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
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:-
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.)
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.
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
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
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.
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
...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.