to use Zimbraevo, but how? Well, you could search for some elusive instructions on installing it, but I didn't find a complete set.

You can either use my Gentoo ebuild below, or follow these tips:


  1. Zimbra server. I'm assuming someone has already set this up for you to use.
  2. Linux. There is a Windows version of evolution, so let me know if you have success installing Zimbraevo for it.
  3. svn, gcc or another compiler, and evolution. You need it to get the source and compile it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's probably a good idea to go here or do something else with your time :)

Getting the source

from your favourite command line, type
svn co https://zimbraevo.svn.sourceforge.net/svnroot/zimbraevo zimbraevo
This will get you the latest bleeding edge source.

Make & Install

  1. cd to the newly created zimbraevo/trunk/ directory.
  2. type:
    1. ./bootstrap.sh
    2. make
    3. make install


Now restart evolution. For mail, you can just use imap. If your sysadmin has installed zimbra on your normal mail server, then you may not even have to do anything! But for the other features, try out the Zimbra server:
  1. Go to Edit > Preferences. You will see a similar preferences window to the one pictured here.
  2. Select "Add". Enter your email address, click Forward.
  3. Under Server Type, select Zimbra Collaboration Suite.
  4. Enter the other details as required. For me, the mail server and password is the same as my normal imap account. Your situation may vary depending on your setup. If in doubt, ask your sysadmin.
After you apply the final screen, you will see a new entry in your sidebar (folder list). I called my account Zimbra, so that's what I see.

Not only that, but there are also new contacts and calendars! Add a contact or calendar entry in Zimbra, and it appears in Evolution! I'm very happy with the way it "just worked". And I'm using Evolution 2.10.3, which hasn't been tested by Zimbra yet.

What Else?

If you happen to use Gentoo Linux, here's a free ebuild for you that pulls in the svn source, builds it and installs it. Copy the following text into an overlay. I put it in/usr/local/portage/gnome-extra/zimbraevo/zimbraevo-9999.ebuild.
# Zimbraevo live svn ebuild by Iain Buchanan
# $Header: $

inherit eutils subversion

DESCRIPTION="Zimbraevo - Zimbra Collaboration Suite Evolution Connector"




src_unpack() {

src_compile() {
cd ${S}/trunk
emake || die

src_install() {
cd ${S}/trunk
make DESTDIR="${D}" install || die

So there you have it. Please post your findings, I would be interested to hear what other brave Zimbraevo's are doing!

[1] http://www.zimbra.com/
[2] Introducing Zimbra Connector for Evolution
[3] http://www.gnome.org/projects/evolution/

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Sending files in Gnome via bluetooth

Gnome's bluetooth support is still a "work in progress"! To send files via bluetooth, you may or may not have a menu option. If not, heres a quick script to drop in your nautilus-scripts folder.


hcitool scan | grep -v Scanning > ${TMPFILE}
if [ $? -eq 1 ]; then
zenity --error --text="Couldn't scan for devices"

zenity --list --text="Choose a recipient" --column Address --column Name `cat ${TMPFILE}` > ${TMPFILE}


if [ -z ${DEST} ]; then
zenity --error --text="No recipient selected"

gnome-obex-send -d `cat ${TMPFILE}` "$i"


  • Make this directory, if it doesn't exist:
    mkdir -p ~/.gnome2/nautilus-scripts
  • Save the text above into a file "~/.gnome2/nautilus-scripts/send-via-bluetooth"
  • make it executable:
    chmod u+x ~/.gnome2/nautilus-scripts/send-via-bluetooth
  • Now right-click on any file (or group of files) in nautilus, and you should see a scripts> option. Under scripts, select "send-via-bluetooth"
  • You will need hcitool (part of bluez-utils)
  • You need zenity (a gnome package)
  • When sending lots of files, the "Sending" dialog keeps popping up under your mouse. Not ideal!
Feel free to email me if you have any questions or improvements.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Nigerian scam - with a difference!

