Series: Reading the Palm
Get the low-down on using this pocket-sized personal organizer with your Mac.
Article 1 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
You wouldn't expect this kind of devotion toward a blender. Most handheld electronic organizers are dumb appliances, storing appointments and phone numbers with the same mindless efficiency a blender uses to mix juiceShow full article
You wouldn't expect this kind of devotion toward a blender. Most handheld electronic organizers are dumb appliances, storing appointments and phone numbers with the same mindless efficiency a blender uses to mix juice. Of course, if you take away my blender I'll switch to a spoon. Try to take my PalmPilot and I'll reach for a sharp knife.
After using a 3Com (formerly USRobotics) PalmPilot Personal for the past nine months, I've discovered what more than a million Pilot users already know: this little device isn't as much an organizer as it is an extension of one's daily life. In addition to maintaining my active calendar, address book, and to do items, my PalmPilot allows me to send and receive email; track my freelance hours; store notes and lists; and even sneak in a game of chess or Yahtzee - anywhere, without having to open my PowerBook. All in a compact unit that fits in a shirt pocket and runs for months on two AAA batteries.
A Sharp Instrument -- At first glance, the PalmPilot looks like a baby version of a Newton MessagePad (check out David Gewirtz's review, "MessagePad 2000: New Newton Exceeds Expectations," in TidBITS-379). Measuring 4.7 inches tall and 3.2 inches wide, the gray plastic case rests comfortably in your hand like a deck of cards. There is no keyboard, just a stylus for tapping on the 160 by 160 pixel backlit screen and writing on a silkscreened area below. Four buttons on the front access the built-in Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad applications. The Pilot's serial port is located on the bottom, where it rests in an accompanying plastic cradle that connects to your computer.
The PalmPilots on the market today come in two varieties: Personal and Professional. They look exactly alike, and differ mainly in the amount of RAM included: the Personal ships with 512K, while the Professional comes with 1 MB. The ROMs and versions of the Palm OS differ slightly because the Pro model supports built-in email and expense-tracking applications, which don't work under the Personal's smaller RAM allotment. (If you will be using the Pilot with a Mac, however, this point is moot: these last two programs won't synchronize with the current Mac Pilot Desktop software. I'll go into more detail later.)
IBM recently began selling a Pilot clone called the IBM WorkPad, which ships only in a 1 MB RAM configuration. It's also worth noting here that if you're thinking about buying a used Pilot, you can easily find a Pilot 1000 or 5000, the first-generation machines that look the same but don't have backlighting capabilities and ship with less RAM (typically 256K and 512K respectively, although a 1 MB upgrade is available from 3Com that effectively turns them into PalmPilot Pros without the backlight).
Cooking with the Palm OS -- I originally bought my PalmPilot in an attempt to bring order to the paper-infested chaos that was my schedule. I was carrying around a decidedly unorganized organizer stuffed with printed contact information, calendar pages, scribbled notes, and scraps of crossed-out to do items. The Pilot, thankfully, replaced all that.
The four main applications that run under the Palm OS behave as you would expect from a personal information manager. The Address Book stores important contact information such as name, company, address, phone, and email address. It includes four custom fields for adding categories like URLs or anniversary dates. Phone number fields have pop-up labels, so you can choose among seven labels (such as Fax, Mobile, and Pager) instead of settling for something generic like Phone 2. You can attach notes to any record, which I've found handy for storing driving directions to homes and offices. Individual features aside, by far the best aspect of the Address Book is the simplicity of searching for a contact: simply start to write a person's last name, and the Pilot jumps to the first matching listing. Try that with a packed DayTimer.
The Date Book, though hampered by the screen's size and low resolution, manages to deliver nearly everything I've needed so far in a calendar application. You can view your schedule by day, week, or month. Although you can read text labels of events in the daily view, you're limited to movable gray bars occupying time slots in the weekly view and tiny black rectangles in the month view. It's easy to set up repeating events and alarms. You can also look up and grab contact information from the Address Book using the Phone Lookup menu.
Based on usefulness alone, the To Do list is my favorite application. Some people feel satisfaction when they can scratch off a to do item, but I enjoy tapping a task's checkbox and watching the project disappear. That way, I (hopefully) end up with a short list of projects at the end of the day. Entries can be sorted into categories and prioritized for importance on a scale of one to five. If you prefer to view the struck-through carnage of finished tasks, you can choose to show completed items.
The last main application is the Memo Pad, which stores pretty much anything you'd like in text format. Similar to SimpleText, Memo Pad is good for jotting down notes, flashes of inspiration, grocery lists, and the like. This application is also the catch-all for most programs' export commands (such as exporting my freelance hours from a program I use called Hourz), making Memo Pad a vehicle for shuttling some information between your Pilot and the desktop Pilot software.
In addition to the four main applications for managing personal information, the Palm OS includes utilities such as a calculator, security options, memory controls, general preferences, and a fast Find command that can zip through all of your data in one pass.
