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Global Communications and Computing

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Introduction

Worldwide Communications has been a major objective ever since we both retired. We have a Narrowboat which we use extensively and we also spend extended periods in New Zealand and Australia as well as general travel. The OU courses that Pauline teaches or helps write are largely "electronic" with the FirstClass Email and Conferencing systems, Web pages for information and collection of TMAs and electronic submission and marking. This page was first started in 1998 and the initial setup with Toshiba Libretto, Motorola 8700 phone and Cellect data card was extremely successful, both in the UK and New Zealand, and kept us going until 2003 when we changed to a Toshiba Portege laptop and Sony Eriksson T610 phone. The combination offered many more options for internet access than before - connection of the phone via Bluetooth or IR links and access by GSM Dial-up to an ISP (local to the country) and GPRS. We have recently (2006) added an O2 XDA Exec PDA/Mobile running Mobile Office partly to replace our old HP95 and HP200 palmtops but also because it has superb communication features including WiFi, GPRS/3G, IR and Bluetooth. This is being covered in a new Page on the XDA Executive Pocket PC. The next upgrade was to replace the ageing Toshiba Portege by a Toshiba Satellite Pro L20 laptop which integrates many of the heavy separate devices we found we were needing to carry. Then we won a Smartphone (also running Windows Mobile 5) in the Vodafone Big Ideas Competition and that has been written up as the Palm Treo 750 Smartphone/Pocket PC. We are also replacing Windows XP with Linux for mobile use on the grounds of security and restricting data usage - see Ubuntu Linux on the Move . The last stage has been to buy a MSI Wind U100 which is more powerful than the Toshiba Satellite yet only weighs in at 1.1 Kgs - this is going to be entirely used with Linux and I will cover fully the transition to Ubuntu on the MSI Wind U100 for Global Communications

Currently some sections are an information dump rather than a well laid out presentation as timeliness seems more important than elegance in such a fast developing field! We have tried to leave some details of the path we have followed over the last 8 years so some of the original content has been retained although very out of date sections have been removed or 'grayed out'. I am also starting a new page covering Howto Send Email from Anywhere which goes into more depth on the impacts of the battle between the ISPs, Network providers and Spammers and the need for use of Authenticated SMTP and other techniques by the Global user which may be the first of several where specific areas can be separated out.

Requirements

It is always good to define ones requirements or objectives at the start even if you only have a simple list. Put simply we require a system allowing similar electronic connectivity on the narrowboat boat and abroad as we have at home at realistic cost and with adequate security. Clearly, at any point in time, the costs will be higher and connection rate will be slower than at home with steadily increasing bandwidths on broadband but we need sufficient performance to collect email routinely, access the FirstClass Open University Conferencing system, collect and dispatch TMAs (Tutor Marked Assignments) through the OU electronic marking web site, maintain our own web site and access the internet for online banking. It is also useful to be able to send and possibly receive the occasional Fax. During the months away from home we estimate we need to download between 5 and 25 mbytes per month.

In addition the requirements for updating virus checkers and Microsoft System Software just to keep secure steadily increases and this non productive load is already very significant and will shortly be governing ones data requirements. Worse still a large number of programs now check every day or every time one connects to see if updates are available and in some cases start to automatically download them. This is a topic which I intend in the future to cover in more depth in this article with some suggestions on how to identify and limit this very costly leakage of data and the cause of our potential move to Linux.

The paragraphs above have briefly covered the functionality and data requirements but, equally important for travelling are the physical requirements. The system must be small, light, robust and work off a wide variety of power sources. The most stringent requirements are for flying when both weight and space are at a premium, especially in hand luggage which can be limited to 5 kgs with many airlines. This has been exacerbated with the recent security scares and problems with laptop batteries. Computing and communications equipment has to compete with cameras and their associated accessories and it is best to consider all digital equipment together. We have always weighed every piece of equipment on accurate electronic scales and prioritising and optimising our choices has increased in importance.

