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Palm Tipsheet 38 - January 2003
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Happy New Year!
I hope the 2003 is a good one -- full of health, happiness and joy. I know ours already is a great year, just having our 2 month old son Nathan around to impact our lives in such a positive way (except for sleep that is). :-)
On the handheld front, I'm very optimistic about 2003, as I think Palm OS 5 will become much more commonplace. Three ARM-based Palm OS 5 devices are on the market already and I suspect several more will make their appearance this year, making this an exciting year for Palm users!
Regarding Palm OS 5, I'm especially pleased to have guest writer Ben Combee share the lowdown on Palm OS 5, in real English. Ben is technical lead at Metrowerks, the people who make the popular Palm OS development tool CodeWarrior, so you can rest assured that what he says is the real deal.
Oh, by the way, I've just learned last week that the Palm Tipsheet was mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald, on November 12, 2002. Yay! :-)
Lastly, I want to mention that subscriptions to the email edition of Tipsheet topped 11,000 in December! Thank you all for your dedication, loyalty and evangelism of the Tipsheet -- it's much appreciated. :-)
Okay, let's get this issue rolling...
2002 Year in Review & 2003 Predictions -- Several handheld sites are offering up reviews of 2002 and predictions for 2003, including Brighthand and Palm Infocenter. It's always fun to prognosticate, though a few of the predictions probably should be taken with a grain of salt:
The ARM Generation: Moving Up to Palm OS 5
Palm OS 5 is the biggest change in Palm OS since the first Pilot 1000 organizer was released in 1996. It's not only a major revision of the operating system that runs Palm OS devices, it's the first version of the Palm OS that supports ARM processors, a more modern platform than the Motorola Dragonball chips used in previous Palm OS devices.
The new OS is shipping now in three devices: Palm's Tungsten T (a.k.a the m550) and Sony's Clié NX60 and NX70V:
Palm OS 5 will soon be part of the first PDA from Garmin, a device with built-in GPS (Global Positioning System) to be released in 2003:
Palm OS 5 offers many benefits, but as with any major change, there are always tradeoffs. If you're thinking of upgrading to an OS 5 device, there are a few things you should know to make an informed decision.
Of the two devices, the Sony Clié NX70V and NX60 have a slight edge in speed, due to the 200 MHz Intel XScale processor they use, but the Tungsten's 144MHz TI OMAP processor is no slouch either. Both are much snappier than the previous generation of devices.
Beyond the OS-level speed ups, some applications are now taking advantage of the new OS by writing native ARM code. This really helps programs that do a lot of computation. The author of WordSmith, a leading word processor for Palm OS, found that writing ARM code let him display his documents over ten times faster than on the older devices.
One example is XCade by CodeJedi. This is an arcade game emulator that lets you play classic video games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Asteroids on your Palm device. This application actually simulates the operation of the old game's system board, including the processor, the controller, and the display hardware. The older OS and processors just were not fast enough to allow an application like this without massive slowdowns that would have made the games unplayable.
The Sony OS 5 devices ship with a version of Macromedia Flash Player, an application that lets you run Flash animations formatted for small devices. Flash is actually a programming language, and while it's mostly used for animations, it can support fairly complex behaviors. Flash requires a lot of processor speed to work correctly, and while it could have been ported to older Palm OS 4 devices, the displays wouldn't have been able to stay synchronized on the older, slower hardware.
Both the Tungsten T and the NX70V come with sound recoding applications. On the Tungsten T, you activate the voice memo using the button on the side of the device, and the button then acts as a record switch, letting you save your voice to either main memory or a storage card. The Clié devices also have a voice recorder application, and the camera-less NX60 lets you launch it using the side button that opens the photo capture program on the NX70V.
Beyond recording, probably the biggest use for the new sound capabilities is to play back audio files. Sony has been shipping devices with MP3 players for a while now, using dedicated hardware to decode and play MP3s. The new ARM processors in Palm OS 5 devices are fast enough to handle decoding tasks without extra hardware. This makes sound playback much more flexible than on the older devices, since the code that generates the sound can be changed by software developers.
