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Palm Tipsheet 29 - April 2002
iSilo Edition (17k):
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Amazon.com -- PILOTING PALM, the new book from Andrea Butter and David Pogue offers a unique insider's view of Palm, Handspring and the birth of the handheld industry. All purchases made with our Amazon affiliate link provide referral rewards to the Palm Tipsheet. :-)
Handspring.com -- The NEW Visor Treo combines GSM voice and wireless internet connectivity with powerful Palm OS organizer features, in an incredibly small package! The Treo 180 is $399 with service activation or trade in of a VisorPhone module, or $599 without service activation.
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Gear Up for Outdoor Adventure at REI! Get the stuff you need for skiing, snowboarding and all of your favorite winter sports at REI.
April in Wisconsin is an odd, Twilight Zone-like season. Spring is so close, yet winter threatens a last-ditch snowfall for good measure. Still, I'm encouraged by the promise of warm, sunny days in May. :-)
In the world of Palm handhelds, I've had an opportunity to do an in-depth test of a new Handspring Treo 180 and will be writing a review for the May issue. I've also traded my trusty Visor Deluxe for a Sony Clié; an article about the transition is already planned for the June issue.
I'm pleased to announce iSilo and Plucker formatted versions of the Palm Tipsheet (starting with issue 29) for download from the Issue Archive page. Special thanks to 'Team Plucker' members Rusland Brest and Philipp Reif for converting Plucker editions each month!
Finally, if you're interested in the history of the Palm handheld industry, check out 'Piloting Palm', by Andrea Butter & David Pogue. It's a unique insider's view of the handheld history with many behind the scenes stories. The book is $20 in print or e-book format. Our Amazon.com affiliate link is below if you'd like to support the Tipsheet. :-)
P.S. Last month's Tipsheet interviewee, Raul Reynoso, has changed his email. Raul, if you're reading this please contact me!
Sony's Latest Clié Line a Blockbuster! -- WOW! Sony has hit its stride with the release of their two newest Palm handhelds, the Clié N70R and N70RV. The NR70 line is available in Japan and was recently announced for US delivery in early May:
The new handhelds sport a 320 x 480 color screen with a soft Graffiti area, 66MHz Dragonball processor, magnesium body, built-in camera (NR70V), Palm OS 4.1, MP3 player, Memory Stick expansion slot, Jog Dial and enhanced IR remote control functions. They also feature a flip-rotate hinge which offers 3 positions: a protected shell when fully closed, a laptop-style screen and QWERTY keyboard when opened and a standard PDA (sans hard buttons) when the screen is flip-rotated. For more photos check out these sites:
Change isn't always a welcomed guest, but I've learned that unexpected change can be beneficial. Change often challenges me to explore and discover better long-term solutions.
Take for instance AvantGo's decision to change their custom channel policy. As of 01-Mar-02, many popular channels went dead for the majority of their subscribers. Why? AvantGo had decided to limit custom channels to 8 users maximum. The idea was to reduce the traffic burden on AvantGo's servers from excess custom channel subscriptions and to encourage unofficial content providers to sign up for official channels.
It worked... too well. Content providers noticed, as did AvantGo users with dead channels. Many happy AvantGo users did the unthinkable -- they deleted AvantGo and began a search for alternative solutions. I was one of them.
AvantGo eased their custom channel policy just 30 days later, to allow channels which had been subscribed to organically, but it may have been too late. I believe many users had already left or were contemplating leaving.
So, if you're considering a switch, or you're curious about what alternatives exist, I've written this article for you. I'll share details of my research into free, open source, shareware and commercial alternatives to AvantGo. I'll discuss the pros and cons of each and I'll list aggregator sites that have gathered handheld-friendly websites.
First, I think AvantGo's strength is its seamless sync process, which automatically activates at HotSync. During synchronization, the AvantGo conduit logs into a webserver, finds your profile, dumps old pages and grabs updated pages from your specified channels, then installs the new data directly to your handheld. This automated approach is unique, as most other solutions use manual methods to grab web pages.
