Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tech: Motorola Droid: Companion Link USB sync

Yesterday I wrote about the Droid and one of the gripes I had was the inability to sync notes and tasks. I also wrote about CompanionLink for Google. Well, turns out they have another product, CompanionLink USB for Android, that does exactly what I was going to write an app for. While Android does not have a native Notes or Tasks, CompanionLink USB has a built in app to store these items. Plus, it doesn't use any 3rd parties in the cloud, it just syncs directly. While it doesnt give me the ability to drag tasks to the calendar, thats OK, I typically do this on Outlook anyway. It also uses its own internal calendar, which while lacking a month or week view, it lays appointments out one after the other, just like the Today screen on the HTC Touch did, or the Agenda view in the Android calendar. This is perfect, exactly what I was looking for. The only other thing I could want from it is a widget that displays this on the desktop. Other than that, this was the final nail in the coffin for my trusty HTC Touch, you will be missed.

Tech: Motorola Droid

Its been a busy past few months for me. I am in the process of writing a revision to “Practical Data Analysis and Reporting with BIRT”, so I haven’t had much time to blog. Plus, with the holiday season, and a forced effort to continue with my extra curricular activities that got put on hold due to several months of travel, I’ve been neglecting the ‘ole blog here.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle, I broke down and bought a Motorola Droid from Verizon. My beloved HTC Touch was beginning to show it’s age in its lack of many of the on-demand features I am starting to demand as I get sucked into the world of social networks. And while I did get a hands on with the Nexus One (and no, I can’t divulge any information about it), I decided that I wasn’t willing to wait for its release, and had my doubts about it having CDMA capabilities since the units I had a hands on with were all GSM.

I won’t go into too much detail about the technical specs of the Droid since that has been covered to death elsewhere. What I will give are my impressions. First, and what was my biggest concern, was with the ability to tether. Verizon does not provide tethering for the Droid as of this writing. While the sales-girl at the store I bought mine from indicated that it would be available early next year, I’ve learned never to trust the grunts in the stores. This was a major stall point for me in buying it initially. Fortunately, there is an app called PDANet that solves this issue for me. It consists of a app the resides on the phone, and an app that sits on the computer. Using this, it was just as fast as tethering was with the HTC Touch. The only drawback is that it requires a connection to my PC, whereas with my Touch I was able to connect it to my beloved Cradlepoint PHS. So while I lose the ability to connect my iPod Touch to my PHS, I now have my main business travel tool back, and can offset the loss of Facebook on my iPod Touch with the fact that the Droid has this already.

So the next concern was syncing with Outlook. In this area I had to make a concession. I have lost the ability to sync my Outlook tasks and notes with the Droid, at least temporarily. I can sync everything else just fine, such as contacts and calendar events. This might be a bit of an issue going forward since it is very convenient to pull out my phone when I need to look at one of my notes. And since my notes contain some sensitive information, storing them in Google Docs or any other 3rd party cloud service is not an option. Its also a pain to lose the ability to plan my day on my phone by dragging over my tasks to my calendar. But this is only a temporary setback since this is an open source platform, and I am a programmer. I foresee a project in my future.

For the items that I can sync, there were a number of programs out there. I could have gone the manual route and exported from Outlook and imported into Google Apps or Gmail, but I liked the idea of an auto-sync between Outlook and Google/Android. So I settled on a program called CompanionLink. A little pricier than I would have liked, but I initially thought the Tasks sync would work, but they didn’t. They added all the tasks as daily events on the day that I initiated the sync. Not what I was looking for, but the Contacts and Calendar sync worked perfect. There is also the option of using Google Calendar Sync, or paying the 50 dollars a year to use Google App Sync as an Exchange server.

Some of the gripes I initially heard about the Droid centered around the keyboard. While the keyboard is offset from center, it wasn’t awkward for me. But to be fair, I have rather large hands. The added thumb wheel that makes it off center is something that I’ve hardly even used. Another gripe that I have is with the proprietary connector on the cable. In this day and age, why do manufacturers still do that when the mini-USB is pretty much standard. The dang connector is the same size, and its just a USB connector, so why use some proprietary plug in the phone? Its also quite a bit heavier than almost any other phone on the market. I am not sure what makes up the weight. I was also disappointed that Bejewled 2 wasn’t in the app store since I am hooked on it K

Despite these initial things, I love this phone. It is light years ahead of my HTC Touch. I used to think it was uncalled for with the criticism of Windows Mobile; especially since I was dual running Windows Mobile and Android on the Touch and preferred Windows Mobile on it. I just dismissed these criticisms as tech snobbery, even though in all honesty I did use my iPod Touch through my PHS tethered to my HTC Touch. But seriously, I haven’t been able to put this device down since I got it. After using this for a week, it really shows just how behind the times my old phone was. I get constant updates for all my email accounts, Facebook, Twitter and IM. I have gotten addicted to the Google Maps ability, and have branched out into exploring with Foursquares (and found some rather unusually tagged places, obviously someone playing pranks on the buddies). There are apps that I can talk to SMS message people rather than type. I’ve started using the famous barcode scanning app, which I had always dismissed as a gimmick until I actually had hands on with it. And I have plenty of the apps I was using on my iPod touch, such as Facebook, Pandora radio, and of course chess, to making my belt a little less saturated with gadgets I needed to use these apps in the past. I can use the camera as a portable scanner and convert documents to PDF to email to myself or others on the fly. Lots of potential here. And this is from a platform that is still in its infancy.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Article: Using Eclipse BIRT Extension Points: Aggregation

I wrote an article for IBMs DeveloperWorks that was published today. if your looking into the dark depths of BIRTs extension points model, its work a look. It is meant as an introductory tutorial to BIRTs extension points.