Chris DeHerrera: Spreading the Pocket PC Word

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During the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the leading enthusiasts in the handheld computing world. But there’s one person who stands out from the crowd: Chris De Herrera. Chris’s commitment to Windows CE goes back a long way, five years in fact, but he still exhibits the same love and passion for the newest Pocket PC that he did for the first Handheld PC back in 1996. His website, CEWindows.NET, is a plethora of knowledge and information, used by many of us in the industry when looking for answers to our technical questions.

At the recent Pocket PC Summit in Los Angeles, Chris was honored with a special achievement award from Pocket PC Magazine and I had the chance to sit down with Chris over dinner one night during the conference and "talk PDAs" one on one, something that Chris always makes time for. Recently Chris looked back on the past five years in an article he posted on CEWindows.NET, which he’s kindly given us permission to reprint.

Enjoy it! I certainly did.

Steve Bush
Founder of Brighthand

 

Getting Started

Some of you are probably wondering how I got into supporting Windows CE and the Pocket PC. Well, this is my story about how I got started, the creation of CEWindows.NET and some of the major milestones along the way.


Prior to Windows CE

My first computer was also the first truly portable computer, the Radio Shack PC-1. I purchased it in 1980 while taking physics in high school to handle formulas that I programmed in Basic. After that came a string of other computers, including the Commodore 64, Apple II and the original IBM PC.

During the late 80’s I switched to a Radio Shack model 100/102/200, the first portable computer with a full size keyboard. I wrote a program called PDD2DOS and WP2DOS in Quick Basic that let you use your PC as a huge external floppy drive for the 100/102/200/WP2.

During the summer of 1994, I picked up an AST Gridpad 1910 (an OEM of the Casio Zoomer, the first pen based PDA), and wrote some how-to’s and compiled a list of frequently asked questions, or FAQs. That was followed by other AST Gridpads running Geos and the Dauphin DTR-1, which ran Windows 3.1 and also Windows for Pen (remember that?).

During the fall of 1994, America Online’s Craig de Faselle invited me to join AOL’s PDA Forum to provide support for the Zoomer–so my first article about PDAs was actually published on AOL. During my six years at AOL we held monthly chats with users about PDAs and Windows CE, and how to resolve their problems. You can still find the FAQs and how-to’s for the Zoomer, DTR-1 and Gridpad 1910 on CEWindows.NET.

 

Getting Started with Windows CE

It’s been five years since I started covering Windows CE on my website. I was interested in Windows CE since the first time I heard about it, mainly because of its support for TCP/IP communications, which other PDAs did not have at the time.

The first story I wrote about Windows CE came on November 19, 1996, the night of the Handheld PC 1.0 launch in Las Vegas. (I had to give Microsoft my credit card to get an evaluation unit to work with at the time.) The article was published on AOL’s PDA Forum (keyword PDA).

During that week I met more than ten employees of Microsoft who were working on the Handheld PC and talked with them in detail about the capabilities of the Handheld PC. I also got the chance to meet people from each of the major OEMs: Casio, Compaq, Hewlett Packard and NEC. (I’d had a long-standing relationship with Casio since the Zoomer.)

I also met bSquare, the first 3rd party company to release an application for the Handheld PC. (Believe it or not, BSQUARE consisted of only 4 people at that time!) Its application allowed users to send faxes from the H/PC 1.0. Since then I’ve had many enjoyable conversations with Bill Baxter (now President, CEO & Chairman of the Board) about the architecture of the Windows CE OS at different Windows CE and industry events. But it wasn’t until 2000 that I learned that it was BSQUARE that created the compilers for the Windows CE application and OS development environment.

It was also at the H/PC launch that I met Microsoft’s Keith Amondt. Keith was interested in my efforts to support users in the AOL PDA Forum. He even sent me my first H/PC, a Casio A-10, that was one of the show loaners from Comdex.

During the next month, I noticed something missing. There wasn’t a place where you could find a comprehensive comparison of the features, screen shots and pictures of the H/PCs, so I created it. Since I didn’t have a screen capture utility at the time, I scanned the screen shots from one of the OEMs. At the Consumer Electronics Show in early 1997, I captured pictures of all of the Handheld PCs, and that’s how the comparison chart was born.

 

Philips – What Could Have Been

After CES I learned that some OEMs were planning to attend a computer show in March, where they would be explaining the features and capabilities of the new Handheld PC, so I went. There I spoke with Philips’ David Bialer, whom I’d met at Comdex and seen again at CES, about the Velo 1 and how it was coming along. We talked about the future of the H/PCs and what Philips was doing in that regards. We also discussed the need for strong technical support for products and that’s when I offered to help. David sent me a prototype Velo 1 (unit #20, in fact), which I beta tested for Philips until its launch. During that time, Philips was looking internally for someone to head its Velo tech support. I interviewed for it (multiple times), but Philips decided to focus on a liaison between customers and engineers rather than knowledgeable technical support staff. So I kept working on my website on AOL called PDC ChrisD’s Pen Based Computers. Ahh, but what could have been.

Writing for the Web

In June 1997, Microsoft’s Dave Kramer asked me if I’d be interested in writing for Microsoft’s website. I was, so I wrote my first article for Microsoft. It was rejected. So I continued to focus on my own website, and as the year went on, I added each of the OEMs devices to my H/PC 1.0 comparison and added pictures of their devices as well. By that fall I had the most complete comparison of the H/PC 1.0 devices on the Web.

During 1997, I was surprised to discover that Handheld PC Magazine (the precursor to Pocket PC Magazine) had named my website one of the top 10 websites on Windows CE at Fall Comdex, since I’d never heard from the Handheld PC Magazine staff before the show. At Fall Comdex, I arranged for AOL’s PDA Forum to host an online chat with Microsoft’s Jim Floyd, HP’s Tom Carr, Philips’ Andre Kabel and Sharp’s John Brandewie. The chat occurred right on the floor of Comdex in the Microsoft Booth! We even gave away two Handheld PCs and a copy of the book Introducing Microsoft Windows CE for the Handheld PC by Robert O’Hara.

 

The Handheld PC 2.0

On October 27, 1997, Microsoft announced the shipment of the Handheld PC 2.0 ROM image to the OEMs. I followed this announcement closely, reporting which units could be upgraded as well as upcoming units that would use version 2.0. I created another comparison of the H/PC 2.0 devices, including pictures, based on press releases and my discussions with the OEMs at Fall Comdex. Microsoft’s Jim Floyd had sent me a beta ROM for the NEC MobilePro 400 so I was one of the first to post screen shots of the new version, which was the first to support Ethernet, making high speed connections possible.

 

Getting Connected with Ethernet

In December 1997 I contacted Jim Floyd about the Ethernet support, basically to get a better understanding of its features and capabilities. However, what I learned did not make sense. I was told that the H/PCs could only synchronize within a network that used a Windows NT Server. Well, I did not have an NT server, I was using Windows 95. So I set out to figure out how to synchronize using Ethernet with my Win95 desktop.

First, I went to my local Frys Electronics and bought an EC2T Ethernet card, which was NE-2000 compatible, installed it and installed and configured TCP/IP. I was able to ping the H/PC from the desktop. I figured out that Microsoft was using NetBIOS over TCP/IP and that there was no reason that you needed a Windows NT machine. I tested my assumption that you could use the desktop’s IP address as the WINS server, which worked because the desktop will always respond to requests for itself by name. So I was successful in synchronizing using Ethernet with WINS.

Then, I tested with a DNS, installing a version of BIND (a DNS program for Unix) for Windows and testing how the H/PC used the DNS to resolve names. I was successful in synchronizing using the DNS too, as long as the DNS name was the same as the device name. So I wrote the first Ethernet FAQ for Windows CE based on my first-hand experience–all without a packet sniffer!

Writing for Microsoft

Earlier in November 1997, Dave Kramer, who was working on Microsoft’s Windows CE website, asked me to write an article about customizing the H/PC. I wrote the article and this time it was published. During the next month, we also discussed the need for additional articles geared to helping H/PC users. Dave suggested I write a monthly column, which we called Comm Link. The first Comm Link article appeared in January 1998, covering how to synchronize your H/PC with your desktop using Ethernet. (That article’s still in print on the MSDN CDs today and is also available on CEWindows.NET along with the complete set of Comm Link articles.)

The Comm Link column lasted until April 1999. I wrote those articles for free because I really wanted to help users understand the capabilities of their devices, since Microsoft did not provide documentation explaining how to configure Windows CE devices to communicate with other devices.

