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ISSUE 572: New Economy- Oct 10 2000

The high-tech office


Web-clipping services prove useful for handheld browsing

Last week, we saw that by adding a modem and some free software, it was possible to use a Palm (or in my case, a Palm-clone Handspring Visor) handheld for e-mail and Web browsing.

But we also saw that viewing pages on the little computer's small screen was less than ideal. Enter Web clipping. Web-clipping services offer Internet information reformatted to be more easily readable on a tiny screen. The trade-off is access to only a limited subset of the Web's vast storehouse of information.

U.S. Palm users have been able to purchase the Palm VII, with a built-in antenna, wireless Internet access and a subscription to a Palm-controlled Web-clipping service. Owners of standard Palm III and Palm V models can now purchase a US$369 Novatel Minstrel III wireless modem and subscribe to a similar service from OmniSky. Like the Palm VII, however, only in the U.S.

Glenayre Electronics has teamed up with WorldCom division SkyTel to offer Visor users wireless capabilities. Unlike Palm or OmniSky, they're promising "continent-wide roaming." Like other Visor add-ons, it makes use of that product's Springboard expansion modules. Unlike others, you can't buy the module on its own. The US$428 module includes a C$375 Visor Deluxe handheld in the package. Currently, they're only selling it to U.S. customers.

Despite this, I was sent an evaluation unit, which worked in Vancouver some of the time. Like other Springboard modules, it worked as soon as it was plugged in, automatically in-
stalling its software onto the Visor.

To get any use out of it, however, it's necessary to activate an account with SkyTel.

SkyTel's SkyWriter service plans range from US$25 to US$60 per month, offering a dedicated e-mail address and wireless Web clipping. Using the Web clipping is not like browsing the Web. You're never entering www addresses, for instance. Instead, the InfoBeam program offers icons for phone directories, 15-minute delayed stock quotations, news and sports headlines, weather, flight information, courier package tracking and more. Surprise! The weather and directories are only for U.S. locations.

Choose a category, send a request and, quickly, information is returned to your handheld, neatly formatted for the small screen. The range of information is generic but pretty good, allowing for its U.S. focus. And being able to actually read it without a problem is worth the limitations.

But it's relatively expensive and, despite the "continent-wide" claims, not really an option here.

Perhaps the best way currently for owners of Palm and other small devices to access the Internet doesn't require going online at all, at least not directly.

AvantGo ( promises "the Internet on your handheld" for Palm OS (including Visor), Windows CE and Web-enabled cell phones. It offers free content from a wide range of sources (about 1,000 "channels"). These can be viewed directly with a small device sporting a wireless or wired modem. Alternatively, you can skip the service entirely: the AvantGo software is a nice Web browser. But more useful for many is the ability to get the same information onto a handheld device that lacks the ability to go online directly.

When you sign up on AvantGo, you download software for a Windows PC or Mac. It hooks into your handheld's synchronization program. Afterwards, whenever you sync your handheld and desktop computer, you are automatically logged onto AvantGo, downloading the Web content already formatted to be readable on your device.

Whenever you want, it's sitting on your handheld, ready to read. Just as if you were online, but with no delays because the pages are already there.

However, there are a few things to watch out for:

n It's easy to sign up for a lot of channels, downloading more than your space-limited handheld can store.

n Logging online and downloading all those Web pages adds a lot of time to the synchronization and can be a real battery drain. u



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan