by May 1, 1999 0 comments

3Com Palm Series
Palmtop-size “connected organizer” and PC companion.
HotSync data and e-mail over Infra-red and
cradle. Backlit display. Handwriting recognition. 2 MB capacity (4 MB for IIIx).
Quick-start app buttons.
Pros: Quick and easy to use, great connectivity, lots
of free apps, good battery life.
Cons: Dim and too-reflective display (improved in IIIx
and V). Writing area picks up scratches.
Price & Vendor: See box “Palm in India”
in the box below.

palm-iii.JPG (7858 bytes)Think of pocket-size
computers–and do you think of Windows CE? Forget it. A non-Windows palmtop
outsells by 3:1 all Windows CE devices in the world put together.

3Com sold 1.8 million Palm “connected organizers”
in 1998, and is expected to sell 2.5 million this year and 4 million in 2002, says IDC.

This “connected organizer” is strong on datacom.
E-mail and other apps sync neatly with a Windows PC, either over the included cradle and
serial link, or over the Palm III’s built-in infra-red port, or an optional snap-on
modem. There’s no keyboard: you use handwriting.

The Palm is distinguished by its operating system. Palm OS
is simple, elegant, fast, and robust. Unburdened by a graphical interface, it powers on
and switches apps snappily, and handles handwriting recognition with ease and speed. The
OS is also very scrimpy on memory: you can fit an amazing amount into the 2 MB you get
with the Palm III, including 200 e-mail messages and several full books (see Inside the
Palm below this page).

Palm in India

3Com does not sell the Palm series in India. But on April 16,
Hyderabad-based JP Systems (India) advertised local availability and support. The price
listed on its Website is Rs 22,920 for the Palm III (2 MB). The other models are for Rs
25,220 (Palm IIIx, 4 MB), Rs 31,520 (Palm V, 2 MB), Rs 9,820 (Palm III modem), and Rs
11,920 (Palm V modem). However, at press time, 3Com’s India office still maintained
that there was no official distributor, and JP Systems had not responded to an e-mail
query. Source: www.jpsystems.

The menu is a page or more of icons, but installing a
freeware utility like LauncherIII gives you a tabbed, multi-page menu that’s really

This is a PC companion, and its HotSync technology keeps
Palm and PC in sync with each other. Pop the Palm on the cradle and press the Sync, and
your mail and other data are synchronized with desktop or notebook. Infra-red is even
nicer: just point and go. You can reply to mail on the road, and then HotSync when
you’re back, to send it off and pick up fresh mail–even opening up Eudora or

The Palm’s four instant-on buttons power it on right
into the commonest apps: scheduler, phonebook, to-do list, and memo-pad. Press and hold
the green power button, and you get Indiglo backlighting. The two AAA cells (three in the
IIIx) last over a month.

The handwriting recognition works very well indeed, using
the Graffiti system of keystrokes. This takes minutes to learn, and you soon move up to
near 100 percent accuracy. It seems cumbersome at first, but you quickly realize the
convenience: for instance, in a bumpy hour-long car ride, I’m able to quickly write
memos and mail, while only occasionally glancing at the screen. Using a regular
palmtop’s keyboard, I have to look real hard (I can’t touch-type on a
micro-chiclet-keypad), and soon get a headache in the same car…

The handwriting recognition happens in a defined
“Graffiti” area of the screen, but the entire screen is touch sensitive.
It’s robust enough, though heavy use puts scratches on the Graffiti area: some users
put 3M Scotch tape on that area. The stylus itself is passive: you could use your fingers,
but it’s convenient to use the well-designed stylus.

The display is the only problem with the Palms, up to the
III: a mono LCD that’s borderline in low indoor lighting. But the Indiglo-like green
backlight is effective and very power-efficient: I read off entire books on it, without
seriously draining the battery.

The Palm IIIx and V improve the display. The new LCD is
less reflective, for better indoor visibility, and the reverse backlight is a sharp
improvement: the characters and graphics are bright against a dark background.


The world’s most popular palmtop is not available in
India yet. 3Com says it may be, later this year; but for now, your only local choices are
Windows CE products.

I bought a Palm III on February 21 at $299 at a California
store; just down from $349. The next day 3Com introduced the Palm IIIx at $369, and the V
at $449. If the Palms come in here, expect some stiff pricing–Rs 20,000 and up.

The Palm has a wide range of accessories, including
designer covers and color stylus sets, special leather cases and belt-holsters, optional
electronics like the modem, and lots more. The US stores and catalogs are full of them.

The Palm’s designers succeed by understanding, and
limiting the device to what a user needs of a shirt-pocket PC: portability, quick
response, ease of use, good battery life, great connectivity, lots of storage, and
handwriting recognition. There’s no multimedia, voice recognition, or voice memos,
but what most users need is there. Without the baggage of Windows menu, the Palm’s
designers have been able to maintain speed, high usability and data capacity in a
lightweight product.

The Palm Story

This family spans not just the devices themselves, but a
host of peripherals, add-ons and accessories, including designer fashion
accessories…a $1.2 billion “Palm Economy”!

Released in 1996, the Palms were just ahead of Windows CE
devices. Palm Computing was soon bought over by US Robotics, which was later bought by

The early devices, running Palm OS 1.0, quickly became
popular: the Pilot 1000 (128 kB) and 5000 (512 kB). In 1997 came the PalmPilot Personal,
with 512 kB and Palm OS 2.0–and a backlit screen. The Pilot Professional followed,
with 1 MB RAM.

The current family starts at the Palm III, which brought up
RAM to 2 MB, and added Palm OS 3.0 and infra-red support. The III is still available, but
not made any more. Now there’s the IIIx and the V.

