POWER USER

There's a wealth of low-cost productivity apps for Palm users

John McCormick

My last column was about my 180-degree turnaround on the subject of personal digital assistants [GCN, May 22, Page 37]. I tried out several PDAs that run the Palm OS before selecting the Handspring Visor Deluxe from Handspring Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. I didn't need a color display, and I wanted the lightest possible weight to tote around. Now I carry it all the time.

Although the Visor has a longer battery life and more speed than other Palm OS handhelds, there's no reason to upgrade to it if you already have another unit and aren't desperate for more memory. All Palm units can draw from a wealth of online resources that make them nearly as useful as desktop PCs.

Don't believe me? One GCN reader asked how I went about getting my last column out of the Visor after typing it on a folding keyboard. Here's how: I typed the text into a Visor memo, which can hold about 800 words, then synchronized the PDA with my PC using Handspring's included software.

When you highlight a memo in the right-hand window, you can't just block-copy it to a PC word processor; it comes out as an image. Fortunately, there are two ways to get the memo into Word.

Import options

The first way is to click on the subject line and drag it to either the Clipboard button or, if you have Word on your PC, to the Word button. Both are located in the Palm Desk view of Memo Pad, which comes with the Visor. Your formatting is retained, even the special symbols.

A memo is limited to 4K, but you can import larger files. To do so, select Import from the File menu, then choose from .txt; comma-separated .csv or .txt formats; tab-separated .tab, .txt or .tsv formats; or the Memo Pad Archive .mpa format.

You can also use the Export function to output memos in tab- or comma-delimited ASCII.

How about numbers? To augment the calculator that comes with most PDAs, you can download a $20 Excel-compatible spreadsheet called TinySheet from iambic Software of San Jose, Calif., at www.iambic.com.

Be prepared to do a lot of squinting or get a magnifying glass, but if you do, TinySheet is surprisingly powerful at importing Excel data or exporting comma- and tab-delimited files through Memo Pad. You can even export formulas, which I understand is not possible with Pocket Excel for Microsoft Windows CE devices.A $30 MiniCalc shareware program, downloadable from www.solutions.hand.org, also has lots of functions: charting, 68 formulas and synchronization capability with Excel 97 or Excel 2000. It holds worksheets up to 256 by 9,999 cells. Just make sure you don't mistakenly download the 36K MiniCalc, which is more of a fancy calculator.

Both spreadsheet programs are limited mainly by the screen size, not the PDA's power.

I can see about five rows and 10 columns at once on my Visor and scroll through much larger worksheets. MiniCalc even supports multiple sheets and links.

As for graphics shareware, the 98K Diddle from blevins.simplenet.com/palm and the smaller, 3K Doodle are two drawing programs perfect for sketching a simple idea or a detailed map. Both can have multiple pages. Diddle even lets you beam graphics to another PDA. It is a robust program with five pull-down menus, each of which has numerous options to control tools and edit drawings.

To read the reams of text information available for download under Palm OS, you'll need something more than the Memo Pad. The 462K, $15 RichReader shareware program from users.erols.com/arenakm/palm makes it easy to navigate through anything from a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince to a first-aid manual or drug dosage data. Managing dozens or hundreds of documents is easy; each title can go into any number of user-assigned categories.

Suggested reading

You can add and edit bookmarks for any of the files, and there's a search function as well as a tiny but usable slidebar indicator at the bottom of the screen that shows graphically and by percentage exactly where you are in the file. Sliding the pointer moves you through the document.

A limited freeware version of RichReader might be all you need.

RichReader reveals the code in Hypertext Markup Language documents'fine for troubleshooting but not so good for reading.

MobiBook freeware from www.mobibook.com can display downloaded text and has an HTML viewer to display the coded pages as plain text. MobiBook has three font sizes, manages bookmarks and provides a separate, hyperlinked table of contents screen for documents with embedded HTML coding.

The MobiBook site offers daily downloads of Newsweek, The Washington Post and the Financial Times, as well as hundreds of books and reference texts.

A similar site called www.memoware.com includes an extensive law and government section with sentencing guidelines, federal rules for civil procedures and so forth. Whether you're looking for a Windows NT security checklist, a database of near-Earth objects, a C programming tutorial or an ASCII code table, this is a good place to start.

Most PDA software is either freeware, shareware or available in demo version. The above programs also can be downloaded from Tucows Inc. of Toronto. Visit epix.pda.tucows.com/palm/index.html.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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