OS/2 eZine

16 October 2000
Ray Tennenbaum is a writer living in Manhattan. He's covered sports and technology in features and essays for Newsday, Wired, Golf magazine, golf.com, and Suck, and also plies a custom and corporate wirting trade on the side.

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Using your Palm Pilot with OS/2, Part 2

Last month we covered a text-mode Unix port that allows you to link an OS/2 system with a Palm OS device. After we have a look at some Java sync tools, we'll examine the best ways of accessing the Palm's PIM elements with OS/2. Finally, there's Plucker, a very handy application that permits viewing content from current newspaper and magazine websites on your Palm device.

First, some preliminary notes. Last month, we sent out a call for reports about getting the Handspring Visor to communicate with OS/2, and I'm pleased to report that several users say that despite the dependence of the Visor on jiggering its USB connectivity for use with a serial cradle, OS/2 and the Pilot-Link software can communicate just fine over a serial connection. (Keep in mind that the Visor's serial cradle must be purchased separately.)

And one addition to last month's guide: I neglected to mention that Pilot Link depends on the latest version (0.9d) of the EMX runtime, available at Hobbes. If you've had problems running Pilot Link, be sure and check you've got the latest one.

Also, John Poltorak has kindly started a mailing list for OS/2ers who wish to access a PDA device (Palms, as well as, in his words, "PSIONs, RIO MP3 players, Digital Cameras, and whatever else comes out") which you can join by sending an email to:-


with the first line of the msg containing:-

subscribe os2-pda

The jSyncManager

A programmer and longtime OS/2 user who recently started working for IBM, Brad Barclay is familiar in the OS/2 newsgroups as a knowledgeable programmer and OS/2 guide. For the last year or so, Brad has been building Java applications, which he calls jConduits, as a cross-platform means of connecting desktops and Palm devices.

The overarching jConduit application is jSyncManager, under which all other jConduits operate and are installed. As a standalone app, jSyncManager allows for backup and restore of your Palm device, and also manages Sync settings such as backup speed and choice of serial port. Beta revisions are approaching full operability: Brad reports he's working on an installation utility that will prepare WPS objects under OS/2 along with classpath properties. For the moment, everyone who owns a Palm and uses it along with OS/2 or Linux is encouraged to hasten to Brad's site at http://warp.idirect.com for the latest download.

Note that jConduits require library files to enable communication with com ports -- these are available either in Java runtimes above 1.1.8, or, if you're running java 1.1.7, with the addition of a Java communications package, available, once again, at Hobbes.

Barclay's work seems aimed at giving developers and users the tools and the structure to extend the base he's created. To date, jConduits for Notes and for the popular Palm/Windows application AvantGo are also in final beta development.

Palm PIMs and OS/2 PIMs

For many users, the single most valuable function of a pocket organizer like the Palm is for datebook, task, and contact management. These days, coordination between desktop and Palm or Psion or Wince device is the sine qua non of practically every Windows PIM on the market.

The basic model for such apps comes from the Palm Desktop software, into which a Mac or Windows user can enter basic calendaring, task-management, and contact information. When it's time to leave your office, you stick the Palm in its cradle, hit the HotSync button, and within minutes, you've got your desktop in your pocket.

For the moment, OS/2 users have few options in this department, thanks to IBM's (or should we say Lotus's) non-support. Lotus SmartSuite, despite a recent major revision, will not allow you to communicate with your Palm device under OS/2, and never will, according to IBM insiders.

However, there's encouraging news from Sundial Systems. which is working with Brad Barclay on a jConduit for Relish, the PIM favored by many OS/2 users. (A Relish developer reports that progress is being made, though no timetable is available yet.)

The Past

It's not easy to find, but the Palm Desktop software for Windows 3.1 can be downloaded from the Web and installed and run under Win-OS/2. This software demands Win32s support: Bob Eager has complete directions for installing Win32s on his website. (For some reason I was unable to install this software. In fact, the Windows install routine did some rather startling damage to my boot partition, including erasing a number of files in my root directory.) Given the fickleness of the installation, and the fact it runs only in Win-OS/2, this is recommended only as a last resort.

The Present

Love it or hate it, Sun's StarOffice is probably the best way of integrating a Palm device with your OS/2 desktop. Even so, some functions don't work properly, -- and there's the matter of the interface to SO's multi-application package, which is not to every OS/2 user's liking. (To editorialize, personally I don't find that Star Office's defects make it any weaker than its primary competition, SmartSuite for OS/2 -- and its ability to sync with the Palm gives it a decided advantage.)

Here are the two annoying drawbacks to using SO with the Palm:

1) Syncing can only work one way. The Palm was designed so that changes made on one "station" (i.e., the desktop PIM or the Palm PIM) would be reflected on the other. Thus if while you're on the road and you use the Palm to enter a new upcoming appointment or phone number, or mark a task completed, the next time you synch with your Desktop PIM under Windows, older information on the desktop will be the overwrite with newer.

