Late last year, The BE-300 Advancement Society Web site closed its doors for good. It was inevitable, of course, with Windows CE as a whole fading into the sunset, but still a big loss for us CE diehards. This was of relevance to us because the whole site revolved around revitalizing the Casio BE-300 Pocket Manager by replacing its stock (and quite lame) Top Menu shell with alternative shells, most of which were built on a MIPS build of core Windows CE 2.12 originally created for the Salton ePods One tablet:
These alternative shells added features and improvements, most designed to save memory within the cramped confines of a mere 16 MB of RAM. Their names were based on the source device (ePods). Initially, there was EpodXP (developed by BAS memBEr CButters), and later EpodMX (developed by Michael Pollard, known on BAS as Goofather, who found a way to boot the shell without simultaneously booting Top Menu in the background, and who also developed a "Minimal Mode" wherein only the minimum required drivers are booted without the shell, in order to free up enough memory to run some graphics-intensive games). The latter was later renamed XPod, and subsequently eXpod.
After Pollard left the BE-300 community to develop for Pocket PCs, two other similar shells briefly continued development. One was called Bee, while the other was a shell called BeShell that, in some skin designs, more closely resembled Pocket PC 2002. While it was nice to have shells that resembled a Windows desktop (which Bee also did), some folks liked the idea of having a MIPS device that had the appearance of a Pocket PC 2002 device, given that Pocket PC 2002 and later Windows Mobile versions were built exclusively for ARM-based processors. The Pocket PC 2002 skins of BeShell even had a working Start Menu on the top and a working "New" menu on the bottom, and supported many MIPS versions of Today screen plugins, as well as desktop images for the "Today" screen. BeShell was developed by a Russian developer named Denis I Chetverikov, known in the Windows CE community as Dic. He is known by some of us HPC:Factor veterans as a developer of both MIPS and ARM versions of aygshell.dll that enabled many Pocket PC apps to run on our H/PCs and other core CE devices. (Hou Ming, who also wrote Executability Check, also developed other versions of aygshell.dll for MIPS and ARM core CE-based devices.) (Another developer named Trevor Hart, known on BAS as tchart, had also developed a partial Today screen that was eventually bootable without Top Menu, but it lacked both the Start and New menus, and had a few other bugs like a flickering screen. However, it also supported most of the same Today screen plugins. tchart also developed a Desktop shell which was similar to SQ in that it had working icons but lacked a Start Menu.)
Most of the Web pages covering the BE-300 can no longer be found. Some, including some of the main pages of BAS, can be viewed through archive.org, but few if any actual forum thread pages are archived, and download links are dead. The only major site still up and running is the Russian site be300.ru, and even that site has not had anything new for years now. Here are a few archived pages with images of some of these shells:
CE historian that I've become, I've now gained interest in preserving as many of these as possible. I have seen references to several versions of these shells, but few are still available online. be300.ru has EpodXP 1.5 and 1.9 in English, as well as BeShell versions 0.9.5 and 0.9.7. (BAS had an optimized version of 0.9.8 that it called BAS_BeShell.) I've also located EpodXP 2.0 and 2.1 (and eXpod 6.1, the final version) elsewhere online, as well as a scaled-down version called EpodXPLE. I've seen references to EpodXP 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3. 1.4, and 2.2, as well as XPod 4.1 and 5.0 (including those above), but there are no working download links anywhere except for a Russian version of EpodXP 2.2 at be300.ru. (I found a Japanese version of XPod 5.0, but it won't install. In Japan the BE-300 was known as the BE-500 l'agenda.) There's nothing whatsoever regarding any versions of EpodMX. (I understand that Pollard took it all down when he left the BE-300 community.)
The BE-300 was one of the first CE 3 devices that could be upgraded to CE .net 4.0. However, after demoing a BE-300 with the core CE .net interface on it and getting a lot of users all excited, Casio ended up releasing an upgrade that simply added a couple of programs and made a slight change in the appearance of Top Menu. It never caught on. (I have the upgrade CD, but it only installs a trial version. It had to be registered on the Casio Web site to complete the upgrade and eliminate the time limitation, as otherwise the unit would shut down permanently if not registered or downgraded back to CE 3.0 within 30 days. Casio's BE-300 upgrade page is long gone, however. I contacted Casio to inquire if the patch that disables the time limitation still exists anywhere, but was told that it's dead and buried. ) So it apparently added little or no actual extra functionality. (As I recall, .NET Compact Framework 2.0 wasn't supported until CE 4.1, and since .NET CF 1.0 was already backward compatible with CE 3.0, there doesn't seem to be any gain even there.)
Anyone else here had a BE-300 (or BE-500 l'agenda) who tried any of these?
