ISSUE 570: Alan Zisman- Sept 26 2000
The high-tech office
A few add-ons make handheld
computers truly powerful
Like many people, my main computer these days
is a notebook. It's close enough to a desktop that I happily use it for
almost all my day-to-day computing tasks. And I can take it with me.
But it's really more than I need to tote around most
times, so most of the time it stays on my desk. Instead, I've taking to
toting a palm-sized gadget everywhere I go called a Handspring
Visor Deluxe. Visors, finally available in Canada, run the Palm
operating system and standard software.
I started to wonder whether I could get by using the
Visor instead of the notebook, at least when I'm out on the road. Most
of the time when I'm away from home or office, I need a computer for
just a few tasks: checking and responding to e-mail, Web browsing, some
writing, maybe a game of Solitaire or two and checking the address book
For that, a full-sized notebook is overkill. But, on
its own, a Palm or Visor-type unit doesn't quite cut it.
Part of what makes these devices more than electronic
address books is that they can be expanded. My first purchase was a
keyboard. Several companies make keyboards for handhelds. Perhaps the
slickest model is the Targus Stowaway. It's impressive enough
that Palm now sells them under its own brand. Either way, it starts out
not much bigger than the handheld itself, looking like an old-fashioned
cigarette case. But it opens up and unfolds into a full-sized keyboard,
and has keys with about the heft of a notebook keyboard. The handheld
clips onto the top, and you're ready to go.
Because it's quiet, it can be easily used to take
notes at meetings. If you need to do more writing than just jotting a
quick note, it makes the Palm/
Visor-type unit much more capable.
Note that it needs to sit on a flat, solid surface
such as a table. You can't use it on your lap. And you'll find you
still need to poke away with your stylus from time to time. At least, I
haven't found a way to access menus or such with the keyboard.
You also need to match the model to your actual
handheld. There are separate models for Palm III and Palm V-series
handhelds, as well as for Visors. All sell for about $150. If you can't
find one locally (Palm users will have better luck than Visor users at
this), check online at www.
palmgear.com, the one-stop shop for all things Palm (and Visor),
from shareware to commercial software to gadgets.
But once you're typing away, you'll probably discover
that the only built-in application for entering text, the Palm's Memo
Pad, is pretty anemic. For instance, each memo maxes out at 4 kb. When
you hit that limit, it just stops. When I was typing, it died just
before 700 words. (By comparison, this column is 716 words.) I opened a
new memo and carried on, but that's a bit of a pain.
Pocket PC users may snicker, because their hardware
comes with the more-capable Pocket Word. But I hurried over to
PalmGear, and downloaded the more capable SmartDoc (US$20). It lets
users edit documents of pretty much any length. And, as a bonus, it can
be used to read any of the thousands of e-books, from novels to
technical reference manuals, available in Palm Doc format, which isn't
the same as Microsoft Word
doc files (also available at Palm-
But while it's easy to access standard Memo Pad
documents on my PC for printing, forwarding via e-mail or
what-have-you, working with these long doc files in the same ways is
more awkward. In fact, I
had to go back online to get a copy
of PalmDocs (also US$20). This patches itself into Microsoft Word 97 or
2000, and allows Word to open and save in Palm Doc format. With that in
place, I can send documents back and forth between my palmtop and my
PC. (And while you're at PalmGear, get the SmallWare free Solitaire
So with extra hardware and software, I can type away
using a computer and keyboard, each of which fit in a shirt pocket. No
spell-checking, but not bad. Next week, we'll see about getting it
online for e-mail, the Web and more. u
n Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator and computer
specialist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears