January 27, 2006


Filed under: digital — mhoye @ 9:35 pm

Windows Compact Edition, “WinCE”, might be the most appropriately-named operating system of all time.

I realize that my situation is probably unique, but let’s say for arguments’ sake that you want to install stuff on your WinCE PDA, and you don’t use a Windows desktop. Well, how hard can it be, you ask?

Well, it’s just like riding a bike. Which is to say, if you haven’t done it before, it’s pretty goddamned hard.

Typically, WinCE/PPC installers are intended to be run from the Windows desktop to install to a cradled PDA, and if you don’t like that, well, you can choke on it. Virtually nobody provides the naked .cab files you’re really looking for, and instead wraps collections of them in installer metapackages. This is a non-issue if you’re using a Windows desktop, but it’s a colossal pain in the ass if you’re using Linux, and it completely precludes the idea of using a PDA as your primary computing device.

Ok, here comes the howto.

Everyone’s got unzip; you’re going to need cabextract and unshield. Then, you’re going to need to know precisely which version of WinCE you’re using, and what kind of processor it’s running on (typically MIPS or ARM). You’ll need this information, and you’ll also need to know that that bit about raki working is a lie; Raki is currently broken, and you should apparently use syncekonnector. I’ll let you know when and if I get it working myself.

Then, once you can browse the filesystem on your PDA, (or if you’ve got another way of getting bits into it, like a removable memory card) you’ll need to take a look at the software you intend to install. Let’s take, for example, GreenSoftware’s GSPlayer, which I’ve picked partly because it fits my example nicely, and mostly because it’s superior to the WinCE Media Player in every observable respect.

The GSPlayer download is a .zip file, but just ignore that for the moment; you’ve got to do the same thing for executables, and unzip them. In there, you’ll find .cab files amidst all the other crap. Use cabextract and unshield on those things, and unwind the file compression until you get to filenames that look like “” – my experience so far has been that one you’ve peeled the installers far enough open, you get to a bunch of files with names something like that. In the case of GSPlayer, gsplayer.ppc3_arm.CAB and gsplayer.ppc3_mips.CAB.

Then, you copy the .cab file whose name corresponds to your version of WinCE over to your device, either directly via the SynCE pipe mentioned above or removable media.

Then, once you’ve got that file onto your device, a double-click should make it install itself. While it’s doing that, you can ask yourself if we’re in the future yet!

This trick doesn’t always work – my beloved MiniStumbler, for example, uses a custom Nullsoft installer that apparently relies on the fact that you can treat your PDA as a mounted share in Windows (installing to \pdaname\program files\) that I can’t find any linux tools to unwind. But it gets you most of the way there, most of the time.

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