Where are my apps?
Launchers-these provide the Palm OS platform's
business center. Developers have created all manner of launchers
for Palm devices, some of which almost constitute an OS in themselves.
The first thing I did after loading MessagEase on the Dell was
to seek out a good launcher. I found out that I had taken on
a fool's errand. Mindset strikes again…
The center of the PPC world isn't the launcher but the Today screen.
In two weeks, I've found literally dozens of programs to modify
the Today screen in countless useful ways. The more advanced programs
include some sort of launcher functionality, allowing the user
to put program shortcut icons on the Today screen for quick access
to applications. As expected, a number of schemes are available
to users. I'm evaluating spbPocketPlus 2 which sports a number
of useful features (including changing the 'X' to close apps),
not least of which includes a tabbed scheme for app icons. I find
this to be the least cluttered approach to providing access to
the largest number of apps. Of course, you have to memorize all
For completeness, I should note that PPC has a Programs item on
the Start menu which also displays all programs loaded on the device.
Part of my problem with that approach is that it takes too many
taps to execute an app. Another problem lies in the time it takes
to load, which can sometimes include a significant delay. Like
desktop Windows, recently executed programs also appear on the
start menu. The recent list seems to clear on a soft reset. Some
control applications can only be accessed through the Start menu.
Nothing but the facts, ma'am…
I'm a news junkie and must have the news
with me to read during waiting times. I used Namo's Handstory
for the news on my T3 and iSilo for complex HTML documents that
I downloaded. I had given up on AvantGo back when their reliability
hit an all-time low. iSilo for Pocket PC looks and works just
like its Palm counterpart, so that provided a no-brainer move.
However, I didn't want to pay for another news reader (too much
software to buy in too short a time), so I gave AvantGo another
try. Big mistake…
AvantGo loads only slightly faster than
loading than an asphalt truck in Siberia in the dead of winter.
It updates over the web at about the same glacial speed, even
on fast broadband. Plus, it opens to an obnoxiously large ad
that eats even more of your time. About a week of that was all
that I could take. I revisited iSilo's scheduling capability
and found it greatly enhanced over the last several years, and
it even interacts smoothly with ActiveSync. So…I set up
iSilo's schedule to download the news early in the morning. ActiveSync
then copies it rapidly to my Dell on initial sync in the morning.
Very smooth operation, and very quick. Unfortunately, iSilo won't
update the news on the road, doing so only from the desktop.
Given that, I kept AvantGo on the Axim, but only use it on the
I've grown font of your character…
OK, pardon the pun. Font management for Palm
OS users involves system hacks and a number of third-party shareware
programs. Some, like Lubak's Fonts4OS5 and Alexander Pruss' FontSmoother
hold a permanent and dear place on my T3. Together, they provide
a host of beautiful anti-aliased fonts for my visual delight. However,
like all system apps and hacks, they occasionally conflict with
other other system apps like JackSprat.
Windows has no such problems. I can transfer any TrueType font
from my desktop to my Axim and use it for almost everything. Newer
PPCs also support Clear Type, which smoothes screen fonts very
nicely. PalmSource could learn some serious lessons here.
I feel the need for speed…
Last week, I mentioned that PPC apps seemed to load about as fast
as comparable Palm apps. I will now retreat a bit from that position.
It seems to me that PPC apps don't inherently load slower, but
some tend to be quite large and/or complex, which requires them
to use more time to load. The largest and most complex app on the
Axim is the TextMaker word processor at 5,445KB. I stored it in
BIS to save RAM. Loading time for TextMaker runs neck-and-neck
with AvantGo. I can almost go get a cup of coffee in the time it
takes to load. However, once inside the program, it performs well.
Pocket Informant isn't quite as bad, but I usually want it up instantly
when I need it and it doesn't quite meet that criterion. So, I've
taken to leaving Pocket Informant running in the background. That's
not a bad thing at all with about 16MB of free RAM. TextMaker,
however, could probably benefit from a more modularized approach
to its structure with on-demand segment loading.
