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SPB Clone for Pocket PC review

Posted on 21-Mar-2005 20:00 by Darryl Burling | Filed under: Reviews

If you've ever had to roll out the same software to multiple Pocket PC devices you will appreciate that it is time consuming to get the build just the way it has to be. You will also know that trying to get 100 of those machines running with exactly the same configuration with a manual process can be very tedious and this is especially made worse by the time pressures and cost factors associated with large deployments.

Why clone Pocket PCs?
Cloning software can reduce this burden by taking an "image" of the system including all files, registry settings and driver configuration and store them in a single file. When you need to deploy the system again the image is applied to the system placing things back exactly the way they were when the image was taken.

SPB Clone was designed to help deploying Pocket PC devices consistently using this approach.

Now you might be wondering why would you ever need to use this sort of technology for Pocket PCs? Surely you just buy the device and then give it to the users to configure? Sure - you could, but then the devices would have no corporate mandated security policy in place. Besides do all your users know how to configure Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync or a private GPRS or CDMA connection?

You could then ask - "Why bother, you can�t stop the device from being hard reset anyway - they would lose their configuration". Yes - you can�t stop the user from performing a hard reset without using other tools, but at least you can provide a way to get the user up and running easily in just a few minutes.

How do I take an image?
SPB Clone is simple to use. Simply install the software and start the imaging process. When I installed the software I was somewhat surprised with the process, but looking back I probably shouldn't have been.

You actually install the software to the source device and create the image on the device. When I did this I thought that this would mean that the clone software would also be included in the image, but SPB obviously thought of this. When the image is deployed to a fresh device the cloning components are not there meaning they are not deployed by the image.

Knowing this, if you are tempted to think of this as a (expensive) backup solution, you should bear this in mind: the restored device would have no way to have another backup taken of it, because the tool is not replicated.

There are two types of images SPB Clone can take. The first is a Flash Card image. This file type requires you to have the SPB Clone software installed in order to restore the image. The second file option is a Cloning image file, which is a self extracting package that can be used to deploy an image to a device without SPB Clone installed. This is a great option if you want to be able to leave the image on the devices internal storage for restore actions on dead devices while in the field.

Creating clone: options

Restoring a self-extracting image

The process to create the image is quite straight forward:

1. Select whether you want to save the image as a Flash Card cloning image or a Cloning image file.
2. Select whether you want to save the file to storage card or internal NVRAM. If you are creating a self extracting file give the file a name at this stage as well.
3. Select whether you want to use compression and or encryption. If you use encryption, you need to enter a password to use as the encryption key. When you restore the image you must enter the password before the restore can begin.
4. SPB clone will calculate the amount of memory required for the image and assess whether your device has enough available memory in the target location. If you are happy with the settings you can tap finish. You will be asked whether you are happy to restart the device tap yes. The device will reboot and the imaging process will begin.

The compression used by SPB Clone is rather impressive. On an image that should take 18 Mb of space, the final image size was only 4.5 Mb. Having said that, I also noted that if you turn on compression SPB Clone does not take the compression algorithm into account or even estimate it when it presents the space required for the process.

Tips for taking the image
If you are considering using SPB Clone for a device deployment, it is worth noting that if you are deploying software that starts before other device components you may find that the image can�t be taken. For instance, if you deploy Credant Mobile Guardian in your device image, you will find that CMG starts before Clone and will actually shut down the clone process.

If you strike this problem, copy the cab file for the problem application to the \Windows\Startup folder so that it is installed on the first reboot after the device starts after the image is applied.

During testing I also struck an issue with the SD Card not initializing fast enough when the cloning process starts which caused it to cancel and restart the device. This was a device specific problem rather than a SPB Clone issue; however, it would be nice if SPB could add some functionality to wait for the SD Card to become ready during the cloning process. You may also be able to work around this by using a high speed SD Card. Eventually my slow 1 gigabyte card did work on this device, but it was a little hit and miss.

If you have a difficult build to create, you can take snap shot images during the build process. This allows you to quickly get back to a last known stage without losing the time taken to work through the entire build process repeatedly.

Restoring an image
The restoration process depends on type of image created. If you have created a self extracting file, the process is simple. Tap the self extracting file, enter the password (if it is encrypted), tap finish and then answer the prompt to restart the device. The restore will start when the device reboots. After the restoration, the device will be an exact replica as the device you cloned when you took the image.

Restoring a password protected image

Setting date and time for restore

Distributing an image
Because the image is simply a file (and a self extracting one if you choose to use it), you can distribute the image on an SD card or even on the device itself. It is important to consider protecting the image though, so either of these solutions may not be ideal.

For instance, if you are concerned about security, you may prefer not to distribute the image, since it may restore the device to a vulnerable position - e.g. prior to installation of security software, or with unprotected access to a device, network connection, or other information.

If you do choose to distribute the image, you can place it on the iPAQ File Store or the �Storage� section of a Pocket PC � these areas of your device will survive a hard (factory) reset and are useful for storing self restoring images that your end users can then deploy.

How does SPB Clone stack up?
SPB Clone is easy to use and reasonably quick. It�s certainly great value for money at its current price with no per device licensing to knock you back with. SPB Clone is easy enough for most people to use and provides enough options to allow it to be used for corporate deployments for minimal overheads.

Easy to use
Great Compression
Excellent Value for money

Sensitive to slow storage card initialisation