Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mobil EarthComber

In one of those "write about it but don't make it look as a press-release", AP put out two articles on Mobil's latest free offer for PocketPC and Palm based PDA's with EarthComber.

To get started with the offer you first create a free account at www.earthcomber.com making sure that you check the "don't send me mail" box if that's the case. Reply to the confirmation email and log in. Then pick the maps from the areas you want by searching by county or city. Download the installers for either Windows, Mac OS X or Linux for you PocketPC or Palm based device.

This will download the Java based installer and its corresponding Java Runtime Environment (around 10 Mbytes). The whole process takes quite a while. That will install Eartchcomber Updater version 2.1, and if you don't want it launched everytime Windows starts, rememeber to uncheck the corresponding box. At the end of the installation process connect your PDA to your host PC, choose which device you have, login again with your account information and hit Get Updates to download the maps you have selected.

Details from the download will be displayed in a dialog that allows you to choose where you want the download to be stored in the PDA. It also has settings for the application to be installed and Look Lists "of favorite things that you want Earthcomber to find for you". But a bug in the software will take you back to the main dialog when you click the Summary button. So make sure you make your selections before you try that.

Using it

At that point the ActiveSync dialog will finally come up and you can pick the location for installing the EarthComber application itself in your PDA. Close now the Updater and start the application in the PDA. Check the first screen with directions about how to manage the current position and press OK. Select Maps and click on the map you selected for download.

From the main screen you can load a Spot Guide, View a map, comb for locations and see your spots (or waypoints). The maps are vector based and do not provide that much resolution.

Have your GPS card connected (or not, you can still use the software without GPS) and turn the application on. It will look for your card automatically but you can set its COM port and baud rate by clicking the EarthComber icon at the top of the screen and selecting Options | Settings and hitting the GPS tab.

Each new screen presented in the application is preceeded by a help text that explains it. You can toggle it off after seeing it by the first time. Every single screen will cause the help to be displayed which gets annoying after a while.

Combing

What you get for free is the ability to "comb" for places in your area (or another location you choose) and obtain directions to it. For example, hit the green comb icon the the toolbar and you get a list of places, based on the choice you made while downloading the maps for your current area. In my case I choose Outdoors and I'm being presented with Parks, beaches and trails among other choices that I can look up for more information.

Pick one of the categories and a list of available beaches for example, in the area will be listed with the distance in miles from your current location. Select one of them and you will probably get something that says "listing based on limited US government data" which implies data you are on your own and you can provide your own data to earthcomber.com.

But the good thing is that, if you have a live internet connection, you can get directions to that location. Just set it as a start (or end) and hit Get Directions. Not bad for a free application and map.

Mobil sells Spot Guides with travel information of major cities of U.S. with titles from Mobil Travel Guide and Moon Guides from Avalon Guides Publishing among others.

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