Making a PDA More Than a Paperweight

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2001-06-18

Ive given Palm a hard time for dragging its feet about folding new hardware advances into its devices—the latest handhelds from Palm closely resemble its very first devices, and I seldom buy its defense that "the market isnt ready for [insert cool feature here] until were ready to give it to them." However, the most impressive pieces of handheld hardware can end up as pricey paperweights without applications suited to the task at hand.

Im thinking here of Microsofts Pocket Office suite, which ships with Windows CE. Back when Psion still had a discernible pulse as a handheld device maker, I used to point out that, although Windows CE included pocket versions of Microsofts Office applications, Windows CE handhelds were just as dependent on synchronization software for converting files to full-size desktop documents as were Psions "proprietary" application-enabled devices.

Before too long, Microsofts pocket-size productivity applications evolved to support standard Office file formats. CE users can now lift Word or Excel files from anything from a storage card to an infrared beam, open them on their device and get right to work—without an interceding desktop middleman.

Thats sort of how they work, at least. In reality, the products of Word or Excel, once edited and saved with their pocket-size equivalent applications, end up either stripped of all but the simplest formatting or unreadable on the handheld.

DataViz just released a free upgrade for its Documents To Go conversion utility for Palm OS that, in addition to letting users open and edit Word and Excel documents, now gracefully merges changes made on sparsely rendered handheld versions of documents with their full-figured desktop counterparts. The software does a good job with my expense report templates, too. So despite their hardware inferiorities, Palm OS devices have scored another software victory.

Im waiting to see whether Palm can retake the hardware lead with its upcoming ARM-based Palm OS 5.0 devices, and I expect Microsoft to further evolve its Pocket Office suite to boost its own modest market share.

Until then, my eyes are on handheld Linux and the new Java application-optimized SavaJe handheld operating system, both of which promise wider application options while running on devices such as Compaqs iPaq.

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