This is, by no means, the limit on the software available. Early on, the Pilot's creators decided to open up the development environment to anyone who wanted to program for it, and the result is a community of commercial, shareware, and freeware developers writing applications that range from financial calculators to drawing programs to card games. Although many Web sites host PalmPilot applications, I find myself going back to PalmPilot Gear H.Q. and Jim's App Archive.
Graffiti on the Walls -- One reason some people are hesitant to try the PalmPilot is its stylus-based input. Unlike the Newton's built-in handwriting recognition, the Pilot uses a type of shorthand called Graffiti, which is written in the silkscreened area below the screen, not on the screen itself. Most of the area recognizes Graffiti strokes as letters, while a smaller section to the right recognizes strokes as numbers. Although it's hard to believe until you've tried it, Graffiti is easy to learn, and can sometimes be faster than writing normally. I've heard stories of Pilot-savvy businesspeople unintentionally using Graffiti when writing on white boards in meetings and presentations. It took me about four hours of use to get the hang of it; for unusual characters that I don't use often (such as the pound sign (#), I check the quick help built into the Palm OS.
Alternatively, you can bring up an onscreen QWERTY keyboard that allows you to tap each letter, similar to finger-pecking a manual typewriter. If you must input a lot of information, you can enter it into the Pilot Desktop program on your Mac, then use the HotSync command (see below) to transfer the data when you're finished. Or, you can purchase a PiloKey, an adapter and software driver that enables you to connect a Newton keyboard to the Pilot's serial port.
Communicate from Your Palm -- I mentioned earlier that I use my PalmPilot Personal to send and receive email, but also noted the Palm OS email software doesn't work on the Mac. Several companies offer alternatives to 3Com's email software. In my case, I connect to my mail server through a Ricochet wireless modem using Smartcode Software's HandStamp. You can also purchase the PalmPilot Modem from 3Com or the Minstrel wireless modem from Novatel Wireless, both of which snap onto the bottom of your Pilot.
Cooking over a HotSync -- Jeff Hawkins, creator of the PalmPilot, describes the device as a "window on data that exists elsewhere," meaning that it's not necessary for all of your information to reside on one machine. Although you'll end up storing some programs solely on the Pilot, the bulk of your important information gets copied to your computer's hard disk for use with the Pilot Desktop application. This is the Pilot's much-vaunted HotSync feature, and it works at the press of a button on the cradle. HotSync synchronizes the information in each main application, and is also used to install new program files.
The downside to using HotSync with a Mac is that it doesn't seem to work well for some people, and this is where we delve into some of the difficulties Mac owners can face with the PalmPilot. The HotSync cradle plugs into your Mac's serial port, and you must turn on HotSync monitoring via a control panel. However, some programs (notably modem and fax software) jostle over who controls the serial port, resulting in a broken connection between the Mac and the cradle. I've read a variety of suggested workarounds, including restarting the Mac without extensions, restarting with the HotSync cable attached at startup, and others. My Mac sometimes fails to see that anything is connected, so I've found it helpful to toggle the HotSync monitor on and off a few times. This is easier to do with Yukinari Suzuki's Control Strip module HotSyncCSM.
Mac Owners Get Burned -- Despite the wonderful aspects of the PalmPilot itself, the Macintosh Pilot Desktop software is a disappointing, slow, ugly Windows port. Although I haven't experienced any crashing bugs with the software, performance can be glacial at times, and the interface is crude and sometimes confusing. Pilot Desktop (still at version 1.0, while its Windows counterpart is currently cruising at version 2.1) strongly favors the broader installed base of PC users.
On one hand, this is understandable since the ratio of Windows users to Mac users is about 10 to 1. But what makes the Mac software an insult is the lack of a conduit to link the Pilot to desktop applications running on your Macintosh. On the Windows platform, users can exchange information from their Pilots with many different programs such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes. So far, Macintosh equivalents haven't surfaced, although my contacts at 3Com assure me one is in the works.
The only other option for Mac users is to use Now Software's Now Synchronize, which ties the Pilot to Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date. I haven't used Now Synchronize, but some colleagues and acquaintances alternately swear by it or at it. You can download a free trial version.
And Yet, Still Invaluable -- It says something about the quality of the PalmPilot and the Palm OS that, despite my disappointment with the desktop software, I'm still fiercely devoted to my Pilot. It has become one of those rare tools that I can't imagine living without.
Next in this PalmPilot series, I'll cover some of the available software, and reveal some tricks to getting the most out of your PalmPilot.
Article 2 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
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 userShow full article
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.
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.
Article 3 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
When I bought my PalmPilot, members of my family rolled their eyes and reminded me of my propensity for buying electronic "toys." Since then, I've come to rely on the Pilot's organizational features and the wide variety of software written for itShow full article
When I bought my PalmPilot, members of my family rolled their eyes and reminded me of my propensity for buying electronic "toys." Since then, I've come to rely on the Pilot's organizational features and the wide variety of software written for it. Although it's proven to be more than just another gadget to be tossed away after the novelty wears off, I admit that my Pilot is still something of a toy: it's fun to use, even when I'm just looking up an address. And there's no topping the curiosity it provokes when I use it around people who've never seen a Pilot before.