I get the odd hundred or so Nigerian scam emails per second, just like the next guy. Usually I just delete them, but this one warranted further inspection.

Major kudos to the guy/gal who did this - I presume they hacked the scammer's mass email system, and changed the text ever so slightly! Here is the source of the email, with some info replaced with ****'s once it hit our office mail server:

Received: from murder ([unix socket]) by **** (Cyrus v2.2.12)
with LMTPA; Fri, 31 Aug 2007 09:56:22 +0930
X-Sieve: CMU Sieve 2.2
Received: from localhost (localhost.**** []) by
**** (Postfix) with ESMTP id BBE9917DDA; Fri, 31 Aug 2007
09:56:22 +0930 (CST)
X-Virus-Scanned: amavisd-new at ****
Received: from **** ([]) by localhost ****
[]) (amavisd-new, port 10024) with ESMTP id ykTz5O+R-RhE; Fri, 31
Aug 2007 09:56:06 +0930 (CST)
Received: from yovole.com (unknown []) by ****
(Postfix) with ESMTP id A908817CEB for ; Fri, 31 Aug
2007 09:56:04 +0930 (CST)
Received: from yovole.com (localhost.localdomain []) by yovole.com
(8.13.1/8.13.1) with ESMTP id l7UNNbOw012441 for ; Fri,
31 Aug 2007 07:23:37 +0800
Received: (from root@localhost) by yovole.com (8.13.1/8.13.1/Submit) id
l7UNNThk012435; Fri, 31 Aug 2007 07:23:29 +0800
Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2007 07:23:29 +0800
Message-Id: <200708302323.l7unnthk012435@yovole.com>
To: iain@****
Subject: Nigerians are retarded humans
From: Nigerian Scamer
Content-Type: text/html
X-Evolution-Source: imap://iain;auth=CRAM-MD5@mail.****/
Mime-Version: 1.0

Dont trust nigerians - Nigerians are the most idiot pice of shits in the world

I'm quite happy to get this email, if it means that this scammer has sent one less real scam. Hopefully this stopped thousands of scams, who knows? At least it made me laugh :D

Monday, 3 September 2007

emacs 22

I just made the switch from emacs 21 to 22. So far, it seems much the same to the average user (me!)

I decided to write down a few settings for those finding it hard to get used to - you may or may not like them all, so change these settings as you feel like it.

You can add all of these to your .emacs file to have them automatically used.
  1. highlight or fontify according to the syntax of the text you are editing
    (global-font-lock-mode t)
  2. get rid of the toolbar
    (setq tool-bar-mode)
  3. Show the column number
    (setq column-number-mode t)
  4. highlight matching parenthesis when the cursor is placed on one
    (require 'paren)
    (show-paren-mode 1)
  5. when you paste / insert text over a selection, delete the selection first (otherwise you end up with the selection _and_ the pasted text)
    (delete-selection-mode t)
  6. auto-wrapping options. This binds the key sequenct C-x w to turn on "auto wrapping". It nicely understands comments, and automatically keeps them intact.
    (setq fill-column 80)
    (setq default-fill-column 80)
    (global-set-key "\C-xw" 'auto-fill-mode)
  7. main window geometry
    (setq default-frame-alist
    '((height . 74)
    (width . 120)
  8. Bind goto-line to 'C-x g' (I use this key sequence a lot!)
    (global-set-key "\C-xg" 'goto-line)
  9. this sets the amount of time to wait between each automatic scroll, when you select something and move the mouse out of the window. Unfortunately, it is ignored if you "shake" the mouse...
    (setq mouse-scroll-delay 0.25)
  10. this is too agressive, so turn it off. It's a nice idea, but it manages to scroll through a 4000 line file in just a few scrolls, and I have to move the mouse very slowly to get normal behaviour.
    (setq mouse-wheel-progressive-speed nil)
  11. Some general editing settings - set default indent level to 3, and no tabs! Useful if you like to stick to a particular style. Tabs are evil, because everybody uses a different tab width, making a nicely formatted text file on your system look unaligned on another system.
    (setq standard-indent 3)
    (setq c-indent-level 3)
    (setq c-basic-offset 3)
    (setq perl-indent-level 3)
    (setq tcl-indent-level 3)
    (setq pascal-case-indent 3)
    (setq comment-column 40)
    (setq sh-indentation 3)
    (setq tcl-indent-level 3)
    (setq c-indent-comments-syntactically-p t)
    (setq c-default-style "ellemtel")
    (setq-default indent-tabs-mode nil)
    (setq-default tab-width 3)
  12. show column numbers
    '(column-number-mode t)
  13. Use the control-c style cut, copy and paste commands (cua mode)
    '(cua-mode t nil (cua-base))