Firstly we will look at some of the various options for connectivity:

Options for Internet Connection

There are now a number of options for how one can connect to the internet whilst in the UK and abroad

These options split it two classes - those using 'fixed infrastructure' such as land-line or broadband accessed through Ethernet/WiFI and those using a connection via a mobile data network

Internet Connection via a fixed infrastructure 

Dial-up via a landline: Dial up whilst abroad really requires access to a local ISP and has been a preferred route in Australia and we used to use it extensively in New Zealand via friends and relations. We have used friends phones, phones in Internet Cafes, in libraries and phones in Motels. When sending email you will need to use the ISPs SMTP server or have an authenticated SMTP server from your own service provider you access through a username and password. This will not work with all ISPs and the problem is covered more fully in a new article Howto Send Email from Anywhere .

Wifi: Wifi is an excellent way of getting high speed access to get updates to Windows, Virus checkers etc as well as uploads to the web site. We use WiFi networks in various friends houses. There are many Hotspots which you pay for in pubs, hotels, internet cafes, marinas etc. We have also found a number of free hotspots, mostly in airports including Darwin, Southampton, Hong Kong and Guernsey and have tried them all on principle. A few canalside pubs also offer free access to boaters such as the Lime Kilns on the Ashby canal. Occasionally you will find open WiFi access usually because some newbie has set up wireless networking in his house or business without securing it but beware as it could also be a hackers 'honey pot'. 

If you pay at a WiFi point it will typically cost £6.00 an hour. The way it works is that once you have a WiFi card installed in the computer you just turn on the machine in the area of the hotspot and try to access any web site. This is intercepted by the Hotspot and instead they send you a login screen with instructions. If you are paying for a one off access you provide credit card details or buy a 'code' at the desk/bar which you enter. You then have full fast access for whatever time you have paid for or the free time you have been allocated. It is also possible to get longer term contracts which can be used at all access points belong to the network in the UK an associated networks abroad - BT Openzone and Vodafone are possible examples but check availability in your areas of interest. We did that in New Zealand with NZ Telecom who have WiFi points in many hotels, their shops and some electronics stores. See the section below if you have problems with sending mail. 

Broadband via Ethernet connection: Ideal if you have friends with a local network when you are travelling as it is easier than connecting to WiFi and faster. Some hotels, internet cafes, airports, marinas, libraries etc offer an Ethernet connection as well as WiFi and almost everything written above about WiFi applies to a direct Ethernet connection. Most laptops have built in Ethernet and built-in Wifi is becoming more common.  

Sending Email and SMTP servers. When it comes to sending email on a different service providers network one needs to be aware that when using some ISPs broadband, Dial-up or WIFi systems that one may need to switch to their SMTP servers even if you have an authenticated SMTP service from your home provider as they can block authenticated SMTP servers to prevent abuse and the sending of spam. The NZ Telecom (Xtra) is one such provider and one needs to switch to their SMTP server which is smtp.xtra.co.nz whilst using their network. This subject is covered more fully in a new article Howto Send Email from Anywhere .

Internet Access via a Mobile Phone or PDA

Mobile Phones - requirements and methods of connecting to a laptop: When using a mobile phone, or PDA, one must have a device which is both data compatible and with a modem and be using a mobile network on which you are have been enabled for data. The modems are generally built into higher specification phones although some older phones like our original Motorola 8700 had a PCMCIA interface card which contained the modem. For phones or PDAs with a modem built in there are usually three ways to connect to the Laptop

Cable (Serial or USB): Cables tend to be more expensive than a Bluetooth dongle and some earlier combinations allow phone settings to be synchronised but not work as a modem so check carefully. Most laptops no longer have a serial connection unless you are using a docking station which rules them out. The more sophisticated phones which have full PDA facilities have a USB connection and often come with the cables to allow synchronisation, the O2 XDA Exec is a top of the range example and is covered separately.

Infra-red Connection: We initially used IR with the T610. IR used to be built into most laptops and many phones and can be used without additional hardware after the drivers and software have been loaded from the CD provided with the phone under indows. The computer then automatically detects when the phone is nearby and the IR link turned on at the phone - the existing Dial-Up Connection settings also add the IR Modem automatically under Windows XP. This is the ideal way to test out the combination initially but has the limitation that the phone must be within a few inches of the IR port on the Laptop which may not be the best signal area. IR is however becoming less common on laptops, for example our new Toshiba L20 Pro has modem, Ethernet and WiFi but no IR connectivity. 

