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Comm Corner
Speaking Into One’s Watch 
Personal Data Assistant 
by John Woody

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This month’s article will undertake a new series for this column. It is actually the second column about PDA (Personal Data Assistants), but will hone in on two devices I am currently using as part of my SOHO setup. It will be my intent in this series to cover the PDA’s as tools to extend the reach of the SOHO and to cover how they are used to communicate. It will not be my intent to just look at them as rolodexes. The devices themselves tend to blur their uses. In fact, the very names are blurred. The devices are called palm devices and that is the brand name of one of the leading products, Palm Pilot. One distinction concerns the user interface. There are palm devices and hand-held computers, PDAs and H-PCs. The PDA devices are normally rectangular in shape with a thickness of about one half inch and are accessed using a touch screen. The H-PCs are shaped as miniature computers with a screen and keyboard. Both can be accessed using a pencil style pointer. There are two operating systems (OS). One, developed by US Robotics/3Com is called the Palm OS, and, the other is Windows based, developed by Microsoft, and is named Windows CE. There is a broad range of capability in each OS type. The lower priced devices are mainly digitized rolodexes and do little more than take notes and keep track of contacts. The upper price range devices are much more. The OS is sophisticated enough to do word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and communication functions. It is this class of devices that I will concentrate upon during my coverage.

The two devices that I use are from Hewlett Packard. One is a H-PC, the HP Jornada 690. The other is a palm device, the HP Jornada 548. Both are based on the Microsoft Windows CE OS. Both are based on the same processor and memory technology, but are different in how they are accessed and used. In this series, I will demonstrate how they are alike and how they are different.

What can I do?
Just about anything that a desktop can do. This class of PDA/H-PC has the capability to word process, develop spreadsheets, acquire databases, take written or typed notes, store data, run third party hardware and application software, connect to the Internet, and/or send and receive e-mail, browse, or move files. Both the top end Palm or Windows OS in these devices are capable of some or all of these computing tasks. Like any good tool, these devices can really user leverage time, energy, and personal action.

The first introduction of devices of this nature took place approximately eight years ago when Apple Computer presented it’s Newton handheld computing device. The concept has come a long way since then. Marketing research firms have indicated that approximately 18.9 million units will be sold by the end of 2003. The addiction to be “in touch” causes more of us to want mobile online access. PDAs provide that ability to constantly be “in touch”. The ability to “logon” the minute one steps off the airplane is being “in touch”. Downloading books or music and being able to read or play them back on demand is being “in touch”. Doing e-mail from any location or browsing in full color is being “in touch”. Meeting notes, memos, or spreadsheets made ready for publishing is being “in touch”. 

And, I haven’t even talked about connecting my GPS (Global Positioning System) to one of these devices to keep myself constantly in a known position. Or, I haven’t mentioned synchronizing the PDA to one of my other computers so that exact copies of my tasks, contacts, and appointments are automatically downloaded so that I do not have to individually load the information. Neat Stuff!

We have come a long way in the development of portable information. Writing was invented in 3,200 BC in Sumeria. The Egyptians used papyrus scrolls in 2,400 BC. The Great Library of Alexandria was established in Egypt in 295 BC. Paper was invented in China about 100 BC. Paper was introduced in Europe about 1200 AD. The Gutenberg type was invented in 1450 AD. Morse invented the telegraph in 1844. The Osborne 1 portable computer was introduced in 1981. Apple Computer introduced the Newton Message Pad in 1993. 3Com introduced the PalmPilot in 1996. As you can see, portable information has become a little easier to use over the years. Having information in hand as is now possible is truly mind boggling. And, PDAs are great toys.

Keeping everything in sync is one of the “new” things one has to do when personal data must be shared on several devices. Now that I am all digital, I have to keep my Microsoft Windows Outlook up to date on all my digital devices. I accomplish this task by running a synchronization application on my main data computer which downloads and uploads all of the data I have specified. On one device, I need only to download or upload my Outlook Contacts, Calender, and Tasks. On the other, I keep my Internet Explorer (IE) browser Favorites, Notes, and Memos up to date in addition to Contacts, Calender, and Tasks. The sync process takes place through my desktop serial and USB ports. Cables are provided for this purpose.

Other data can be transferred via these cable connections as well. New applications or data from one device to another is moved from the PDA to the desktop or vise-versa. Since both computers are Windows based OS, I am able to use the Windows file movement procedures as with any networked computer.

Data storage in PDA devices is more limited than, say, a 15 GB hard-disk drive. PDA and H-PC devices have built-in memory which is used for OS functions and for application processing and storage. There are no moving part HDDs in these devices. The memory is ROM or bubble type and must be fed an electrical charge to remain operational. Most of these devices have two batteries, one for operation and one for memory retention. It goes without saying that the OS is not as code bloated as those in the desktops. Both the Palm and Windows OS are functional with no frills. The total memory capacity of the two Hewlett Packard (HP) devices I use have 32 MB memory, which is divided between OS and storage. This can be adjusted somewhat for use. 

Both units take advantage of additional storage by providing flash card memory or other function capability. Any size CompactFlash memory card will fit the Flash Card slot. The memory cards come in different MB sizes, 8 MB, 16 MB, 32 MB, 48 MB, 96 MB, and 128 MB. These memory cards are used to install and run special applications that may be loaded on the unit. The unit Flash Card slot meets an industry standard designed for multiple functions. CompactFlash modems and network cards also are available.

The display area is smaller than that of a desktop or laptop in that the H-PC view area is approximately two by six inches. The palm device viewing area is approximately two by three inches. Both have full sixteen color capability. There is no mouse, but a stylus is used to point and click the screen area to execute applications or utilities. The H-PC has a 82 key keyboard and is fairly comfortable for typing. The keyboard layout is like that of a standard computer keyboard. The palm device uses the viewing screen for point and click and a projected keyboard that can be brought up as needed.

Both units have stylus handwriting capability. Both also have built-in voice recorders. The H-PC also has a PCMCIA slot for PC Card use as modems or network cards. Both have IR connectivity capability and when loaded can use IR data transfer to and from other IR transmitter units.

Both units contain MS Office CE with Word, Excel, and Access included. This application is compatible with my other MS Office programs.

Specific uses
The HP Jornada 690 is being used as a GPS map tracking system as I drive from place to place. I have coupled it with a Garmin GPS receiver using a Teletype GPS mapping application. The teletype map program can be scaled to nearly any size for accurate tracking. The GPS position signal is placed on the map display graphic and the map program moves with the signal. This unit contains my MS Outlook files and is kept up to date by syncing. I use this unit in meetings for note and brief taking. I plan on expanding its application capability by adding more programs. The built-in MS Office Word and Excel are familiar and easy to use.

The HP Jornada 548 is being used as a real Personal Data Assistant for tracking all of my Outlook processes. It will be used later as a mobile Internet device and will be coupled with a cellular phone. This will give me the ability for e-mail and Internet browsing from any accessible location.

Both the H-PC and palm PC help to expand how I can do the things I need to do and remain on top of my data. I am nearly able to talk into my watch as Dick Tracy has been doing for years.

John Woody is a networking communications consultant specializing in small office, home office networks, training setup, and internet connectivity.