There are many uses for a VPN and they are generally very easy to setup on desktop computers. The experience with phones can be variable. iPhone is a doddle but Android is a horror (see my last post). The built-in PPTN VPN is utterly broken and does not work over 3G at all or for more than a few minutes on Wifi. The steps to get an alternative working on a HTC Desire are as follows:
- Brace yourself
- Install Windows OpenVPN and get it working on your PC with your VPN provider
- Root your Android phone. If you don't know how to do this, stop reading now.
- Replace the standard ROM with the latest community Froyo. Either Cyanogen 6.0 Nightly or DeFroST are good (I use DeFroST). OpenDesire does not seem to work in the later steps of this process and I haven't had a chance to try any of the Modaco ones with Sense still enabled.
- Install the Google Apps add-on too if your ROM doesn't include them.
- In Android Market, install the "OpenVPN Settings App"
- Note this is not the same as the OpenVPN Settings Page in Network->Settings. I wasted a ridiculous amount of time trying to get Cert files etc working there. Avoid it. That settings page is the source of most of the confusion around OpenVPN on all the forums. I'm sure there is a use for it if you have your own keys/certs etc but not for generic VPN users.
- Copy the config directory from C:Program FilesOpenVPN (including the sub-dir) on your PC to a directory like openvpn on the SD Card on your phone
- Go to that OpenVPN Settings App you installed
- Tell it where you have stored the config files and it should show you the configurations you copied from the PC
- Tap on the config you want and all going well, it will connect for you
- You are in business!
- I've noticed that it sometimes disconnects after a minute or so and then reconnects and stays solid after that.
- All of the above works on both WiFi and 3G
So Google, any ETA on fixing all those built-in VPN bugs?
I'm been trying and failing to get two features working on Android over the weekend: VPN and Proxy. A ton of googling revealed that both are utterly broken and have been since V1.0 of Android. Whilst my use-case is trivial (getting Facebook Places working outside of the US), the much bigger use case is a much bigger deal: the Enterprise.
I have read tons of posts with people pulling their hair out as they either cannot get these features working or can't get them working reliably. Even worse, lots of people have returned their Android phones since they simply don't work in an Enterprise setting.
The problems are as follows:
- PPTP VPN – Works intermittently over WiFi, doesn't work at all over mobile data.
- Android VPN in general not compatible with Cisco VPNs
- OpenVPN (community effort) requires PKCS12 files for the security bit. Cannot get this working with a generic VPN provider.
- There is NO, you heard me, NO support for web proxies in Android. This is incredible for a modern OS. You can find some hacks for basic HTTP proxies on rooted phones and Cyanogen has built this into his latest ROMs but there is no support anywhere for SOCKS proxies.
- You can use Mozilla Fennec as your web-browser if you need SOCKS but only if you want your 1GHz phone to run at the speed of treacle and have the browser hang constantly.
It begs the question, how do Google employees access the Google network on their phones?
I've been saying it for months, but Social Check-in will be owned by Facebook and Google. Startups that didn't take M&A offers from them are completely deluded. This is not a "we could be the next Twitter" scenario. Now that I've seen Facebook Places in action, I believe that even more
I finally managed to get Places working by saying I was in Palo Alto and connecting to http://touch.facebook.com
on my Android phone over a U.S. VPN (or maybe someone in Facebook was just very nice to me
). I created the LouderVoice "spot" and then checked in. It used the location feature of HTML5 in the browser to figure out where I was. Trivial to do and fully integrated into my normal day to day Facebook usage.
No more "close Facebook, open Foursquare, check-in, close Foursquare, open Facebook".
Our Places page looks like the attached picture. and the only glitch I've noticed is that the "Is this your business" feature (see AllFacebook.com
for more details) is not there. I wonder is this because we are outside of the U.S. and they don't actually have address/contact info for us, just GPS co-ordinates?
More updates as I explore.
Facebook's upgrade of the Notes feature this week set me thinking. I asked the simple question if this is another step towards Facebook being "your web-page". First they had to open everything up, now you have permanent pages with your thoughts and simple formatting is allowed. What if they were indexable? What if you had a custom domain for your entire Profile? That's a personal web-site/blog.
But it also set me thinking on the business side of things and the ongoing skirmishes between Google and Facebook. Both seem to be going hell for leather after businesses to provide them with lots of opportunities to present themselves online. Google Local became Google Places and for a long time only simple business information could be put up there which was then visible in Google Maps too. But bit by bit they have been adding to it with vouchers, Buzz (big opportunity missed there) and now you can post updates to your business Places page which is very neat.
The most recent update was the announcement of a check-in feature for Places pages. i.e. exactly what Foursquare and Gowalla are doing. How this sits with Latitude and Buzz I'm not sure but having the functionality makes total sense.
Meanwhile Facebook has done brilliantly with Fan Pages and keeps adding features. Third Party providers now even offer an online store inside your Fan Page. The next big thing is surely the upcoming Location-Based Check-in that Facebook is building. In one fell swoop it kills Foursquare but it could also do damage to Google. Restaurants near me and recommended by my friends feels far more natural on Facebook than it does in Google Maps/Places. Location + Social is the key.
But it's early days. There is so much functionality both can add to their respective offerings. It's going to be a fun 12 months in Location Based Services!
When I upgraded to the HTC Desire, I gave my old G1 to my eldest son. We try to keep it up-to-date and it is currently running the Cyanogen version of Android 2.2 Froyo. One problem he ran into is that he is on a PAYG O2 SIM and relies on the indulgence of his Grandparents and Aunties/Uncles for call credit. He didn't fully realise that when he is out of the house, he is paying for mobile data as some extortionate rate. So all his credit quickly disappeared. To avoid a re-occurrence, we have disabled mobile data so he can only use Wi-Fi.
Last night he was listening to me convincing his Grandad to replace his old Nokia phone with the HTC Desire. This had a positive outcome despite two of the three iPhone owners in the holiday home having aneurysms as a result. One of the features I showed my Dad was the portable hot-spot in Froyo. It removes the need for a MiFi device. I have a 1GB data add-on with Vodafone which is more than sufficient for my hand-set needs and the odd bit of sharing to the laptop.
Today the youngfella came up with a genius idea. He asked if it was possible for me to turn on the hot-spot on my phone and for him to then use the data-connection by connecting via Wi-Fi to me. Initially the smartness of the idea escaped me. But he pointed out that if we are out-and-about somewhere and there is no Wi-Fi, he'd be able to use my data connection to play his Youtube videos etc etc. Smart little sod. The same solution applies to any Wi-Fi tablet, laptop, iPod Touch or anyone on a PAYG SIM. It's almost like a mobile version of FON for people you know.
I'm sure there is some idiotic T&C in the Vodafone site saying I'm not allowed to do this. Mobile carriers still seem to think the contents of packets actually matter ("Get Facebook for Free on your phone with Three Ireland"). In fact I've heard you have to pay $30 extra a month to enable tethering on Android phones with some carriers in the US!
I'm really looking forward to the glut of cheap-as-chips Android handsets that will start coming out of China. Even with resistive screens and minimal features, they will be the next must-have phones for pre-teens and teens in 2011.
In any case, well done the youngfella for figuring out a solution to his problem.