Bluetooth connection: Bluetooth needs an adapter to be added to the laptop (usually a USB dongle such as our D-Link DBT-120) which needs software to be loaded and is more difficult to configure but then works anywhere up to 10 metres from the phone which can be hung in a window to get a good signal. That is the way we operate on the narrowboat in the UK with the T610 and whilst travelling. An increasing number of premium laptops and Netbooks have Bluetooth built in.

More about Bluetooth

This is perhaps the point to say a little more about Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a short range (up to 10 metres) radio link with a moderate (900kbaud) data rate which can be used to link together devices such as computers, PDAs, printers, cameras and phones. It offers quite comprehensive facilities for such devices including synchronisation of data such as phone books and diaries as well as transfer of pictures. Phones and PDAs often have bluetooth built in whilst it is less common in laptops and desktops where it is usually added by a tiny 'dongle' plugging into a USB port, either directly or via a cable to position the transceiver in a good place. We bought a D-Link DBT-120 which is USB 1.1 compatible and comes with the Widcomm Bluetooth software suite. Installing Bluetooth makes a wide range of facilities available and you have a new Tooltray, Control Panel and Desktop My Bluetooth Places Icon. It installed easily under Windows 98 SE and XP SP1 but Microsoft XP SP2 ignores the Widcomm drivers and loads its own inferior drivers and utilities - the D-Link web site explains how to change the drivers back to what they should be.

Bluetooth adds the facility for the computer to offer a range of services such as printing or network access to other Bluetooth devices in range and likewise to make use of services on Bluetooth enabled devices such as the modem in a phone or a printer. You will find that many menus have new items such as Outlook gains a menu items to Send a Contact to a nearby phone and likewise the phone can send a contact or a picture to the computer. The first time you try to send a contact to 'Bluetooth' the software will search for nearby devices (phones and PDAs for example) and list them for you to choose. You then have to 'Pair' the devices by entering a code (PIN) into both after which the services should be available with having to pair again. In practice we have to 'pair' the phone every few weeks, perhaps because we keep removing and replacing the dongle as we need it.

The Widcomm software suite provided with my DBT-120 allows you to choose which services the computer offers and services to seek for devices offering particular services and it is worth keeping to the minimum initially. The Bluetooth Tray which resides in the Windows system tray, which is normally located in the lower-right corner of the screen. The Bluetooth tray is a convenient way to quickly access most of the Bluetooth operations. The following list of actions from the Bluetooth tray gives an indication of the Power of Bluetooth and facilities available via wizards or directly.

We use the Phone as a modem, we send contact information to the phone and we send pictures and contact information from the phone. Full synchronization is not possible for contacts as the Outlook Address Book has many more entries than 500 the phone can accept. Bluetooth can be simply turned on and off on the phone menus and is best left off when not in use for security and for the same reason we remove the Bluetooth dongle from the laptop.

Bluetooth support is built into Linux and we use the same  D-Link DBT-120 USB dongle on the Toshiba Satellite L20 to access the T610 and XDA - full details are at Ubuntu Linux on the Move

More about Connection Methods

Dial-up Connection to an ISP: Once you have the phone and laptop connected it should be possible to set up a dial-up connection to an ISP just as easily as via a standard modem and telephone line. We have done so with O2 pre-pay, O2 pay monthly, Wave (Guernsey) prepay using wap settings, Vodafone UK Prepay, Vodafone NZ Prepay and Vodafone Australia Prepay. It is much cheaper to buy a pre-pay SIM card from a operator in any country you are staying in for a length of time and to find a local ISP. You have to check carefully the tariffs and costs of call to the local ISP you choose. There are various services which provide access to a local ISP for a small charge per minute on top of the phone call whilst one is abroad but it may be cheaper to sign up with a local ISP if you plan to make a lot of use of dial up or you may be fortunate and have and get access to a friend or relations subsidiary account - we have a child's account in New Zealand and had an Optus account in Australia.

Dial-up connections are slow with a maximum 9.6 kbaud but can be workable provided one enables data compression when setting up the connection, in practice we actually see rates of 60 kbytes/minute on downloads and email collection. You get charged by the minute and for planning a figure of between 15 and 20 minutes per megabyte is appropriate. There are often deals which enable one to add on extra cheap minutes with Pay&Go Tariffs as bolt-ons which can give good deal but check they cover the specific dial-up number you use. With pre-pay you may be covered by your free minutes and in our case we used to be able download up to 30 mbytes a month with our 600 free off peak minutes on our legacy annual pay-up-front O2 tariff.

