Palm Desktop Marks Return of a Familiar Organizer
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.