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JackSprat and JackFlash for Palm OS
Posted May 2004 by By Tanker Bob

If you’re like me, then your devices can never be fast enough or have enough RAM. When I bought my first computer years ago, I immediately replaced the PAL chip with one that gave me an unsanctioned 4x the memory, and have developed an insidious addiction to overclocking CPUs. PDAs provide more of a technical challenge due to their compactness, but there is a relatively inexpensive way to milk more memory out of your system. Brayder comes to the rescue with JackSprat and JackFlash.

To understand these utilities, one must understand the types of memory that PDAs use. Random Access Memory (RAM) appears explicitly on the marketing brochures. It furnishes the fast “working memory” where most applications and all changeable data must be loaded to execute. The downside comes in its requirement to be constantly powered, so loss of power erases all data in RAM. Pure Read Only Memory (ROM) lives in a hard-wired chip. Some PDAs use this for their OS to save costs. While accessible like RAM, information in it is permanent and cannot be changed. There exist special types of ROM, though, that carry greater flexibility.

FlashROM is widely used in PDAs because it retains its data without power, yet can be accessed quickly and its contents can be changed using special commands. It comes at a higher cost than RAM, though. Programs can be run directly from FlashROM (that’s where the Palm OS resides), but data cannot be changed on the fly there. The biggest advantage FlashROM has over RAM from a user perspective is that its contents survive hard resets and, of course, power failures.

Not all PDAs possess FlashROM, especially low-priced bargain Palms, and some high-end OS 5 Sonys use incompatible ones. JackFlash will work on some of the Sonys, while JackSprat does not support any OS 5 Sony device. If you have a Sony, best to email Brayder to determine JackFlash compatibility first if your device doesn’t appear here.

Lastly, before laying the axe to the root, have a solid RAM backup. After restoring a device’s original Flash, the device must be hard reset. That will erase your RAM contents. There are a number of good backup options out there, including Secure File PDA Backup that MobileTechReview.com just reviewed. Don’t be caught short.

JackSprat 3.0b4

Enter JackSprat. JackSprat first and foremost backs up your FlashROM, and then allows you to delete built-in apps in Flash that you don't use or need. Always back up your Flash before doing anything with JackSprat. The screenshot doesn’t have the Remove Languages button because I’ve already done that. JackSprat will create an app called FlashWrite when it backs up the Flash. Back this up when backing up your Flash files and use this app to restore the original Flash image if/when needed. At the least, you'll need to restore the Flash when you sell your device or trade it in on a new one.

Some devices don't need JackSprat to provide a usable quantity of Flash, mostly some Sony devices. EFIGS devices (European-targeted, multi-language PDAs) benefit greatly by removing the languages you don't need (e.g., gained additional 3 MB on my T3). Older Palms generally have a bunch of Flash available out of the box because Palm back then provided very little in the way of extra programs and libraries that provide/support enhanced capabilities. Sony, on the other hand, provides a host of VFS-supporting programs like MS Gate, MS Autorun, MS Backup, and MS Import. Also, all the extra hardware capabilities in Sonys like high resolution displays, built-in MP3 players, enhanced IR port, JPEG decoding, etc., use programs and libraries provided in FlashROM. Newer Palms like the Tungsten|T3 and have their FlashROM packed with value-added programs like Documents To Go and VersaMail, plus system libraries for Bluetooth, phone linking, SMS, and more. Not everyone uses all this capability, so JackSprat allows you to delete or move the ones you don't need, or you can remove versions that are superseded and replace them in Flash. If, on the other hand, you have enough Flash available for your needs (check it with Brayder's demo programs), then you don't need JackSprat at all.

So, why bother with the Flash when all new devices support memory cards? Good question. My answer would be access speed. Although card access on OS 5 devices are very quick, it still isn't nearly as fast as RAM, which is virtually instantaneous. The 400 MHz T3 reads its SD card very rapidly, but it still isn't as fast as RAM. Plus, some programs and databases will only work in RAM, not on the card. Examples are programs that come to life with some system trigger like alarm times, key presses, or other system events. These generally work just fine in Flash just as the built-in apps do. You also may want to put some apps in Flash so that you can use them while listening to MP3s on a dedicated MP3 card. Only you can decide what you need, but I value the extra Flash these programs provided for me, even with 52MB of user-accessible RAM on the T3.

Some precautions: JackSprat can suffer interference from apps that capture system interrupts. Under OS 4, JackSprat will perform a warm reset to avoid these conflicts. I recommend launching JackSprat from the default launcher under OS 5 to minimize problems. The first thing that you must do in JackSprat is backup your Flash and store several copies in safe places (hard disk, zip disk, CD, etc.). I’ve lost count of the number of Flash restores I’ve conducted for testing or PDA sales, all without incident. These should be done while connected to power to avoid any chance of running out of battery in the middle of operations.