Circuit Switched Data: Mobile Operators initially offered a further means of access to the internet which did not require a local ISP. This original method is Circuit Switched Data (CSD) which is also usually at 9.6 kbaud but makes the initial connection faster than a dial-up data number. This is now only offered primarily for WAP in areas where GPRS has not been rolled out and for older phones without GPRS. WAP is a form of basic internet and email internal to the phones mainly accessing content from the phone operator and for sending Multimedia Messages. You are charged for Circuit switched data by the minute at typically 10p per minute by O2 and Vodafone UK. We bought a SIM and used Wave CSD in Guernsey for several days at a cost of 5p/min. It is as easy to set up as computer dial-up to an ISP but some operators such as O2 block it on Pay&Go if accessed from a computer although it works for WAP on the phone!

gGPRS and 3G and Mobile Broadband are much faster options with a connection speed of 56kbaud for GPRS and up to 384kbaud for 3G - Mobile Broadband can give 3.6 and 7.2 Mbaud connections equaling that of fixed broadband over a telephone line. Prices in the UK have plummeted recently with the availablity of Mobile Broadband USB Dongles making this the obvious solution in the UK.

Setting up your phone or PDA for GPRS/3G

GPRS, 3G and Mobile Broadband need the phone to be configured for the specific service. Instead of a phone number which is dialled the phone needs to be set up internally with an  APN (Access Point Name), login name, password and possibly an IP and a DNS address. Once this is set up a special code is sent to the phone instead of the usual access number. Each phone will be slightly different but in general they will contain a set of registers sufficient to hold the settings for about 8 connections (sometimes described as accounts or profiles in the manufacturers literature) each of which will have a CID (connection ID) which identifies which one is to be used. The number used is *99***X# where X is the single digit CID number. The default connection (CID 1) is more easily accessed by *99#. In the case of PDAs running Windows Mobile *99# may be the only access code recognised and only one connection can be set up at any time - see my articles on the XDA Executive and Palm Treo 750

The registers for each connection containing the APN, login name, password, IP and DNS addresses etc can be set up several ways. The setting up of phones for GPRS/3G access can be quite tricky - the easiest way to set up for GPRS/3G (and CSD access) is to go to the mobile operators web sites Vodafone UK, Vodafone NZ, Vodafone AU and O2 where one can find support areas where you can get the settings downloaded to you phone by entering the phone type and number. One can also get similar information from most phone manufacturers sites. Note that you will still need to find out the CID number which corresponds to the internet service you want. They can also be loaded on most phones by using a modem initialisation string but not on all PDAs using Windows Mobile 5 - again see my articles on the XDA Executive and Palm Treo 750

Manual Setting up the Sony Eriksson T610 for GPRS: 

The alternative is to set up the phone manually oneself - I have done it for NZ access where the phone was not supported by Vodafone NZ. The exact procedures vary slightly from phone to phone but should be in the manual. A typical setup, in this case for Vodafone NZ on the Sony Ericsson T610, is:

Having created the new data account one needs a piece of information before one can use it to access the Internet

Laptop connection to GPRS: When you make the Dial-up connection instead of the telephone number you enter *99***X# where X is the single digit CID number you noted down or *99# for the default connection on CID 1. When you connect leave the User name and Password blank for Vodafone NZ. In some cases, including Vodafone NZ until recently, you may need to enter a primary and secondary DNS numbers (202.20.93.10 and 203.97.191.189 for VF NZ). You can set this up after the connection DUN is made under Windows by opening Network Connections in the control panel highlighting the connection, clicking Change the settings of the connection, clicking the Networking tab, highlighting Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) clicking properties, clicking use the following DNS server addresses and entering the two addresses.

Alternative means of phone GPRS setup using a modem initialisation string There is a further way of setting up the phone, this time via the laptop and DUN by using an extra modem "initialisation string" when making the connection. This string is set in the modem and sent to the phone to configure a connection. The Initialisation String takes the form of a standard AT command and is AT+CGDCONT=5,"IP","myprovidersAPN" - the 5 can be replaced by a CID you wish to use and know is free. It is entered by Start -> Control Panel -> Phone and Modem -> Modems Tab -> Double click the relevant modem -> Advanced then copy the string into the Extra Initialisation Commands box.