 

Launching the Palm-size PC

On January 7, 1998, I attended the Consumer Electronics Show, where Microsoft announced the Palm-size PC. The units started to ship in the spring of 1998 and Casio was the first to ship its E-10 and E-11 units. This was the first time Microsoft created a Windows CE device without a keyboard. I received my first Palm-size PC, the E-10, at Microsoft’s second developer’s conference in San Jose. At that conference I met with LG Electronics and discussed my ideas for future devices. I explained to them that simplicity means things like standard ports on the unit and that the parallel port would help business users print documents. LG went back and worked on a new device called the Phenom Ultra, which incorporated standard ports for VGA and was the first device with a parallel port for printing.

 

Getting Started with Newsgroups

Also during the summer of 1997 and spring of 1998, I started answering questions in Microsoft’s Windows CE newsgroups, realizing that the audience there was much larger than the one on AOL. Originally I was asked to be a Most Valuable Professional for Windows CE in the fall of 1998, however the paperwork never got completed. So I followed up with Microsoft and was finalized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional in the spring of 1998, based on the number and accuracy of my answers to users questions on the newsgroups.

Of course during this time, I continued to write about Handheld PCs and Windows CE for my website, PDC ChrisD ‘s Pen Based Computers. During 1998, I added a lot more FAQs on how to use your Handheld PC to communicate to other computers via Ethernet, Serial, Infrared, and RAS. I also expanded my ISP Settings FAQ as well as added other important information.

 

Meet Derek Brown

In the summer of 1998, Dave Kramer left the Windows CE group at Microsoft and I was introduced to Derek Brown, who was responsible for Microsoft’s Windows CE website. This was the beginning of a relationship that continues to today.

I continued writing for Comm Link and used it as an opportunity to talk to Derek about the issues I faced supporting Windows CE, including the costs involved in acquiring units. We discussed the role that the Microsoft MVP program plays and we came to the conclusion that Microsoft should do more to support websites and MVPs. That conversation spawned something we now call the Microsoft Mobile Community Council (M2C2).

Jason Dunn, Todd Ogasawara, Frank McPherson, Craig Peacock and I became the first members of the M2C2 and for the next year we’d hold a monthly teleconference with Derek to work together to resolve issues. The M2C2 group finally met in person for the first time in the fall of 1999 at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond to see the beta of the Pocket PC. The M2C2 has continued to meet every fall at Microsoft for the past 3 years.

Also with Derek’s help, I’ve been involved in beta testing the Handheld PC, Professional Edition, Pocket PC, and Pocket PC 2002.

 

AOL Changes and so did I

In the fall of 1998, AOL announced changes in its user agreement, claiming copyright over works published in the forums and on websites that its users created. So I decided I needed to move my content somewhere else to avoid any ambiguity over who owns what I write. I decided that CEWindows.NET was a cool name and I moved all my information about PDAs there.

So in September 1998 CEWindows.NET was born as a continuation of the work I’d originally published on my AOL website, PDC ChrisD’s Pen Based Computers. I struggled with the idea of advertising, however, I knew I had to cover the expenses of running the site. So I added advertising for companies like Socket Communications, Developer One and Phatware to cover these costs.

 

Comdex, CES and DevCon

During 1998, I attended fall Comdex and saw the launch of the Handheld PC, Professional Edition. I created the pictures, comparisons and screen shots of the systems for my website. Also in the fall of 1998, I met Hal Goldstein, editor of Pocket PC Magazine, for the first time at the Mobile & PDA Expo in San Francisco. I agreed to write articles for Handheld PC Magazine, which was just over a year old. I also attended Winter CES 1999 to get more information about the new Handheld PC Pros as well.

In spring 1999, I attended the third Windows CE Developer’s Conference to learn more about the architecture of the Windows CE OS, mingle with developers and get an idea of where it’s going in the future. It was at that DevCon that I found out more about how the Object Store, networking and system architecture of Windows CE worked. I also read Inside Windows CE by Jim Murray, which explains more about how these devices tick on the inside and how Microsoft decided to go about building then.

