More Bluetooth Blues and a Look at Windows Server 2003 Mobility Features

Last week's commentary about Bluetooth garnered far more responses than I'd expected, and I'm obviously not the only person experiencing problems with this technology. However, thanks to several readers, I can now use Bluetooth to wirelessly synchronize my Hewlett-Packard (HP) iPAQ h5455 Pocket PC with a notebook computer, although the process is somewhat convoluted. However, I expect others to continue experiencing problems, depending on what hardware they have.

The problem with Bluetooth is the wide range of often-incompatible Bluetooth stacks that grace the various Bluetooth systems and hardware devices. Microsoft has provided Bluetooth drivers for Windows XP since late 2002, but most Bluetooth hardware vendors ship products with their own drivers, and the few notebook computers or Tablet PCs that ship with this technology seem to have their own way of doing things as well. The result is the opposite of what Bluetooth's backers envisioned: Instead of having heterogeneous devices that silently recognize and work seamlessly with each other, users still must perform a lot of configuration.

So, back to the iPAQ synchronization. Using tips from readers, I enabled Bluetooth synchronization through Microsoft ActiveSync in a way that contradicted the device's documentation. Instead of using a COM port connection configuration, I enabled the network (Ethernet) and RAS connection type in ActiveSync's Connection Settings dialog box. Then, I triggered the synchronization by selecting Sync in the iPAQ's ActiveSync client (the Sync button in ActiveSync on the desktop is always unavailable). The process works well: I can synchronize the iPAQ from my upstairs bedroom, while the notebook is downstairs in the office.

What I'd like, of course, is automatic synchronization, for instance on a regular schedule when the devices detect each other in range. I'm still trying to determine whether that's possible, but this is a start. Thanks to everyone who wrote me about their Bluetooth experiences and who offered tips for synchronizing the iPAQ. I'll have more information about this intriguing technology when I've had a chance to experiment with other devices

Windows Server 2003 Mobility Features
As part of my continuing discussion of innovative new features in Windows Server 2003, this week I highlight some of the mobility advances in the next Windows Server product, which Microsoft will launch April 24, 2003. As an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, upgrade to Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2003 features improvements to some of Win2K's key mobility technologies, including IntelliMirror's "follow me" functionality, which lets roaming users access their customized desktop environments from any workstation. Windows 2003 also offers massive scalability and performance improvements that will benefit Windows Terminal Services: Administrators will be able to consolidate remote servers or add more users to the same servers. But Windows 2003 also offers some important new features that will benefit mobile users.

First, like XP, Windows 2003 supports the 802.1x wireless standard, which has its roots in Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) dial-up technologies. Over time, this technology led to a new standardized authentication protocol, called the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), which Microsoft used in Win2K's VPN feature. 802.1x, basically, is a way to pass EAP authentication over a wireless connection, and it brings wireless security full circle, in the sense that a secure network tunnel is useless if you can't authenticate to it in a secure manner. 802.1x blocks any network activity until authentication is successful.

Windows 2003 encrypts the Offline Files cache, although this feature requires XP on the client. This feature means that if someone steals the client computer, that person can't access sensitive network data cached locally on your hard disk. This feature is particularly important for business travelers who use Offline Files. For important locally stored files, users need to consider the Encrypting File System (EFS), although this feature is part of Win2K and XP and isn't unique to the new server version.

Another interesting Windows 2003 feature is Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), which is a network-based system restore feature. VSS lets people use an automated point-in-time backup system to access older versions of files on network servers after the files have been changed or deleted. Microsoft engineers I've spoken to call VSS the "single largest single bet in Windows Server 2003." Here's how VSS works: When enabled, VSS creates a permanent or temporary volume representing a snapshot of an existing volume at a certain point in time, then freezes that point in time so that you can come back to it. VSS represents the first time Microsoft has created a backup framework, and the company expects future backup solutions to build off this framework.

Because VSS can take up a lot of disk space, you need to roll it out effectively. You must consider which volumes, files, or folders you need to back up using this technology and how often you need to back them up; these variables will differ from enterprise to enterprise. Obviously, VSS has ramifications beyond mobile workers, but this feature is of particular use to users that are often disconnected from the network but use the Offline Files feature to cache remote content.

Finally, Microsoft will release a number of server products this year that will build off of Windows 2003, many of which include new mobility features. For example, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 (formerly code-named Titanium), due mid-year, will take advantage of changes to Active Directory (AD), VSS, and the scalability and performance improvements in Windows 2003 to offer a more powerful messaging solution. Exchange 2003 adds the mobility device features from Microsoft Mobile Information Server 2002--primarily support for Windows CE-based devices such as the Pocket PC and a unique Web-based client called Microsoft Outlook Mobile Access (OMA)--but it drops the Instant Messaging (IM) features from the previous Exchange version because Microsoft is developing a new Real-Time Communications (RTC) server based on Windows Messenger technology, which will also ship in 2003. No word yet on pricing, availability, or final naming.

So is Windows 2003 death by a thousand cuts or a collection of small but necessary improvements that add up to a compelling upgrade? Let me know what you think about Windows 2003's mobile features. Is Microsoft missing the boat with this release, or is this a compelling upgrade to Win2K?

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