Already, there are several sound players available. For the Tungsten T: AeroPlayer, Pocket Tunes, and the Audible player. AeroPlayer and Pocket Tunes are similar applications; both support the Ogg Vorbis audio format natively, and both allow plug-ins to play other formats. AeroPlayer can also playback some MP3 files, although those recorded at low bit rates aren't handled correctly. Audible.com, an audio book subscription service, has released a player that lets you listen to Audible format files.
With OS 5, PalmSource has made supporting high-density screens much easier for applications developers, and have also built a system that can support 160x160, 240x240, 320x320, and higher density screens of the future without requiring programs to be rewritten.
The high-density screen support works by letting a programmer provide multiple versions of the bitmap graphics used in a program. The OS will automatically choose the best fit for the screen from the graphics that are provided. So, an application that mostly uses standard forms with some bitmaps to make things look better can easily be modified to look good on the high-resolution devices.
Astraware is one of the game companies that has been busy revamping their games to support the high-density screens. Starting with Bejeweled, their addictive gem-matching game, they've been going through their product line, upgrading graphics across the board. Astraware has been focusing on making their existing pictures more detailed, rather than trying to squeeze more information on the screen, but the effort has really been worthwhile, making their games much prettier to view.
The high-density screens can also be used to let you view more detail in the same space. Quickoffice, the Palm office suite from Cutting Edge Software, uses the high-density support in OS 5 to let you choose small fonts for your spreadsheet displays, letting you see more of the sheet on the screen at one time than before.
However, other applications like to poke around in the OS to perform special actions. These applications will fail on OS 5. Some are gracious and will tell you that they aren't designed for the new devices, but many just try to perform their behind-the-scenes magic and fail, causing the device to reset.
If you're thinking of updating to a Palm OS 5 ARM handheld, save yourself some grief by making sure you're using up-to-date versions of programs on your current device before making the update. Many applications that didn't work on OS 5 have been updated in the last year; PalmSource has provided the needed information for developers to fix their programs since early 2002.
If you're using programs that don't have recent updates, they still may work. Check the developer's website and see if they've been tested. Check the various Palm OS enthusiast sites, look at the Tungsten T compatibility list that Palm maintains:
You can also install Palm AppCheck for the Palm Tungsten T to test your older software applications before loading them on an OS 5 handheld:
People who used the now-discontinued Kodak PalmPix camera will find that Kodak doesn't support this camera on the new Tungsten T. However, a independent developer, Angus Ainsle, just released a program called TungPix that allows you to use the device with the Tungsten T.
Sometimes, the problem isn't hardware related. While the connector is the same on the Tungsten T and the older Palm m500, the rest of the device is shaped differently. This causes a problem for the Magellan GPS Companion. While the device can connect to the Tungsten T and software like Mapopolis can talk to it on OS 5, the location of the GPS antenna prevents you from fully extending the Tungsten T's slider while it is attached.
On the Sony side, there already is an OS 5 driver for the Clié game controller, but there doesn't look to be any support for the mini-keyboard, the folding keyboard, or the Memory Stick camera.
The internal changes that affect some applications also affect these hacks. Specifically, the way these extensions hooked into Palm OS is not supported on Palm OS 5, making them useless on the new devices.
PalmSource didn't make this change frivolously; they looked at what it would take to support the old hacks, but they found that allowing them would really slow down the new devices. They did provide an alternate mechanism that covers a lot of the areas that hacks touched with previous OS versions, and we're already seeing some hack-like programs appear for OS 5 devices. An example is the very useful NewPen, a free application for OS 5 devices that lets you write characters using graffiti anywhere on the screen. This means you can enter text on the Tungsten T without opening the slider.
Finally, for some hacks, there is a workaround. TealSoft has a hack manager application called TealMaster that tries to emulate the mechanism that hacks used on previous versions of Palm OS using the new hooks PalmSource has provided. This allows some hacks to run, but the solution is a bit awkward, and many other hacks just can't be supported in this fashion.
The good news is that apps that do this kind of thing will get the greatest speed-up when their developers move their processor intensive code to the ARM instruction set. The earlier example of the screen drawing done in WordSmith is a good example. WordSmith does sub-pixel rendering to make the effective resolution of the text appear greater that it really is. This takes a lot of processing power.