 

Launching Uplink

During the fall of 1999, Microsoft discussed the idea of Uplink with the M2C2. Uplink is an extension of the column called Comm Link that I started in 1998. So my Comm Link articles were used as examples to sell the idea of Uplink internally within Microsoft and to the developer community to support the Palm-size PC. The idea behind Uplink was to have external writers explain their thoughts and ideas about the device features and capabilities and to review products to help users better understand what they do. Uplink was born in November 1999 and was updated until April 2000 when PocketPC.com was introduced. (You can still get to Uplink at www.microsoft.com/windowsce/uplink/.)

 

Trademarks and Licenses

During 1999, I found out from Derek Brown, that CEWindows.NET infringes on Microsoft’s trademark for Windows CE. During the next few months, we negotiated an agreement that allowed me to keep CEWindows.NET as a licensee of Windows CE to use for my website domain name. This is an example of how one person can work things out with a large company, even in difficult subjects like trademarks, to the benefit of everyone.

 

Writing Books

One two occasions, first in 1999 and again in 2000, I was approached to write a book about Windows CE. Each time I worked on chapters (fifteen chapters were complete at one point!) and sent them in to the publisher, however, the results just did not feel right. I waited for feedback from the publisher, but it never came. So both times, I decided not to complete the books, but rather continue writing for the web.

However, I have spent a lot of time editing and reviewing other people’s books, including The Windows CE Technology Tutorial: Windows Powered Solutions for the Developer by Chris Meunch and Randolph Kath and Pocket PC Development in the Enterprise by Christian Forsberg and Andreas Sjostrom.

 

Launching the Pocket PC

Prior to the launch of the Pocket PC in the spring of 2000, the writers for PocketPC.com hunkered down to write new content for the Pocket PC, focusing on a broader set of information, ranging from tips and tricks to reviews, step-by-steps, and columns. Also during that time, I wrote the first review of the Pocket PC for Pocket PC Magazine. (I continue to contribute articles to every issue of Pocket PC Magazine.)

Also during 2000, I continued to add comparisons, screen shots, and FAQs focusing on the Pocket PC to my website.

 

Even More Travel

In July 2000, Terence Goggin of DoctorCE.com and I spoke at the first Wrox Wireless Developer’s Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Our talks focused on how the Pocket PCs and Windows CE communicate and how to design applications to work with them. Also, we covered a sample application on how to use wireless to solve business requirements.

Prior to the show, I contacted Microsoft’s Derek Brown about giving away the new embedded Visual Tools CDs at the show. On short notice he sent us 200 sets of the eMbedded Visual Tools CDs to give to the attendees–even before Microsoft was shipping them to developers in Europe.

Terence and I were also requested to speak about using the Pocket PC and Windows CE with wireless at InEx in November in Montreal, Canada. Later that year, I spoke at SAP’s E-Business Summit, The ScreenSavers on TechTV and Fall Comdex as well.

So during 2000, I logged almost 25,000 miles of travel to cover and discuss the Pocket PC and Windows CE!

 

Getting More Out of the Pocket PC

During my experience working with the Pocket PC made me realize that there are a lot of things I wanted it to do that Microsoft does not include by default. I have been a friend of Terence Goggin from my discussions about the Windows CE architecture and developing for it. So we talked about creating a few apps that would improve the usability of the Pocket PC prior to its release. These apps include CF2Desktop, 7DayAppointment View and the now infamous RegKing as well as CEWebInstallx, the web based install program for 3-click installation of RegKing.

RegKing is my personal favorite since I can quickly add or enhance the features of the Pocket PC for users. The idea behind RegKing is to do things that Microsoft does not support that enhance the usability of the Pocket PC. It is so flexible that I was able to create RegKing 2002 prior to the Pocket PC Launch with 29 new hacks!

 

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs

Late in 2000, I added the first Pocket PC Bug List, a list of issues and possible options for users. In October of 2001, when the Pocket PC 2002 was launched, I posted screen shots, pictures and comparison of Pocket PC 2002 devices and created the Pocket PC 2002 Bug List as well. (I create and maintain the bug lists independent of Microsoft and the OEMs. They are not in control of what is posted and what is not posted to the lists.)

 

The Pocket PC Summit

During the spring 2000, Multimeteor’s John Tidwell and Mark Winstanley contacted me to help them create an event for the Pocket PC. Initially, I was concerned about their ability to pull this off, however, I believed that a Pocket PC specific event would be very important to users. So I offered to help.