AvantGo also boasts a large selection of 'official' channels, paid for by content providers (websites) who want appear in their website's channel listing. The agreement signed by an AvantGo content provider specifies that the official channel URL be kept secret, so official channels are available only to AvantGo subscribers.
AvantGo is an offline HTML reader but can work as a web browser with a modem or IR to a mobile phone connection. Even in offline mode, AvantGo's Palm app stores web form entries and then posts them when it HotSyncs.
Most attractive is AvantGo's price -- its a free download, which makes it a popular add-on application for many users who may be on a tight budget.
However, AvantGo also has negatives. First, AvantGo's Palm OS application is large, weighing in at around 375k (not including channel data). The app size and channels make it a tight fit on a 2MB Palm handheld. AvantGo's servers track channels you choose and the pages you read in an aggregate form, which for you may be a privacy issue. Syncing can be slow at peak periods. I've occasionally had channel syncing problems, though these were exceptions rather than the rule.
In general, AvantGo is a great solution for many people, with auto updating at each sync and many premier channels often only available through AvantGo.
Now let's look at the alternatives.
The Windows PC app selects Palm DOC files, images and 'Clips' to sync to the Palm app. HandStory's Clip Service offers pre-built Clips for various websites. The desktop app enables users to add custom clips. Conversion is performed on your computer rather than a centralized server, and can be activated automatically every 24 hours or manually, as needed. A Mac converter is in the works.
HandStory offers a 'Direct Clip' option to convert websites optimized for handhelds, a 'Script Clip' option to convert non-optimized sites and a 'Fast Clip' option to download pre-converted files from the HandStory site for direct Palm installation.
The HandStory Palm app is 190k and views multiple formats and supports reading from VFS removable media, high-res 320 x 320 pixel screens, images, colors, and beaming. HandStory requires Palm OS 3.1 or better, 3.5.2 on Cliés or TRGPro to use VFS capabilities.
HandStory has a few negatives. Automatic conversion is limited to 24 hours max; manual conversion must be performed for updating clips more frequently. The toolbar on the base of the Palm app's screen can't be hidden. HandStory won't let you copy text from Clips but will from Palm Docs and Memo files.
While HandStory isn't free, it's a useful multi-function tool, with unique features which may make it a more practical solution for your needs. HandStory's collection of handheld Clip service channels make a switch from AvantGo a bit easier.
The free iSiloX desktop converter grabs local text/HTML files or internet websites and converts them into iSilo files. These files are saved directly into one or more 'Install' folder(s) for installation at HotSync, to any other folder you wish or directly to VFS removable media. iSiloX, is a GUI converter available for Windows and iSiloXC, is a command line converter available Windows, Linux, Free BSD and Mac OS X. A beta version of iSiloX is an option for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X.
Unfortunately, iSiloX doesn't offer automation features and is not activated by a HotSync, so manual conversion of iSilo files is required prior to syncing. It does save the list of converted sites as an XML document, used for regularly grabbing sites.
The $17.50 iSilo Palm app weighs in at 306k and it can read Palm DOC files, plain text files (from VFS cards) and iSilo files. iSilo and Doc files can be read in RAM or from VFS cards. The Palm app supports formatted text, hyperlinks, bookmarks, images, 1-bit to 16-bit color screens, tables, text copying and high-res fonts for Clié and HandEra screens. Full-screen mode is available on a one-time or on a document-by-document basis. iSilo for Palm requires OS 3.0 or better.
iSilo also has downsides. iSiloX can't automatically grab and convert webpages; files must be converted manually prior to sync. Once a file is converted to iSilo format there are no tools to convert it back to original form (though text can be copied within the Palm app), the Palm app is large (though smaller than AvantGo). The 2.x Palm app can't open 3.x files (iSilo 3.x Palm app can view 2.x files).
