PalmPilot, Part 3: The Best Gadgets Are… Toys?
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 protected]>, 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 <[email protected]> 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.