The Palm IIIx doubled memory to 4 MB, and improved the
display. Interestingly, the Palm V stayed at 2 MB, so apart from its display, it’s
effectively the same as the Palm III. But the V is slim–about half as thick as a Palm
III–and uses a lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Both the new models run Palm OS 3.1,
with network-sync support; the new OS is also supposed to add 10 percent to both
performance and battery life. The OS is specific to the CPU in the new
Palms–Motorola’s 16 MHz DragonBall EZ–and so older Palms can’t be

Next in line–late this year–is the Palm VII
(someone has a counting problem at 3Com, or doesn’t like even numbers). It will
further improve performance and battery use, include wireless Internet access in the US
for $10 a month (via a new “” service), and could cost around $600.

Then there’s the Qualcomm pdQ smartphone, expected
this summer. This will package a cellphone with a Palm OS-based PDA. One great plus, over
the Nokia competition: the Communicator has two keyboards and two displays. The pdQ will
have just one display, and no keyboard!

There’s competition, of course. The older GeOS in the
Nokia Communicator, the new Epoc32 from Symbian (a joint venture by Psion, Nokia, Ericsson
and Motorola), Sun’s Jini for connected appliances, and others…

Inside the Palm

The Palm series is popular because it’s simple, quick
and very functional. It also has great connectivity. All this functionality is, of course,
based on the operating system, currently Palm OS 3 (3.1 on the IIIx and V).

The Palm III has 2 MB each of ROM and RAM; though the
Palm’s architecture can address up to a staggering 4 GB, the highest so far is the 4
MB on the IIIx. The OS and the standard apps on the Palm stay on the ROM; the other stuff,
and all your data, is on RAM. This RAM is backed up by the battery, and stays alive
through a suspend and even through a quick battery change–under a minute.

You can “soft-boot” the Palm, which will clear
the “dynamic” part of the RAM (96 kB on the Palm III), and thus user data; a
hard reset will clear the entire RAM, including the “storage” part which holds
user apps.

Unlike in a PC, Palm OS accesses data directly from a
single type of memory (there’s no hard disk) in 64 kB chunks, and modifying data
directly right there in memory, so it’s fast. It actually works with file-like memory
units–databases–each with attributes such as the creator app, time stamp, etc.
The data is all in similar format, and a HotSync simply transfers the data to or from a PC
without needing to know its contents. In fact, apps too are launched from the same primary
memory, so task switching is instantaneous.

The Palm powers on instantly into the required app, and
this requires good power management–with sleep, idle, and running modes. The Palm
idles when user input stops (say when you’re reading a page on the screen), with the
processor almost powered off, and recovers instantly on, say, a stylus tap on the screen.
A few idle minutes puts the Palm to sleep, with the processor, clock and display off, and
only the RAM alive.

The Graffiti system of handwriting recognition is fast and
efficient, including punctuation and special symbols. The OS translates user keystrokes
(buffered as coordinates) into letters and digits, and displays them. Graffiti strokes are
very much like natural handwriting strokes, with a few distinguishing elements where there
is confusion (say between 4 and 9). It’s very fast, and you can reach close to normal
writing speed.

The Palm connects to the PC through a serial cable attached
to the Palm’s cradle, or through infra-red. The HotSync manager on the PC monitors
the serial or infra-red port. On a HotSync handshake, the PC works as a client, and the
Palm services all requests as the server.

You can synchronize e-mail very effectively, setting up
Eudora or Outlook as MAPI servers. On a HotSync, even if Eudora is not loaded, it will
auto-load. New mail will be picked up and transferred to the Palm; mail that you have
created in the Palm will be uploaded to Eudora’s Outbox, ready for sending, and any
mails marked deleted on the Palm will be deleted off Eudora too. At the end of the
HotSync, the Palm is left with only the newest mails, and Eudora or Outlook reflects all
that you have done on the Palm’s mail software earlier. In short, you can pick up
your mail on the Palm, reply to it, and sync with the PC; all mail stays ultimately on
your PC, so there’s no storage space limitation.

So the Palm OS helps this connected organizer work so well:
with fast, easy, and usable input and output, compact apps and data storage, and effective
HotSync with desktop Windows software.

Palm Stuff on
the PCQ CD
cd-1.JPG (14667 bytes)

The Palm’s popularity is backed by an amazing collection of freeware and
shareware on the Internet, as well as lots of commercial software. These apps are tiny,
typically 30 kB each, and can range from a free chess game of amazing ability to a
big-display clock that you set up by tapping on the digits, Doc file readers, the ProxiWeb
browser, Graffit Aid…

Installing software on the Palm is easy. There’s
included Windows software for your desktop or notebook, and clicking on any Palm program
(a PRC file) queues it up for installation on your next HotSync. That’s all you have
to do.

This month’s PCQ CD includes a small collection of
software for the Palm series, in the directory \cdrom\ portable\PalmOS\. Some of them: HackMaster,
a system extension manager for the Palm—manage and use "hack" files and
patches (hackmstr.prc). Launch’ Em—app launcher—improved user
interface, security…a fully-functional trial version. ( Kyle’s
customizable role-play game: explore a vast world from an overhead
perspective ( E-text sampler—read your classics on your Palm
( Aportis—read Doc files on your Palm (AportisDoc AppList—track
all the apps installed on your Pilot ( Astro Info—displays
information for star-gazers, for sun, moon and planets ( Bubblet—an
addictive puzzle game—match similar patterned bubbles together in order to burst them
from the board ( DateBook—replaces the built-in Datebook and
To-do apps on the Palm. Feature-packed. 45-day trial, $20 shareware (

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