For T3 owners, Brayder says: “JackSprat 3.0b4 is intermittently failing on the Tungsten T3. We are investigating this and hope to have a new version shortly that address this issue. T3 users should wait for a new release.” I initially used 3.0b4 on my T3 without problems when I launch it from the built-in application launcher, but it seems to fail on exit now. That's not too surprising with all the testing that I do. YMMV.

Upon backing up your Flash and selection of Remove Extras, JackSprat presents a simple file manager-type interface to the user. The pull-down lists on the right select where the apps reside or will go—OS (Flash), Delete, and RAM (for some). A running tally of the RAM and Flash that will be available appears in the lower right corner. The display can even sort by size. User-proposed changes are bolded to make them obvious. Nothing actually changes until the user taps Update. JackSprat then does its thing and soft resets the device when it finishes the user-requested actions. That’s all there is to it.

The following recommendations come either from Brayder’s manual or from my experience with JackSprat on three devices—a Sony T615C & T665C and the Palm Tungsten|T3.

Programs You Should Not Remove From Flash

1) Applications is the Palm OS default application launcher. If you hard reset and this isn’t present in Flash, you’ll be hard pressed to use the device again unless you've thought ahead. This can be worked around, but there are other instances that require it. DO NOT DELETE THIS OR MOVE IT TO RAM. LEAVE IT IN FLASHROM.
2) Security enables you to lock or password your device. I believe that you’d also lose the ability to hide private records as well. Best to keep it.

3) Removing Bluetooth support on the T3 can interfere with HotSync support. It doesn’t happen on all devices, but I haven’t found a way around it on mine yet (and not for lack of trying).

Programs That You Might Want To Think Twice About Removing

Removing some things in Flash like Network Support and MSAutorun (on Sonys) may have unintended consequences. I removed Network Support from my Sonys only to find out that Fireviewer would no longer work. Clever work-arounds I needed at one point required MSAutorun which I eventually restored to the Sonys. Still, both can be removed if you don’t need them. CardInfo formats your memory card, so you may want to keep it around just in case. Think your requirements through to a logical conclusion before laying the forest bare. You can always restore the original Flash and start over, but it requires a hard reset and full RAM restore each time. It’s better to think ahead.

Things You Can Remove Safely
Lots of stuff falls into this category. All the PIM apps (Calc, Calendar, Contacts/Datebook, Expense, Memos/Memopad, Note Pad, Photos, Tasks/Todo) can safely be removed if you have substitutes for the functions that you need. JackSprat leaves stubs in Flash to preserve HotSync conduit functionality, so no worries there. The PIM databases remain in RAM for the replacement apps. Some OS apps will copy to RAM but a few end up stuck there, requiring TCatalog (which doesn’t work on a T3) to delete. Programs that you can move to RAM but that won’t copy to the stick include Calc, Mail, and MSAutorun on Sonys, so just delete them from Flash if you don’t need them.

Examples of non-PIM apps or features that can safely be removed include Audio Player and its skins, Clie Demo, Dialer, Documents To Go, Expense, gMovie, Kinoma Player, Modem Support, MS Backup, MS Gate, Network Support (usually), PGPocket, Phone Dialer & Link, PhotoStand, QuickTour, RealOne, SMS Support, SoundUtility, VersaMail & Extras, VoiceMemo, Web Clipping, and Welcome. This list includes both Sony and Palm apps, isn’t exhaustive, and should give you a good feel for what’s possible. Some apps you may want to keep on the card for infrequent access, like PGPocket and SoundUtility. Brayder’s documentation has a more complete list of apps in Flash with brief descriptions. JackSprat even has built-in explanations for some things you can remove as you select a new location for or delete them.

What you will lose (depending on the OS version) if your remove the built-in PIM apps, however, is the ability of the Palm OS Find function (and some third-party Find enhancements) to search the built-in apps' databases unless their replacements are in RAM or Flash. You can search them from within their replacement apps, however. Remember, the built-in Find and many replacements aren't VFS-aware and hence don't see apps on the card. Hey, nothing comes free.

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JackFlash 3.0b14

So, after you've cleared out some Flash with JackSprat, what do you do with it? Fill it up w/stuff you like better using JackFlash. I choose stuff that will likely never or rarely change to put in Flash, since the Flash is essentially read-only and I don’t want to be moving stuff around all the time. Under OS 4, I usually didn’t put hacks in ROM, as some don’t work from there. However, others work just fine in Flash. If a program or database needs to be changed or updated, just move it to RAM, update it, then move it back to Flash. OS 5 is somewhat more forgiving as to what will go into Flash. So far, the only apps I’ve found that don’t work from Flash on my T3 include AeroPlayer, Pocket Tunes, CardSync, TimeSync, and ZReaderLite, though I’m sure the list is significantly longer. I also avoid putting apps that intercept system calls in Flash for activation of advanced functions, just for insurance. I've had TealLock lockup big time when in Flash, so I just avoid any problems by avoiding the issue of system call intercepts other than the basics like alarms.