Thanx, Jake. The whole idea, of course, was to make the BE-300, which was significantly less expensive new than its Pocket PC contemporaries, have functionality comparable to a Pocket PC. The BE-300 was one of the first CE devices where the OS was installed in NAND flash storage (like the CE 5 and later netbooks and tablets we've seen more recently) rather than on a fixed physical ROM module. (The ePods itself may have been the first.) I got this information just from doing a lot of Internet research after I picked up a few BE-300s cheap and started playing with them. (It's what I do. ) The original Wikipedia article on the BE-300 included most of this info, but I suspect it was edited out because it was somewhat poorly written. (The original version can still "BE" found on some other wiki sites that basically copied it.) A few additional bits of information are in order as well. BAS was born out of the union of two rival sites on the BE-300, BE-Central and Another BE-300 Forum, in an effort to resolve the feud between the EpodXP and EpodMX teams, who argued over who should get credit for the newer versions of the project. The latter of the two predecessor sites was where the development of the ePods-based shells started taking off. It started, however, on the Brighthand forums, but got shut down there by moderators who had concerns about intellectual property issues (starting with the use of the original ePods firmware in the first place, even though those waters had already been muddied plenty by the development of shell hacks for the ePods itself). Those original discussion threads can still "BE" found on the Brighthand forums. (Given Pollard's eventual departure, it was clear that the feud never did get settled.)
One of our more talented members here (Geared2003, who was known for developing alternative skins for the core CE desktop, as well as an improved version of TCPMP that he named HPC Media Player), was a regular on BAS for a while too. I never signed on as a memBEr, but nonetheless visited the site a lot.
I should also note that two other shell versions I haven't been able to track down are the earlier versions of Bee (1.0 and 1.1). I have the final version (Bee Cobalt Edition). Also, Pollard developed a standalone taskbar app as a free extra utility during his work on what was originally to be eXpod's successor (PPX) before shifting the PPX project to the Pocket PC as a no-longer-free add-on. I have the free standalone taskbar app, but haven't been able to figure out how to make some of its functions work. (Presumably it's just a matter of finding the right registry edit.) (Bee also has a standalone taskbar app, but it only works within that shell and not in any others. CButters used Pocket Facelift to skin the core CE taskbar in EpodXP 1.5, which is shown in the first Russian link.)
I've tracked down one of Pollard's pages about EpodMX in the Wayback Machine, and got all excited until I quickly learned that all the links are dead:
The newer versions of this page cover XPod as shown above.
Of course, the ePods-based shells all provided the option of synching with a PC via ActiveSync as well as Casio PC Connect (which was a scaled-down version of Intellisync designed specifically for the BE-300). The BE-300's object store was completely different from the Microsoft POOM version - I have no idea where its PIM database info is stored. Pocket On-Schedule works in eXpod, Bee, and BeShell, as well as EpodXP 2.1, but then you have to use ActiveSync to sync PIM data to it. (The Casio PIMs of course sync through PC Connect.) But since Pocket On-Schedule can only read its own database if the ADOCE DLLs are in \Windows (which dumps installed files on reboot), you have to copy these to a special folder in the internal NAND flash storage, from where files are automatically copied into \Windows during boot. (I only got it working in EpodXP version 1.5 after several steps to minimize memory usage - and even then it still requires manually copying over the ADOCE DLLs into \Windows after adjusting storage memory every time it is soft reset. Because there is insufficient storage memory allotted by default at reboot, it can't complete loading of the files from NAND flash storage, thus preventing it from completing the boot process - so it just hangs at the initial "Starting..." screen. In later versions of EpodXP it looks like CButters was able to figure out how to get the system to look in \Nand Disk for the Desktop and Programs shortcuts, thereby freeing up a little memory and eliminating the need to reboot the device to get new shortcuts to show up. Between that and sticking with the core CE taskbar instead of skinning it with Pocket Facelift, it appears that just enough memory was freed up to allow a few more files to be copied into \Windows.)
Before the ePods-based shells were developed, the best option available to BE-300 users who wanted a desktop-style interface was SQ. Another project that developed separately was Greg Mason's KCmenu, which had some similar and some different features from the core CE shell. Unlike the ePods-based shells, however, it was not a replacement OS flashed onto the BE-300 in place of the default Casio Top Menu. Instead, it was simply an add-on that ran on top of the native Top Menu. It was popular but not free (but pretty cheap at 5 USD). But free scaled-down versions were written for EpodMX and Bee. (I have the latter.)
I've been doing a little more digging to satisfy my insatiable curiosity, and found a few more interesting things, including a Russian version of XPod 5.1 that flashes successfully (deep in the Wayback Machine). But the most interesting find was that the original BE-300 Advancement Society forum site, put together by founding member MutantCheese, is still up and running (though with just a few posts, none later than 2003, presumably before the better-known version went online). Here's the original site:
Ironically, it looks like they could've archived all the forums back to that original site before shutting it down. Wonder why that didn't happen. Am I truly the only one left on the planet who still has an active interest in Windows CE-based devices?
They would not be able to just import tons of thread to that forum simply because it's hosted by a free host. They could have archived the threads and upload the files there in batches, but that would be work.
The BE300 is probably the most popular CE based device that didn't run an MS interface. I like many people just paid more to get a Cassiopeia PPC instead for much more functionality, but the BE was a lot cheaper and that attracted both users who just need a PDA or those who really want to hack stuff