How to Get Push Email on an Older Pocket PC… Sort Of

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Research in Motion has built a very successful business around “push” email, a system that immediately sends each email to a BlackBerry handheld or smartphone as soon as it arrives on the server.

This hasn’t escaped Microsoft’s attention, and so earlier this year it introduced the Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP), its own push email system for Exchange Server 2003. Problem is, this will only work with Windows Mobile 5.0 devices and not any running earlier versions of this operating system.

But if your company uses Exchange and you have a Pocket PC running either version of Windows Mobile 2003 there is a way for you to get a system that works somewhat like a BlackBerry or a device with the MSFP.

And the good news is, this doesn’t require you install any additional software, and setting it up is a relatively simple process.

(For the benefit of those using a Windows Mobile 2005 device but don’t have access to the MSFP, there are instructions at the end of this article on how to set up the system for connecting to a remote Exchange server that originally came with this operating system.)

Not Just for Smartphones

If you don’t have a cellular-wireless device, you can still wirelessly get your email from an Exchange server. It works just fine over Wi-Fi with a standard handheld.

One of my test devices for this article is an old Axim X3i from several years ago. It has no problems at all wirelessly connecting to Exchange via Wi-Fi.

Before You Start

Before you do anything else, you’re probably going to have to have a quick chat with someone in your company’s IT department because there’s some information you’re going to need: the address of your Exchange server, whether you’ll be making an SSL connection, and whether you are going to need to input a domain name.

Even if you’re the first person in your company to try to connect to Exchange with a Pocket PC, he should still have this information because it’s necessary for people using Outlook on a PC or laptop to remotely connect to the server.

You might need to ask for your email user name and password if you don’t already know them.

Getting Started

You have to understand that this isn’t going to be like the set-up process you might have gone through to get email from an ISP. You aren’t going to be asking a POP3 or IMAP server for your email, you are going to be doing a remote ActiveSync.

Don’t let this scare you off. The process is relatively easy, but the setup process happens in the ActiveSync application, not in the Inbox application.

And doing it this way has some significant advantages. You can get more than just your email; you can synchronize your address book and calendar, too.

Setting Up Remote ActiveSyncing

I’m going to walk you through, step by step, the exact process you need to go through in order to allow your Pocket PC to remotely ActiveSync.

  1. Open ActiveSync (it’s probably in the Start Menu or the Programs folder)
  2. Tap on “Tools” at the bottom of the screen
  3. Choose “Options…”
  4. Tap on “Server” at the bottom of the screen
  5. Type in that server address you got from your IT person
  6. Check the box if you are making an SSL connection (you almost certainly are)
  7. Tap on the “Options…” button
  8. Type in your user name and then your password
  9. Type in the domain, if necessary
  10. You probably want to choose the “Save Password” option unless you are particularly worried you’ll lose your device
  11. Hit the “OK” button at the top of the screen
  12. Now that you’re back on the first screen, choose which items you want to synchronize between your Pocket PC and the Exchange server: Calendar, Contacts, and Inbox.
  13. Calendar and Inbox both have options related to how much data you want to synchronize. Set these to whatever works best for you by selecting one of them and hitting “Settings…”
  14. Tap on “Mobile Schedule” at the bottom of the screen
  15. Decide how often you want to perform a remote ActiveSync during both Peak and Off-Peak times. (I discuss this in depth in the next section)
  16. Tap on the “Peak Times…” button
  17. Define what your peak times are, (like when you are at your office).
  18. Hit the “OK” button at the top of this screen
  19. When you are back on the Mobile Schedule screen, choose whether you want your outgoing emails sent immediately. If you don’t want this, they will stay in your Outbox until the next time you ActiveSync.
  20. Hit the “OK” button at the top of the screen

There, you’re done. Now you now have a Pocket PC that can keep your email, calendar, and address book automatically updated when you are out of the office, and you didn’t have to go out and buy a new device.

How Often Should You Remotely ActiveSync?

When deciding how often to Remotely ActiveSync, there’s a phrase you should keep in mind: money changes everything.

If you’re going to be doing your remote ActiveSyncs by Wi-Fi, it probably doesn’t really matter how often you synchronize, as it doesn’t cost you anything.