PDAs with Windows Mobile 5. In the case of the XDA Executive and Palm Treo 750 you have to use the default dial string of *99# having set up and used the connection for internet access on the device. This is probably true for other PDAs running Windows Mobile 5.

Setting up a Vodafone 3G/GPRS Data card

 We have recently obtained a Vodafone 3G/GPRS Mobile Connect Data Card as a free offer when we bought a new Toshiba laptop. It came with a special PAYU tariff with no monthly charges but you are changed monthly for your usage at £2.35 a megabyte. The card takes a SIM which they provide set up for the special tariff. Special software is needed in the PC which provides a 'dashboard' to control the card, monitor usage and send and receive SMS messages. The software will also control a WiFi connection using their HotSpot network. Note - Connections via the vodafone network are automatically compressed and, by default, images are optimised in size when downloaded so beware if you are saving images or doing ftp.

The software worked immediately and is easy to use and well documented for all normal activities including monitoring and setting up limits on usage. The compression and image optimisation can be changed although I have not yet tried. The only shortfall is that the SMS system does not integrate one's Outlook contacts list. The only problem was that for some reason the SIM had not been activated but the telephone support quickly sorted that out.

The dashboard monitors the data usage and limits can be set for the month but I have heard a report that some traffic is not monitored and that one user logged up a large bill through use which did not show on the dashboard. One of the Vodafone support staff allegedly said it was a problem with the Norton Update Engine so it may be worth checking the use shown in the connect against that shown in the dashboard if you know Norton has done an automatic update and perhaps the same for the automatic Windows Updates. It may also be better to force use of GPRS initially as data rates are slower and you have a chance to hit the disconnect button - 3G is a fast as early broadband!

When the software was loaded it asked for language and home network and the list of networks included Vodafone NZ indicating the card and software was not locked to the special SIM or the UK vodafone network but works with SIMs from other vodafone networks. As stated above the SIM they provided had not been activated and did not work initially so I tried both a standard UK pre-pay SIM and a NZ prepay SIM and both were fine once the correct APN had been set up and I have created extra 'profiles' for them. Once an additional 'profile' has been created it can be edited to get to lots more settings such as APN, DNS servers etc., which allow one to set up for other networks - I have only tried vodafone cards so I do not know if it is actually locked to Vodafone as one would expect.

APN, CSD, SMTP servers and other useful information

Try Ross Barkman's Page or http://www.formatc.de/roaming/gprs.htm for complete sets of GPRS settings world wide

Some indications of Data costs

The costs have falled so much recently that I have largely commented out this section as in most cases the cost/mbyte has fallen by over one hundred fold in the 4 years since it was last updated and the speeds available in major towns via the Mobile Broadband USB dongles now equal many landline broadband connections.

In the UK we currently use a Vodafone Pay as You Go Mobile Broadband Dongle - cost £39 with the first 1 Gbyte data and top ups are £15/Gbyte with no time limits on its use but no roaming abroad. Other providers can offer lower costs per Gbyte but with time limits on how long you have to use them - you are looking at £10 or under per Gbyte with a one month life if you have a huge data requirement.

There are now Pay and Go tariffs with o2 and Vodafone which provide 500 Mbytes Data and 300 txts which last for a month every time you top £10 which is a very cost effective way to get data as you still have the £10 of calls.


Communications from Cruise ships

We spend some time on cruise ships and we will take the Cunard QE2 as a typical example. Communications from the QE2 have steadily improved. There is satellite phone which is expensive ($5/min in 2006) and faxes can be sent and received from the business centre, outgoing charged by minute at the same $5/min. Incoming email can be sent to qe2@cunard.com with your name and cabin number in the title line - simple emails are printed and delivered free to your stateroom and short attachments are probably OK although longer ones may need to be negotiated - they used to cost 50c a page with a minimum of $5 but that is now waived for short ones. The computer centre allows has a large number of PCs most enabled for internet access at 50c/min charged via a swipe card reader. This allows email access via a WebMail interface if your ISP provides one, otherwise one has to set up a Hotmail or Yahoo account for the journey. Access via WebMail is slow, therefore expensive, as you pay all the time you are online. Whilst composing emails and on the QE2 machines all cut and paste etc has been disabled so you can not just paste a prepared message. As well as this 'ad hoc' use at 50c per minute you can by 'packages' in advance at a lower cost. Regular passengers currently get a free package of up to 8 hours per cruise for Diamond status.

