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Palm Tipsheet 34 - September 2002
If you've ever wondered what VFS is all about but were afraid to ask, this issue is for you. Guest writer Bill Shadish explains VFS and why it's important to Palm users like you. In the Tipsheet Interview, Palm user James Seah shares his experiences using a venerable Palm IIIxe in Singapore.


Editor's Welcome
Notable Links
  What the Heck is VFS?
  Tipsheet Interview: James Seah
End Note

Palm Doc Edition (20k):

iSilo Edition (20k):


The Palm Tipsheet is sponsored by readers like you! You can now donate via PayPal or the Amazon Honor System, using one of the two links below. Special thanks to James for his generosity and kind words! :-) -- The Best selection of PDA cases on the Web! NEW ON THE SITE: DirectCase DISCOUNT CENTER!! First quality cases and accessories from 20+ manufacturers with GREAT Prices!! A new case for you or a friend! As always FREE SHIPPING in the continental US!! Call (307) 732-1400 or visit our website:

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Hello friends,

It's hard to believe September is already here! Soon our summer will wane and give way to autumn's colorful leaves, cool weather, rain and shorter days. I love autumn, though in the back of my mind, I know the distant rumble I hear is Wisconsin's snow and cold preparing to do their worst. :-)

September also marks one year since terrorist attacks hit New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. I'll remember this day as long as I live; not only the senselessness of terrorism, but more importantly, brave actions of police, fire fighters and everyday people. These heroes met the challenge of the moment, saving the lives of others, without regard for their own.

Congratulations are in order to J. Kevin Wolfe! His Treo 90 article and interview with Handspring was noticed by TreoCentral, who made his interview a top story on their site this past month:

Finally, if you're considering a digital camera, I've found five *excellent* websites you'll want to visit. Each site offers in-depth reviews of popular digital cameras, many with sample digital photographs for comparison:

Digital Camera Views:

Digital Camera Resource:

Digital Photography Review:

Steve's DigiCams:

These sites provided extensive camera information, helpful in narrowing my choice of digicams and informing me of features before visiting the store.

Finally, I want to welcome SplitSecond Software to our exclusive group of Tipsheet sponsors. Their Palm app, 'Emergency Room First Aid & CPR' provides great life-saving info on the go and even comes with a free PC desktop app with more detailed images and info. I'm happy to have SplitSecond as a sponsor and I hope their app is a lifesaver for you one day.

Okay, it's time to get down to business. I hope you enjoy the issue. :-)


Mike Rohde, Editor


Sony Releases the SJ30 -- Sony is maintaining pressure on Palm and other handheld makers with the release of the low-end Clié PEG-SJ30 color handheld. This $300 device features a screen similar to the T665 but has a shorter, slightly thicker body. The SJ30 features 16MB RAM, Lithium-Ion rechargable battery, 320x320 hi-res screen, Jog Dial, Memory Stick slot, 33MHz Dragonball processor and Palm OS 4.1. The SJ30's HotSync connector is identical to the T and NR series:

Stowaway for the Clié T, NR, SJ & SL Series Arrives -- Sony has also announced a Stowaway foldable keyboard for Clié T, NR & SL series handhelds. The PEGA-KB11 keyboard is available on Sony's site for $90:

Handspring Releases the Treo 300 -- Sprint PCS users in the US can now purchase the Treo 300 for $500 from Handspring (or Sprint). The Treo 300 is designed for CDMA compatibility on the Sprint PCS digital network. Specs of the 300 are similar to the Treo 270, except for CDMA network capability, lighter silver casing and Sprint logo on the flip-lid.

Great Michael Mace Interview -- Curious how PalmSource stays competitive with Microsoft in hot pursuit? If so, PDA Buyers Guide has an informative interview with Michael Mace, Chief Competitive Officer at PalmSource. Michael discusses how he helps PalmSource retain their competitive edge and offers details on Palm OS 5 and the ARM platform:

PDAGreen: A New Palm Software Directory -- Palm handheld users may want to visit, a brand new Palm software directory. The site features news, recently released and updated Palm shareware and freeware (with screenshots), downloads and direct shareware purchase on-site:

Educational Resources at -- In an effort to help Palm users in education, computer teacher Gary W. Ankney has built his own website, The site features Gary's articles on buying handhelds along with links to many other helpful articles and sites:

