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Palm Pilot Soars to New Level of Convenience

ByBrian Glabman (

I have been into tech for just about forever.  When I was about 3 or 4 I stuck a screwdriver into a light socket and woke up hooked.  I wanted to find out how everything worked.  By the time I was 5 I was taking apart radios, and by the time I was 7 I could even put them back together.  So, I have a long history of being the bug tester for the new gadget on the market.

            When the first PDA (personal digital assistant) Newton by Apple came out a number of years ago, I was first in line. Over the next couple of years, I subsequently purchased the next two models as well.  I loved my Newtons.  I used them instead of laptops, for everything from documents to banking. They had problems though. For one, they were too big. Another problem was that every available aftermarket application was a weak demo and the full versions had big price tags.   Also, there was very little good freeware and there were handwriting recognition issues.  The biggest problem for me though, was the lack of integration.  I needed some higher functions at the office and I use a PC. Newton was primarily geared to be a stand-alone product.

            Needless to say I was not excited when I saw the first Palm Pilot.  It was like a Newton with its balls cut off. The only redeeming feature was the size. I didn't think it would ever fly.  I thought that Apple would figure out how to make the Newton smaller and more compatible, or some other company would make a better product.  In my mind the Palm was a giant step backward for the PDA. 

            Several years later (present time) along came the IBM c3 work pad (it is basically a Palm Vx in black with an IBM logo).  One of my friends let me play with his at a party, and it was very cool. It was small, the graffiti (handwriting recognition) was easy to master, and it had some powerful applications that he said were freeware.  Even though it was similar to my first Newton, it had a lot of pluses.  The boys at Palm were listening to the consumers and it was a winner. 

            I decided that it was time to update my life.

            I spent some time on the Internet looking at the Windows CE devices. I played with a Jornada a friend had, and most importantly I looked at what people were using.  I came to the conclusion: I should choose the product that is the most widely accepted, because that's what everyone will be using and writing software for–the Palm. The next question was…which one?

 No competition. The one that is the smallest and holds the most stuff.  The one my friend had, the Palm Vx.

 Is the Palm for You?

 Well, no if you have arthritis or vision problems, if you have difficulty learning new systems for doing things or if you still own a black and white television. Please don't buy one.

            I bought one, but as I said, I have always been into tech.  I am enjoying mine tremendously.  It took about 20 minutes to figure out everything without reading the instructions.  I never read the instructions.  I can't help it. I was on the Web scouting for applications within 40 minutes. There are tons of Web sites with more freeware than I could imagine. (See list at the end of the article).  There are a number of pay applications that are reasonable, and companies, such as I-xplosion (, that will build applications to suit very inexpensively.  As I write this the company is custom designing an application that connects an inventory database that is updated to the moment, to a Web site in a private Palm directory.  The company's staff will just sync Palms in the cradle, and mobile link will auto update the inventory on their Palms. 

            I can beam information, dates, databases and software to others with Pilots (the Newton never allowed for the beaming of software) and best of all, it reminds me when I have something to do, it's kind of like a mini-secretary with no attitude. The other night I was having dinner with a friend and we beamed each other a few programs.

            I also bought a program so that I can use the Palm as an IR (infrared) remote. I can make my own buttons and it has an attachment to boost the power from TechCenter Labs ( TechCenter Labs also has several other cool accessories including a vibrating alarm, a light for the base of the Palm and a 9-volt battery attachment for quick charging. I also found a Web site that had the pre-programmed codes for every IR device you can think of including Furby (  The storage capacity is only limited to your memory and you can archive different databases with the Databag application for the Palm.  I have every remote learned–TV, cable box, VCR and even the lights in my house (I said I was a gadget person)–and they only take up 148k. My friend Nick has one, and he was sitting in a restaurant where the music was too loud for the waitress to hear his order so he pulls out his Pilot and turns down the volume from his seat, orders and turns it back up.  He happened to have the same system at home. It was lucky but very cool. I was watching a football game at a bar recently and the volume wasn't loud enough so I turned it up.  The bartender came over and turned it down.  He didn't realize what had happened so I started messing with all the TVs in the bar. The bartender thought he had ghosts. My friend and I were rolling on the floor laughing.  The only thing that would be better is if it had an attachment to do my laundry.