JackFlash’s flexible display can list a number of categories as shown in the screenshot. These enable the user to move by file type depending on your personal preferences. The free RAM and Flash totals tally in the lower right corner as you propose moves. The display can freely swap between looking at Flash and RAM so that you can optimize your setup. It can even sort by size if you’re looking to fill a hole. Choices for movement include Flash, RAM, Delete, and Beam. User-proposed changes are bolded to make them obvious. JackFlash changes nothing on the PDA until the user taps Update.

JackFlash comes with two other programs called JackSafe and FlashEnable. They make the Flash available after a hard reset w/o having JackFlash loaded on the device. JackSafe operates automatically from Flash itself after installed. Three words: just load it. 'nuff said. JackSafe seems to work fine on the T3 starting with 3.0b12. FlashEnable has to be run manually after a hard reset if you don’t use JackSafe, but will re-enable Flash access after a hard reset.

JackFlash does many things automatically that other programs used to require user intervention to do. The most prominent example is compacting (i.e., defragging) the Flash. If JackFlash can't find a large enough chunk of unused Flash to put your program into, but the overall free space is sufficient, it will automatically compact the Flash to make room. Moving stuff in and out of Flash is very fast.

Feel free to pack the Flash to the gills. Spare Flash space doesn’t buy you anything. I had only 1K free Flash on my T3 at one point! Since the Flash is essentially read-only, filling it up is no problem. Just don’t put a database in there that some app might try to change.

Do I Need Both Jacks?

This question appears on the forums more than any other, save the Marathon Man’s bane: “Is it safe?” To the former question, I always answer that it depends. If you have a Sony OS 5 device, of course the answer is no. JackSprat doesn’t support these. For others, it depends on your requirements. If JackFlash Lite reveals that your device has enough available Flash for your purposes, then you don’t need JackSprat. JackFlash will enable your access to what’s available out of the box.

OTOH, if you want to remove unused stuff from Flash and/or your device doesn’t have enough Flash available for your needs, then you need both. JackSprat will remove the items you don’t need from Flash and JackFlash will enable you to access the newly available Flash to put other things there. JackSprat does not enable the Flash to be used by the user, it only removes stuff from Flash.

It makes no sense to remove stuff from Flash if you aren’t going to put other stuff in there—you gain nothing from this. Hence my rule of thumb: You never need JackSprat by itself, but you may find that JackFlash by itself will suffice if your device has enough available Flash for your purposes.

A Word About Betas

Brayder designates the most current versions of JackFlash/Sprat as betas. In fact, their successive latest versions have been betas for over a year. They functioned very well for me on my previous OS 4 Sonys as well as now on my T3. Other than the remaining issues between JackSprat and the more complex launchers on the T3, these releases show the solid stability of release software. I wouldn’t be put off with the beta designations as long as you read the manuals and ensure that they support your particular device. Brayder stands firmly behind these products and their excellent technical support will help you if you run into serious problems—and these are rare.

Results

My old T665C had 64K of free Flash out of the box. Eliminating most of the Sony stuff listed above plus the PIMs gave me 1,092K free. I used that to store a number of my important applications.

My T3 came with about 1 MB of Flash available for JackFlash. Using JackSprat to remove the extra languages bumped me up to 4 MB. Removing a bunch of other stuff I either don’t need (like QuickTour; phone, modem, and SMS support; VoiceMemo, et al) or have updated (like Kinoma and Docs To Go) left me with over 9 MB of free Flash. I could get even more but elected to keep a few things I might use later, e.g., the built-in PIMs so I can help others who use them.

I used JackFlash to put a number of large Bible databases, the complete updated Docs To Go Premium with spell check dictionary, and a few apps into Flash. You’d be surprised how fast it fills up. I avoid putting apps in Flash that update often just because the swapping back and forth to RAM for updates would be inconvenient. JackFlash will warn you that some databases don’t like to be in Flash. In my experience, this only applies to databases that apps change. Fixed databases like Bibles, dictionaries, spell checkers, references, etc., work fine in Flash. Moving all this into Flash leaves me about 11.5 MB of free RAM with fast accesses to these large databases. Sweet!

Conclusion

JackSprat and JackFlash provide Palm OS users with nice options to expand their available memory by moving applications and read-only databases to Flash where they will still be immediately and rapidly accessible. Used in accordance with their instructions, these apps work safely on supported devices. JackSprat sells for $7.95, JackFlash for $19.95, and the combination for $26.95 here. I’ve enjoyed several years of great use on a variety of Palm OS devices without major problems—because you can never have enough RAM!

 

 

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