Web tool boosts PDA power

Web tool boosts PDA power

BOX SCORE

DPWeb


WEB BROWSER FOR PALM OS WIRELESS PDAS


Digital Paths LLC;

Stanton, Calif.; tel. 714-379-7778

www.digitalpaths.com

Price: Freeware; $25 for full-
featured version


+ Fast, highly functional browser

+ Intuitive, clean interface

- Download history disappears when you tap home page

- Doesn't support Palm OS copy and paste

DPWeb browser lets you tap into e-mail and check some Web sites, within limits

I'm old enough to remember fiddling with a sewing machine-sized Osborne portable computer with dual floppy drives. It was another 10 years before people regularly traveled with computers.

At the dawn of the Pentium 4 era, notebook PCs are still a pain to travel with. What keeps the average traveler lugging one is the need'real or imagined'for e-mail access.

Having been a fan of miniature devices all my life, I was an early and enthusiastic user of the Palm VII with its built-in wireless connectivity. It fits right in my briefcase next to my Minox camera.

But I've avoided synchronizing with my Microsoft Outlook e-mail at the office because, with an average of 500 daily messages, I didn't want to swamp my Palm VII. Besides, most shows and conferences offer ubiquitous public machines where I can use Outlook Web Access to check my office Outlook e-mail.

But on a recent two-day jaunt to Los Angeles, I decided to see whether the Palm could eliminate my need to touch a PC at all. Two tools let me do just that. First, of course, was one of those nifty collapsible keyboards. Second was Version 2.4.1 of the DPWeb browser for the Palm VII from Digital Paths LLC.

I had tried an earlier freebie version and found it fairly lame. This time, on a lark, I downloaded the full-featured $25 version.

DPWeb supports bookmarks and the use of several popular search engines. It has a button called DPStation that downloads a miniature portal with preinstalled links to leading newspapers, weather sites, computer channels such as ZDNet.com, travel and entertainment sites, and, improbably, the Web sites of NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Enter and connect

When you enter a uniform resource locator, DPWeb connects to a middleware server operated by Digital Paths that converts Hypertext Markup Language pages into a display suitable for a tiny screen.

Text is reformatted, and Java, client-side scripting and most graphics are filtered out.

I wanted to see if DPWeb was strong enough to display my Outlook Web Access e-mail on my Palm. Frankly, I didn't expect it to work, reasoning that Microsoft would scramble Web Access so only Windows CE device owners could get it.

When I tapped in the Web Access URL, lo and behold, the home page loaded. After a couple of taps, I successfully logged in.

DPWeb didn't download the Web Access page exactly, but rather a schedule of links representing the navigation buttons you'd see on a regular Web browser. I tapped the link marked Messages and after a few seconds saw a screen of six to eight of my most recent messages. A link at the bottom said it was the first page of two or four, depending on the session.

I could view up to a couple dozen of the most recent e-mail messages I'd received at the office. When I tapped an individual header, the message itself appeared.

Keep in mind this is a limited browser. I could find no way to keep downloading more, so viewing seems to be confined to the last 20 or so messages. Also, Palm.net service for the VII filters out attachments.

You can't reply to an e-mail via the DPWeb browser or create a new message. Because Outlook Web Access is a frames site, you must choose the frame content to view, meaning you can't see the messages at the same time as the contents of the navigation bar, for example.

Nevertheless, you can get enough information to create a reply using the Palm VII's bundled e-mail client. That's where the keyboard comes in handy.

On the two-day trip, I checked e-mail several times via DPWeb, both in my Palm.net account and my office Outlook. Just don't expect a Palm with a Web browser to act like an integrated computing environment. You can't, for instance, use the Palm's copy and paste on text that DPWeb has downloaded. That function would double its usefulness.

Another thing I dislike about DPWeb is that when you return to its home page, you wipe out the history of your current session. That prevents overloading the Palm's limited cache, but it also increases costs if you don't have an unlimited monthly plan.

After that trip, my usual monthly Palm.net bill of $24.99 ballooned to $40.

Such use also chews through batteries if you must keep downloading because the modem devours the most battery power on the Palm VII.

No hype

Digital Paths doesn't make any unsupported claims about DPWeb, and Version 2.4.1 is a big improvement over earlier versions. I sent an e-mail inquiry to Digital Paths technical support and received a reply within 24 hours.

The application occupies only 46K of memory, versus 10 times that for portal-type applications such as AvantGo from AvantGo Inc. of Hayward, Calif.

DPWeb won't make your personal digital assistant a substitute for a notebook, but neither will you have to lug 6 or 8 pounds of gear on short trips.

If your agency uses Outlook with the Web Access option, DPWeb might be an extremely handy way to invest $25.

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