New Soul

posted in Tech Talk on November 14th, 2008

A couple of months ago, I woke up to a a world of hurt: a bad cough and a busted graphics in an aging laptop.

Having faced an identical busted graphics card problem about a year before, too, I knew that repairing my rig would cost me approximately $1,200 to $1,500, depending on the availability of the items that are needed and the amount of man hours required to replace the parts.

While my Toshiba Tecra M4 has served me very well, I am not crazy enough about it to invest such a sum into a device that is 2.5 years old and quite honestly: who would, besides NASA.

The downside of my decision is that I have been laptop-less for close to six months now and since my Tablet PC acted as my primary computing platform, I am actually finding myself in a position where I get less work done in more time, simply due to the lack of adequate processing power.

Before I set out on my trip to the US, I was eying a couple of devices, such as the Asus EEE PC and even though I do not consider myself a geek, just being able to say that I built a web application with the help of the hottest sub notebook currently available, would have been a fun idea.

From a prosumer point of view, however, the EEE PC is definitely not able to cater for all my wishes and as such would not have been much than a secondary backup, computer as opposed to being my (primary) weapon of choice and as such, the hunt for new hardware continued.

Every few years in my computer life, I come to a point, call it a crossroads if you wish; a point where I decide to (radically) alter the way I go about doing things and go in directions I have not gone before, mostly in an effort to make my computing experience more pleasurable, but also: more efficient.

Seven years ago, this meant going the Pocket PC route and I have not regretted this one bit. Five years ago, it meant foraying down the Symbian Smartphone route, then back to Pocket PCs again.

This, eventually, lead to flirting with a Windows Mobile Smartphone, which worked well, due to its form-factor, but essentially changed my mobile computing habits from “creating” to “reading”, in other words: my productivity dropped, so back to Pocket PCs it was, once again.

During that period, I also ventured into the area of Tablet PCs, a technology that appeared interesting to me on a number of levels, mostly due to the fact that it altered the way I would be using my device henceforth.

After having used a Tablet PC for 2.5 years and having followed the scene since literally Day One, I can, wholeheartedly say that I did my best to accept it, love it and not hate it, but it just did not work out the way I hoped it would.

The applications that were killer and hot two years ago, are still the same ones that are hot today because, all in all, the Tablet PC ecosystem has not nearly seen as much influx as everyone predicted.

Their impact on the market is, still, negligible at best: Tablets are used by medical professionals and a few other niche areas, but for me, there is no future in this platform and as such, the hunt for new hardware continued, once again.

I knew that my next device, like my aging Tablet PC, would have to be a true Desktop replacement, because switching devices AND keeping them in sync all the time gets annoying really quick.

Another thing I require from my device is that it just works, in the sense that I do not have to install extra software when I hook up a projector, or, even worse: reinstall my whole operating system, because neither the built-in display adapter nor the external display provide me with any (visual) feedback whatsoever.

Naturally, just having a device that works is not all I want, I also wanted to try something new, venture into, for me, uncharted territory, so to speak. The last time around, this ended up being a Tablet PC, which basically was just an extension to the current operating system I was using at the time, this time around, I am inclined to switch operating systems too.

All in all, and more importantly, to bring this story an end, I have decided, that the best I could make is Apple’s new MacBook Pro and I am looking forward to, as one friend called it, experience that working with your computer can actually be fun.

Of course, while I made the decision on my own, I feel that there are two people I should thank, for putting up with my geekness during this trying time:

First and foremost, my biggest thanks go out to Nate Nelson who helped me put together my order, helped me change it, helped me order more stuff and even got me some nice extras to play with, thanks bro’!

Secondly, Kevin Pilasky for devoting the last three plus years of his life to make me consider and try out the OS X platform and finally have the guts to move to, and I quote: the system that will work for you!

* for the Apple fanboys who scuff at the mention of “New Soul” in combination with a MacBook Pro, I am sorry, I know the song is meant to be used for the MacBook Air, but it was just too tempting.

Zarafa 6.04 / 6.20 on CentOS 5.2 with Plesk 8.6 Set-up guide

posted in Guides on September 18th, 2008

Zarafa is a software package designed to allow you to share your email and calendars via Microsoft Outlook, your Windows Mobile (and Apple iPhone) device and also access your personal data right through your browser.

Although the official Zarafa page suggests that installing Zarafa is a piece of cake, I have found that said cake was a tad dry, hard to digest and generally: hard to get out of its packaging and it tooks us a number of tries to get Zarafa running with Plesk.

In order to keep others from pulling their hair out, getting mad at their servers, starting to doubt their technical skill and firing off angry emails and posting nasty threads in public forums, I decided to create this tutorial to help you install Zarafa 6.04 on a CentOS 5.2 server with Plesk 8.6.

