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.