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PalmPilot, Part 2: Power in Your Pocket

If my PalmPilot had no software available for it but the factory-installed applications - Date Book, Address Book, To Do list, and Memo Pad - I still would be a devoted user. However, because the Pilot's creators opened the Palm OS architecture to outside developers, the number of applications, utilities, and diversions has pushed my Pilot devotion to outright addiction.


In the first article of this PalmPilot series (see TidBITS-411), I reviewed the device itself and its included software. This week, I'll share a few useful resources and talk about four applications I rely on every day.


Trying and Buying -- When I first considered purchasing a PalmPilot, I wanted to try one before buying. On 3Com's PalmPilot site, I found a Shockwave demo that approximates the feel of the Pilot's software and user interface.


To experiment with the software beyond what the online demo allows, consider downloading Zilot, a Pilot emulator for PowerPC-based Macs. Afterwards, if you're ready to buy, check PDApage, which tracks prices from several vendors. On average, the PalmPilot Personal runs between $200 and $250, while the Professional is roughly $100 more.


Several online and print publications cover the Pilot, including PalmPower, Pen Computing, and HandJive Magazine. Calvin's PalmPilot FAQ, regarded as one of the definitive works on the Pilot, is frequently updated and provides essential information.


Desktop Piloting -- I forgot to mention one important item in the first article: to synchronize a PalmPilot with a Macintosh, you must also purchase the MacPac for $14.95. The pack contains synchronization software and a cable adapter that connects the Pilot's HotSync cradle to the Mac's serial port. I'm not crazy about the software (see my comments in Part 1), but it's necessary for backing up Pilot data and allows limited importing and exporting.


Software Necessities -- The real power of the PalmPilot lies in the expanding world of software being written for it. The following programs are shareware or freeware and are downloadable from the Internet. If you don't want to use the Web, you may wish to check out the Everything CD for PalmPilot, from ISO Solutions. It categorizes over 750 programs in a stand-alone FileMaker Pro Runtime database, with screenshots and descriptions of each program.

Mac users should notice that most Pilot files on the Internet are available in Zip format, a compression standard in the PC world. To decompress Zip files, use Aladdin's free StuffIt Expander 4.0 along with the shareware DropStuff with Expander Enhancer 4.0, or the shareware utility ZipIt.


Topping my list of necessities is Eric Kenslow's free LaunchPad. The Palm OS groups everything into one scrollable applications window. LaunchPad creates a tabbed-window interface that lets you group applications under customizable headings. I set my Pilot to bring up LaunchPad whenever I tap the Applications button. LaunchPad also offers quick access to the Pilot's Memory utility, to performing a reset, and to turning off and locking the device.


Another utility I've found handy is Dovcom's Agenda ($12 shareware). I periodically need to look at an overall view of my appointments and to do items, but doing so is clumsy using the Date Book and To Do list. Agenda offers three views of upcoming scheduling information read directly from Date Book: Today, Tomorrow, and Week. It also has a "Todo" tab that displays a list of all upcoming To Do items.


Applications -- If something can be done better using a Pilot than a notebook computer or miscellaneous scraps of paper, there's probably a Pilot application for that task.

For example, in addition to writing and editing for TidBITS, I do quite a bit of freelance work. Andrew Zaeske's Hourz Pro has been invaluable for tracking billable hours and projects. It lets me specify jobs, categories, and hourly rates, in addition to expense notation, mileage tracking, and multiple views of my data. When I start a project, I just create a new entry: Hourz Pro keeps tabs on how much time I spent and calculates the resulting fee. At the end of the month, I use a companion program, Reportz, that offers options for exporting the data. Hourz Pro 2.2 is a $39.95 commercial product. Hourz 1.1d, the original, limited version is $20 shareware; registered owners of Hourz 1.x can upgrade for $29.95.


Another area in which the PalmPilot excels is idea catching: the niche traditionally dominated by restaurant napkins and Post-It notes. With its small size and quick start (turning the Pilot on returns you immediately to where you left off), the Pilot is a handy notebook for jotting down ideas and reminders. Rather than storing those notes in the Memo Pad, I use Aportis's BrainForest outlining and project planning application. I can write ideas and fractions of ideas, then organize them hierarchically by dragging and dropping throughout the resulting tree structure. BrainForest is currently available in a $30 trial version. BrainForest Professional, which includes an accompanying desktop application, is due in the first quarter of 1998 for $39.95.

<http://www.aportis.com/products/BrainForest/ benefits.html>

The List Goes On -- These are just a few of the programs that make my PalmPilot more useful than I expected when I bought it. In the next article of this Pilot series I'll mention a few more utilities, games, and applications; cover some options for adding memory and upgrading a Pilot; explore the possibilities for expanded communication options; and sneak in a few tips.


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