Trying to do this with StarOffice results in duplicated entries, or a corrupt database altogether. Thus, StarOffice/Palm users must be content moving information only one way. Let me suggest using StarOffice as the master scheduler/task manager -- on the road, I enter stuff manually in my word processor and cut and paste when I'm back in the office.

2) Categories -- used to distinguish Tasks, and as Calendar and Contact information -- don't function. Although the SO documents hint that it's possible, the method it suggests is troublesome. Worse, it plain doesn't work.

While these catches are hardly insurmountable, they're complicated by a third fact of life, namely that Sun has ceased StarOffice development for OS/2. While Sun has agreed to open-source the code, 1) it hasn't happened yet, and 2) fixing the Palm sync is apt to be non-trivial. Still if PIM synching with your Palm is important to you, try installing StarOffice. Personally I believe the Schedule and Task applications are some of the best parts of the SO package.

If you've got StarOffice installed, follow the instructions here to get up and running. You'll need to download a small, additional updated file, and follow a few comparatively simple instructions.

The Future

From Germany comes the likely next step for Palm/OS/2 users: the Java-Palm-Desktop -- formerly the Java-Pilot-Desktop -- a shareware package (merely 20 euros for personal use) developed by Arnd Grossman. This is essentially a Java clone of the simple Palm Desktop "suite," and very welcome it is. While it's in beta at the moment, encouraging signs abound, apart from the painstaking but tangible progress of the beta process. Grossman's OS/2 background is obvious, for example, in his OS/2 install routine, which automatically creates a desktop folder containing J-P-D icons set against a customized folder background -- I've noticed that later revisions update the WPS class of all the J-P-D icons, making reinstallation unnecessary. The most recent versions, which have taken significant steps towards enabling full hotsync capability, require Java 1.1.8 -- but as of this writing, you'll have to reset your system date in order to try Java-Palm-Desktop, because version 0.950 expired October 1.
The best of all worlds will give OS/2 users the choice between Java-Pilot-Desktop, an updated, open-sourced StarOffice with all the bugs ironed out, and jConduits for use with Relish and Organizer. Too much to expect, though maybe not to hope for.


Once you've gotten used to your PDA its utility will be a continually welcome satisfaction. For instance, I've just killed a two-hour wait for a connection to JFK out of Miami International by typing this story into a GoType keyboard whilst seated in a cafe -- without needing to scuttle mouselike along the baseboards of one gate after another in search of a live power outlet, a familiar routine for anyone who's depleted a laptop battery after a three-hour flight.

Want to catch up on your periodical reading? Buy a modem for your Palm III or V -- heck, if you can afford a VII, it comes with -- and you can while away business meetings, post-office lines, carpool waits browsing the Web... at premium wireless connection rates.

More sensible, probably, would be to use your desktop's internet connection to download page content from sites you frequent, then move all that information over to your Palm to peruse at your leisure. That's the thinking behind AvantGo, the browser-enabled Palm gleaner which has achieved popularity, with countless major websites supplying "Palm-ready" content (newspapers and magazines such as the Finanacial Times, Slashdot, USA Today, and dozens more distribute a variety of packages from quick digests and summaries to complete section and lead articles.)

OS/2ers have two different ways to read AvantGo-enabled sites without having to reboot to another OS. There is a jConduit in development for use with AvantGo which will allow you to use Netscape to download current content, then invoke the jConduit to sync with a Palm.

Arguably more interesting is Alexander Wagner's port of the Linux/Palm application Plucker, which mimics AvantGo in a slightly different fashion. From your desktop machine, Plucker connects directly to the 'net, then downloads and parses Avant-enabled websites on the before passing the content database to your Palm device.

Plucker requires Python for OS/2 -- whose installation was until lately a minor inconvenience.

But among the significant strides made in recent updates of the OS/2 version -- Plucker can download images from the Web, for instance -- is a new installation routine which uses Jens Bäckmann's and Ulrich Möller's WarpIN installer. What's most startling is that this version of WarpIN uses Netscape as the medium -- that's right, in the fashion of the dreaded Feature Installer -- except unlike the clunky and bug-ridden FI drill, WarpIN works flawlessly. (Which come to think of it should not be surprising at all, since Moeller's brilliant sense of OS/2's potential along with his almost magical abilities as a programmer are well known to any user of X Workplace.) You'll need at least 10 meg of free disk space to install Plucker and Python.


In a way it's not surprising that communication between Palm devices and OS/2 poses no insurmountable difficulty, since neither are wrapped in layers and layers of (in)famously obscurant, inefficient code....

...Which shouldn't prevent OS/2 users from expressing their gratitude and giving support to Brad Barclay, Alexander Wagner, Arndt Grossman and everyone else who's contributed to coding and porting tools that enable us to access these handy little gizmos.

Looking ahead, apart from the perfection of the applications and connectors we've already got, much remains to be done. Development of a native OS/2 Palm emulator, for instance, seems to have ceased over three years ago -- such a tool would not only allow us to try out new apps without downloading them to the Palm, but might permit desktop use of Palm applications without recourse to another OS. And, to be sure, tools such as AvantGo and Plucker, as well as e-book technology, are sure to require adaptation in coming months and years, as different models for these come to the fore.

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