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Monday, July 30, 2007

Blackberry Connect Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be:

I've posted this on a Treo user site and gotten no response so far. I figured I'd talk about it here, since I'm really craving some answers, and I am anticipating that managers in my organization are going to be asking me how they, too, can receive their Blackberry email on their Treos.

For those of you who aren't Treo users like I am, and might not be familiar with the product, there is a little tool called Blackberry Connect (BBC) that will allow you to receive calendar items and email from your company's Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) onto your Treo 650 or 680. Just install, and watch the mail download, right?



Since we recently added a BES to our corporate environment, I hopped on board as a user. And since I have a Treo, like many of our users, I decided to give BBC a whirl and see if I could get it to work in the large corporate environment, because I figured I would be asked to look into it as soon as management got wind of the possibility of Blackberry email on their Treos.

What follows is my ordeal (as recounted from my Treocentral post from earlier this month).

First, I extracted the executable to my desktop and installed as admin. The first sync went fine as a Palm Installer Package was placed on my Treo. This self-extracting file then proceeded to install several BES-specific files onto the device, and asked me to reset.

Then the second stage started, and the desktop software was installed. "This is going well", I surmised, as I selected the Exchange Server for my corporate email provider, and went on with the install. At this point, I had expected a prompt to move the mouse around to create a unique PIN for the device, and that indeed happened (only on the first install try though... more to come on that). Then the software prompted me to wipe my calendar items and replace them with the BES calendar, which I also did. At this point, inexplicably at the time, the BBC conduit froze, and I received a response from the desktop saying essentially that the install failed and I needed to do it again.

And I did... 9 times that afternoon. To no avail. Each time, the error was the same, except that I no longer was prompted for a PIN. I checked the BBC desktop settings, and consulted some minimal help online (believe me, very little is out there on this piece of software) and decided that I might need to manually generate my PIN instead of the default automatic setting. I did so, and the PIN screen displayed "Update Pending". This never changed in the umpteen installs to come, until the final successful install.

At this point, I decided to do what every Treo owner has to face eventually, but avoids like the plague - a hard reset. I went one better, and did a full factory reset, which requires intervention from a colleague. Believe me; four hands are required. Anyway, we went forward with the reset, I reinstalled the desktop and Treo software, and...


Time for tech support.

First I called ATT and explained the issue. They suggested that it surely must be a Treo issue, so they bridged me to Palm. Palm had zero clue about how to rectify the matter, and suggested that I pay (literally) a visit to RIM. Well, RIM charges for support, and I was not willing to fork over the cash for that, so I called ATT back and requested a bridge call to RIM. They complied, but not before we discussed which BBC data package was the one that was needed. The second CSR insisted that the first CSR had added the wrong package, so she changed it. Still, nothing resulted in my install. After the 15th install, RIM and ATT joined hands and discussed the matter with me.

The ATT rep decided lunch was more important and left me in the hands of a seemingly incompetent RIM rep who asked me 100 questions about things I had already done. Frustration set in when the rep decided I needed to re-flash the Treo. I refused and requested that we call it a day.

On day two, I decided that I would be better off trying something new, so I proceeded to uninstall every conduit on my desktop PC along with the Palm software. What I found was a host of errors saying that sync20.dll and hotsync.dll were having problems, and I actually became stuck in an uninstall loop. After killing the MSIEXEC process and starting from scratch, I noted that the Palm software was still in the Add/Remove Programs applet, but it would not allow me to invoke MSI. After hours of headscratching and tossing of cups and pens across the room, I figured out that Palm was installed on the "All Users" account by default. I had to uninstall it as the superuser, reinstall it as the local admin user (me) and then install the BBC software.

This resulted in a clean install, but I still did not see any email. I did not receive any service books, and the account displayed as suspended. This required yet another call to RIM. Blame was passed back to Cingular and back to RIM, which led me to suspect a conspiracy of some sort. Was it the data plan? The PDA? The install package? Fate? Who knew? No one, apparently.

At this point, I requested that the BES admin delete my account entirely from the BES, and regenerate it, along with a new PIN. After that was done, I figured I would try installing YET AGAIN.

Finally, I saw success after countless hours of labor. However, I was VPNed into the server remotely at the time, and it turns out that the initial calendar syncing is painfully slow even on a LAN, let alone a WLAN connected by VPN. So, predictably, the calsync crashed. But gosh-darn it, I had my BBC email!

I surfed around, fiddled, and connected the dad-blamed thing, and it was great to finally have a successful install. However, all was not good for long.

I have found two extremely stupid issues. First, my calendar items display an hour behind. I had the BES admin change my time zone, and my calendar items show up with Central Time in the body, but the time on the calendar is still wrong. I'm not sure yet about this issue, but it's not even the most critical one.

It turns out that no matter what I try, I cannot run IM and/or Blazer at the same time as BBC. If I initiate an IM, I lose the data connection to IM/Blazer. If I disconnect from those apps, I start receiving my BB email. Apparently, I have both a bb.net APN and a MediaNet APN in the Network preferences. When I connect to IM/Blazer, the MediaNet APN is invoked. Same goes for IMAP email. But the BB APN is required for BB email.

So as I asked in my Treocentral post, is this the norm? Should I have two APNs in my profile? Since that post I have spoken to three support folks, two with Cingular and one with Blackberry. No one seems to have a great grasp of this issue. In fact, apparently no one has complained about it until me.

It turns out though that indeed there are supposed to be two APNs... one for Blackberry and one for WAP. Thus, the Blackberry.net connection apparently can only handle email transport, and the WAP connection handles everything else. So, quoting the tech support guy du jour, "if you connect to the BBC, you will not be able to use the WAP service."

So I am expected to toggle between them merrily, ignoring the fact that I use background applications that require constant data connections (IMAP, VPN, VNC, stock ticker, RSS feeds, etc.) In other words, push email isn't really push, and I might as well forward everything to my IMAP account, and poll it every 10 minutes anyway.

So, yes, this is a long post, but there is not a lot on the "Internets" available about BBC and the issues it has with the Treo PDAs. At this point, I will live with the issue during the day, and switch over to WAP mode at night, at least until the Blackberry.net APN allows WAP connectivity along with email.

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.: posted by Dave 9:52 PM

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