I've been a user of Windows CE/Windows Mobile devices ever since the early days of "Windows CE Services", which later morphed into ActiveSync (currently at version 4.2, but v4.5 should be with us soon). The software has certainly evolved over the years and now provides a fairly decent user experience (leaving aside the somewhat chequered history of duplicating contacts and the likes).
Windows Vista has swept ActiveSync aside and replaced it with the new Windows Mobile Device Center, which looks a whole lot nicer and easier to use (on the most part). I've been using the Beta 3 build (which can be installed on Vista RTM code - either by getting it through Windows Update or by download from the site linked above), and once it's up and running it provides a much smoother integration of the device with the rest of the OS.
There are a couple of niggles with WMDC though...
- A lot of software designed to be installed via a PC onto a Windows Mobile devices checks for the existence of ActiveSync on the PC and will fail if it can't find it.
- Some personal firewalls (including OneCare 1.5 - something else I'm beta-testing) will just block the device from seeing the PC and vice versa.
Installing mobile apps through WMDC
On the first point, there is an API which software vendors will be able to use in order to do a clean installation through Vista/WMDC as well as through ActiveSync, but until they start supporting that API you might be in a quandry.
One possible solution is to take the self-extracting .EXE that much device software comes packaged as, and crack it open using a suitable app (such as WinZip), to fish out the appropriate .CAB file for your device. Some apps might come packaged with both Smartphone and PPC versions, or maybe versions targeted at Windows Mobile 5.0 vs Windows Mobile 2003. The name of the .CAB file will ususally give you a clue as to what platform it's for, and which version.
Take the appropriate CAB file and use WMDC to drop it onto your device, then use File Explorer or something to activate the CAB file for installation. Worst case might be to copy the CAB file into the folder within the Start menu, so even if you don't have a File Explorer app (as some devices are delivered), you should still be able to activate. Normally, activating the CAB file will take up the installation part that usually happens on the device when installating through ActiveSync (ie you get the message on ActiveSync asking you to check your device screen...)
Personal Firewall blocking
After struggling with getting WMDC running on my home PC after installing Vista RTM, I wondered if OneCare was blocking it from running (since the OneCare firewall is bidirectional and also a little less integrated into the whole system than the built in Windows Firewall). I found some instructions buried deep in the WMDC help file, which list some ports to allow through the firewall.
Set your firewall up to allow ports/protocols:
Inbound: 990/TCP, 999/TCP, 5678/TCP, 5721/TCP, 26675/TCP
After enabling these rules, and reconnecting the device, WMDC should spring to life!