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By Chris De Herrera 
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Offline Information on Palm-size PCs via Mobile Channels

Comm Link

By Chris De Herrera
June 29, 1998

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One of the cool new features exclusive to Palm-size PCs powered by Microsoft® Windows® CE is support for Mobile Channels. With Mobile Channels, you can download and conveniently take with you Internet-based information such as news and reference information, from headlines and sports scores to Web-based forms or templates from a corporate intranet site.

If you've used Active Channel™ views with Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0, you're most of the way there. Mobile Channels are very similar to Active Channel content, and they're downloaded the same way -- via "push" technology built into Internet Explorer on the desktop PC. The difference is that Mobile Channels are optimized for easy reading on smaller screen devices and they can be automatically synchronized to a Palm-size PC via Microsoft ActiveSync™ technology.

On a side note, you don't need a Palm-size PC to use Mobile Channels. All you need is Internet Explorer 4 and Windows CE Services 2.1 or later to subscribe, and you can read Mobile Channels content on your desktop PC. But to take advantage of the flexibility designed into Mobile Channels, you'll want a Palm-size PC so that you can take your news with you and read it offline while traveling -- whether it's down the hall to a meeting or on a plane to visit a client.

Getting started

To take advantage of Mobile Channels, first install Internet Explorer 4.0 on your PC. Internet Explorer 4.01 is included under "Optional Components" on the Windows CE Services 2.1 CD-ROM that comes with Palm-size PCs. Be sure you've installed Windows CE Services and created a partnership with your Palm-size PC.

Next, you'll want to subscribe to a Mobile Channel. To do so, you must connect your desktop PC to the Internet, launch Internet Explorer 4, and click the Add Mobile Channel buttons. At this writing, Mobile Channels are available from MSNBC and Pen Computing Magazine. Several more Mobile Channels are in the works; look for new channels to appear soon on the Internet Explorer Channel Guide. If you want to be sure you always have the latest information downloaded to your computer, you must select Yes to be notified of updates and download the channel for offline viewing as shown in Figure A.

Say 'yes' to subcribe to a Mobile Channel

Figure A: You must say "Yes" if you want Mobile Channels to download for synchronization on your Palm-size PC.

Next, enable Mobile Channel synchronization on your desktop PC. Open your Mobile Devices folder and select ActiveSync Options from the Tools menu. Be sure to select the checkbox for Mobile Channel synchronization. You can further customize your Mobile Channel settings by selecting Channel Item from the list of synchronization services and clicking the Options button. You can select which channels you want to synchronize and whether you want images and sounds downloaded to your Palm-size PC.

MSNBC daily news summary on a Palm-size PC

Figure B: News from MSNBC illustrates the type of useful information you can access with Mobile Channels.

Now, whenever you use ActiveSync with your Palm-size PC, the Mobile Channels that you subscribed to will be synchronized along with calendar, contacts, tasks, and other data. You'll can access news or information like the reports from MSNBC shown in Figure B.

The Mobile Channel icon will appear on the taskbar of your Palm-size PC. Just tap it to launch Mobile Channels and read your news offline -- anywhere, any time.

Further customization

If you want to further control the types of information you download to your Palm-size PC, you're in luck. With the Mobile Channels browser, you can choose exactly which parts of a channel (i.e. subchannels) that you want to synchronize.

By default, the content provider will determine which subchannels are selected when you subscribe to a Mobile Channel. If you want to make adjustments, say to save storage space on your device by eliminating categories of news that don't interest you, or to download content that's not selected by default, launch the Channels browser on your Palm-size PC. Next, open the File menu and select Channels. You will see a dialog box like the one in Figure C.

Customize your subscription

Figure C: Customize your Mobile Channels by browsing the sub-channels and picking what you want.

Uncheck any subchannels that you don't want to receive, and check any absent items that you want to add. Existing content will be removed immediately, while newly selected content will be updated the next time you synchronize.

If you're interested in authoring a Mobile Channel, the Site Builder Network is working on resources to assist you, which should be posted soon. Until then, you can start by examining the desktop version of channels and Channel Definition Format (CDF). If you're new to channels, try setting up your content as an Active Channel view first. Mobile Channels require some specialization, but that's a topic for a future column.

For now, enjoy using Mobile Channels on your Palm-size PC. I am!

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