Author: Tim Higgins
Review Date: 8/17/2001
|Pros:||– Nifty antenna design|
|Cons:||– Not a lot you can do with it!|
– Iffy Win98SE support
Introduction and Basic features
| Well, it took a long time coming, but 3Com has finally started to ship their Bluetooth PC card! It’s a 16 bit PC card design (not CardBus), and is based on version 1.1 of the Bluetooth spec.|
The card’s physical design is one that I’d like to see used on 802.11b cards, but there’s little likelihood of that, since the XJACK design is patented. It’s a push to open, push to close design that slides out to reveal a little, blue, swing-up antenna. The only downside of the design is that it’s a little hard to push the card into your PC card slot without popping open the antenna!
There’s one LED on the card edge, which I couldn’t find described in any of the rather sparse documentation. It shines steadily when the card is plugged in, flickers under light network activity, and seems to go out (maybe it’s just flickering really fast) during long file transfers.
| Since this is my first Bluetooth review and I’m fairly ignorant about the details of the technology, please forgive (and correct) me if I make some incorrect assumptions or observations about the product.|
Installation went smoothly on my Win98SE Compaq 1650 laptop, but it did take awhile, so be patient! Bluetooth uses a networking model that is based on virtual serial COM ports, so the installer creates a number of these ports (shown in the screen shot below…click for a full-sized view). Each virtual port is used for a different type of client communication.
The installer will ask you for permission to make copies of all your DUN profiles, and the best thing to do it let it do it. You can always delete them later if you don’t want them, but you can’t create them automatically later without rerunning the installer.
The other important question the Installer asks is whether to start the Connection Manager (CM) each time you boot. If you’re going to use Bluetooth regularly, answer Yes. This is because Bluetooth functionality is only provided when the CM is running!
One thing the installer doesn’t ask you is to name your Bluetooth device. It also doesn’t automatically pick up your Computer Name from your Network properties. This caused some confusion when I first viewed the network in the CM.
It’s a Strange new world…
| Once the installation smoke cleared, I launched the CM on both machines and after a minor amount of futzing around, was rewarded with the screen below:|
Actually, I didn’t really get the screen above, but instead the CM window on each machine showed ONE icon titled “My Bluetooth Device”. Hmmm, did the icon represent the machine that the CM was running on or was I actually connected? Turned out (with no help from the docs) that each CM was showing the client that it was connected to. (You don’t get an icon that represents the machine that the CM is running on like you do in Network Neighborhood.) Once I found the “Friendly Name” feature, I changed the name of each machine to something more descriptive and I was off and running… sort of!
I found myself getting confused when trying to set up connections. The Tutorials in the on-line Help didn’t do much to clear up the situation either, although they tried to be helpful. Being a complete newbie in Bluetooth networking, I needed some examples, diagrams, and explanations of what I was trying to do. Unfortunately, 3Com hasn’t provided any of that, either in the on-line Help or woefully inadequate PDF User’s Manual on the CD. The “Tutorials” are more “do this, then this, then this”, which I just wasn’t following.
After doing a little bit of research and reflection, I think I know why I had such a hard time getting anything other than the File Send feature to work:
So here I was, all dressed up with Bluetooth and nothing to do except send files back and forth between machines using the Send File service…which did work well, I’ll admit.
But try as I might, I wasn’t able to set up a network connection between other machines so that I could browse and transfer files, or connect to the Internet. It appears that I needed a Bluetooth Access Point for that, which I didn’t have and 3Com doesn’t offer (although other companies do).
| Since I couldn’t establish a network connection, the only thing I could do to check performance was to use the Send File feature. So I did, and here’s what I found:|
It’s always an adventure to test something new, and putting 3Com’s Bluetooth card through its paces was no exception. In the end, the card worked well for the limited things…make that thing… that I could do with it. But my lack of other Bluetooth equipped devices to test it with made for an unsatisfying overall experience.
It’s nice to see Bluetooth 1.1 products finally starting to ship. But the long delay to market has caused this technology to lose precious time in the wireless networking market share battle. Unless other products come out quickly and are cheaper than their 802.11b equivalents (the 3Com card isn’t setting a good precedent here with an on-line price of around $120), Bluetooth may just become another footnote in the wireless networking history books.