In the first two parts of this article series, I introduced the PalmPilot, its built-in applications, and some programs I use every day. Wrapping up in this issue, I want to make a few brief clarifications, discuss the invaluable utility HackMaster, then finish with the keys to a truly successful product: accessories and games.
No ROM for Error -- I suggested in TidBITS-411 that people who are undecided about buying a Pilot should check out Zilot, a Pilot emulator for PowerPC-based Macintoshes. The catch, I soon discovered, is that you need a copy of the Pilot ROM, which is no longer available on the Internet due to justified concerns about copyright infringement. Zilot is still great for Pilot owners who want to develop software for the device or who want to try a number of programs without having to use HotSync to install applications repeatedly. But for prospective buyers, my full recommendation shifts to the Shockwave PalmPilot demo on 3Com's Web site.
Personal and Professional Distinctions -- People always ask me about the difference between the PalmPilot Personal and Professional models. There's more than just an extra 512K of RAM in the Professional, according to Christian Moskal <email@example.com>, who writes:
There's another difference important enough to mention: the TCP/IP stack. HandStamp [which was mentioned in the first article] is the only POP3 email client that comes with its own proprietary IP stack, enabling it to work on the older series 1000 and 5000 as well as the Personal. If you buy the Pilot Pro, though, you will have much more choice in POP3/IMAP4 email client software.
Still Not Crazy about Mac Pilot Desktop -- I lamented the poor state of the Macintosh Pilot Desktop software, which hasn't been updated from version 1.0 but remains the only option besides Now Synchronize for synchronizing data. If you absolutely refuse to use the Mac Pilot Desktop software but can't justify purchasing a Windows PC to backup your Pilot, Connectix's forthcoming Virtual PC 2.0 may be your solution. According to Mark Hayden <firstname.lastname@example.org> at Connectix, the next version of their PC emulator will support data synchronization between the Pilot and the Windows version of Pilot Desktop. Using the Windows version of Pilot Desktop will also provide a few features that the Mac software lacks, such as the Expense program included with the Palm OS.
A Persistent Hack -- Many utilities are available for the Pilot, including financial calculators, alarm clocks, drawing programs, and more. And then there is Edward Keyes's HackMaster, a system extension manager that enables programmers to create small Control Panel-like "hacks." Most fulfill specific purposes rather than offer the broad functionality of a full application. Here are a few hacks that I now consider to be inseparable from the Palm OS. You must run HackMaster for these to function.
If you're concerned about the possibility that others may snoop into items in your Pilot marked "private," install Water Lou's freeware SafeHack. In the Palm OS, you can hide private items by specifying a password; to display them, you enter the password in the Pilot's Security utility and choose Show. The problem here is that you then must return to Security to hide the records when you're finished - if you turn the Pilot off and someone else decides to poke around later, all your private files are visible. SafeHack simply toggles the Security option to Hide whenever the unit is powered off.
Matt Peterson's freeware GlowHack is a handy addition when using my PalmPilot in the dark. With GlowHack installed, the Pilot's backlighting turns on automatically when I hit the power during a specified time range (such as between 5 P.M. and 6 A.M.). Normally, all you have to do is hold down the green power button for two seconds, but GlowHack is much easier.
On the Macintosh, I rely on CE Software's QuicKeys to launch and switch applications easily using keystrokes. My Pilot now has a similar switching capability using Murray Dowling's SwitchHack. Dragging the pen from the Applications icon to the Graffiti-writing area jumps between the current and last active application; dragging from the Menu icon to the Applications icon brings up a menu of the last ten applications used. SwitchHack is $5 shareware.
The last hack I'll mention is TealEcho, by TealPoint Software. It simply displays on the screen the Graffiti characters as you write them, which improves accuracy and speed. TealEcho is $11.95 shareware.
Accessorizing Your PalmPilot -- A characteristic of a successful product is how well you can accessorize it, so it's not surprising to find a cottage industry that caters to PalmPilot fetishes and accessories. These range from stylish styli to screen protectors to a $239 leather jacket with a secure inside pocket for your Pilot.
Although the PalmPilot ships with a protective carry pouch, I found it inconvenient to slide the Pilot out of the pocket-like enclosure each time I used it. There are several case variations on the market, such as the FlipCase, which opens like an old-style Star Trek communicator, and RhinoSkin's Cockpit, a titanium hard case with a melting point of 1,666 degrees Celsius! I briefly considered the Slim Leather case offered by 3Com, but ruled against it after hearing that some users' screens were cracking from the pressure applied to the snap that holds the case closed. Instead, I chose the Copilot case from E & B Company, a compact carrier that opens like a book.
Productivity-Reduction Applications -- Any die-hard computer user will tell you that a machine isn't truly useful if it can't play games. There are currently well over a hundred games for the PalmPilot. I've played a number of solitaire games and reproductions of classic arcade games like Missile Command and Space Invaders, but I have to admit that my Pilot currently carries only two games on a permanent basis (due to my addiction to them, and because I have only 512K of RAM).