Overall, the iSilo suite offers a high level of control for file conversion and nice features for viewing, especially high-res screens on Sony and HandEra machines. While it's shareware, iSilo has a good history of regular support and updates.
The Mobipocket reader includes the Mobipocket Web Companion for Windows and Mac OS and a conduit which transfers web pages into the eNews format for viewing with the Palm reader. The suite is available in English, German French and Spanish. The Web Companion desktop app is used to add Mobipocket eNews sources (requires free registration), which are loaded to your handheld at HotSync.
Mobipocket eNews channels can be updated manually, automatically at sync or set to update when the eNews channel itself is changed. Unfortunately, only eNews web channels provided by Mobipocket are currently available. A software developers kit (coming soon) will allow the creation of custom channels. You can, however, select a local HTML file for conversion to eNews format.
The Palm app is 417k with required support files and can view Palm DOC, OpenBook, XML, HTML and Mobipocket eNews files with BMP or GIF image files. Mobipocket Reader also supports sub-pixel rendering for high-res Palms, multiple font sizes, faces, colors, alignments, tables, VFS cards and external dictionaries. However, eNews files can't viewed on VFS cards.
Mobipocket has negatives, including an app size larger than AvantGo, a somewhat slow-launching viewer app and a full-justification mode that looks funky on a low-res handhelds. Mobipocket also requires registration to get new eNews channels.
This software suite is free and only requires registration at Mobipocket to access eNews channels. Mobipocket's auto-update at sync is a nice touch and the ability to read Palm DOC and eBook formats makes this a useful tool.
Once installed, the desktop app's prefs must be configured to pluck websites. Selected web pages are plucked from the internet and converted for Plucker's Palm viewer. The conduit installs converted Plucker files via HotSync but does require that you run the parser prior to syncing. However, as Plucker is based on a scripting language, Plucker can be scripted to pluck sites on a regular schedule.
The Plucker Palm viewer app plus ZLib library file is a svelte 115k and offers the features of AvantGo and more. It supports color and grayscale, formatted HTML text, autoscroll, beaming, configurable toolbar locations, full-screen mode, a 'copy URL to Memo' feature, form and email support and a narrow font option.
Plucker has some drawbacks. Body text can't be copied to the clipboard, there is no high-res screen support, the DOS command line desktop tool may be slightly complicated for casual users without basic HTML knowledge.
Overall, Plucker is a powerful open source solution for grabbing web pages on various platforms if you're technically savvy. The Palm viewer app is a prime example of excellent, small footprint programming for the Palm.
Fling-It differs from Plucker mainly in the way it moves websites onto a handheld. There is no desktop application -- instead, a 'Fling-It' menu is added to your web browser for flinging sites. When you find a site you want to fling, set the specs in the Fling-It menu, turn on your handheld and place it in a cradle (Serial only). With the handheld on, launch the Fling-It viewer app on the Palm and fling the site over.
Fling-It's 108k Palm viewer and required ZLib library is a specially modified version of the Plucker viewer so it offers similar features and limitations as its cousin.
Fling-It's main drawback is the cumbersome, live Palm-to-computer serial connection it requires. USB ports won't work and because Fling-It requires a live serial connection and user interaction, it can't be automated and it offers no way to save flung webpages as Palm .pdb files on a hard drive.
Fling-It is a great open source alternate to Plucker and works similarly to it. Fling-It is especially suited to users who prefer flinging sites as they encounter them, rather than a specific set of regularly read web pages.
The desktop app works much like other website grabbing tools, turning internet websites into files viewable on a handheld. The package can save regularly updated web pages and offers an automated update feature. Pendragon Browser is free for personal use, while corporate users must buy a $125, 5-license package.
The Pendragon Browser for Palm has a tiny 56k footprint and yet provides decent features. It's an online and offline browser supporting HTML files, Web Clippings and can save form data in offline mode and send it at the next HotSync. The Palm app requires Palm OS 3.0 or better.
Pendragon's browser's negatives are the Palm app's lack of color support, no full-screen mode, and no Mac or Linux conversion tool.
