Bluetooth internet sharing: Unwire your Treo 650, using your Mac.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to get a Cingular-branded Treo 650 for my birthday. This was an upgrade from my Treo 270, and included a number of new features including Bluetooth and an SD slot for PalmOne peripherals and SD memory cards. Since I’m a geek, the first question I had was “Can I get email on it?”

The answer is yes, and fairly easily. Cingular offers a number of data plans that would let you download a set amount of data for so much a month. However, the first question I had for myself was “Do I really want to pay twenty to thirty bucks a month extra for my data plan? Also, do I want to pay if I go over?” Cingular does offer an unlimited download plan, but I didn’t want to pay eighty dollars extra a month for the privilege of saving myself from overage charges. In that case, what other options did I have?

Two options were fairly obvious to me: use WiFi or Bluetooth.

WiFi can be enabled on the Treo 650, courtesy of Shadowmite over at TreoCentral. Essentially, Shadowmite wrote a patch to the Treo 650’s ROM to allow it to use the Tungsten T5’s WiFi drivers. The downside to this approach is that, if you mess up, you could hose your Treo. Also, the WiFi card is $130. Based on the risk factor and the fact that I didn’t want to spend $130, I chose to pursue my other option: Bluetooth. If anyone reading this has managed to get WiFi working on their Treo, please let me know in the comments how well it’s working for you .

Since I’d ruled out WiFi and paying Cingular lots of money, that left Bluetooth. In my innocence, I’d thought this would be relatively simple, like enabling Internet Sharing to run out over Bluetooth. That turned out not to be the case. The relevant issue was that the Treo 650, because it’s using the Palm OS, doesn’t really like to have background processes running. It can do it, but doesn’t like it. (As a side note, for Treo users of Salling Clicker, that means that your Treo 650 will not be able to do the phone events or proximity events with Salling Clicker that other Bluetooth-equipped phones can do. Any Salling Clicker function that has the Salling Clicker program open and running on your Treo work great, so Salling Clicker is still a great tool for your Treo and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.) Since internet connectiviy generally runs in the background, I needed to do it in a way that made Palm OS 5.4.5 happy with it.

Since I was planning on having a Mac serving as an always-on Bluetooth base station, I set up my fiancee’s older 333MHz G3 iMac with 192 megs of RAM and installed Mac OS X 10.3.8 on it. For my Bluetooth connection, I added this CompUSA-branded Bluetooth USB adapter since it boasted a 150 meter range and I wanted to be able to be able to connect from anywhere in or around my house. All work that I’m describing was tried on that machine.

Once I had my iMac set up and recognizing the plug-and-play Bluetooth adapter, I started looking on VersionTracker, to see if anyone had written a program to do what I was asking. Searching on “bluetooth internet”, I found two freeware programs that said they would do what I needed. I tried both of them, with varying degrees of success.

The first one I tried was Bluetooth to Internet Utility. The key problem here seemed to be that I needed my Treo to be able to make a PPP connection, and I couldn’t see a way to do that. Attempting to configure my Treo to connect to a PC over Bluetooth, then designating my Bluetooth iMac as the PC in question, also didn’t work. The program looked like it was running fine on my Mac, I just couldn’t get my Treo to connect to it.

The next one I tried was Share2Blue2th 3.1, which worked to a point. I could set it up easily, and it would let my Treo connect to it by letting me configure my Treo to connect to a PC over Bluetooth, then designating my Bluetooth iMac as the PC in question. But, as soon as I made a connection, the program instantly crashed and took the connection with it.

Discouraged, I starting Googling to see if anyone else had earlier tried the same thing that I was attempting to do. Most entries pointed me back towards the two programs that I had already tried, or described sharing a Mac to Mac bluetooth connection. Then I saw this entry on Bruce McKenzie’s Bioneural blog. At first glance, it was showing me how to set up the same PPP setup that Bluetooth to Internet Utility used, and I had failed with. But down at the bottom, I noticed this note:

Update 07.08.04:

There is now a much, much easier way to share your Mac’s Internet connection to your Palm, via Bluetooth or USB. See here.

So I went there and found my answer: The Missing Sync for Palm OS 4.0.3, now with internet sharing over your USB sync cable or Bluetooth. I bought and installed Missing Sync on my Bluetooth iMac, re-paired my Treo with the iMac to make sure there weren’t any encryption problems, made sure that my Treo’s settings matched the walkthrough that Mark/Space thoughtfully provided, and turned on internet sharing. Then, I went back to my Treo, opened VersaMail and hit the “Get” button to download my email from my .Mac account. Worked flawlessly the very first time. It has also worked flawlessly up to the thirtieth time, so I’m willing to rely on the trend continuing. It also works for Blazer, the Treo’s web browser. Another nice thing with Missing Sync is that you can install it on two machines, so I also installed it on my PowerBook and take the Bluetooth sharing with me to work. My PowerBook, with its built-in Bluetooth, doesn’t have the 150 meter range that my home Bluetooth iMac has, but then I generally don’t need it to.

To sum up, of all the options I found out there to get internet connectivity onto my Treo, using Bluetooth proved overall to be the most inexpensive way to do it. For Bluetooth internet sharing, using The Missing Sync for Palm OS 4.x, while not free, was the most pain-free way to do it.

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