PocketPC User Goes Back to Palm -- While you might get the impression PDA switchers only go from Palm OS to PocketPC, just the opposite is true at Aaron Green's 'Back to PalmOS' site. Aaron spent 10 months as a PocketPC user before he returned to the improved efficiency, data security and better screen resolution of the Palm OS, using a Sony Clié NR70V:

DocsToGo 5 Adds Hi-Res Support & More... -- DataViz's popular DocumentsToGo suite has been updated to version 5, which includes support for hi-res Sony devices, improved formatting and syncing, support for keyboards, removable media, multiple handhelds, Mac OS X and more. DocsToGo 5 Premium edition is $70; an upgrade from previous a version is $30:

SplashPhoto Adds Hi-Res Support -- SplashPhoto 3 now fully utilizes Sony's 320x320 (hi-res) and 320x480 (hi-res+) screens, supports NR70 JPEG acceleration, 12 bit screens of the Treo 90/270/300 or Palm m130, and more. SplashPhoto 3 is specially priced at $10 until 15-Sept-02 (it's normally $20). The upgrade is free for registered users:

Entourage X Palm Conduit Released... Again -- Back on July 15th, Microsoft released a new Palm conduit for their Macintosh OS X email app Entourage X. To the dismay of many users, the conduit wreaked havoc on their Macs and Palms. Microsoft withdrew the conduit for fixes and have re-released it. If you're unsure about the conduit's reliability, I'd suggest a thorough backing up prior to installation and use:

Icons Galore! -- Like Icons in Datebk (3, 4 or 5) or Action Names Datebook, but want a wider selection to choose from? Check out the Twokidsinagarage website for great icon sets you can load into either datebook app! Icon sets are $5 each;10% of Datebk icons help save gorillas:

Freeware Scientific Calculator -- Thanks to Thomas Öllinger, Palm users looking for a powerful scientific calculator need look no further. The SC-103PC offers a familiar interface in English, German or Esperanto. But best of all it's free! Be sure to thank Thomas if you download a copy. :-)

Cheap Wi-Fi Springboard Module -- VisorCentral reports that the Intel Springport Wi-Fi 802.11b module is now being sold online for just $100:


What the Heck is VFS?
by Bill Shadish

VFS: Vastly Funny Stuff? Very Fine Software? Volvos For Sale? :-)

The high tech industry is loaded with acronyms to help users and developers deal with those darn long, technical names. PDA, RAM, DVD, VCR and more, new acronyms seem to appear on a daily basis. This month's feature article is designed to help clarify Palm's Virtual File System (or VFS) and show its importance to Palm users like you.

A Definition of VFS -- VFS is the method which Palm's operating system accesses files stored on removable media, such as Secure Digital (SD) cards, MultiMedia Cards (MMC), Compact Flash cards (CF) and Memory Sticks. VFS is structured much like the filing system on a PC or Mac, allowing for folders, directories and individual files. Files can reside inside or outside of folders and folders can contain several levels of sub-folders.

For those who want to quickly understand what VFS is, the 'Overview' section is for you. For more detail on VFS, I'll expand the scope with the 'More Stuff' section. And finally, if you didn't get enough VFS-ing from this article, the 'Additional Links' Section offers a great deal more reading materials and reference on the topic of VFS.

An Overview of VFS -- VFS, or Virtual File System, is actually a term used by Palm, but coined by others. VFS refers to calls, or requests made by the Palm operating system to the handheld, that provide a way to access applications and data on removable media, such as Secure Digital (SD) cards. This gives a Palm user a way to easily 'expand' a PDA's storage capacity.

Removable media may contain applications and the data for those applications; and can be quickly inserted into, or removed from newer PDAs. In some cases memory cards come with applications already on them (such as Game cards); or, they can be set up to store your own choice of files.

Although removable media is sometimes misrepresented as add-on memory, these cards are not simply more RAM (Random Access Memory) for your Palm handheld. Rather, it's more accurate to see these cards as a rewriteable CD or floppy disk on a PC. Adding a 32MB SD card into a Palm with 16MB of RAM memory, doesn't result in a total of '48MBs' of RAM memory. Rather, the 32MB card is a place to 'store' data and programs... like a floppy disk.

Memory cards are also like floppy disks in that files being stored on them are either loaded into and run from the Palm's internal RAM or, in more recent VFS-aware applications, the data can actually be accessed and modified directly from the removable media itself.