    Note that the superior rectangle support of cua mode has changed from shift-enter to control-enter (ie. C-enter)

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Wild life!

I just watched the coolest amateur wildlife video I've ever seen. A pride of lionesses attack a buffalo baby, only to have a crocodile attempt to steal it from them. Then along comes the rest of the buffalo herd and starts attacking the lionesses! You have to see it to believe it. Even the guide can be heard saying "I've never seen anything like this" over and over.

Watch it here

Also, here's another version with a voice-over from the lions point of view. Funny!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Flexible working hours

I just received an email from "management" (to all staff), the first paragraph reads:

All leave is to be approved by your department manager and/or myself. This includes taking the morning off, ducking out for the afternoon, taking and extended lunch break or adjusting your working hours.

This is a divergence from our previous "agreement" where we could be flexible, within reason, so long as we completed our 40 hour week. (Which is quite easy, given everyone generally works - and is even expected to work - a few hours more per week).

Of course, I don't agree, and in my usual fashion, I am composing a reply stating as much. However, I'm giving this one a "count to 10" before I reply.

The point of this post is to see if our "flexible agreement" is one of the last, or if there are still many workplaces operating successfully this way. I understand this gets harder to manage as a company grows, but we have an efficient time sheet system, so I don't see the reason (nor was one given) for this email.

I personally think it's an affront to the effort we've shown in the last few months - given lay-offs and cutbacks, everyone has been working hard to try and keep the company profitable, and yet random emails like this come through from time to time.

I leave you with an excerpt from "The Tao of Programming":

A manager went to his programmers and told them: "As regards to your work hours: you are going to have to come in at nine in the morning and leave at five in the afternoon." At this, all of them became angry and several resigned on the spot.

So the manager said: "All right, in that case you may set your own working hours, as long as you finish your projects on schedule." The programmers, now satisfied, began to come in at noon and work to the wee hours of the morning.

-- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Internet Banking Security - feel-good fuz or the real-deal?

One of my banks recently upgraded their website. Apart from some issues with plug-ins, session timeouts, and secret questions, they also now use an on-screen keyboard to enter passwords.

I would like to say first that On-Screen keyboards are simply a waste of time and frustration for the user, and they are an unnecessary and costly implementation for the organisation. I will tell you why soon.

"Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for antivirus company Sophos ... argued keylogging software can beat on-screen keyboards. Any keylogger is likely to be part of a more complex piece of spyware. That allows the hacker access to everything on your PC, such as monitoring the screen and mouse clicks. Similarly, drop-down boxes are not immune to hackers grabbing information from them." Original story here.

These are the steps that I have to take to get a new username and password, or if I've forgotton it:
  1. Enter credit card number and pin
  2. Select a username
  3. Select a password with an On-Screen keyboard that has minimum 8 characters; not more than 2 of the same character in a row; at least one number; etc.
  4. Re-enter the password in a second input box, with the On-Screen keyboard with the numbers jumbled in a different order
  5. Select three secret questions from a drop-down list, and enter three unique answers
Then to log in, I have to enter the username and password, again with the On-Screen keyboard with the numbers jumbled; and I have to answer one of my secret questions.