In fact there are many restrictions on the computer centre machines - you pay at the same rate as for internet access if you use Microshaft Office programs i.e. 50c per minute and many functions are disabled, not just any input/output such as CD or USB but also right click and CNTR actions to inhibit searches and cut and paste. This makes them useless as a tool for business or anything much other than games, basic learning, games and the simplest internet/email.

WiFi on QE2: In contrast one is well provided for now if you have a laptop with WiFi as there are now Hotspots in the Computer Learning Centre, Boardroom, Lido and Pavilion and some other limited areas in public rooms. You first have create an account on machine in the computer centre using your usual ship's pass swipe card after which you can log in and be billed to your ship account at $0.50/min without rounding or use time from a 'package' bought in advance. Collecting email can be kept to under a minute if you are prepared and efficient. with email package open and a link in the browser to the status and logout page so you can logout swiftly. The speed is very reasonable for a satellite link and I did a trial download of a 750 Kbytes attachment which took under 100 seconds which equates to about 10 Kbytes/sec or 60 Kbaud when login/out and other overheads are taken into account i.e. faster than dial-up but slower than broadband. I uploaded over 100 files to my web site, checked 4 email accounts and superficially checked the website had updated on another occasion in ten minutes so uplink speeds are also acceptable.

Connecting to WiFi is fairly standard with any requests from your browser diverted to a login page when you first use a browser. If you want to collect email your first need to open an internet browser and login. The first time make sure you add the address of the status/logout page (currently http://cafeserver1/CyberCafeWiFi/Status.aspx ) to favourites and preferably then put a link to it in your browser link toolbar so you can exit quickly in the future. In this case the Status automatically provides a login screen or time and cost screen with a logout link depending on whether you are connected so only one page needs to be in your favourites. Once you internet connection is established then do your send and receive in the email package which should be open and ready to go. When completed go back to the browser status/logout page and logout immediately. I have had no difficulty using the Firefox Browser although the WiFi software incorrectly thought that cookies were disabled and did not provide a popup logout page, hence my earlier insistence on making sure you create a link to the status/logout page. If you break the connection without logging out I have been told that you will be charged until you are automatically logged out through lack of activity which takes about 3 minutes - this automatic timeout is however not guaranteed under all circumstances so do not depend on it.

Connection and email using Linux. I have been using Ubuntu Linux and WiFi Radar to make the WiFi connection and noted that once the connection was made that the speed was improved if one exited WiFi Radar so it stopped monitoring the connection - this is also a sensible precaution with any proprietary or generic scanning and connection software under Windows. Email sending works from Linux using Thunderbird for ad hoc use but not when one has a package for cheap access - it is supposed to be the other way round! I understand this is a Server/Thunderbird interaction problem rather than the use of Linux but have not checked myself what happens with Thunderbird under Windows. Sending email using an Authenticated Server is fine on my PDA and Outlook 2003 under Windows when using a 'package' .

Connecting via a PDA: I was initially unable to use a WiFi connection on my XDA Executive - I could easily make the WiFi connection OK but got errors on the login page. I have not had the problem with other Hotspots and I initially suspected this was because the Cunard system is trying to open a popup page or using some other JavaScript which is not supported by the Windows Mobile 5 browser. Many people write code and do not test it on anything other than Windows Explorer. Worse still Windows Mobile 5 'Pocket' version of Internet Explorer did not give useful information on the problem but just an enigmatic Windows error message 0x8007005 . I gave up that trip but next time I had a chat with the new Computer Manager who tried a fewfresh lines of attack and eventually we found a combination which worked.