On the intellectual/strategic front, I've kept Scott Ludwig's freeware Pocket Chess handy. Although it's only 27K in size, Pocket Chess does a pretty good job of beating me, even at the easy levels (okay, so I'm not a Grand Master, but I'm not that bad). It's clear, quick, and it hasn't yet called up its big brother, Deep Blue.
On the pure entertainment side, I can't get enough of Tan Kok Mun's yahtChallenge, a $12 shareware Yahtzee dice game. Although I will sometimes swear that the game is rigged to favor the Pilot, that's usually when I'm bitter and twisted from rolling bad combinations.
One program that I haven't tried because of my shortage of memory, but feel compelled to mention is PilotZip. If you yearn to return to the land of Zork, PalmGlyph Software has created a Macintosh desktop application that will import the data from Infocom's old line of text-based role playing games into your Pilot. PilotZip is a Z-code interpreter that will also play other interactive fiction files.
More Than Just a Toy -- The PalmPilot is the most successful handheld organizer on the market, largely due to its size, ease of use, and the growing number of programs being created by a grass-roots development community. How can you resist a pocket-sized device that can entertain as well as it can organize?
DealBITS -- Purchase a PalmPilot Professional from TidBITS sponsor Cyberian Outpost at their regular $337.95 price and get a free MacPac (save $13.95); their sponsorship text at the top of the issue provides details.
Article 4 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
After 3Com announced last month that it had purchased Claris Organizer from Apple to use as the basis of its upcoming Macintosh PalmPilot desktop software (see "Claris Organizer Reincarnated as Palm MacPac" in TidBITS-429), Mac users of Organizer and Palm devices have been wondering what the deal means for the futureShow full article
After 3Com announced last month that it had purchased Claris Organizer from Apple to use as the basis of its upcoming Macintosh PalmPilot desktop software (see "Claris Organizer Reincarnated as Palm MacPac" in TidBITS-429), Mac users of Organizer and Palm devices have been wondering what the deal means for the future. A conversation with Douglas Wirnowski, Product Marketing Manager at 3Com's Palm Computing division, yielded a few details.
Expanded Desktop Organization -- Palm Organizer for Macintosh - a personal information manager (PIM) built upon Claris Organizer - will run on the user's computer, replacing the current Pilot Desktop 1.0 software. 3Com expects to release the new software in August, and it will be a free downloadable upgrade to owners of Pilot Desktop for 60 days following its release; otherwise, the software will be available for $14.95 as part of the Palm MacPac (which also includes a cable adapter that connects the Pilot's HotSync cable to a Mac's serial port). The new software will have a total RAM footprint under 5 MB, including Palm Organizer, the HotSync control panel, and the Conduit Manager (more on this below). This is an improvement from the default memory requirement for Pilot Desktop 1.0, which is 6 MB, with some users preferring to allocate 10 MB or more.
Although the Macintosh Pilot Desktop has languished at version 1.0 while the Windows version advanced to 3.0, both have maintained the same features and interface. Conversely, Palm Organizer will offer a new interface and features not found in the Windows software. 3Com has no plans to bring both products together visually or functionally.
Claris Organizer users may be dismayed to learn that 3Com does not plan to offer Palm Organizer as a separate stand-alone application. It's not yet clear whether the software will work without a Palm device.
Conduits Explained -- PalmPilot and Palm III devices communicate with a computer using linking software known as a "conduit." Currently, there is just one conduit between the Pilot and the Mac's Pilot Desktop software. The new setup will include a Conduit Manager, which will handle separate conduits that Palm Computing and other developers write. For example, to interface with the Palm Organizer software, there will be four conduits, one for each of the Palm OS's main applications (Address, Date Book, Memo Pad, and To Do list). To synchronize Palm data with software running on a Mac, such as the upcoming Eudora Planner, you would replace the four conduits with new conduits provided by Qualcomm. You will also be able to add other conduits through drag & drop installation, such as a FileMaker conduit that interfaces with database programs on the Pilot such as JFile. These conduits will reside in a separate Conduits folder on your Mac's hard disk.
So far, three companies have announced support for Palm Organizer conduits, and approximately 25 companies are building conduits for their applications. In the meantime, the Macintosh Conduit software development kit (SDK) is available for free download at Palm's Web site.
Although Palm has been swamped with offers for beta testing the upcoming software, most likely there will be an internal beta of the new software as it's being developed; according to Wirnowski no decision has been made about conducting a public beta when the software nears completion.
Article 5 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Macintosh users who have upgraded their PalmPilot organizers using the new Palm 2 MB Upgrade card are discovering a potentially serious problem when synchronizing their dataShow full article
Macintosh users who have upgraded their PalmPilot organizers using the new Palm 2 MB Upgrade card are discovering a potentially serious problem when synchronizing their data. The user-installable upgrade cards, which allow PalmPilot owners to upgrade to 2 MB of RAM and version 3.0 of the Palm OS, contain a software defect that, in conjunction with the current Mac Conduit Manager software, prevents synchronization of any data except that of the built-in Palm applications (such as Date Book and Address Book); consequently, other programs cannot be installed on the PalmPilot using the Macintosh software. (For more about the PalmPilot, see the series of TidBITS articles at the URL below.)