A small price to pay, you might be thinking, to provide an extra level of security and make my password invulnerable to attack! Wrong. Firstly, forget the idea that just because someone can make a good argument sound convincing, that it is actually a good idea. Secondly, forget the idea that just because every bank in the world is taking steps to implement such devices, that "thousands of banks can't be wrong". I believe on-screen keyboards (and similar devices) are simply ways that web hosts make money. "Criminals are getting more sophisticated, therefore you have to pay us to upgrade your web site with an on-screen keyboard. Besides, Bank of Universe did it. Do you want to be held legally and financially responsible when someone breaks into your bank, and we show that it could have been prevented?". [Answer to rhetorical quetsions: "What? Banks financially responsible? Horror...] Thirdly, let me tell you why they will fail in any real attempt:

I would like to separate criminals interested in getting your account details into two groups:
  1. Those who are doing a dedicated attack on an individual
  2. Random script-kiddies exploiting worms / trojans / security holes who install a keystroke logger.
Now let me say that you have no hope of avoiding the first type of criminal. He could steal your wallet and credit card; he could install a hidden camera over your computer; he could tap your phone conversations; he could simply beat you up at night time for your money. No on-screen keyboard will stop this. (OK, to allay your concern, you do have a hope: that your criminal is not smart enough, dedicated enough, or willing to do any of these things. And in most cases, he is not.)

It follows therefore that the only criminal you can protect yourself from, is the opportunistic criminal, who downloaded some 1337 Warez, and who thinks he is a hxr.

Let me convince you that this type of criminal, for maximum yield, will most likely target the largest number of people he can. He would tire very quickly if he only targeted one person at a time, only to find Grandma's secret chocolate cake recipie; or a letter from Joe Taxidriver to the President on why children need more discipline. This means that his data will be thousands of pages long. "cool" he says, eyes glowing at all the random text, and then realises how much time this is taking away from Second Life, and very quickly your logged keys get forgotten.

Let's assume that his internet connection is down, and he has nothing else to do. He would still have to:
  1. Randomly target your computer, exploit a vulnerability, and have the logger installed and running while you log into your bank.
  2. Get the data back from the logger on your computer. Usually this is not sent straight to the criminal in question (unless he is dumber than usual) as the police would then be able to find where his computer is. So he sends it to another (perhaps compromised) machine that has no relation to him, but that he can log into and download the data from. This machine also has to be up and running, and the owner must not close the security hole before the criminal returns.
  3. Randomly pick one out of the thousands of results that might be yours.
  4. Find your username and password in a lot of text. This is not as easy as you think. The more data, the harder it is to find. Remember that you may type a few words in an email, enter a web address in your browser, make some notes on your toenail clippings, then enter your username and password, then go back to your email, etc.
  5. Know where you used this username and password. If you use your mouse to click on a shortcut, then he can't get it from the keylogger data. He either turns to the next person, or tries to find out what your shortcuts are. Remember he is probably not logged into your computer, he is most likely analysing results, so he would have to get back into your computer and look through all your shortcuts, desktop icons, etc, until he found the right one. And just because he downloaded a program to automatically install keyloggers, doesn't mean he can a) get back to your computer and b) see your shortcuts.
It is highly unlikely that a great series of consequences would lead our criminal to this point. And if you want to make sure, there are some simple measures you could use to thwart him at the start:
  1. Make sure your computer is up to date with the latest operating system updates. Whether you're using Windows, Linux, BSD, or anything else, they are all vulnerable to the programmer's mistakes. Update regularly.
  2. Make sure you have installed a good firewall. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Microsoft has never had a good firewall. If you can't afford one, at least use AVG Free [http://free.grisoft.com/] oh, and KEEP IT UPDATED!
  3. Install Spybot Search and Destroy [http://www.safer-networking.org/] This will take care of worms, trojans, etc., that don't technically fall into the "virus" category. (and guess what? update it!)
  4. For an extra level of security, make sure your computer isn't even directly accessible from the "big wide world web". Use NAT (Network Address Translation, look it up on google or wikepedia). If you have an aDSL router, that attaches to your computer with ethernet, then you're probably here already. If you have a dialup modem, or internal aDSL / ISDN card, then be careful.
  5. Change your passwords regularly. And make them secure. This one gets bolded and italicised, because it is one of the easiest and most straight forward measures to take, and yet only the technically savvy seem to do it. How many of you use some combination of part of your name, birthday, city, or pet in your password? Even if your bank enforces on-screen keyboards, use some random words, or phrases, and characters (like !@#$%^&*;.,<>? etc.)

    If this is too much for you to remember, then write it down and put it in your purse / wallat. Remember, the dedicated criminal will be able to steal your purse with your money in it anway, so he won't care about some random words on a piece of paper. Make it look like a shopping list if you must.
Well here ends my rant about unnecessary security measures. I hope that you will petition your bank to remove farcical security, and let you get on with your life, instead of spending most of your time logging in.

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

-- Benjamin Franklin, 1759

Friday, 6 July 2007

controlling ATI LCD output when laptop lid is closed

A little while ago, I overwrote my custom acpi scripts by mistake, (I don't keep backups just to keep myself on my toes...) so I spent some time today redoing them.

These are fairly hardware specific, for my Dell Inspiron 9100, so take what you like. If you break it, you get to keep the pieces. Also, I've taken from examples on the web that should be in the public domain.

Firstly, I keep /etc/acpi/events rather empty, with only one file /etc/acpi/events/default:
action=/etc/acpi/default.sh %e

Secondly, default.sh (on a lid button event) calls lidaction.sh. Yes I know I could call lidaction.sh directly from /etc/acpi/events/default, but I like to have all my event decisions in one file.

lidaction.sh looks like this:

# uses xset to blank / unblank any X displays when lid is closed / opened.

getXuser() {
user=`finger| grep -m1 ":$displaynum " | awk '{print $1}'`
if [ x"$user" = x"" ]; then
user=`finger| grep -m1 ":$displaynum" | awk '{print $1}'`
if [ x"$user" != x"" ]; then
userhome=`getent passwd $user | cut -d: -f6`
export XAUTHORITY=$userhome/.Xauthority
export XAUTHORITY=""

setStates () {
for display in /tmp/.X11-unix/*; do
displaynum=`echo $display | sed s#/tmp/.X11-unix/X##`
# logger "/usr/bin/xset -display :$displaynum dpms force $1"
/usr/bin/xset -display :$displaynum dpms force $1
/usr/sbin/radeontool light $1

if [ x"$XAUTHORITY" != x"" ]; then
export DISPLAY=":$displaynum"
su $user -c "/opt/bin/aticonfig --set-powerstate=$2 --effective=now"


# this "highlevel" makes us more hardware independant. Thanks to http://bugs.archlinux.org/task/7243.
highlevel=$(aticonfig --lsp | grep ":" | tail -1 | cut -d':' -f 1 | sed -e "s/\*//g" -e "s/ *//g")
[ -z "$highlevel" ] && highlevel=3

grep -q closed /proc/acpi/button/lid/*/state
if [ $? = 0 ]; then
# echo "Lid Closed"
# echo "Lid Open"

if [ ${lid_closed} -eq 1 ]; then
logger $0: lid just closed
setStates "off" 1
logger $0: lid just opened
setStates "on" $highlevel

That's it! I hope you see something useful. The three important bits are radeontool, xset, and aticonfig.

This has the advantage over gnome-power-manager, because it will work regardless of who is logged in, and even on the console.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Gnome 2.18: "Prepare to be underwhelmed"

So gnome 2.18 is released with the slogan "prepare to be underwhelmed" [1]. OK, perhaps this is a bit harsh, but not for invalid reasons...

