by Mike Cane
Copyright © 2003
by Mike Cane.
All Rights Reserved.
Exclusive to PalmInfocenter.
Let me be the first to denounce myself. I never really wanted to buy the first PalmOS PDA I owned, a Palm III. No. I wanted one of the first-generation "Palm-sized PCs," the now long-dead Everex Freestyle.
Although I'd read about Palms since the original Pilot (a friend and I both marveled over Pen Computing magazine's photo of a Newton next to the original Pilot -- the Pilot was so appealingly tiny!), I didn't think I could get much use from one. After all, it had a pathetic 128K of RAM and, worse, no word processing program. As RAM increased, I remained skeptical -- Memos were limited to 4K. My daydreams are longer than 4K!
When I happened to have the money to buy a PDA, I had to settle for "second best" -- the Palm III. I had no real choice -- I was still using a Mac at that time and the Everex Freestyle could not sync with it.
It wasn't too long after my purchase that I learned that my "second best" choice was actually the best choice. The Everex Freestyle was revealed to be a dog. Even worse, its OS was a dog with a fatal disease! But you have to hand it to Microsoft's massive PR machine: They can sell death to the living -- and they often do!
Let's fast-forward. I grew increasingly frustrated with PalmOS. Like many power users, I kept running up against its shortcomings -- the Clipboard limit (still there!), no fonts (still none!), no 240x320 screen (still none in color for the general public today -- and the CLIE NR/NXes do nothing for me), no file system (still none -- and if Microsoft had sold DOS without a file system, Macs would rule today's desktops), et cetera.
Until Toshiba appeared with the Audiovox-branded Maestro (nicknamed "Vox" by its owners). Not only did it address all of PalmOS's shortcomings (while adding MP3 and good video too!), it had two slots (SD/MMC plus CF) and it was small, sleek, and gorgeous. I wanted it.
But real-world issues outside of the scope of this essay sapped all of my discretionary income. (Don't ask.)
This, however, did not prevent me from making a nuisance of myself at my local CompUSA, where I could play with their demo model Vox -- a lot! (I was known as "Who's That Guy Who Comes In Here Every Day But Doesn't Buy Anything?" Their version of "Dances with Wolves.")
And then came the Toshiba GENIO 550G, with a 4" screen in an extremely-sleek case -- and still with two slots! Wonderful!
And now what is supposed to be the Uber-PPC for the general public, the hp iPaq 2215. (My CompUSA nickname has since taken on religious overtones: "Him Again!")
Such temptations. Had money been available earlier, I'm sure I would now own a PPC and not be writing this column -- much to my regret!
What happened was this: pictures of the Tungsten T3 were leaked. Finally, a 320x480 screen in a single non-flip & twist unit -- and with a Palm SG label! And then The Bomb dropped: Textmaker will be coming to PalmOS!
And yet -- OS 5 kills all Hacks. I have no use for Bluetooth. If only it had 802.11b. . . Plus, what's with this sliding business again?
Still, it inspired me to stop and think. What was it that I really liked about PalmOS? And what was it that sickened me about Pocket PC?
PalmOS still has the best scheduling program (the built-in Date Book) for my needs. I never knew I even needed a scheduler before using the one in my Palm III. Now I can't live without one! On the other hand (no pun intended), I find PPC's built-in Calendar clunky, thoughtless, and confusing. And third-party replacements for the Calendar are -- in my opinion, research, and limited testing -- not much of an improvement. Even worse, PPCs can sometimes forget to sound a scheduled alarm! I just can't risk that. I've grown too dependent on machine-assisted scheduling.
On the PPC, there's word processing. . . sort of. Pocket Word does not play nice with its desktop daddy. And although TextMaker will rectify many Microsoft omissions, wouldn't that just be like buying, uh, TextMaker for PalmOS?
I could go on compiling a catalogue like this, but it gets tedious and it's a task many others have detailed in message boards, newsgroups, websites, ad nauseum.
So let me cut to the three -- yes, just three! -- things that prevented me from making the final leap to Pocket PC. Two of these I have never seen discussed anywhere else. And then I'll conclude with a final, metaphysical, point.
1) Beaming Frustrations
Like many other aspects of PPC, this is maddeningly unreliable. I've been to several gatherings of PPC owners (if not actual PPC cultists) and it has really been a rare event that IR transfers work flawlessly the first time. I've actually witnessed attempts that repeatedly failed, and no Beaming could take place at all! With PalmOS, successful Beaming between PalmOS devices is easy and is the norm. Failure is rare.