More Stuff: VFS Here & There -- VFS is actually teamed with another set of calls (or system requests) within Palm OS 4, collectively called the Expansion Manager (EM), which manages removable media. The Expansion Manager tells the rest of the system when a memory card is added or removed and provides a way to check for information about individual memory cards. VFS adds the ability to read and write to memory cards via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).

VFS is used to load and store files from removable media. Much like a floppy drive, files on this media load slowly and are written to removable media even more slowly. Therefore, some tips in deciding what should go onto removable media are:

*Store read-only databases (such as recipes or maps), not read-write databases (such as to-do lists).

*Applications specifically built for removable media.

*Backups of your RAM. There are now several utilities that can back up your RAM resident programs and files, storing them onto removable media -- even in the middle of the night.

CAUTION: Copying a file from the Palm's RAM to a memory card does not MOVE the application or its files to the card by default. Rather, the files are copied to the card. Depending upon the file manager that you are using, the originals in RAM may or may not be deleted. However, you should first test running the application, or loading its data from the memory card before deleting the original copy. This is important because not all applications are VFS-aware and may provide unexpected results if stored on memory cards.

Also, moving the application (.PRC) file MAY NOT move all of the application's underlying data with it. So if you copied and deleted the application from RAM, you may be deleting the underlying data without having actually moved it. To be safe, (and as always) backup liberally before deleting anything from anywhere.

Card Mania: How did We Get Here? -- There is sadly more than one type of memory card being used by the various Palm OS hardware vendors, and VFS does not work with all of them. Figure 2 shows the prominent types of memory cards now available.

Compact Flash (CF) cards, made popular by digital cameras, Multimedia Cards (MMC) and Secure Digital (SD) cards are used by HandEra devices. MMC and SD cards are used in Palm's m500, most m100 series PDAs and the Handspring Treo 90. Memory Sticks are used in the Sony Clié and soon to be released Acer PDA line, while the larger Springboard is used in Handspring's Visor line.

Handspring was the first to introduce removable media, followed by HandEra and then Sony. Palm was actually the last vendor to provide for removable media, releasing their first version with the Palm m500 hardware in 2001.

NOTE: VFS functions were made available in version 4.0 of the Palm OS. Since the Handspring Visor runs OS 3.5, VFS support is not available for its Springboard modules. Although the HandEra also runs OS 3.53, it is able to access SD, MMC and CF cards via proprietary software extensions.

Standards Anyone? -- Standards are like (cough) opinions -- everyone seems to have one. You might ask why there are so many different types of removable media. The reason usually offered is that each vendor is attempting to establish a standard for others (or at least their customers) to follow. Another reason is that, in some cases, the vendor's cards work in other devices they offer. For example, Sony's Memory Stick works in many of their digital cameras, laptops, home audio and even some of their TVs.

But it may also be true, that the reason there are so many types of removable media in use is a result of Palm releasing their support for memory cards last. This gave the other vendors a chance to push their versions into the marketplace and to establish an early base of followers.

VFS Quirks -- One of the quirky aspects of VFS's implementation are limits on non-VFS applications accessing removable media. To fill this gap, a few Palm developers have provided freeware and shareware 'VFS drivers' to enhance VFS functionality for all Palm apps, whether VFS-aware or not. One such freeware VFS driver is MSMount, popular with Sony Clié owners:

*MSMount (Freeware):

A shareware VFS driver is PiDirect II:

*PiDirect II ($30 Shareware):

Once these VFS drivers are installed and activated on a VFS capable Palm handheld, they work behind the scenes to automatically add VFS functionality on the device for almost all applications.

VFS Tools -- There are a number of VFS utilities that are helpful for moving files between RAM and memory cards. A freeware example of a VFS file manager, is Filez:

Filez can be used to create and delete folders on memory cards. You can also move and remove files from these cards as well.

There are many other file managers for VFS-aware Palm handhelds. Here's a sample of several more tools available as freeware or shareware:

*FileCaddy (Open Source Freeware):

*FileInfo ($10 Shareware):

*GentleMan (Demoware):

*McFile ($12 Shareware):

*MyWorkbench ($18 Shareware):

*PiMover II ($10 Shareware):

As always, check these out to find the features, interface and price which best suit your needs.

Additional VFS Links -- For more in-depth reading on the topic of VFS, here are some suggested links:

*Expansion Memory Cards and VFS (HandHeld Computing):

*Expanding the PDA's Potential (PalmLoyal):

*On Palm OS and expansion (InfoSync):

*Using the Palm m500 and m505 Expansion Card (Danny Hager):

Hard-Core Developer Links -- For the hard-core developer, see the following information:

*Accessing expansion media with the VFS and Expansion Managers:

Open source code for a VFS file manager:

*Virtual File System Manager APIs

Removable Media Info -- More info on specific removable media:

*Compact Flash (CF):

*Secure Digital (SD):

*Memory Stick:

*MultiMediaCard (MMC):


*Palm Expansion Card Info:

Summary -- All in all, VFS and removable media are a nice addition to Palm hardware devices. Bluetooth (wireless communications cards) will soon be available that further extend the PDA, making it possible to communicate with nearby devices, such as mobile phones, laptops, printers and accessories. There will be many applications distributed on removable media. And, it certainly is a relief to be able to extend the Palm to access larger and larger chunks of meaningful data using VFS.

*Bill Shadish is a principal with Fundamental Objects, Inc., a custom software and packaged tools development company, located near Philadelphia, PA, USA. He can be reached at His company's website is:

Tipsheet Interview: James Seah
This month's Tipsheet interview features Singaporean Palm user James Seah and his workhorse Palm IIIxe. James uses his Palm to manage his work schedule as a finance supervisor, sync and read his outlook email and daily news each morning on the train and to capture his thoughts and ideas throughout the day.

*PT: James, thanks for taking the time to share your Palm experience with the Palm Tipsheet.

It's a pleasure. Thank you for granting me the interview, Mike.

*PT: You live in Singapore -- I'm curious to know how popular Palm handhelds are there. Have they been gaining popularity recently, or have you noticed them being used by people for a long time?

Singapore is a cosmopolitan city and well-linked to the global e-community. All sorts of electronic gadgets sold elsewhere will eventually find a market in Singapore, sometimes within days of the product launch in other parts of the world. Singaporeans are among the top early adopters of the latest trendy gadgets, including Palm-branded and Palm-powered devices.

The current craze in Singapore is the mobile-phone, not PDAs.

The earlier Palm III models were pricey and there were few users -- among them techies and marketing executives -- busy people who need an effective and reliable electronic device to help them keep their day organized.

Lately, there's a visible increase in the number of Palm handheld users since the launch of the IIIx, Vx and IIIc. With fierce competition from other Palm-powered devices like the Sony Clié, it's a buyers' market and customers are spoilt for choice on which brand and model suits their needs.

With the release of the m515, a 16MB color device with expansion slot for stamp-sized MultiMedia Cards and SD Cards, Palm Inc. is indeed giving the Pocket PC device manufacturers a run for their money.

*PT: Which language is the OS on your Palm? Is there a version of Graffiti which allows you to write special characters on your Palm, or must you use other methods to enter them?

Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-lingual society -- with English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil as the four official languages. Most Singaporeans are bi-lingual (i.e English and their Mother-tongue).

I use the CHOS (Chinese OS) from Waterworld in Hong Kong, for reading my emails from Taiwan friends and for Chinese input. The 'Simplified Chinese' or 'Hanyu Pinyin' is commonly used in Mainland China and Singapore, while the "Traditional Chinese" or 'Fanti' is the Taiwanese native version.

I am also a pioneer user of the Fitaly Stamp which is a great alternative Palm input system compared to Graffiti. A review I wrote on the Fitaly Stamp is located at PDABuzz:

*PT: When you are using your Palm, what kinds of reactions do you see from people? Are they intrigued by your Palm? Do you have opportunities to 'evangelize' the Palm with them?

I have become immune to the stares of curious onlookers in public places where I use the Palm. I am no longer shy or self-conscious because its kinda like using the Filofax to jot down something whenever it strikes your mind and you want to note it down before the thought slips away.

With the increasing number of Palm handheld users, the novelty of the Palm 'toy' will gradually wear off. It will become as commonplace as the mobile phone. Among the youngsters who play with 'Game Boy' wherever they go, they will grow up to become Palm handheld users... it's a natural progression!

I do not consciously go overboard to 'evangelise' the Palm handheld. I have made a few friends among strangers who also use the Palm though. We chat up, exchange notes and share our 'palming' experiences or beam business cards.

Once there was this schoolboy I met on the train who wanted me to recommend some Palm-related websites to him. I happen to have a list of these sites in my Memo record and just beamed it to him. He emailed me an acknowledgement of thanks to say that the list had saved him the amount of time he would otherwise have to spend searching for the sites on the Internet.

*PT: How does the Palm help you in your everyday life?