I'm not going to bore you with a full review, for that you can just google your heart out! Instead, I'll list a few things that I like (or not) after my first few days of usage:

  1. There is a nice disk usage analyser, with a great pie-chart-on-steroids view of where your data is. This will definitely beat hands-down my old du analyses.
  2. When you unmount a drive, you're asked if you want to empty the trash first (trash from removable media is stored on said media in a .Trash folder)
  3. Ala windows, you get a "drive ready to be removed" after you've unmounted a drive.
  4. The annoying power messages telling you your power has been unplugged no longer stay up when power is returned. (Instead they use the notification popup).
And the bad:
  1. There is still no gnome-screensaver customiser like the goold ol' xscreensaver-demo. Instead, gnome-screensaver-preferences has added a "power management" button. Great...
Executive summary: Don't go to the big screen, wait for the TV release!

I know there are valid excuses for these and other criticisms, but the point is Gnome is aimed at a simplified user interface, and a simplified user isn't going to understand complicated reasons about why they can't customise their screensaver, for example.

In My Humble Opinion, this looks like 2.16.4. But I'd rather some release than no release at all.

[1] http://www.linux.com/articles/61210

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Original or not?

I can't remember where this comes from - it was on a backup of mine from 2003:

You think I'm hot
I think you're even hotter
You say "I'm not"
I say don't even bother
To argue with me
What I say is truer
Just love me cause
I'm a thinker not a doer.

Just thought it was neat!

Monday, 21 May 2007


The first rule of whinging:
  • Don't whinge unless you are prepared to do something about it.
[Whinging = whining for those who don't know what I'm talking about]

Recently at work we've had a few people complain about various things. When we show them the rules of whinging they are often silent. Unfortunately, they might be able to achieve something if they both whinged and acted.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Microsoft is killing the handheld PC market

In my opinion, Microsoft is killing the handheld market. Ever since getting my (expensive, but thankfully a gift) pda/phone I can't believe how badly the OS is implemented. I am constantly frustrated with annoying features that can't be changed.

Until a better option is available for consumers, PDA's will continue to die. And so long as the PDA market is going down, there won't be a large uptake by users, and hence developers, who want to improve or add features.

Why isn't there a push by manufacturers for a better OS? (I know there is linux, but I haven't got to installing it on my PDA yet :)

You would think the specification for a "Windows" phone would be simple: take the most popular Nokia, Ericsson, etc. and copy their features. But this hasn't happened! Instead Microsoft have developed their own wheel, and it turned out square!