2) Poor Screen Mapping
Tap-and-Hold (TnH) is a really nice feature but there's no way to set a delay before it kicks in -- and it occurs when and where it shouldn't. I've had TnH come to life when I'm trying to grab the slider -- why wasn't that area of the screen mapped off-limits? What TnH options exist over there? None! I've had it pop up when all I'm trying to do is select some words (more on this, next), requiring me to lift the stylus and begin again. What a frustrating waste of time! If I could set it to delay for just one or two more seconds within certain programs -- but no, that can't be done. There is no such option available.
3) Selecting Text is Hell!!!
Yes, that deserves three !s, as you will see. This item requires audience participation -- I've been shocked and awed to learn that not every PalmOS device owner knows of this feature.
1) Open Memo Pad.
2) Create a New Memo.
3) Enter this sentence of four words: These are four words.
4) Now, I want you to double-tap on the word "are" to select it -- but do not lift your stylus after the second tap.
5) Now, again without lifting your stylus, slowly slide towards the word "These." Well before you even reach the "e," the entire word "These" should be selected.
6) Now, again without lifting your stylus, slowly slide back over the word "are" and towards "four" and then towards "words." If you did it correctly, those entire words should be selected.
Isn't this how text-handling on any PDA should work -- simply double-tap/drag? With PPC, that doesn't work at all! You have to slideslideslide the stylus across letters, not only praying that you selected what you intended (you usually don't) -- but also hoping that the damned Tap-and-Hold prompt doesn't pop up to interrupt!
And that double-tap/drag text selecting feature you just used in Memo Pad? -- it's built-into PalmOS and works in virtually all applications (ironic exceptions noted here)! In fact, such word selecting, via a keyboard, goes back to the days of dedicated word processors -- well before Microsoft even existed. So how could something so elementary -- so historical and traditional -- have been omitted from Pocket PC? There was even PalmOS to show Microsoft how it's properly done! Didn't they look?
I don't expect the three flaws I've just listed to matter to current Pocket PC owners. But I think they might matter to an experienced PalmOS device owner. They matter to me.
And now my metaphysical point. . .
While re-reading My Predictions for the PalmOS Platform in 2003 essay, when I re-read item 10 -- "The OS People Use, Like, and Trust Every Day" -- I realized that was what I also believed. Although virtually everyone with a computer uses Windows every day, I think few would admit to ever feeling any affection towards it. And I'm not sure that even Microsoft itself trusts its own creation. Conversely, there are Mac owners still using "obsolete" hardware and old, old, old versions of the MacOS -- for two key reasons: they like it and they trust it. Now show me someone having a similar experience with Windows 3.0. Or the original Palm-size PC. (Admit it: the very idea makes you laugh! If Bill Gates was reading this, he'd laugh too.)
Since I'm bound to be misunderstood, let me emphasize my points:
- I still think PalmOS needs plenty of improvement.
- I still think the Vox, 550G, and 2215 are great-looking devices, but that's due to Toshiba's and hp's industrial design, with no credit accruing to the PPC OS itself.
- I could never feel affection towards the PPC OS, nor could I ever have any trust in it (how could I, when it can't get right just the three minor -- yet essential -- features I've listed above?).
So, I'll be staying with PalmOS, with my goal of getting that incredible Tungsten T3. It's cute (great industrial design), I can (mostly) trust it -- and between PPC OS and PalmOS, I think it is PalmOS that has a brighter future. Because for both Palm Solutions Group and PalmSource, PalmOS is their main business, not a half-neglected hobby from an arrogant company that is too busy with many other half-neglected hobbies.
And one last important thing I believe: That whatever happens with Pocket PC (and I don't expect much to happen), there will always be -- either in hardware or software -- something better running on PalmOS.
Ironic Text-Handling Exceptions
I've been told by developers of PalmOS word processing programs that the double tap/drag convention must be added anew to their programs. Palm never defined a standard for long text files, so each developer has had to create its own text "container." Unfortunately, in doing so, some have -- foolishly, in my opinion -- left out the double tap/drag convention. I hope the developers of Textmaker for PalmOS will incorporate it. It is, of course!, not present in Textmaker for Pocket PC.
Composed entirely in Memo Pad using not-invented-by-Xerox classic Graffiti on a monochrome Sony CLIE S320 running not-invented-by-Microsoft PalmOS. I could not have composed this as easily -- as enjoyably -- on a Pocket PC. Believe it -- I earned those CompUSA nicknames!
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