ActiveSync for PPC and HotSync for Palm serve similar functions
but do so very differently. HotSync works through conduits with
specific limitations in where data must reside (RAM or the /Palm/Launcher/
directory on the card) and the format it must use. It uses pull
technology, i.e., it only syncs when I manually tell it to do so.
It is generally reliable and can usually be easily repaired with
a provided repair facility or by simply reinstalling it over itself.
When not in use, its icon sits quietly in your system tray and
doesn't bother anyone. It provides no other function than synchronizing
the active conduit information on demand. While generally stable,
HotSync will usually recover from a failure to connect to the Palm
by closing the app on the desktop and then reopening it. A hard
USB error, though, requires a Windows restart as with any other
ActiveSync, in contrast, is the loud uncle at your graduation
party. By default, it syncs continuously. If you change or add
a calendar entry or task, or even copy a file into a directory
set to sync with the handheld, ActiveSync copies that information
immediately to the PDA. In addition to syncing information, ActiveSync
also provides a continuous connection between a partnered PPC and
the Windows desktop. You can use Window Explorer to access every
single file on the PPC-in RAM, BIS, or on the cards-and copy or
move files around to your heart's delight. This can all be done
wirelessly if set up correctly, but the user must have set up the
trust relationship via USB first.
Like any loud uncle, ActiveSync can be a bit unstable. I've found
that soft resetting the PDA in the cradle several times will confuse
ActiveSync and require you to restart your computer to get it back.
That's very annoying, especially since some backup programs and
occasional program installations require soft resets. I've found
that if I turn the Dell off before pulling it off the cradle, ActiveSync
remains happy. I've tried setting ActiveSync to manually update,
but that only makes the uncle sulk in the corner, and he'll still
make you pay for too many soft resets.
One quick complaint. If ActiveSync executes a
sync run while I'm editing a Word document in a directory set to
sync to the Axim, I have to minimize then restore the Word window
on the desktop to get control of Word back. That quickly becomes
annoying. There's some fundamental interaction between ActiveSync
and Pocket Word that Microsoft needs to resolve.
Back to the good news: The idea of full access to the entire handheld
file system from the desktop out of the box boggles the Palm mind.
Palm OS doesn't necessarily use file names to handle files in RAM.
It actually uses an internal name lodged in the database structure.
For that reason, one can easily overwrite a file in RAM unintentionally
by transferring a file of a different name directly to RAM if the
internal database name is the same. For this reason, some apps
that can access the Palm's RAM from the desktop refuse to copy
files to Palm RAM or delete RAM files from there.
On the other hand, PPC/Window Mobile uses a real file system that
not coincidentally matches the one used on the Windows desktop.
Through ActiveSync and Windows Explorer, the PPC becomes an extension
of the desktop. I can't begin to express how powerful a tool this
constitutes. The USB connection is very fast, and I copied my entire
iSilo reference library to the Dell this way along with all my
other reference material. Palm can do this with CardExport
shareware third-party add-on, but only to the storage card. Microsoft
definitely got this right.
This adventure has provided unexpected amusements. Folks at work
have started to visit my office simply to see what I think of the
PPC vs. Palm issue at this stage of the game. Some aren't even
techno-geeks. So far, I like the Axim X50v a lot, but I'm also
starting to re-appreciate some of the advantages that the Palm
OS holds. No device or system is perfect. I assure you, though,
that only one device will end up in my pocket at the end of it
all. I'm not willing to put money on which it will be at this point.
Next week, I'll take on application complexities, battery
charging rates, alarms, VGA hacking, and other topics, Lord willing
and the creek don't rise. In the meantime, I'm totally immersed
in the PPC world and learning to swim with some style. Or at least
I'm not drowning yet.
Part 3 …
Part I of the Palm to Pocket PC Journey
First installment: Tanker Bob Took a Hard
Look at the Palm and Pocket PC Platforms and Evolution