If you're still reading, I'm taking this chance to list some of the most annoying features:
  1. You can't turn it off!
    The handful of PDA's I've seen don't turn off. And by "turn off" I expect that when I hit the power button (or hold it down, or whatever), the mobile, wireless, bluetooth, screen, etc all switch off. Just like a normal phone. I didn't realise that the "on" button only blanked the display until I was in a meeting, and my phone rang!
    EDIT: Of course there's "flight mode" but this has it's own problems. Firstly why is it called flight mode? While in-flight isn't the only time you want to turn your phone off completely. What about sleep-mode, meeting-mode, etc? See the profiles section below.
  2. It's hard to actually disable incoming rings.
    Once my phone rang, I had to hit the hang up button. But it rang again! So I have to pull out the stylus, go to some tiny wireless symbol on the top, and select "flight mode". WTF is flight mode?! Perhaps you use this feature when your PDA is about to take flight out the window! Where's the big red off button?!
  3. There is no way to silently ignore incoming rings.
    With all mobile phones I've had, you can press a key when your phone rings, and it is instantly silenced, without actually answering / hanging up. This is handy when you're in eg. a library, and you want to answer the call but not until you've walked out of the area. Or if you want to let the phone ring as if you weren't around to answer it (handy if you don't want the caller to know you're screening them). I've just discovered that you can make the ring silent by pressing the down volume button. Perhaps this in "intuitive", but I've had my XDA for nearly a year, and I only just discovered this feature!
  4. No "profiles" exist.
    With Nokia, and others, pressing the "on" button shortly, displays a list of prifiles - silent, outdoor, car, etc. This changes all features on the phone from brightness, theme, ring tone, volume, vibrate, etc. To do this with my PDA/phone, I have to go to each setting individually and change them one by one, with the stylus. This takes time, and quickly becomes annoying. I should be able to change such a simple feature without even touching the stylus.
  5. Entering WAP keys is painful!
    When entering the key, there are a number of things that aren't right:
    1. The "new wireless" notification that brings up a small key entry area disappears after a few seconds - EVEN IF I'm still writing the key in it!!
    2. Key's are shown as **'s. Why? Is someone looking over my shoulder going to remember 26 hexadecimal digits? Text recognition is bad already, so the chances of making a mistake are high. There is no way to check that you've entered the right digits.
    3. Key's cannot be copied and pasted in to the text entry. Why? I have a key in a file that I bluetoothed to my PDA. I copied the key in pocket word, but the paste option was grayed out in the key entry box. EDIT: What if I have a 128 character WPA-PSK key?
    4. The no-screen keyboard shows numbers, or letters, but not both at the same time. This means I have to constantly change between keyboards when entering a long key - especially if it is composed of "number-letter-number" etc. EDIT: I have finally found out how to enable this feature! Go to Start > Settings. Select the Input icon, select Input method: Keyboard. Then Select "small keys" and not "large keys". This makes the keys slightly smaller, but adds the number keys to the top row.
    5. When I changed a key on one WLAN, the PDA forgot all the other key's I had entered!
  6. Every different PDA/phone running the SAME OS looks different. They all have different options, different programs, etc. This suggests to me that manufacturers recognise the problems with WM5, and try their own way to get around it.
  7. There is no easy way to "stop" programs.
    I opened a music file in windows media player. I then clicked the "x" to close media player. I then tried to delete the file. I was told I couldn't delete it because it was being used. The only way to get around it was to find the deeply hidden "running applications" option in the memory settings somewhere, and close media player.
  8. The PDA / phone can't be used without the stylus.
    I work in the R&D department for an engineering company. We develop our own touchscreen software for full-size panel PC's. It takes effort to make sure that the whole PC can be used with one finger. The PDA should be the same. To do simple things like make a call, bring up a contact, read an SMS, I shouldn't have to get out the stylus. (Even for PDA/phones without a real keyboard). But all the buttons on the LCD are too small. Why? Buttons should take up the entire real estate available, so you can use a finger. But instead, the whole display in some cases, is just two small buttons down the bottom, and one line of text. Why? there is nothing else to show, so use the space! EDIT: Whether or not you like Apple, the Ipod Touch and the Iphone are the best examples of how this is done right.
  9. Cell info isn't displayed.
    In Australia at least, the suburb of the tower you're connected to is shown on the display on mobiles. But not on my windows mobile!
  10. Working with contacts.
    Microsoft has made it hard to delete multiple contacts, or send multiple contacts. Perhaps this is because they want to force you to use outlook and activesync. There is an add-on called PPCContactsMgr v1.6 that I highly recommend if you want better contact handling features.
Well, thanks for listening! There are more, but you probably think I'm whinging by now. I would send this to Microsoft if I thought they would listen. Unfortunately, I now have an expensive phone that has less features and is harder to use than my first nokia I bought years ago.

Since writing this, Apple has released the new iphone. For the one-fingered use, it looks like they've done something right. Time will tell how good it is - it's not due in Australia until the end of 2008.

Also, Windows Mobile 6 has been released, which is really a small update to Windows Mobile 5. A small amount of these issues have apparently been addressed, so far as I can tell from online reviews.

I first wrote this post to the synce mailing list and since then I have discovered some third party applications that make some of these tasks easier. I've also edited this post from my original.
A blog is born. Thanks for reading.
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