Company Name: Cambridge Computer, Inc.
Platforms: Handhelds and Pocket PCs running Windows CE 2.0 or later
Bottom Line: Indispensable when you're having trouble getting your PDA online
In a nutshell: Free feature-rich network diagnostic toolbox that can help resolve problems when connecting your PDA to hotspot, home, or office networks.
- Extends all the Internet utilities you know and love to Pocket PCs
- For network-savvy users, intuitive and easy to navigate
- Can't beat the price!
- No documentation, help, or hand holding for network novices
- Patience require with some utilities
- If you need a Telnet or FTP Client, you'll pay a few bucks
PDA operating systems often lack features we've come to expect from desktop operating systems. One glaring example are common Internet utilities like ipconfig, ping, and lookup that are worth their weight in gold when your station refuses to converse with a cranky network. Those who carry laptops from work to home to Internet cafe often use these built-in tools to renew addresses, verify connectivity, and just figure out what the heck is going on. But if your wireless Pocket PC can't connect to the network, you've been left pretty much on your own.
Cambridge Computer fills that gap with vxUtil and vxIPConfig, handy shareware programs that together provide a suite of common Internet utilities. Both programs let you query adapter and network status -- a glaring omission from PDA operating systems like Pocket PC 2002.
Most end users can benefit from vxIPConfig. This simple tool lets you renew DHCP addresses to when you want to join a network without removing your adapter or resetting your PDA. I sure hope to see basic utilities like these included in Windows Mobile 2003.
Network-savvy users will want to install the entire vxUtil toolbox, including standard diagnostic aids like ping, traceroute, and lookup, investigative tools like ping sweep, port scan, whois, finger, and DNS audit, and helpful widgets like a password generator and network time client. Telnet and FTP didn't make it into vxUtil shareware, but commercial vxHpc and vxFtp clients are sold by Cambridge for a modest price.
VxUtil and vxIPConfig are easy to install and use, with reasonably intuitive user interfaces. That's a good thing, because there's no help or documentation. (Note: I initially overlooked vxUtil Help pages. They are indeed present, not on vxUtil menus, but on the PocketPC Start - Help menu. These pages provide brief descriptions of each utility, but not detailed hand-holding.) If you know how to use Win32 ipconfig, you'll have no trouble using vxIPConfig on your PDA. If you're familiar with Internet utilities and willing to experiment, you'll learn the ins and outs of vxUtil pretty quickly. Once you do, you'll find some unexpected goodies here, including a random password generator that can help you pick stronger passwords and an IP subnet calculator that does the math to derive broadcast addresses, ranges, etc. that are often required when configuring networked devices.
VxUtil offers plenty of functionality for free, but there are a couple of things I'd add if I could. In addition to help, I'd love the ability to copy/paste from lookup to other utilities that take IP address input. I'd like the ability to set timeouts for long-running commands, because like most PDA programs, vxUtil can take quite awhile to hear the "Stop" button when preoccupied carrying out network requests. But these omissions don't prevent vxUtil from being very handy when debugging network connectivity problems.
In fact, vxUtil packs almost too much into one toolbox. There's a lot here, and that can be a little overwhelming at first. My advice: Just ignore the utilities you don't know when you first install vxUtil. And if you only need DHCP release/renew and network status, install vxIPConfig all by itself. These tools don't take much space. They almost never lock up my PDA -- that can't be said of many freeware network utilities. And you just can't beat the price.
About the author: Lisa Phifer is vice president of Core Competence, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in network security and management technology. She is also a site expert to SearchMobileComputing.com and SearchNetworking.com.