Please note that the following steps worked for me and I was able to reproduce them on my home server and got the desired result. My main server runs CentOS 5.2 (32-bit version), with Plesk 8.6, Apache 2.2.3, PHP 5.2.6 and mySQL 5.0.58 and I have it set-up to use a dedicated IP for Zarafa Webaccess and also got myself a SSL certificate.

This tutorial assumes that you have a domain called where you are going to host Zarafa Webaccess and an email account at - both domains can be the same, this does not alter the tutorial in any way.

It is further assumed that you have set-up with a dedicated IP and SSL certificate inside Plesk.

Part 1 - preliminary work
Part 2 - installing the basics
Part 3 - setting up Zarafa
Part 4 - storing attachments outside the database
Part 5 - setting up SSL for Zarafa
Part 6 - getting WebAccess ready
Part 7 - getting WebAccess Classic, Mobile ready (optional)
Part 8 - getting Z-Push ready
Part 9 - getting iCal ready
Part 10 - updating Zarafa to the latest version
A Final Word
2008-09-18: updated guide to make it more readable and added pagination
2008-09-18: updated guide: “Part 10 - updating Zarafa to the latest version”
2008-09-19: updated guide: Attachments and Qmail


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Superhero-style Texting (Trinket Software PowerSMS)

posted in Reviews on September 18th, 2008

The SMS capabilities of Windows Mobile devices have come a long way since first being introduced as part of the Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC Phone Edition, but power users like me find that a handful of nifty features are still missing.

Trinket Software’s first Windows Mobile application, PowerSMS, is bound to change this by giving you new tools to play with and making your life easier.

First impressions

When you first fire up PowerSMS, you will be greeted by its straight-to-the-point interface. You have exactly eight options (if you count the buttons) to choose from - and they are finger friendly!

PowerSMS start screen


I would like to believe that the options are sorted by usefulness, at least, I ended up texting myself more often (as a reminder) than scheduling a new message.

Post-It® - SMS style

PowerSMS includes a handy feature that lets you send yourself text messages with the tap of a button.

Especially for users with unlimited text messaging plans, this feature is a real godsend, allowing you to jot down your thoughts in the middle of the night,

For users with unlimited messaging packages, this is a real godsend, especially if you, like me, have the greatest ideas of the day in the middle of nowhere, with no WiFi or 3G available.

Advanced Herd Management

When you find yourself spending more and more time with your family, friends or colleagues and you want to inform them all at the same time that you wont be making it, you will love PowerSMS’ group SMS feature.

PowerSMS Group SMS


Start out by setting up your group: for example: your closest friends who you are planning to meet for a get-together on Friday, to discuss the recent wave of layoffs and how to combat unemployment amongst your group.

Then, after you have added their numbers, tap the group name and Pocket Outlook will open, with all the numbers already filled in, waiting for you to text away.

Text-based secretary

PowerSMS includes a feature that allows you to auto-reply to incoming calls with a text-message. You get to set-up who you want to reply to, how long you have to defuse the process and after that, your secretary takes over:

PowerSMS auto reply


Superhero Memory

Let’s go into Dr. Phil mode here for a minute and evaluate the one thing our significant others complain about the most: attention. Sure, you were texting her / him lovely messages in the beginning of your relationship all the time, but as weeks, months and years went by, you scaled back - life got in the way and all.

Now, with PowerSMS, you can fire up your relationship again and pre-schedule small bits of love to be sent to your partner on, seemingly, random dates.

PowerSMS scheduled message


Set-up a few messages when you have a minute or two to spare and reap your rewards as time comes. Effective? Most certainly and it could even be considered morally just if you subscribe to the ideology that Everything is Fair in Love and War.

PowerSMS scheduled message


You can, also, use this feature to remind your colleagues that a certain meeting up is coming up or to tell your secretary to get a bottle of that really good wine for the boss’ birthday - the possibilities are really endless.

Statistical Resources

If there is one thing that most power-users love, it must be statistics, outlining how efficiently they work. PowerSMS answers this craving by including a large number of easy-to-digest statistics, telling you who you message the most, when your peak hours are and the likes:

PowerSMS statistics


And to quote Jason Langridge:

These aren’t my SMS stats BTW as mine are scarily higher and I’m embarrassed to put them on my blog :)

Import / Export business

Last but not least, PowerSMS includes a backup feature, allowing you to import and export your messages to a proprietary format as well as a comma-separated values file, thereby enabling you to do myriad things with it.

PowerSMS backup


After you have completed your backup, you can import it on another device and either remove all current messages or combine them with the import and, best of all: PowerSMS offers you a possibility to instantly email the file to yourself, for safe keeping.