In many ways. The Palm has become an appendix to my everyday life, whether it's for work or recreation. It has replaced my Filofax organizer and the scraps of paper I used to jot down things I need to remember.

*PT: Are there any programs which you use daily and couldn't live without?






*Password Store:





*MultiMail Pro:

Games are not my forte, but the following Palm games are my favorites to kill time while waiting in queues for buses to arrive or when I am attending Chinese dinners, (which seldom start on time as a traditional practice) and those sitting at the same table are people I do not know. ;)

*Pocket Chess:


*PT: Are there any hardware or software items that you plan to buy in the near future? What functions will you use these for?

I am basically a practical, down-to-earth guy who hardly go for things just because they are new or in fashion. (You guessed it... I am old-fashioned)... rarely an early adopter for stuff which are trendy. So I think my IIIxe would be able to serve my needs for quite a while.

I plan to buy a Handspring Treo 180g which will replace both my IIIxe and Nokia 7110 mobile-phone.

*PT: Would you share a funny story that relates to your Palm with us? :-)

When attending a training workshop with about 20 people, I was seated at the back of the classroom. Suddenly my Palm alarm (with phone ringing tone) went off rather loudly. The lecturer, who was right in front of the classroom shouted, "Hey there, whose hand-phone is that? Don't you know you're supposed to switch your hand-phone to silent or vibration mode when you're in the class? It's highlighted in your instruction handouts!"

I held up my Palm handheld and explained, "Sir, it's not my hand-phone. It's my Palm!"

Thinking that I was trying to be funny, he retorted "I don't care whether its a hand-phone or palm-phone, just switch off the damn thing! (He probably could not see the Palm clearly from a distance, and some mobile-phones are about the same size).

The class burst into laughter when they heard his remarks. :)

*PT: Thank you for taking time to share your Palm using experience in Singapore with the Palm Tipsheet. Are there any final comments you'd like to share with the readers?

Thank you, Mike, for offering me this opportunity to share my thoughts with fellow readers and join the international contributors for the Palm Tipsheet interview series.

Yes, I would like to encourage Palm handheld users to join the vibrant virtual community in newsgroups such as alt.comp.sys.palmtops.pilot or on mailing lists such as as well as the Palm Tipsheet. All of these provide an excellent platform for interaction among Palm handheld users allowing them to keep in touch and share their valuable experiences and knowledge.

Many newbies became gurus in this way; and the gurus will then pass on their knowledge to the newbies who came after them. Thus the learning cycle evolves and new things are learnt everyday because the Palm OS is a dynamic platform. New versions of Palm application software are frequently updated... so are the more innovative hardware with multi-purpose features.

Interview Slots Still Available! -- If you're a Palm user outside the US and are interested in being interviewed by the Palm Tipsheet, I invite you to check the list of past and upcoming interviews (to make sure your country isn't already represented) and send an email to for consideration.

Upcoming interviews include: Chile, Italy, The Philippines, Belgium, South Africa, Bahrain, Barbados, Russia, Romania, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Guatemala, Portugal, Slovenia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Kenya, Croatia, Denmark, South Korea, Indonesia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Austria.

Check out the list of past interviews. If you're from a country not represented on either list, feel free to apply via e-mail.


I hope Bill Shadish's exposé of VFS helps clarify just what VFS is and how it improves the experience of everyday Palm users. Special thanks to James Seah for sharing his experiences and insights in the Tipsheet Interview.

Want more? Check out the Palm Tipsheet website for archived issues, article and interview listings, Tipsheet FAQ, the 'About the Tipsheet' area, our mobile edition and the handy search tool:

Feel free share the Palm Tipsheet website with new Palm users. If this issue was forwarded by a Palm friend, you too can get the Palm Tipsheet sent to your e-mailbox free each month. Follow the subscription instructions below, or use the subscription tool on the website to join the mailing list.

Warmest regards,

Mike Rohde, Editor


Copyright 1998-2002 (C) Mike Rohde. All rights reserved. There is no guarantee of accuracy in articles. The mention of a product or service does not imply an endorsement. Company names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective companies. This document is freeware and may be redistributed freely without modification by written permission. No portion of this document may be altered, reprinted, or sold to any person or entity without written permission of Mike Rohde. This copyright applies to all versions of the Palm Tipsheet, in any language, in plain text, HTML, AvantGo, Palm doc, iSilo or Plucker formats.

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."
-- Mother Teresa


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