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Network Browser for Pocket PC review
Posted on 10-Aug-2004 20:26 by M Freitas. | Tags Filed under: Reviews.

I never really thought I'd need a network helper program for my Pocket PC. All my computers have Bluetooth and when I need to copy files from my Pocket PC to or from these machines I simply use the Bluetooth File OBEX profile. Recently I decided to add a wi-fi connection at home (simply because the iMac we have here wouldn't connect to the Bluetooth LAN Access Point) and thought that it would be good to make all my network connections more transparent.

Of course there are a couple of free network tools available for the Pocket PC platform, but the problem is having more than one program - and not all functionality covered. I then received the release information on 129620 Network Browser from V-Mobile Software and decided to give it at a try on my HP iPAQ h4150. Needless to say I'm impressed with this program.

First the interface is pretty much like a file explorer, with the folder list on the top, and a file list (or computers and shared folder list) on the bottom of the screen. Using the program is very simple. By default it will scan your network segment looking for a workgroup, machines and shared folders or printers. Once this scan is finished, the network configuration is added to the tree. Tap one of the machines and you'll see the shared folders on that computer. If a password is needed, you'll be asked for authentication. Very easy.

Browsing the workgroup

Entering a user and password to access the desktop

Browsing the shared folders on this desktop without creating a mapped drive

Once you have the network nodes on the tree you can tap one of the shared folders and select the Map Network Drive option. This will place a new Network node under My Device and within this node you'll find the new mapped folder. This is very useful because now it is possible to actually explore the contents of this mapped drive from File Explorer or other programs - like Windows Media Player for example.

Note that the Network folder is only created under My Device if an option Enable "Network" folder is set. Also, if you have not select a shared folder the program will show a dialog asking for a machine and folder name, which you should know. This is for use with those invisible shared folders (the ones with the name ending with a $ sign).

Manually creating the mapping

The mapped drives on My Device

Disconnecting a mapped drive

Now for some instant gratification. If you only want to browse the contents of a shared folder you don't necessarily need to map it. Creating the mapping will actually make things a little slower when opening file lists on your Pocket PC later. Instead, simply use the browser capabilities of Network Browser, and check the contents of you shared folders using the explorer interface built in the program. With this interface you can copy files like you would with the standard File Explorer (even between network drives and your handheld). You can check file properties, or even tap a file to open it with the associated program, on your Pocket PC, like it would if the file was stored locally. This is great for mp3 files, Microsoft Word and Excel files, pictures and other files your Pocket PC can handle.

If you have a shared printer on your network you can too map these and print plain text files to these printers.

The program also allows lots of different network related functions. For example you have PING and TRACEROUTE functionality. There's also built-in hosts editor. As some of you know the Pocket PC does not use a hosts file like the desktop versions. Instead you'll have to edit some registry entries to insert IP addresses and hosts into the system. If your network does not provide host name resolution, then it's a good idea to add your known hosts to this list. For example geekzone is my desktop. Note on the screenshot how much easier is to find it, instead of remembering the IP addresses. Your Pocket PC hostname will be the ActiveSync partnership name, and this will always be filled in.

File Browser options

Local TCP/IP settings

Network adapter information and tools

Advanced Network Settings

Other functions include the capability to see the current wireless LAN connection information, like IP Address, lease obtain/expire date (if DHCP is in use), gateway IP address, DHCP server IP address and Renew and Release functions.

Editing the hosts entries

Now some scary stuff. The Network Browser can also be used as a basic tool for network security inspections. At home I have a hardware firewall between my network and the internet, and some authentication is required to connect to my wireless network. I know that I can then leave the Windows File and Printer Sharing option set to allow easy file transfer between computers. However this is not a good idea if a computer is directly connected to the Internet, or connected to an unsecure network. During my review I decided to connect to a hotspot to check my e-mails during a break. Just for curiosity I run the Network Browser program. It's incredible the number of computers connected to that hotspot with Windows File and Printer Sharing set, and no firewall protection. Not only that, but it's even more incredible the number of shared folders that did not require a username and password!

Computers found on a public hotspot (names changed)

Shared folders found on a public hotspot (names changed)

Some comments about your network configuration. First make sure that your computer has File and Printer Sharing set on the network adapter. Also make sure your firewall allows communications that connect to Netbios. I also found that ICS (often used to allow Internet access via Bluetooth) breaks the file and printer sharing. It happened on both my laptop and desktop. As soon as I removed ICS the file sharing worked fine. V-Mobile helped with explanation on a couple of error messages that guided me to the ICS problem, so I can say I've also tested their support service .

As I said, some of these functions can be performed by other programs including free options like VxUtil, Netuse, Pocket Hosts. But in my opinion the all-in-one functionality, additional features, and easy to use beat a set of separate solutions. I'm sure this program will be part of my collection of installed (and used) programs, and I recommend it to network users .

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