The source of the problem is essentially minor: an internal library file was incorrectly marked for backup, so when that file copies to the user's Backup directory, it stalls the backup process and results in a failed HotSync. Unfortunately, the software problem exists in the upgrade card's flash ROM; currently, there is no way to update the flash ROM, which means Mac owners experiencing this problem must replace their upgrade card. Sources indicate that new upgrade cards incorporating a fix will be available sometime in July.
Mac owners of the upgrade should contact Palm's Customer Relations department at 888/619-7488 to be added to the list of users who will receive updated cards when they become available. In the meantime, several users have suggested using Connectix's Virtual PC to run the Palm Desktop 3.0 software (which is now available for free as a 9.3 MB download from Palm's Web site) under Windows 95.
Although this problem hasn't yet made its way to Palm's support pages, Mac users experiencing other synchronization problems (especially with G3 machines and Macs based on the Tanzania motherboard design) should check out Palm's HotSync help notes at the URL below.
Article 6 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
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)Show full article
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.
Article 7 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
For those who wondering why the Palm Computing booth at Macworld Expo was consistently mobbed, here's a quick overview of the PalmPilot and the Macintosh platformShow full article
For those who wondering why the Palm Computing booth at Macworld Expo was consistently mobbed, here's a quick overview of the PalmPilot and the Macintosh platform. (You can also read previous PalmPilot-related articles at the URL below.)
Palm Computing's handheld organizers, the PalmPilot and the Palm III, enable you to carry important data in a pen-based device that fits in your pocket. You can synchronize that information with your personal computer with the touch of a button, so you can work with it on your desktop machine as well as the Palm device. However, as the popularity of the PalmPilot soared, Palm concentrated on its largest market, Windows-based PCs, leaving the Macintosh Pilot Desktop program stuck at version 1.0 (which also happens to be an ugly Windows port). Now, Palm has begun releasing public betas of its new Macintosh desktop software, built upon the former Claris Organizer, which also opens the program's architecture to interact with third-party synchronization modules. At long last, Mac users with Palm handhelds will be able to use features Windows users have enjoyed for over two years - plus some Mac-only tools. Re-entering the Macintosh market with a program that promises to rectify past wrongs elevated Palm Computing's stature in the eyes of Expo attendees.
Of course, Palm Computing was also giving away free Palm III organizers every half hour - plus copies of my book, the Palm III & PalmPilot Visual QuickStart Guide, though deep down I suspect the Palm IIIs were the main draw.
Building a Better Beta -- Although we usually don't report on beta releases in TidBITS, I'm making an exception with the new Palm Desktop for two reasons: the demand for this long-delayed software has been overwhelming (the first release unexpectedly wiped out Palm's servers due to high traffic), and several products shown at Macworld Expo promise to expand how Mac owners use their Palm handhelds.
Currently, you can download the second beta release of Palm Desktop 2.1 from Palm Computing's servers - it's 8.9 MB. In addition to providing the advanced PIM features of Claris Organizer, Palm Desktop contains a new open conduit architecture that enables developers to write modules which interact with the handheld's data. The recent build (number 34) fixes many bugs, so anyone using the first beta version should update, keeping in mind this is still pre-release software with known problems. Users are reporting odd handling of repeated events in the Date Book and records being duplicated in the other built-in Palm applications, for example.
Although it's nice to have my addresses and calendar information in Claris Organizer, the open conduit architecture will provide the most excitement.
Palm Gets Closer to Tricorder Functionality -- Since the introduction of the original Pilots, people have drawn parallels between Palm devices and Star Trek's tricorder, a handheld device capable of analyzing nearly anything a script requires. Imagiworks demonstrated imagiLab, a data-gathering unit that clips onto the bottom of PalmPilots and Palm III devices and enables collection and analysis of data in the field. The Imagiworks booth featured a recycling waterfall where attendees could take water temperature samples. After synchronizing the Palm III, the acquired data is merged into an AppleWorks spreadsheet, where it can be easily graphed, analyzed, or exported.
Expense and Mail -- The original Pilot Desktop 1.0 supports the four main built-in Palm applications (Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad), but doesn't support Expense and Mail, both of which have been available in the Windows Palm Desktop for some time.
Shana Corporation demonstrated Informed Palm Expense Creator, a conduit and desktop application that grabs expense data from the PalmPilot and flow it into one of several pre-built expense report templates. The Basic version is free, while the Advanced version includes features like form customization and summary reporting. An 11.4 MB installer on the Shana Web site installs both versions; you can activate the Advanced version by ordering it for $24.95.
Actual Software also demonstrated its $30 MultiMail Mac Conduit Pack, which can synchronize email between Eudora (both Pro and Light versions) and Actual Software's Palm email program MultiMail Pro or the Palm OS's Mail program.
