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How to run Gmail locally on a Pocket PC

Gmail ClientPocket PC users are kind of screwed when it comes to mobility software. Although our devices are far more capable than modern phones, almost all online mobility software caters to the phone using contingent. Consider Gmail Mobile - although it's a nice pared-down interface for mobile phone users, on a Pocket PC it's horrendous to use, particularly if you don't happen to have a Windows Mobile powered phone. Google Reader Mobile is similar - so pared down that Bloglines kicks its ass on a Pocket PC.

So I was pretty disappointed when Google released a new downloadable client for mobile phones that makes using Gmail a lot faster and more enjoyable on mobile devices, since Google's definition of mobile devices appears to be "mobile phones". And this got me to thinking, since the new downloadable Gmail Mobile client is written in Java, shouldn't there be some way to run a Java virtual machine on my Pocket PC 2003 Dell Axim X50v? And it turns out, there is!
A little bit of Google-fu later, and I had found this forum post that describes a way to download a Java virtual machine for Pocket PCs - exactly what I had been looking for. Since the application is from IBM, it involves jumping through a ton of account registration pages, which is a bit of a pain, and then downloading the ridiculous 45 MB installer, to install a 3 MB file on your Pocket PC. Yeah, I know - but it's Java and it's from IBM, so I'm sure there are all sorts of ridiculous reasons why this thing had to be that big. Note, it can be confusing looking at the list of available downloads. I clicked through to the HTTP download option, and chose "WebSphere Everyplace Micro Environment 5.7.2 - MIDP 2.0 for Windows Mobile 2003 2nd Edition".

Anyway, once it's installed (and you've done a soft-boot of your Pocket PC, this is important), it's a simple matter of visiting http://gmail.com/apps on your mobile device, and clicking on the link at the top that says "Get faster Gmail". Now this is the tricky part - you need to visit that link after logging out of Gmail Mobile, if you had previously been logged in. Otherwise you'll just be very confused at this point, like I was.

Okay, now you're almost there. Clicking the link above will launch the IBM MIDlet List application, and allow you to install the Gmail java application. Click Yes and OK on the dialog buttons as they appear, and quickly you'll be looking at a login dialog for Gmail. This is another tricky part - when you tap into the username field, you'll get a full-page editor that will come up. Don't be daunted, just put in your Gmail username, then tap to hide your soft keyboard, and choose the Done button hiding at the bottom. It works the same way for your password field.

You'll likely run into a few security dialogs as it logs in, where it asks if it can use your airtime to download your Gmail. Since you're doing this on a Pocket PC, ostensibly via Wifi, Bob's your uncle, go nuts. (In other words, click OK).

And now you're in there. You'll notice what everyone has been saying about this little application is true - it's fast! For me there are only a couple of frustrations - one, it's not particularly readable on my Pocket PC as it doesn't take advantage of native text rendering, but I'm willing to overlook that. The other point is more annoying, but likely an artifact of the hackey way we've made this work; if you have the same experience I do, you'll find that the application won't allow itself to be restarted later. You'll have to uninstall and reinstall it every time you want use it to view your Gmail. I simply left the downloaded .jar file on my Pocket PC, and uninstall and reinstall it via the MIDlet List application whenever I want to use it. It installs so quickly that it's hardly an issue. Maybe you'll have better luck in that respect.

And that's it - enjoy!

Tags: freeware, Gmail Client, Gmail on Pocket PC, GmailClient, GmailOnPocketPc, Google, Google Client, GoogleClient, howtos, IBM, Java, Pocket PC, PocketPc

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