Tales from the Dark Side, or is that
the Light Side? An In-Depth Look at Making the Switch from Palm to
Pocket PC, Part V
Posted May 27, 2005 by Tanker Bob
Week five finds Tanker Bob deeply immersed in the Pocket PC world.
After an intense crash course, he now finds himself able to answer
questions from others on the forums. Scary!
Incursion into the dark side
Just when you think that you’ve
seen it all, somebody comes along with something you never
Platform snuck up on the community in just this way. It
emulates the Palm OS 5 environment on the Pocket PC platform,
and does so very nicely. Though still in beta, it supports
Palm-only applications like BibleThumper and ShadowPlan very
Although this make migrating from Palm to
PPC less painful, it doesn’t by itself provide a reason
to move. The environment will be more compelling when it supports
more complex programs like Star-Pilot.
There are a number of these complex Palm apps that have no
counterpart on Pocket PCs. StyleTap’s Platform will hopefully
ease that pain.
Pocket PCs could take a few tips from the
Palm OS. At the top of my list would be a separate volume control
for the alarm system. I don’t want the normal system sounds to be loud, but I want
the alarm high enough to wake the Yellowstone bears in January from
Florida. Palm OS can do that, but Pocket PC is “one volume
fits all.” Come on, Microsoft, you can do better.
Now Palm’s turn: The Dynamic Input
Area (DIA) of the newer devices like the Tungsten T3 and T5 continues
to challenge programmers. Alternate input systems like Fitaly cannot
pop punctuation windows up over the area, nor make context-based
dynamic changes to their displays there. Pocket PC users must have
experienced serious amusement as T3 input developers struggled to
tame the DIA, since PPC devices have has a programmable DIA for years.
For example, MessagEase on
the T3 works great, but the PPC version shows all capital letters
on the keypad when shifted. Palm has a “shift indicator” arrow
in the main display, but it only works with standard (read: unformatted)
text fields. Worse, Palm refused to release details of the DIA programming
interface to developers. Great support, eh?
Reaching out and touching the net
WiFi networking screams on the Axim. Web pages
load about as fast on the Dell Axim
X50v as on the desktop, and transferring
large files flies. Tanker Bob measured Internet file downloads at
2 Mbits/sec (250 KBytes/sec) through a cable modem! Dell did this
Another handy trick: Synchronize your data
with ActiveSync from anywhere in your home or business via WiFi.
The Dell accomplishes this by setting the local wireless connection
as “Work” and
then checking the “This computer connects to the Internet” box
on the proxy screen. These settings provide access to your network
shares, ActiveSync, and the Internet. As I’ve previously observed,
networking on a Pocket PC comes seamlessly. The current version of
ActiveSync 4.0 does not sync over WiFi or any TCP/IP network. Tanker
Bob will not be upgrading from 3.7.1 until it does, no matter how
much prettier or faster it is.
File managers like Total
Commander Pocket and Resco
Explorer access network share drives over wireless as easily
as if they were on the handheld. In Resco, the process looks pretty
much like on the desktop. Total Commander Pocket requires use of
their directory hot list, which is easy and works great. I’ve
tried most Palm OS networking programs, and they don’t come
anywhere near the stability and ease of use of a PPC right out
of the box. This provided Tanker Bob’s primary interest in
Pocket PC in the beginning.
Pocket PCs can run programs and threads in
the background, something of which Palm OS can only dream. When
I lived primarily on the Palm side, I couldn’t image of what
practical use this would be on a small screen. Now I know.
Handy examples of useful multi-tasking include
working on anything in the foreground while ActiveSyncing in the
background (local or WiFi), spell-checking a document while answering
your mail, and downloading a large file while reading the news in
It also provides better task switching than Palm OS because every
program in the background stays just where you left it. Some Palm
apps remember where you were when exiting, some don’t.
There can be problems with multi-tasking,
however. Some combinations of programs don’t play nice together.
For example, if Pocket
Informant 2005 runs behind TextMaker,
then some of TextMaker’s interface icons will not appear. Worse
things happen resulting in lockups or just odd behavior, the latter
usually comes in the form of video relics or non-responsive screens.
In my experience so far, multi-tasking more than three apps, even
if memory is plentiful, invites trouble. Microsoft has more work
to do here.
Speaking of task switching, have you tried Magic
Button? It’s a super program that, amongst other things,
puts icons for background programs on the task bar at the top of
the screen. Just tap on an icon to switch to that program. Tap
on the little house icon to go to the Today screen. You can make
it disappear just by tapping and holding on the upper right corner
of the screen. What a great implementation and at a great price--free!
On older devices, it can also add the clock and volume control
to the task bar. Did I mention that it also makes the infamous
X = close application rather than minimize?
Just call me Darth...
Some will argue that it would prove inevitable,
other will try to burn me at the stake for heresy. The Dell Axim
X50v and Windows Mobile 2003SE have captured my heart and my pocket.
It packs too much power into too small, attractive, and functional
a package from which to walk away. For example, I created this entire
article on the Axim, including the screen captures (Resco
Screen Capture, a part of Resco Photo), image resizings (Resco
Photo), and image insertion (TextMaker).
If you want someone to blame for my capture by the dark side, take
aim at Lisa and Tong here at MobileTechReview. I’m innocent.
That doesn’t mean that this series will end. I’m
still learning new things relative to both platforms. Stay tuned
for next week when Tanker Bob will tackle true VGA mode and more...
Part IV of the Palm to Pocket PC Journey
Tanker Bob Took a Hard Look at the Palm and Pocket PC Platforms