Overall, Pendragon Browser is a free, functional offline and online web browser and offline reader with basic features and a very small footprint.
However, Sitescooper's power comes at a price -- it can be daunting for a casual user to install. It's clearly aimed at tech-saavvy users, familiar with perl and complex install procedures. Sitescooper runs on Windows, Mac and Linux boxes with Perl and certain important modules installed.
Still, Sitescooper is a great tool for tech savvy users because of its many powerful options and multiple output formats.
Interestingly, some websites with official AvantGo channels also offer identical 'mobile' channels in a separate location. Aggregator sites often list these 'mobile' channels making the switch from AvantGo a bit easier.
Glad to be here!
Most of my friends and colleagues have handhelds, but this is probably due to the industry we are in -- Computer Reservations Systems for the airlines.
In general they are gaining in popularity but are still relatively expensive. Lack of choice had been a major reason but nowadays you can pretty much get hold of devices from the major manufacturers, but it still takes time for new models to filter down to the local market in New Zealand.
The usual reaction I have from people is that it's just a glorified diary. I travel a lot for a work, so I usually show people TravelTracker, CityTime or AvantGo, this usually gets people interested in finding out more about the Palm. Otherwise if I come across other Palm users we usually find out what each other have and beam programs across.
Travelling for a living means having my flights, hotel details, appointments etc., on hand is vital. I also use it for priority lists and working on personal projects such as a wine tracking program. I also like doing expenses at the end of each day and having all my contact details at hand in the Address Book. I use built-in apps for my agenda, to-dos and memos.
*TravelTracker -- superb for someone who travels a lot and great for tracking frequent flyer mileage:
*AvantGo -- reading news on the go:
*Quicksheet -- I use excel a lot in projects and found this to be the best as I can edit and create spreadsheets on the go:
* CityTime -- Invaluable, my partner is an air hostess and frequently away, so this helps with times to call, (i.e. if it's 10PM in Auckland what time it is in Bermuda?). It's also handy for working out several time zones at once when coordinating conference calls in between different countries:
*HandyShopper -- Used for packing lists and groceries:
*Currency -- Used to convert between various currencies:
*Bejeweled -- Great for passing the time:
I'll probably buy a keyboard and keep an eye on where Bluetooh is heading.
I was seeing an important client and noticed he had a Palm IIIc, so we talked about the programs we use. I showed him CityTime, which I knew looks great in colour (at the time I used a Palm IIIxe). He asked me to beam it to him, so I did. I then switched on his unit, but I got a fatal error when I tapped the home icon. This occurred again after a reset. I was getting a bit worried that I had caused this as he was a very important client.
I asked if this had happened before and he said no. It only seemed to happen when tapping the home icon. He had that icon mapped to an old version of Launcher III, which kept giving the fatal error. I couldn't get to any other programs apart from the built-ins using the hard buttons!
Finally, I remembered some versions of Launcher III are not compatible with OS 3.5 and guessed this might be the case. After a hard reset, I went to the built-in launcher and deleted Launcher III. The fatal errors stopped and City Time worked just fine. After all that, all the client mentioned was how often his handheld had locked up before I did the troubleshooting!! :-)
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to evangalise the Palm in this corner of the world and a word of warning -- Bejewled is very, very addictive.
The list of upcoming interviews includes: Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Italy, The Philippines, Belgium, South Africa, Bahrain, Barbados, Russia, Romania, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Argentina, Guatemala, Portugal, Slovenia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Kenya, Croatia, Denmark and South Korea.
The list of past interviews includes users from: New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Israel, The Netherlands, India, Costa Rica, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, France, Japan, Norway, Poland, and Turkey. If you are from a country *not* represented on either list, feel free to apply with an an e-mail For consideration.
It's been great to have you here again for another issue. I hope my AvantGo alternatives article proves a useful guide. A special thanks to Guy Orridge for sharing his thoughts in the Tipsheet Interview!
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