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Supporting Pocket PCs in the Enterprise
By Chris De Herrera , Copyright 2002
Revised 2/20/2002

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So your company has decided to move forward with deploying Pocket PCs to your internal customers. If you are working in your company's Information Systems Department or responsible for supporting Pocket PCs, or are using your Pocket PC in your enterprise you will want to read on.

Assessing the Environment

The Pocket PCs are different than desktop PCs in many different ways. So the people responsible for deploying Pocket PCs need to understand the unique characteristics that may cause problems with them. For example, if you unplug your PC, all your data is still there. If you run the battery dead on your Pocket PC and don't charge it for a week or two, all your data is GONE! Additional issues include making decisions on what applications can be stored and used on the device with the support of the company. I'm sure that the support staff will find other applications installed on the Pocket PCs that they do not authorize like some of the high performance games such as Doom. The staff needs to be prepared technically to remove them and have the authority to deal with this situation with the user based on company policy. Overall, the deployment of Pocket PCs should follow a similar path that your PC deployments use.

Initial Steps before Deployment

Staff needs to know what applications are to be installed and synchronized on the Pocket PCs. Further; I highly recommend that the staff have a Pocket PC to test with while preparing for the deployment. This way they can make backups and confirm how the applications and the Pocket PC work before deployment. The staff should document what is to be installed and how the applications get installed on the device. Further they should track the model number and serial number of each Pocket PC as well. This will help when they have to deploy more Pocket PCs or restore them if a users machine gets damaged or stolen. Examples of applications that I recommend being installed on all Pocket PCs include VXUtil from Cambridge Associates, which provides TCP/IP configuration information and utilities, RegKing 2002 from Information Appliance Associates and Pocket PC FAQ, which provides easy Pocket PC customization and Transcriber since it is not installed on the original Pocket PCs.  I also recommend that before deploying the Pocket PCs that you install Service Pack 1 and any other updates that the OEMs offer. In most cases, these updates resolve significant issues with using the Pocket PCs and this should reduce support calls and fixes later.

Creating Backups

There are two ways that you can create backups for your Pocket PC. The first one is to use ActiveSync to create a full backup. This backup is stored on your desktop and allows you to restore your Pocket PC from this machine only. The second alternative is to use the built-in backup options that each OEM offers to copy all the programs and data to a CompactFlash card. This approach requires users to have a CompactFlash card and to perform a backup to the flash card on a regular basis. I have found that the CompactFlash card backup is faster than using ActiveSync. Also, the CompactFlash card can be used to restore without using your desktop PC. So your users can restore their data while in the field if they are able to charge their Pocket PC. I have found that I have hand to setup a new partnership after restoring from flash on my iPAQ. So the PC will prompt you to setup a new partnership and sync. I have been successful in selecting the option to merge the data; however there have been occasional duplicate records. I highly recommend that the staff prepare to use a CompactFlash card for backups of their Pocket PC while the users are in the field.

Training Users

As part of the deployment plan, I highly recommend that users receive training on the basics of how the Pocket PCs work. The common issues that people may miss include the relationship of their data to the battery life of their device (i.e.: if you run the battery dead your data may be deleted), the click and hold model for the right click functionality, how to use ActiveSync, where to store data on the storage card, how can I transfer data or print, what a soft reset is? etc.) By preparing the users for some of the unique characteristics of their Pocket PC experience, you will minimize the number of support calls in the future for some of these common problems.

Providing Support to Users

Since the Pocket PCs are designed to be mobile, the staff needs to be prepared to answer questions about these devices over the phone. There is no version of a PC Anywhere like application that allows the staff to see what's happening on the Pocket PC. Also, the users will have an easier time using their Pocket PCs if the staff provides step-by-step instructions on how to perform common tasks. Without instructions, it is easy for users to miss steps or perform the steps out of order. When users call about a problem, the staff should encourage users to describe the steps they perform which lead to the problem. Sometimes, the problem is resolved as simply as clarifying the order of the steps or explaining a missing step that needs to be completed.

Getting Support from Microsoft

Well you would think that Microsoft offers free support for the Pocket PC, but they do not. Microsoft's deal with the OEMs to license the Pocket PC OS requires the OEM to offer support for the hardware and the software. This concept is the same as the OEM versions of other Microsoft operating systems. However, Microsoft does offer support for a $35.00 per incident fee. The fees are waived if the problem is a bug in the system. You can call Microsoft support at 1-800-936-5700.

Contacting the OEM for Support

Each company needs to make a decision about whether or not their users can call OEMs for support. I've found that the support staffs at the OEMs prefer to deal with knowledgeable technology oriented people rather than end users. So I recommend that all support calls go to the appropriate staff and let the staff call the OEM.

Preparing before Calling the OEM

Prior to contacting the OEM for support, the staff should have a description of the problem and any steps that make the problem reproducible. Also, they need the model number and serial number of the Pocket PC that they are asking for assistance with. If the problem is with ActiveSync, I recommend that the staff gather all the wces*.log files prior to calling support. These log files are re-created with each attempt to synchronize so make sure you copy them after your attempt to synchronize fails.

What to expect from OEM Support

As part of this story, I contacted multiple OEMs asking them for input on what features and capabilities they support about the Pocket PC. I also called the support staff at the OEM and asked questions about what they support as well. I found that for basic questions about how their Pocket PCs work and the Microsoft applications included on them, the OEMs are prepared to answer these questions. When it comes to issues like communications or internet connectivity, OEMs like Compaq offer full support for the products, services and accessories they sell. For products and accessories not manufactured by the OEM, you'll find a best effort to assist you with your problem. What this means is that the tech that you contact generally will make their best efforts to assist you with the problem if they have enough experience with it. So if you have a difficult or complex problem, I recommend that you try to get a tech that is knowledgeable about the function or issue. This may require you to ask for another tech that knows more about the issue or to call back. Also, the OEMs have multiple levels of support and their techs can refer issues they cannot resolve to higher levels of support.

Getting the best user experience

Overall I am happy to report that the OEMs are able to resolve more problems with the Pocket PCs than I've seen in the past. So by preparing before deploying Pocket PCs to support staff, providing training and documentation and having a bit of patience, your users will have a better experience with their Pocket PCs. In the end, each user is best served by having the knowledge that they can resolve the problem themselves or call knowledgeable staff as much as possible.

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