Go, Type -- LandWare was getting plenty of attention for their well designed GoType keyboard. I bought one before attending the Expo and used it and my PalmPilot as a much lighter alternative my PowerBook. The $80 GoType requires no batteries and features a serial connection to dock your PalmPilot or Palm III, setting you up with a miniature laptop. It also includes programmable function keys for accessing the built-in Palm applications, and special ShortCut and Done keys for easier navigation in the Palm OS. The only thing missing is some way to tab between fields and records without using the stylus.
Glimpse of the Future -- My last Palm-related highlight at the Expo was meeting Palm Computing's Macintosh product manager, Doug Wirnowski, who let me play with a prototype of the upcoming Palm VII organizer. (See "Mac Palm Desktop Beta Arrives with Palm VII News" in TidBITS-458.) The new unit, now in field trials and expected to ship sometime during the third quarter of 1999, is notable for its built-in access to the upcoming Palm.net wireless subscriber service. Housed in a clear plastic shell, the prototype is roughly the same size and design of the Palm III, although the top extends out about an inch to accommodate the wireless technology. An antenna rests along the right side of the machine and swivels from a joint at the top; when raised, the Applications screen automatically displays the programs belonging to the Palm.net group.
Instead of accessing the Internet via a Web browser, the Palm VII features a technology that Palm calls "Web clipping". To try this out, I accessed a small application tied into MapQuest's driving directions service, entering my home and office addresses. The Palm VII connected to Palm.net, downloaded the results, then disconnected. The only problem I had was achieving a reliable connection - not surprising from the middle of the Expo floor, underground at the Moscone Center. With the exception of the wireless features, the Palm VII shares the same specs as the Palm III, including the same screen, processor, and 2 MB memory capacity.
Article 8 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
New Palm Handhelds Released -- Palm Computing has unveiled two new handheld devices, the Palm IIIx and Palm V, available now. The Palm IIIx ($370) retains the Palm III's curved form factor but includes 4 MB of RAM (plus 2 MB of flash ROM), a much-improved screen with better contrast and readability, and an internal expansion slot for future memory upgrades or add-on devices like pager cardsShow full article
New Palm Handhelds Released -- Palm Computing has unveiled two new handheld devices, the Palm IIIx and Palm V, available now. The Palm IIIx ($370) retains the Palm III's curved form factor but includes 4 MB of RAM (plus 2 MB of flash ROM), a much-improved screen with better contrast and readability, and an internal expansion slot for future memory upgrades or add-on devices like pager cards. The Palm V ($450), aimed at style-conscious users, comes in a smaller, thinner anodized aluminum case and includes the improved screen, software-based contrast control, 2 MB of RAM (plus 2 MB flash ROM), built-in rechargeable lithium ion batteries, and two stylus silos to accommodate right- and left-handed users. [JLC]
Article 9 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
A few years ago, I realized it was time to abandon my tangled mess of scribbled and photocopied papers that formed my personal information management (PIM) systemShow full article
A few years ago, I realized it was time to abandon my tangled mess of scribbled and photocopied papers that formed my personal information management (PIM) system. I had tried using Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date, but never developed the same enthusiasm about them as many of my friends. Then I discovered Claris Organizer: it had a sharp interface, combined addresses with a calendar and to-do list, and printed the information on sheets that fit the small three-ring binder I used as a poor-man's Day-Timer. For a while, I was a happy, more organized man.
When I decided to buy a PalmPilot, where I could store the same information in a pocket-sized handheld device, I faced the same dilemma as all Macintosh-using PalmPilot owners: the device worked with either Pilot Desktop 1.0, an ugly Windows port, or Now Contact/Up-to-Date, using the buggy Now Sync. I briefly entertained romantic notions of learning AppleScript to somehow share the Pilot Desktop information, but reality intruded and I abandoned Claris Organizer.
Until now. Although Pilot Desktop never advanced beyond version 1.0, a funny thing happened in Cupertino. In the middle of last year, after Apple reabsorbed Claris and killed everything but FileMaker and ClarisWorks (now AppleWorks), Organizer was sold to Palm Computing. Not only was an improved Macintosh Palm desktop application on its way, it was going to be based on my old favorite! After long months of waiting, Macintosh Palm Desktop 2.1 has been released. Not only can most Mac owners of Palm handhelds take advantage of a modern PIM that synchronizes easily with their Palm data, but Organizer users have the assurance that their Claris software continues to survive (something Emailer users still can't claim).
A Good Price for Everyone -- The Palm Desktop software is available now as a free download from Palm's Web site (with additional server support from Apple) in three binhexed portions: the Palm MacPac v2 Installer (12.6 MB), Documentation (2 MB), and Palm Extras (24.3 MB). You only need the MacPac Installer to use the software, but there are plenty of goodies in the Palm Extras to warrant the lengthy download (see below).
Palm has decided to offer the software free to any takers, whether you own a Palm device or not. The only restriction is that Palm will provide support only to users with a valid serial number from the back of a Palm handheld. Obviously, they would prefer that users support them financially by purchasing Palm devices, but there are other benefits to be gained by offering the software free. In addition to a potentially larger user base, people who buy Palm devices later will find that their data is already set for immediate synchronization.