 The Palm Goes Mobile

I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't discuss OmniSky, a new product I recently had the opportunity to preview.  It is a combination wireless modem and Internet service provider for the c3/Vx. It's similar to the Palm VIIx but also has some unique features. It is small sleek and stylish unlike the Palm VIIx, and it allows the user to detach it if you don't need it.  OmniSky uses its own system and selections of information as well as the .pqa files written for the Palm VIIx.  What does this mean in English. Well, for example American Airlines has a .pqa file for the Palm VIIx. It allows the user to double click on the icon and receive live flight information.  It will give you flight departure, arrival times and baggage claim numbers.  It also works on the Palm Vx with OmniSky, but OmniSky also has many of its own features and systems for information retrieval built in. The OmniSky system again confirmed that I had chosen correctly with the IBM c3 or the Palm Vx, because it is not available with any of the other Palms, and I believe this is the future of the handheld device.

One of the things I like to review before recommending a product is the tech support from the company that makes it. The tech support person at IBM was very nice but her problem solving ability was very limited.  Eleven times during our conversation she had to ``talk to her level 2." I started with a small problem and when she was done with me three hours later and after 41 minutes on hold, I had to blow out the whole Palm and reinstall the desktop software. I said, `` Do you realize that I am in worse shape than when I called you?" She said, ``Yes and I'm sorry about that."

OmniSky ( though was a nice contrast to IBM.  Dave B. helped me on their 24/7 tech support line (answered in 22 seconds) and solved an equivalently difficult problem in eight minutes.  It was a pleasure.  I am using the OmniSky system as a demo for this article, but I will be buying one no question.   

            I have a small following of loyal gadgeteers who look at what I am testing and buy if it's good. When the Motorola V phone came out, I had it a month before it hit the market. AC, the Verizon Rep who gave me mine, was swamped with calls [(562) 619-6600]. He is the best! But my point is that after only a week of me using it, the OmniSky has drawn even more attention than the V phone.

            I am including a list of software below that is really cool, but realize that the titles that update from the Web are not necessary with OmniSky. Most of the programs that do the same things are included.

The coolest free programs that auto update from the Web are:

 AvantGo ( is for downloading Web sites.  I use this to get the movie times for the week, and I use pocket directions to grab Web directions to and from where I am going.

 ePocrates ( has an entire medical drug database and also has an auto update feature, but this uses more than a meg of memory.  It is a must have for any doctor.

 Mobipocket ( is a book/document reader, with programmable content.  You decide which newspapers, periodicals or even books to go and get for your Palm. Every day I get the Washington Post, USA Today and many others.  The really cool thing is I decide ahead of time which sections I want and they are updated automatically with each sync.

Vindigo ( is a travel guide for five major cities, restaurants, shopping and street addresses.

       Each of the above products has to be downloaded from its site to have the auto update features work.  Download them in the following order:  Vindigo, Avantgo, Epocrates and then Mobibook, if you are going to use all of them. WWWiz is also hosting a page with the software I have on my Palm, not including of course the pay applications, at  So feel free to download any or all of them, there are plenty games, fun applications and serious life enhancing products there. All are freeware or shareware, and if you know any great software for the Palm, email and I'll continue to update you with good Palm software sites.

          The last must-have is The teal meal program is great, but I'm biased, as you'll see if you visit the restaurant database section: I wrote the one for Orange County.  There is also a fairly well developed underground community of Palm Warriors that use their Palms for unusual things. For example there is an IR program out there that opens some Mercedes Benzes.  There is a serial number generator for software and there are war dialers and NT control tools.  But in the words of the immortal Yoda: be careful of the power of the dark side.  By the way my wife says I spend too much time now on the Palm and OmniSky. She has renamed my c3 Rosie, Rosie the Palm.

 Brian Glabman is a freelance Internet consultant and writer whose byline has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and Playboy Magazine. He is very high strung with an explosive personality and a wit to match.  He is about 5 feet 8 tall, but on his drivers license he lied and put 5-9.  Only two of the above referenced bylines are true and only because he writes for free.

 Web Sites With Palm Pilot Software, Shareware and Freeware

 Palm Inc.             

 TUCOWS                 (Custom Application Design Only)

 Palm Gear          


 Pocket Directions



 Palm Pilot Archives    



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