In closing:

At $9.95, PowerSMS is definitely worth it in the long run: True power-users will love the distribution lists as well as the scheduled messages feature and what’s more: you also get nifty statistics and the ability to export your messages to XML or CSV files (and possibly: import them again, on another device) or on Treasuremytext.

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Zarafa 6.04 on CentOS (finally)

posted in Rants on September 16th, 2008

Two years and three months ago, a friend of mine and me decided that it would be moderately awesome to have access to our own Microsoft Exchange Server technology platform.

Being students, however, meant that we could not pony up the cash one needs to get the appropriate licenses and required hardware to actually run those tools, so we set out to find the best solution that would work for us, with the hardware (Linux servers) we have and, obviously: the lowest cost to us, in both the short and long run.

Looking back over the last two years and three months, I think it is a fair assessment to say that we have seen it all:

In the beginning, there was Zoho’s Virtual Office, which performed so sadly that it regularly crashed on our server with only one user actually using it and doing nothing but syncing a few calendar items.

We spent long evenings on doing our best to get it up and running and even managed to get a license for free, by translating the Virtual Office suite into Dutch but we still could not get the hardware to run.

Zoho realized that the Virtual Office platform would not work in its current form, so they rolled it up and created a new product from it: Zoho Mail, promising that there would be an on-premises version of Zoho within a couple of months.

It never happened, but we did not feel too sad about it, for we had discovered Mintersoft’s Truedesk, which, like Zoho Virtual Office, utilized a Java backend and managed to crash our server a number of times.

Once again, while testing it on different hardware, it turned out that the software was flawed and Mintersoft folded pretty quickly, too - another bit the dust.

Then came Scalix and PostPath, both of which we were not even able to install for whatever reason(s) I do not remember, so we had to skip those in their entirety.

@Mail, on the other hand, looked promising, but too expensive since there was no real entry-level license (and who can blame them?), but there was light at the end of the tunnel:

At one point, Jeroen discovered Zarafa, built by a Dutch company and, in our eyes, the most interesting contender of all, for Zarafa licensed the actual looks of Outlook Web Access and was able to re-create the original style.

Moreover, Zarafa offered something all the other tools did not: a PHP version. Both their Webaccess component and the Windows Mobile device syncing gateway utilize PHP and can be modified to your heart’s content.

At first, Zarafa, like the others, did not play well with our set-up: a CentOS 4.x server with Plesk 8.x running on it but we kept at it, mostly because we got a good price on a three user license for Zarafa and we did not want to waste our own money.

Try as we might, it would not work and at one point, we just gave up. Up until a year ago, when we moved to the CentOS 5.x branch and gave it another try, again, to no avail.

For one reason or another, we were always able to get one of the three main components working: we either had syncing with Outlook or syncing with Mobiles or access to our data via a browser, but never, had we access to all three of them.

Ever so often, mostly days after new Zarafa updates were released, we would give it another try. We knew that it worked, we had seen and experienced it first hand, we just never figured out the magical combination that would allow us to make all three components work at the same time.

We went from 5.x to the 6.x branch of Zarafa, we tried 32-bit and 64-bit solutions, but all of them, somehow, did not work the way we wanted them to work, so eventually, we stopped trying again and waited for the next release cycle.

A couple of days ago, I decided to give the whole thing another try. I had managed to get Zarafa working on my personal fileserver at home, which also runs on a 32-bit version of CentOS and I was able to sync contacts and Outlook with it, so I knew that there was a way.

Lo’ and behold: I have finally succeeded and created a working solution that encompasses Zarafa 6.04, Plesk 8.3, CentOS 5.2 (32-bit), mySQL 5.0.58 , PHP 5.2.6, Outlook 2007 and Windows Mobile 6 - all secured via SSL and not killing your CPU.

If you are interested in setting up a low-cost, high-yield Microsoft Exchange-compatible gateway, that utilizes your current (CentOS) Linux hardware, click here to read my tutorial on it.

Microsoft is getting friendlier

posted in Rants on April 22nd, 2008

A few days ago, I was installing the newest version of Windows Messenger to test out some features that my chat client of choice does not currently have and saw this:

Microsoft Windows Live Installer


At first sight, this may look like an install process gone sour (and in fact, it did take longer than it should have), but what is interesting, is the way Microsoft notifies the user:

Sorry, this is taking a little longer than expected. Please bear with us just a few more minutes.

Simple, yet powerful and even better: they use the same simplistic thinking to describe the various other utilities that are available, summing up their respective functions in a short sentence.

Nothing world breaking of course, but not bad by any definition.

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