Palm Desktop is also available in stores on CD-ROM, which also includes a printed Getting Started Guide and the adapter required to connect the HotSync cable's serial connector to your Mac's serial port, for $15. The adapter is also available by itself for $6 if you've just bought a Palm device and choose to download the software over the Internet.
What's New for Organizer Users -- Overall, most longtime Organizer users may not notice many changes, since much of the updating has centered around adding Palm device compatibility. The Instant Palm Desktop menu, formerly Instant Organizer, now works reliably instead of being an almost guaranteed way to crash your Mac. The Instant Palm Desktop menu appears at the right side of the Mac's menu bar, and you can use it to view tasks, today's appointments, and frequently used phone numbers, or to find and create records without launching the Palm Desktop application. Palm Desktop also provides Mac OS 8.5.1 compatibility and fixes a few bugs (including menu redraw problems).
Another major change is that Palm Desktop now runs only on PowerPC-based machines. Although Macs generally have more longevity than other computers, Apple hasn't shipped a 68K-based system since late 1996, and according to sources at Palm Computing, the program would still be in development in order to make it backward-compatible with 68K-based Macs.
Think Sync -- If you're a Palm device owner, you'll discover that there's more to this update than just the ability to share your handheld data with your desktop. The entire synchronization architecture has been rewritten, enabling third-party developers to write conduits that use your data with their applications. For example, Mac users can finally take advantage of the Palm OS's built-in Mail and Expense applications. Shana's Informed Palm Expense Creator takes your expense data and formats it into a variety of existing forms; Actual Software's MultiMail Pro Conduit lets your share email from Eudora or Eudora Lite (Emailer and Outlook Express support is coming soon) with either Mail or Actual's MultiMail Pro email client. Demonstration versions of each conduit are included in the Palm Extras, along with DataViz's Documents to Go (which lets you view Word and Excel documents on your Palm handheld).
Palm III and Palm V owners can also take advantage of faster HotSync operations, thanks to a new software library that resides in the Palm OS. Transfers of up to 115 Kbps are now possible, compared to a maximum of 56 Kbps for Windows users.
The new HotSync Manager does more than just oversee the HotSync process. To install a program onto your handheld, simply drop the file onto the HotSync Manager icon. From here you also control the configurations for multiple Palm users. My only complaint so far is that the interface would be better if the Install, Users, and Conduit Settings features were available in one tabbed window, rather than requiring repeated trips to the menu bar.
Dreaming of Beaming -- One surprise not enjoyed during Palm Desktop's public beta phase is infrared support for performing HotSync operations. Owners of the original Bondi Blue iMacs now have something to point at their IR port. By installing a collection of four libraries that live in your Extensions folder, plus four libraries on the handheld, you can HotSync without lifting a single cable. I've found this especially handy when I'm working on my PowerBook outside the office, when my Ricochet modem normally occupies the serial port (see "Tied Down No More: the Ricochet Wireless Modem" in TidBITS-366). Florent Pillet's utility Palm Buddy is already equipped to handle IR transfers, which means you can perform full backups of your data without wires.
Open AppleScript Access -- Unlike the closed-off Pilot Desktop 1.0, the new software is scriptable, with a handful of scripts included in Palm Extras. Annoying VCard enclosures (".vcf") can be automatically turned into new contact records. If you want to send someone's contact information via email, running the Mail Contact Info script from within Palm Desktop grabs the data and pastes it into a new message in your email program. Palm also included a PowerBook Setup Script for making it easy to toggle HotSync serial monitoring on PowerBook G3 Series machines, though I have to admit that I haven't had any difficulties with my PowerBook G3.
Apple's AppleScript group is reportedly enthusiastic about Palm Desktop and plans to offer additional scripts at their site. Scripts written for Claris Organizer are also available.
A More Advanced Organizer -- For some Palm device users, just being able to HotSync reliably will be a boon, while others will appreciate the ability to run third-party conduits and synchronize via infrared. PalmPilot users who have suffered with Pilot Desktop 1.0 for three years will be happy to find that Palm Desktop is now a modern PIM with the features that Claris Organizer users have enjoyed the entire time. In an upcoming issue of TidBITS, I'll go into more detail about how Palm Desktop works with your important data, and how Palm device owners can overcome a little interface shock to access advanced features not found in the Windows Palm Desktop.
Article 10 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Palm Releases Palm m125 Organizer -- Adding a bit of spit and polish to its entry-level line of handhelds, Palm has introduced the Palm m125, incorporating the expansion and connectivity features of the Palm m500 seriesShow full article
Palm Releases Palm m125 Organizer -- Adding a bit of spit and polish to its entry-level line of handhelds, Palm has introduced the Palm m125, incorporating the expansion and connectivity features of the Palm m500 series. The m125 offers 8 MB of memory, the same grayscale screen used in the m100 and m105 models, plus the capability to change faceplates and a new expansion slot accommodating Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard formats. The m125 also uses Palm's Universal Connector for attaching to a USB-based HotSync cradle or other peripherals, and runs Palm OS 4.0. The Palm m125 is available now for $250. [JLC]
Article 11 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Even when I'm testing various models of handheld organizers for books and articles I write about Palm OS-based handhelds, I keep my Palm Vx nearby. I have to return devices when I'm done reviewing them, and so far the Palm Vx is the only one for which I've shelled out my own money: it's thin, lightweight, and has enough memory to store the data I needShow full article
Even when I'm testing various models of handheld organizers for books and articles I write about Palm OS-based handhelds, I keep my Palm Vx nearby. I have to return devices when I'm done reviewing them, and so far the Palm Vx is the only one for which I've shelled out my own money: it's thin, lightweight, and has enough memory to store the data I need. And of all those models I've returned, only two have been good enough to replace my Vx for the duration of the review period: Handspring's Visor Edge and the Palm m505.
