Sunday, July 16, 2006

Float's Mobile Agent

I wasn't surprised recently when my laptop's hard-drive started to sound like a Suzuki motorcycle running up and down a hilly road. I'd been running it to the limit since the day I got it, constantly downloading and iterating through several hundred-thousand files. The space around the hard-drive would get so hot that I'm pretty sure that it has cooked the fleshy part of my left-palm. So when it finally died, despite the huge bummer of having to reinstall everything, I saw this as an opportunity to clean up my files and get my laptop organized.

One of the things that I've been wanting to get more out of is my Bluetooth enabled laptop and phone. I'd tried using the Sony Ericsson software that shipped with my phone but was completely unimpressed. I'd heard of this great utility flOat's Mobile Agent (FMA), but just couldn't get it to work.

So before instead of installing the Sony Ericsson software, this time I was going to put more time into FMA. Being open-source, it naturally is a little poor on setup details and documentation. However, I found a great starter document that shows how to get it up and running. In short:

  • Using the Bluetooth software, pair your Phone with the PC
  • Bring up the context-menu of the phone, choose Connect to Serial Port -- it'll add a new COM Port. You'll need to make note of the COM port it creates (ie COM4, COM5, COM6, etc)
  • Launch FMA
  • Choose Tools -> Options. Select the COM Port that was defined for your phone. (Mine was COM6)
  • OK your way out of the Options and then choose the "Phone -> Connect" option from the menu.

After about 30 seconds, FMA identifies your phone and begins to configure itself. Immediately afterwards, the FMA dashboard knows more about your phone that you do: battery, signal strength, firmware revision, call lists for incoming / outgoing and missed calls. Once you set the "Autoconnect on startup" and "Auto-reconnect (use proximity)" FMA takes care of managing the connection to your phone transparently. In addition, FMA loads itself into your phone like it was a Bluetooth accessory like a head-set or speaker phone.

Although albeit a bit buggy (it *is* OpenSource so that's to be expected) this is a great tool that changes the way you see your phone. It has the standard tools that you would expect, such as the ability to manage your phonebook, text messages, and upload/download files to and from your phone -- plus it has some additional goodies like viewing your call-lists, sending SMS messages from your PC and synchronizing with Outlook. What's more is that it provides on-screen call-display for your incoming calls: I got the onscreen popup that my wife was calling before my phone rang!

My favorite feature is the proximity detection. Mac users with iSync have had the luxury of integrated Bluetooth proximity. When I walk away from my PC, the speakers mute and it locks my workstation. When I return, the speakers un-mute. (The "unlock workstation" checkbox is currently grayed out in the Tools -> Options).

I was impressed that it goes beyond the Sony Ericsson software capabilities and lets you control every aspect of your phone remotely: silent mode, locked keys -- you can even turn off the phone.

Even further still, I was surprised to learn that the developers of FMA have thought of the inverse -- the ability to control your PC from your phone. Once FMA is initialized, it loads itself into your phone like it was a Bluetooth accessory like a head-set or speaker phone. By default, it opens a menu of applications and tools that can be launched such as WinAmp. Among this menu list is a "General Tools" which lets you turn off your monitor, lock the workstation, hibernate, and even shutdown.

Much like UltraMon, this is a utility I'll be preaching to anyone who has a Bluetooth enabled phone and PC.