A Palm Introduction

by Chris Halsall
   Further Resources for Palm Computing

The Palm Computing Platform, An Overview.

An Introduction to Palm Programming.

• The entire book by O'Reilly & Associates is online, Palm Programming: The Developer's Guide.

Released in 1996 from an unlikely source -- US Robotics, a modem manufacturer -- Palm Organizers now enjoy the dominant position in the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) market place with approximately 80% of the market. It's not been an easy climb for the Palm, however, having to overcome Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Windows CE, and several smaller players like Psion.

The key to the Palm's success has been its simplicity and open development options. A lot of thought went into the PalmOS and applications, to ensure that people could do things quickly, efficiently, and without unneeded eye-candy that added nothing to functionality. The fact that anyone could develop applications for the Palm meant that developers were attracted to the platform in droves, creating a huge inventory of commercial, shareware and free applications.

There are a wide range of Palms on the market today, each targeted for a slightly different audience. The III series is the workhorse variety; these handhelds tend to be the cheapest and thus the most popular. For example, the IIIe, with 2 megabytes of RAM, can be found for less than $150 USD now. The Palm V series is targeted more towards executives, being slightly smaller, with a sexy metal case and built-in rechargeable batteries. The last series currently available, the Palm VII models, are very similar to the IIIs in appearance but have built-in wireless capability and an antenna.

Also in Linux and Your PDA:

Making the Palm/Linux Connection -- There's plenty of Linux software for Palm users. Here are a few tricks to help you make the connection.

All Linux PDA: Fact or Fiction? -- Have you heard about the Yopy?

In addition to handhelds built directly by Palm Computing, there are also third-party manufactured units such as the Handspring Visor models or the IBM Workpad. They all are running the PalmOS, licensed from Palm, and have the same buttons, touch-screen and writing area. Each has different amounts of built-in RAM and expansion abilities, and some will have flash ROMs that will let you upgrade your OS.

Just what is a Palm Organizer?

Palm Organizers are full computers, but tiny enough to be held in the hand and designed to be used to help people stay organized. Most models are approximately 3 by 4.5 inches and about 3/4 of an inch thick. They have touch-sensitive displays that are 160 pixels square; depending on the model, these will be either plain black-and-white, grey-scale, or color.

Instead of a keyboard, there's an area beneath the display where a special kind of handwriting, "Graffiti," is used. In addition to this, there are four "soft" buttons for "Home," "Menu," "Calc," and "Search." Lastly, there are physical buttons for "Calendar," "Phone List," "Lists," and "Memos," plus scrolling and power buttons.

Most Palms have processors which are about twice as powerful as the first model of Macintosh computers, although some newer models are even faster. Most models are powered by a pair of AAA batteries, while the higher-end versions have built-in rechargeables. Battery life can provide weeks of regular use. While not something you'd run an RC5 key search on, these devices are certainly powerful enough for most handheld applications.

It's important to realize that Palms are not intended to replace a desktop or laptop, with their full environments, but instead are designed to be satellite computing devices supporting people while they're away from their desk.

All Palms have a serial port which is used to synchronize information between the Pilot and the desktop by way of an adapter cable or cradle. While on the road, a modem can be used instead to update information. Some Palms also have an infrared (IR) port, which can be used to communicate between the devices and desktop machines if they're appropriately configured. And of course, wireless models can always be connected, providing they're in a service area.

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