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Palm Office Suites: Documents To Go, MiniOffice, QuickOffice Premier, Mobile Word and WordSmith
Posted Feb. 2004 by Tanker Bob

While polls show that most PDA users concentrate on the Personal Information Manager (PIM) applications like Date Book, Address, Memos, etc., handhelds have grown well beyond these capabilities. Temptation has always been to replace laptops with palmtops, so to speak. Seamless exchange of documents between the Palm and desktop stands as a promise generally delivered, but what about creation of complex documents, etc., on the Palm?

We takes a look at the three major office suites—Mobility Electronics' Quickoffice, DataViz ' Documents to Go Premium, and Solution in Hand's MiniOffice—as well as some major word processing competitors not currently offered in suites—Blue Nomad's WordSmith and Mobile Systems' Mobile Word. We chose all these because they best parallel Microsoft Office—the dominant desktop office suite today—in capability and compatibility, though to a varying extent. Only Documents to Go Premium and Quick Office cover the expanse of apps in MS Office completely, but with significant and varying limitations.

The theme for this review turned out to be “Yes, but…” No one has brought MS Office to the Palm (or PCC for that matter) yet, though the distance we've come is impressive. Each of these applications has a heritage, and their current capabilities and limitations stem clearly from their legacies. I'll point these out along the way for what it's worth.

All entries here support the Palm Dynamic Input Area on the Tungsten T3.

A note on Palm OS design

The Palm OS text fields remain severely limited, even in OS 5. They don't support rich text formatting in any form. The fonts included in the OS or third-party apps remain the extent of what you'll see in the OS. The full word processors here, Mobile Word, Word To Go, Quick Word, and WordSmith, all need to replace these text fields in order to perform true WYSIWYG in their text displays. The net effect looks great on the display, but does carry some baggage. Programs that depend on recognition of the standard Palm text fields will not work in these programs. Examples generally include macro applications, word pop-ups apps like WordComplete, dictionary lookup programs, and similar applications. No free lunches. Some programs find ways around these limitations, but not many. WordSmith, for instance, made provisions for WordComplete, and BDicty seems to work in many such programs but not these reviewed here.

Documents To Go Premium 6.005 from DataViz

Documents To Go started life as a converter/reader for MS Office documents and spreadsheets. Successive versions had rudimentary editing capability, but often key formatting fell through the cracks during HotSync. These editing capabilities have grown steadily to the point of full-featured document creation on the handheld. DataViz also addressed the loss of un support ed formatting during HotSync in a most impressive manner. The Premium edition support s MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as pdf file conversion after a fashion.

DTG nicely unifies document access on one screen. As you can see from the illustration, formats support ed include proprietary Word To Go, Sheet To Go, and Slideshow To Go formats, as well as native MS Word and Excel formats. Tapping on the HotSync icon tells DTG whether or not to sync that document, and the card icon signifies those files under VFS. Converted pdf files are converted to WTG format on the desktop, although all graphics are stripped during the conversion.

Yes, DTG supports native MS Office formats for Word and Excel on the card, but…there's more to the story. In order to use these files, they must be converted to Palm database format before being placed in RAM for access and/or editing. So really DTG (and Quick Office) just shifts the conversion from the PC to the handheld. The effect isn't bad on a 400 MHz Palm T3 (unless the document contains pictures), but I suspect will not be impressive on slower devices. Whenever you hear claims of native file support , remember that Palm OS only support s Palm database formats in RAM. The real strength of supporting native file formats comes in receiving/sending email attachments and transferring to/from other users via wireless connections.

Word To Go support s high-fidelity conversions of MS Word documents, including pictures, tables, bookmarks, and text/paragraph formatting. I converted a number of complex documents with excellent results. Tapping on graphics brings them up in a full screen view—very nice touch. Tapping on tables brings up a table editing screen. Lack of footnote support constitutes one important omission, however. Upon conversion, no footnotes survive. Editing tools include the basics—font, paragraph, and lists all support ed with similar settings to MS Word. DTG includes a font file providing a number of common Windows fonts for its apps, including WingDings. As best I can tell, fonts cannot be added to those provided.

Document creation and editing proved far less capable than importing an existing tome. Although tables can be created in WTG, manipulations of them are rudimentary at best. Table width, for example, defaults to margin width and cannot be altered in WTG. Pictures cannot be inserted using WTG on the handheld. WTG does include spell checking capability and will perform a word count. For ordinary documents or those with pictures already inserted on the desktop, WTG will get the job done nicely on your handheld.

