After repeated delays, 3Com/Palm Computing has posted a public beta of the Macintosh Palm Desktop 2.1 on its Web site. We typically don't report on beta releases, but in this case Mac-based PalmPilot and Palm III users have waited for months for the new software, even beta software, which replaces the awkward Pilot Desktop 1.0 (see "Palm Organizer for Macintosh: Details Emerge" in TidBITS-432). Mac OS 8.5 users have reported troubles running the old Pilot Desktop, so the release of the version 2.1 beta comes at a good time.
Earlier this year, 3Com bought Claris Organizer from Apple to use as the base for the new Mac software. As a result, Palm Desktop 2.1 includes Claris Organizer features not available on the Windows version, such as record linking, advanced data filtering, complex viewing options, and customizable background patterns. Most significantly, the package also includes new HotSync conduit software used to transfer data from a Palm device to your Mac. Formerly, the HotSync software would synchronize only the built-in applications (Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad), but the new HotSync Manager utilizes an open architecture, allowing third-party developers to write synchronization modules that work with their software's data (for example, a conduit is in the works to translate FileMaker data to the JFile format on the Palm OS). If you've begun using Chronos Consultant as your desktop information manager (which now includes the ability to synchronize PalmPilot data), you'll need to download the updated Consultant conduit 1.0.7 to work with the new HotSync software.
Keep in mind that these pre-release versions of Palm Desktop and HotSync Manager software are unsupported and have not been thoroughly tested, so back up your handheld's data before installing (one good method is to use Florent Pillet's PalmBuddy), and consult the installation ReadMe file for known installation issues (such as turning off File Sharing before installation, and rebuilding your Mac's desktop before running the application). The Palm Desktop 2.1 beta is available as an 8.9 MB download, and requires a Power PC-based Mac.
Palm VII Unveiled -- In related news, Palm announced the Palm VII personal organizer at last week's Palm Developer's Conference, to be released sometime in 1999 for less than $800. The Palm VII will incorporate built-in wireless networking, allowing users to connect to Web services using a technique that Palm calls Web Clipping to retrieve selected snippets of information - akin to clipping an article out of the newspaper, instead of reading the entire issue. The service, Palm.net, will be run by 3Com over BellSouth's Wireless Data network in over 260 metropolitan centers in the United States (there's no word yet about international service), and will begin at $10 per month.
The numbering discrepency between the existing Palm III and Palm VII, plus the large jump in price (Palm IIIs are priced around $300 now), has fueled speculation that Palm plans to introduce other mid-level models soon. Given that the Palm devices are some of the hottest-selling holiday purchases this year, it makes sense that Palm Computing would be mum about other product plans until the new year. For those curious about the Palm VII and its features, Palm has released a white paper as a 260K PDF file.
Read All About It -- This is also a good time to announce that my book, Palm III & PalmPilot Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, ISBN: 0-201-35390-3, $16), is now available. In addition to covering the PalmPilot and Palm III devices, there are chapters devoted to helping you actually use a Palm organizer in everyday life. Plus, it's the only book on the market that covers the new Mac Palm Desktop software, based on an earlier pre-release version.