The Edge is thin, light, and beautifully designed, but it didn't offer me more functionality than the Vx. When the m505 was announced, offering similar dimensions as the Vx but with a color screen, it almost became the next line item on my credit card bill. Almost.
Surface Reflections -- I probably put too much stock in a product's shape and appearance instead of its functionality, but my interest isn't entirely cosmetic. A slim handheld is easier to carry, more comfortable to hold, and less obtrusive in a shirt pocket. Color devices like the Visor Prism and the Palm IIIc feel too bulky to carry everywhere.
My Palm Vx, however, is starting to show its age, along with some limitations of its design. Its power button has never been particularly solid and requires a solid diagonal press to activate. More distressing is the raised scroll up button, which presses against the original flip-over cover and keeps the unit powered on following an alarm if there's pressure against it (such as when it's in my pants pocket). To work around this problem, I've installed a few system hacks like PalmVHack, which haven't always worked for me; using a Palm V Hard Case would also help, but that ruins the device's thin profile. So, on a few occasions, the button has remained pressed, draining the internal battery to the point where my data was lost.
Palm clearly recognized their design mistakes, since the Palm m505 effectively fixes them. The scroll buttons are small and flat, and the power button is solid and even lights up to indicate when the battery is being charged (it can also be used as a silent flashing alarm indicator). The case design is slightly different from the Palm Vx, with a tad more curve in the sides and less flare at the bottom, and overall it feels a little sturdier than its already solid predecessor.
Expand and Connect -- The Palm m505 veers from its heritage in several other ways. It includes an expansion card slot that accepts Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard cards, small postage stamp-sized memory cards that can store data such as digital photos, electronic books, or just your important files. The m505 also uses Palm's USB-based Universal Connector port, which replaces the slower serial ports at the bottom of each earlier Palm handheld. This means that peripherals manufacturers must redesign their devices yet again to accommodate Palm's connectors (add-ons like keyboards were scarce for the Palm V when it was introduced because the pin configuration was different), but Palm seems to be committed to the Universal design.
The good news is that synchronizing through the HotSync cradle is much faster over USB. The bad news is that disconnecting the handheld from the cradle is annoying: because of the clips holding the m505 in place, you must tilt it about 45 degrees before lifting it from the cradle.
Holding a Mixed Bag -- The Palm m505 is one of the first devices to run Palm OS 4.0, which offers only a limited number of improvements for users. The best of these in my opinion is the Attention Manager, a screen that summarizes missed alarms that can be cleared with one tap, rather than having to clear each alarm individually. You can also view a single masked record without changing the system-wide privacy setting by tapping it and entering your password; it's obscured again when you're finished reading it. (Palm will release an update to Palm OS 4.0 for owners of selected earlier models in November.)
Palm has added some third-party software to its mix, too, including DataViz's Documents to Go for working with Word and Excel files on the handheld; Palm Reader, an electronic book viewer from Peanut Press, which Palm purchased earlier this year; and Palm's Mobile Connectivity Software for getting online (using a compatible cellular phone or other device). And finally, the Macintosh Palm Desktop is now on the included CD-ROM; previous Palm owners had to purchase a separate cable converter or download the desktop software from Palm.
And That Color Screen -- So what about the Palm m505's main attraction? After all, it was the combination of the Palm Vx's shape and the promise of a screen featuring 65,000 colors that made me grab for my credit card.
Well, the m505's screen is dark. In fact, when I first turned it on in my moderately lighted office, I wasn't sure it was a color screen. Activating the backlight made a big difference, though it was still considerably dimmer than a Palm IIIc or a Handspring Visor Prism. And remarkably, there's no brightness control - the backlight is either on or off.
The positive spin is that the screen's lower brightness draws less power, offering longer battery life, and it's quite readable in daylight - two failings of most color handheld devices. You can also download an application from Palm that remembers the last backlight setting, effectively enabling you to run with the backlight always on (a better alternative is a program called 505LightOn). And I have to admit that after getting used to the light level, it didn't pose a problem - until a friend's Visor Prism provoked brightness envy.
In the end, the Palm m505 addresses all the shortcomings of the Palm Vx and adds color to this great form factor. However, I've reached the point where the next device I buy will have a color screen, and the Palm m505's dim offering doesn't live up to its $450 price tag. Until it improves, or another company offers something better (the Sony Clie PEG-N710C came close, but not quite), I'm sticking with my slightly battered Palm Vx.