However, if you've got your Palm OS device all configured nicely with a collection of hacks and accessories, and it's all working well for you, then you probably ought to wait for the next round of devices, unless there's some "gotta-have" capability you're missing. If you're buying a new device, getting an OS 5 device will not disappoint, but there is still a lot of life in the less expensive OS 4 devices that now are hitting the sub-$200 mark.
If you do move over, don't fear. There are lots of choices of applications that work fine on OS 5, and the Palm OS world is working overtime to find new uses for the speed and capabilities of the new devices. Most large developers are updating their programs, and if you have something orphaned, this may be a chance to switch to a newer, better application.
Stefano recently switched from a Palm Vx to a new Palm Tungsten T which he carries to his many lectures, workshops and meetings throughout Italy to manage his schedule, write documents and send email.
As a regular reader of the Palm Tipsheet, I'm sincerely pleased and surprised to be a contributor.
Palm handhelds have been more and more popular in the last year. When I bought my first Palm Vx three years ago I was one of the happy few to use it. In 2002 I saw more people using both Palm and Handspring handhelds, more advertising, more items in shops. It isn't yet very popular, but I feel that the Palm market in Italy is steadily growing.
An Italian OS, but of course some software is in English only.
One or two years ago the reaction of the people was wonder and curiosity. But after showing how it works, it turned out in interest. A lot of people felt that it could be useful. The growing popularity of the handhelds has weakened the wonder effect, and I can't astonish people anymore. :)
I was able to evangelize some friends, but until one or two years ago it was difficult because the prices were too high. Now it is easier to convince to buy a used or a cheap model, and the Bluetooth is an important feature to convince people (you know that Italy has one of the largest mobile phone markets in world).
In many ways. I use it for scheduling a lot of calls, appointments through Italy, essays to write, lessons for school, to store notes and to dos. I store databases with FileMaker Mobile (for example databases of members of the musicological society, archives of CDs), write sketches of essays with Documents to Go and consult several dictionaries, because I have to study books in English, French and Spanish. I also download or send emails when on the road, using a Bluetooth-GPRS connection with my Nokia 6310i.
For scheduling I use Agendus 5.33, because it's powerful, easy to use and in Italian, but I use the built-in Address Book because is compatible with the new navigator of the Tungsten T.
Docs to Go is wonderful, and it's Mac-compatible (I'm an Apple user since its beginnings). I also use Progect, IMHO the best project scheduler available. I use Progect at reunions to make sketches of projects, quickly editing them during the discussion.
When on the road I use Versa Mail, too. Some of my best "friends" are the dictionaries. After trying different products, my choice is: Collins for Italian-English and vice versa, SlovoEd for Spanish, German and French to and from Italian, all stored in the 32MB SD card.
I've had my Tungsten just a few weeks now, so I have still to search for an OS 5 compatible software for music notation, clicker and tuning. I used it a lot with my Vx: a basic tool for my musicological work. I can check the right tuning of a recording, sketch and play few musical examples to know how they sound etc.
I'm planning to buy the new portable keyboard, but I have still evaluate how many times I will use it to write more than simple notes, sketches or projects. I seldom used the portable keyboard with my previous Palm Vx.
Although I consider humor and irony an essential part of life (not only mine), strangely I have no funny stories involving my Palm. I'm wondering why... But I have a lot of sad stories about bugs, loss of data, problems, but this is a common experience :)
Yes. I'm a very disorganized and busy person, and the Palm made my life easier. More, it's completely Mac compatible. I consider it a small portable computer and an essential part of my daily life.
Upcoming interviews include: Chile, Bahrain, Barbados, Russia, Romania, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Guatemala, Portugal, Slovenia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Kenya, Croatia, Denmark, South Korea, Indonesia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Austria, Tanzania and Syria.
Hey, thanks again for reading the Tipsheet. I hope Ben's excellent article has clarified Palm OS 5 issues to your satisfaction and that you've also enjoyed Stefano's interesting interview. Best wishes for 2003!
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