However, if you’re using a Pocket PC smartphone, then you have to be mindful of how much data you are sending and receiving.

Unless you have an unlimited Wireless Data plan, I would highly recommend you do this very rarely. Keep in mind, you aren’t just downloading your latest email, you are doing a full ActiveSync which — depending on your settings — can include synchronizing your contacts and calendar.

If you have a plan that includes a limited amount of data transfers, like 5 MB, you can run through this amazingly quickly with frequent remote ActiveSyncs. That’s when the extra charges start, and they can add up. 

To help cut down on the amount of data you are sending and receiving, you can set different schedules for peak and off-peak times. This is because there’s a good chance you want to synchronize your Pocket PC much more often during office hours than you will when you’re asleep.

 

Appendix: Windows Mobile 2005 for Pocket PC

As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft has released the MSFP for Windows Mobile 5.0 devices. If for some reason you can’t use this, then I’ve put together some instructions for doing remote ActiveSyncs on the latest generation of Pocket PCs using the older system.

In fact, Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PCs offer something that looks and acts like push email. It isn’t actually, but I’ll explain the importance of these differences later.

The process works a great deal like it does on Windows Mobile 2003 devices, but it’s different enough that I’ve compiled a separate set of instructions.

Before you start, you’re going to need the same information that earlier Pocket PCs do to perform this task:  the address of your Exchange server, whether you’ll be making an SSL connection, whether you are going to need to input a domain name, your email user name, and your password.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Open the ActiveSync application
  2. Tap on “Menu” at the bottom of the screen
  3. Tap on “Configure Server…
  4. Type in that server address you got from your IT person
  5. Check the box if you are making an SSL connection (you almost certainly are)
  6. Tap on “Next” at the bottom of the screen
  7. Type in your user name and then your password
  8. Type in the domain, if necessary
  9. You probably want to choose the “Save Password” option unless you are particularly worried you’ll lose your device
  10. Tap on the “Advanced…” button
  11. Under “If there is a conflict” choose whether you think what is on your Pocket PC or on the server is more likely to be correct
  12. Decide if you want there to be any event logging
  13. Tap on “Next” at the bottom of the screen
  14. Decide which categories of information you want to synchronize
  15. Both the Calendar and E-mail have options. Select each of these and tap on the “Settings…” button to see these
  16. When you are done, tap on “Finish” at the bottom of the screen

Next, you need to pick a schedule for how often you want to do a remote ActiveSync.

To do that, you need to:

  1. Open ActiveSync (if it isn’t still open)
  2. Tap on “Menu” at the bottom of the screen
  3. Tap on “Schedule…”
  4. Decide how often you want to perform a remote ActiveSync during both Peak and Off-Peak times
  5. Choose whether you want to do remote ActiveSyncing when you are roaming (only applies to smartphones)
  6. Choose whether you want your outgoing email sent immediately. If you don’t want this, it will stay in your Outbox until the next time you ActiveSync.
  7. Define what your peak times are.
  8. Hit the “OK” button at the top of the screen

What I said earlier about the cost of remote ActiveSyncing applies here, too.

In addition, Windows Mobile 5.0 devices have an option that earlier models don’t. If you aren’t worried about how much data you are exchanging, you might consider choosing to ActiveSync whenever a new email arrives. This will make your Pocket PC act almost exactly like a BlackBerry.

But if you are going to do this, there’s another thing you need to understand about how this system works behind the scenes. If you have your  Pocket PC configured so that it is updated when a new message arrives, then the Exchange server will send your device an SMS message every time it gets an email for you. This tells your Pocket PC to perform a remote ActiveSync.

What this means is that, if you get a lot of emails, you’d better have a wireless plan that includes a lot of SMS messages. Many carriers don’t treat SMS messages as data and bill you for them separately.

You also need to be using a device that can receive SMS messages. If you’re using a handheld and Wi-Fi, then this isn’t an option for you.

If you don’t need to be immediately notified whenever you get a message (which I think is most people), then you can pick another schedule, like ActiveSyncing every half hour to an hour. Or maybe only a couple of times a day.


 

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