Well, little did I know what that involvement would be!

I worked with John and Mark to identify topics for discussions as well as presenters. At the same time, I asked them to nail down the venue and they selected the Fairmont in Santa Monica, a first class hotel. After a working list of presentations was completed, we worked on whom would be the ideal candidates to speak about these subjects. At the same time, Multimeteor was issuing press releases and getting the event coordinated.

I focused on writing my presentation and recommended that they have a wireless LAN with Internet access for the attendees. They worked with Symbol to sponsor the wireless LAN equipment. Then it came time to work out the details on what these users could do with the LAN. I suggested that we setup an extranet website with information formatted for the Pocket PC and Internet access. So while they created the website, I worked with the hotel to figure out how the network would work. I eventually settled on using Microsoft Windows 2000 Server with NAT and IIS to provide Internet access for all the attendees and staff.

The Pocket PC Summit, and the wireless network, was a success.

 

Concept Behind CEWindows.NET

CEWindows.NET is a reflection of my thoughts and ideas on explaining what Windows CE/Pocket PC is and does. I created it so that I didn’t have to answer the same question hundreds of times on AOL, the newsgroups or by email. (So make sure you search CEWindows.NET before e-mailing me!)

CEWindows.NET truly is done by one person. Occasionally, I do get articles submitted by others to post on CEWindows.NET, however, the vast majority of the articles are written by myself. Since there’s no editor or copywriter, please be patient with my spelling and grammar. I hope you like the style of the articles. I really focus on going straight to the point without a lot of fluff. Also, I hope you find the articles informative without getting too technical. My goal is to give people enough information to appreciate what’s required to do something without overwhelming them with the details.

There are now more than 600 pages on the site with information on a ton of topics. I would appreciate any feedback you have about CEWindows.NET, including the website design. Also, any ideas on future articles are appreciated as well. Sometimes, it’s hard to think of a new topic to write about. So feel free to e-mail me your ideas.

 

Ideas and Sharing

There have been many times when I have been asked for feedback about a particular product. Also, there’ve been many times when I’ve given unsolicited feedback to the vendor about a product. My goal has been to share ideas to make products and software that meet users needs, and there are many examples of where my thoughts have been put into action by others.

An early example is my discussions with Stan at Phatware about porting its NetProfile desktop app to Windows CE. Also, I suggested to Len Ott at Socket Communications that they add the information on the TCP/IP settings in their PC Card LP/E Ethernet driver. Other discussions have occurred around hardware, like when I offered suggestions to Terry at Microfoundry on the Keymate design and features. A more recent example was a suggestion to Bill Dettering at Applian for a website to customer design for distributing information, which ultimately became Mazingo. I’ve also worked with The Unsupported Software Company on ideas like the Hosts, tracert, and finger features to help users configure and use their Palm-size PCs. I’ve provided this feedback free of charge. So if you’re a developer or OEM and you ask me to take a look at your product, don’t be surprised at the comments you get back.

 

What I do Full Time

While all of this is going on, I still work full time at Pacific Crest Bank heading its Information Technology Department. At Pacific Crest, I focus on the bank’s overall technical goals. I’m never asked to cover the Pocket PC or Windows CE space in my responsibilities at Pacific Crest, so when you see me at shows and other events I’m using my vacation time to be there!

 

Changes and Support

I can’t believe that it’s been five years. It’s gone by so fast! And during that time Microsoft evolved Windows CE into a very useful operating system.

The reason I wrote this was to share with you how one man influenced the way Microsoft does things. I believe that you can make a difference if you believe in yourself and have the drive and the patience to stick with it.

So now you know where I came from. I couldn’t have made it without the ongoing support from my family. They’ve allowed me to stick with it day and night, week after week–even when I’m on vacation! I also want to thank Derek Brown for listening to my complaints. Without his support and the support of others at Microsoft and OEMs like Casio, Compaq, and Hewlett Packard, I would not have had the wonderful experience of working with them to improve Windows CE and the Pocket PC. I would also finally like to thank the many software developers. I truly believe that third party software is what makes Windows CE and the Pocket PC great.

I began this journey writing about Windows CE–creating content to help others understand what these devices can do. And I hope to continue writing about Windows CE and the Pocket PC for a long time to come.

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