Like its WTG sibling, Sheets To Go does an excellent job of importing spreadsheets from the desktop. Embedded charts make the transition. It support s a host of Excel functions—about 100. STG breaks these functions into categories for ease of selection, and provides hints for the arguments—a very nice touch. I imported several spreadsheets without incident or compromise, and created one for typical use. STG support s bookmarks and basic cell, number, and sheet formatting as well as sequential sorts like MS Excel. It even warns you that cells right/left of selected columns will not be sorted, an oversight that occasionally trips even experienced users in a hurry. Tapping and holding on a cell brings up a small list of formatting choices—another very nice touch. On the downside, access to other advanced features occurs through the menus rather than icons on the interface. Also, the user cannot change the font size in STG, although you can zoom the entire display as a whole. The illustration used the medium zoom.

STG includes a charting module. Charts from the desktop transfer nicely, but creation on the handheld proved less than smooth. Although the steps were straight forward, the actual plot took 15-20 seconds to create on a 400 MHz T3. Although STG support s 14 chart types, getting the result you want from complex data will prove somewhat frustrating. STG wasn't alone in this regard. Without a pointer device like a mouse to select multiple, non-adjacent rows/columns for graphing, the task becomes quite difficult.

Multiple sheets in a workbook and charts can be accessed through a pull-down list in the upper right corner of the screen.

DTG furnishes elegant support for MS PowerPoint presentations. Conversion was fast and the results very accurate, including transitions. Graphics, text, and formatting all survived the conversion, as did the slide notes. Although Slideshow To Go support s Margi Presenter, I did not test this capability. The display can be zoomed to see graphics details, although the conversion eats some details as would be expected.

Nice touches include a timing function in the slideshow feature, aiding presentation pacing and practice. Although presentations can be created in Slideshow To Go, formatting options available proved rudimentary.

DTG includes capability to sync with Outlook mail, including attachments, through its Inbox To Go. Attachments can also be added inside ITG on the handheld for sending later. Native Word and Excel file support come in especially handy here. DataViz includes PicturesToGo to view graphic attachments in email. My Outlook inbox would choke even my T3, so I did not test this feature.

DTG also includes PDF To Go which “converts” Adobe pdf files to WTG format for viewing on your handheld. I put converts in quotes here because DTG strips all graphics and tables from the pdf file during conversion. What the conversion really does is strip all non-text from the pdf file. While this does provide the user access to the text in a file, I wouldn't call it a conversion in the same sense that Adobe's own Palm converter attacks the problem.

All DTG apps support passwording for data security. Those that parallel MS Office apps add a dedicated menu to the host programs for easy access. Although these menus worked fine in Excel and PowerPoint, you may have trouble getting it to display in Word 2002 without the latest Microsoft security patches. This problem with Word was not limited to DTG, but was common to all apps reviewed.

DataViz learned a great deal from its early experiences at document conversion. Early versions of virtually every office program lost (read deleted) formatting features they didn't support. DataViz created DocSync to resolve this issue. It preserves formatting and items in original files that DTG does not support . Users will welcome relief from maintaining two sets of documents with manual transfers between them.

The desktop utility resembles the Palm Quick Install program on steroids. Just drag and drop support ed files on the conversion utility and DTG does the rest. A window to the right provides settings and information on the selected file, giving the user complete control over the HotSync process. This utility sets the standard for desktop-side support .

DataViz markets several levels of Documents To Go . The Standard Edition sells for $29.95 and just has the word processor with word count and the spreadsheet. The Pro Edition that comes with many handhelds now adds PowerPoint support for Windows OS only. The $49.95 Premium Edition adds spell checking, file password protection, PDF, picture, charting, and email support . At the top sits the $69.95 Office Edition, which adds full Outlook synchronization support for tasks, calendar, notes, and contacts.

Although I wrote part of this review in Mobile Word, I wrote the bulk of it in Word To Go. Once I inserted the pictures and hyperlinks on the desktop, the rest was easy on the T3. Using the converted Word To Go format proved considerably faster than using a native MS Word file.

DataViz provides the best package that connects your Palm OS device to all of the standard MS Office desktop applications. If you're looking for a one-stop shop, Documents To Go furnishes your solution. But…you'll have to live with some editing limitations on the handheld. As a final note, you'll need a recent patch from DataViz if you use Palm's updated security app released just after the T3 hit the market. You can only get it at this writing by emailing DataViz .

Pros:
Covers the entire MS Office desktop suite
Excellent conversion of MS Office documents
Excellent unified access to documents
First-rate spreadsheet capability on the Palm
Great HotSync flexibility and desktop support
Native Word and Excel support

Cons:
Except for the spreadsheet, handheld editing is limited such that you cannot duplicate on the handheld documents that you can import
Huge footprint (around 3MB) on your PDA
No footnote/endnote support

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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