Firstly the address was changed to an absolute address so that a Domain Name Server call was not required until after the connection was setup. This may be a trick worth noting for other difficult WiFi connections. Normally a Wifi connection is set up by the WiFi system intercepting a DNS request from a new machine and returning the address of the login page instead of the page you requested. This was where the Windows Pocket PC (aka Windows Mobile 5) gave the error message. If one can bypass the DNS call and go straight to the login page. Hopefully after a successful login the interception is no longer required and the machine is recognised by IP address, MAC address or perhaps by some clever mechanism using a cookie and the DNS redirection is no longer required. So the way ahead is to find out, either using another machine - or directly from the computer manager - the login page address. If one uses a different machine then one may still have problems as the page may be specific to a PDA as is the case we found on the QE2. The best route we found to login on the QE2 on 11th December 2007 was via the Status Page as this seems to set up the cookie and then open the login page for entry of username and password whilst a direct call to the login page stalls. One also needs to be able to log out without depending on a timeout which may not work in a reliable manner. The status page on QE2 checks if you are logged in (via a cookie) after which it not only provides a current log of connected time and costs but also a link to use to logout. Note the logout gives an error message but re-accessing the status page can be used to check that the logout has taken place. It thus is essential that the page is added to Favourites on your PDA before starting so you can quickly login, logout and check your actual status.

Mail System Considerations on the Move - IMAP versus POP

This is a new section covering the advantages of using an IMAP mail system whilst one is mobile over the more conventional POP mail.

POP Mail: Most people understand how POP (Post Office Protocol) mail works, the incoming mail is delivered and held on a server at your ISP and, in the simplest case, you download it to your machine on demand (usually called a Send/Receive activity in your email package) and it is deleted from the server. This was fine when a user had only one machine in one place. Nowadays many people access email from home, their office, from a mobile and perhaps a PDA and Phone. This leaves ones incoming mail fragmented in many places. Most email packages therefore allow you to collect your email whilst leaving a copy on the server and many allow one to just download the headers or a restricted amount of data in each email. This is a much better way of working as the download and deletion from the server is done on one machine. It does not help with outgoing mail which has to be copied to another account or some other method to allow an audit trail. If one uses different email packages which can not interchange saved emails it all becomes a bit of a nightmare.

IMAP: There is an alternative to POP mail called IMAP which stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. In this case the email is stored on the server and not downloaded automatically and one can create addition folders on the server so one can have a complete filing system on the server and available whilst one is online, on corporate systems there may be shared folders accessible by many users. Email stored on an IMAP server can be accessed and manipulated from a desktop computer at home, a workstation at the office, and a notebook computer while traveling as well as ones phone/PDA, without the need to transfer messages or files back and forth between these computers. In the simplest case data is only transferred as required - when you select your inbox or a remote folder the headers are transfer - when you select an email the message body is transferred and only when you open an attachment is the attachment transferred You can of course copy anything to a local folder on your machine to work on it and when you finally send a reply (whilst online) it is saved on the server and accessible from any other machine. IMAP is at its best when you are on a corporate LAN or a Broadband always on internet connection - a GPRS/3G connection charged on data transfers is acceptable. There is more comprehensive analysis at The IMAP Connection -- Comparing Two Approaches to Remote Mailbox Access: IMAP vs. POP.

Implementation: Some ISPs including Freezone offer the choice of a mix of POP or IMAP mailboxes and in some cases such as the Horde IMP system used by Freezone they are identical other than the access protocols and port number used. Most IMAP mailboxes are also accessible via a webmail interface in an internet cafe or on any friends machine. Even if you do not want to change completely without extensive trials it is worth setting up a single IMAP mailbox when you are travelling so you can transfer mail from your 'mobile' machines to you home machines filing system via the IMAP mailbox without worries about the incompatible local mailbox and folder formats. You can also tidy up whilst travelling whenever you get a fast WiFi data link in an internet cafe. I do not feel comfortable solely depending on a remote server to store my emails long term but for a few months between archives it seems a very sensible way to proceed. With a GPRS/3G connection where one pays for data transfers rather than time online, it seems a very economical way to operate and most email packages allow one to download selected local copies for offline working as well as remote copies. So far I have set up one IMAP box for archive and transfer purposes whilst continuing to use POP mailboxes set up to only download copies to my machines for my main accounts whilst travelling but I suspect that will change shortly when I have developed data flow efficient procedures.

Some cautions: Both POP and IMAP protocols are define by RFCs but the implementation by email packages may not be rigorous when it comes to some of the more advanced features. Note that the folders you create in an IMAP environment may not be where you would expect - the RFCs imply they should be under the IMAP Inbox folder and that only shared folders are at the same level. The display may be different between Webmail and different MAPI email systems. It is possible that POP implementations of features such as leaving emails on the server for a fixed time differ between email packages and may be implemented locally or on the server so if you have different settings or ways those features are implemented between packages you may have a problem. The same may go for subscriptions to folders (whether they are visible on the client automatically) and I have noticed that if I unsubscribe for a high level folder with a subfolder still visible on Thunderbird then Outlook produces some inconsistent error messages. I suggest keeping it simple initially if you are using different email clients and machines and experiment at each step if you decide on a fancy way to work. A good way to start investigation is to see if the same mailbox can be accessed by POP, IMAP and Webmail without problems. There is a useful free program called IMAPSize which does far more than its name implies and has associated utilities which can be very useful in transferring email between Outlook and Thunderbird

Software Considerations

We used to find Microsoft Outlook 2003 to be ideal for accessing POP email as it has powerful off-line options which can reduce the downloaded data and enable one to leave big messages and attachments until on a WiFi HotSpot link. We were forced to remove the free Norton Internet Security suite from the latest laptop as it carried on transferring emails after they were apparently finished as well as other problems when used on slow data links. We now use free version of Avast! for virus protection, the free version of the ZoneAlarm firewall with Microsoft's free Windows Defender covering spyware and malware on all our machines. We tend to use the Firefox browser but there is now little to choose for mobile browsing between IE, Firefox and Opera.

We now use mostly a Laptop or Netbook with Ubuntu Linux to get round the security problems and inability to control and restrict data usage. This is cover in Ubuntu Linux on the Move. We also increasing use a O2 XDA Executive for short periods abroad and that is covered in our page covering the XDA Executive. In general we are also shifting towards Open Source Software such as the Thunderbird email package and Firefox browser. Both Outlook 2003 and Thunderbird have good support for both flexible use of POP mail and IMAP and use of an IMAP mailbox on a master machine on broadband will allow mail to be integrated easily between various systems and email packages. At present we leave a copy on the server when accessing email from all but the master machine and set up in Thunderbird (or the PDA) for an automatic blind carbon copy to a separate 'sentmail' account only downloaded on our master machine to maintain an audit trail. Unfortunately Outlook 2003 does not have a facility for a blind copy to be sent automatically.

Other sites

Frank Singleton, an old friend and colleague's of mine has a site Weather for Sailors dedicated to meteorology and sailing where the requirements are almost identical for Global Communications and Computing. He has a page on Communications for the sailor which covers similar ground but he has provided more screen grabs and a slightly less terse and very practical approach - I particularly like his practice of hoisting his Bluetooth phone way up the mast in a bucket to improve his signal - much more effective than just hanging it in the window like I do on the narrowboat! He has also provided some addition information on some aspects including his experiences of the use of special data compression packages such as ONSPEED for email and browsing, especially useful if you are not using Vodafone where some of it occurs automatically.

The Present - How does it all weigh up.

We now have many options but the prime ones are:

By careful selection it is possible to reduce ones weighed at hand luggage check-in communication equipment down to approach 5 kgs including picnic rucksack but only if the XDA and T610 are carried in pockets in their simple leather cases and the camera is on a neck strap with its spare batteries etc . Substituting the Wind Netbook for the Laptop saves 1.3 kg

The future

The O2 XDA Executive has now been replaced by a Samsung Galaxy S3 Android phone for easy cheap email access as well as an interface between the laptop/netbook and the internet whilst abroad and we see an increasing role for such sophisticated PDAs in the future. The dual booted Netbook primarily running Linux has been so successful for use at home and on the move we have bought a second one which we also carry much of the time - replacing at least one laptop with such a machine and running them under Linux is the way forwards for mobile use, perhaps with a big sceen for use at home or on the boat. The migration to Linux is covered in Ubuntu Linux on the Move - in fact we have been using Ubuntu Linux for all Internet access whilst away from home for the last seven years without any problems and that is certainly the way for the future. The Vodafone Prepay Mobile Broadband USB dongle provide cheap fast and reliable internet access in the UK and we are often connected for hours on endbut is being replaced by a Mifi 3G Mobile Wifi router or tethering from an Android phone most of the time

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