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PDA Toolbox Review
By Ed Hardy
Have you always wanted to create your own Palm applications but didn't have time to learn to program in C? Well, PDA Toolbox may be just the tool you are looking for. It allows you to create simple database-driven Palm applications without any programming at all.
PDA Toolbox is quite easy to learn if you are willing to put a bit of time into it. I created my first app in less than an hour. The process is relatively simple. You just create a form, add some fields to it, then add some buttons with predefined actions like "Move to Next Entry". You don't even have to worry about setting up a database; one is created for you automatically. There is an extensive seventeen-page tutorial on the PDA Toolbox Web site that, step by step, walks you through the process of creating a practice application.
You can have fields that that are text, radio buttons, check boxes, and option boxes. Really, the whole process of creating a form reminded me strongly of using a WYSIWYG Web page editor. If you can use one of those, you can use the PDA ToolBox.
When you are done, you just tell PDA Toolbox to generate a Palm app. This takes just a few seconds and creates a fairly small file. My one-form app took only 10K. Then you add it to your Palm like you would any other app. And there you go, you're a Palm developer.
Long time Palm users will remember when PDA Toolbox was called PalmFactory and had another developer. Paul Prejean, it's current developer, said, "I 'adopted' the project from a friend who was busy getting venture capital for his start-up company. I was a user and saw the potential for an inexpensive, flexible, fun, and easy to use development system for the Palm, and didn't want it to die."
PDA Toolbox is currently in development and for the time being the beta versions are free. These betas currently have a few limitations. Each app can only have eight forms and each form can only have eight fields. And the most important limitation of all is that the application can't _do_ anything with the data you feed into it. For example, you can create an app that will let you save all the calories you ingest in a day. But all the app can do is save and display back the data you put into it. You can't display a total of the calories in a day or make an average of them. Another current limitation is that, while you can synchronize the applications you create, you can't synchronize your databases.
The most recent beta has a major conflict with OS 3.5. I tested my app under 3.3 and it worked fine. But when I tried it on 3.5 several things didn't work at all. But Prejean promised that he is working on a fix.
A commercial version is due out this Summer which won't have many of these limitations. It will allow far more fields and forms in an application and will include a conduit to synchronize databases. It will also include calculated fields such as sum, average, etc. And one of the more interesting improvements is the inclusion of 'Digital Ink', which will allow an app to capture a signature or any other drawing on the screen. Exact pricing hasn't been set yet but is promised to be less than $50.
Despite its current limitations, a community is starting to grow up around PDA Toolbox. A Web ring has been started and proud users of PDA Toolbox are posting their apps for download both on the Ring and on the PDA Toolbox page itself. These include an app for tracking patient information or another for flight logs.
If you need help during development there is a forum on the PDA Toolbox web site (http://www.pdatoolbox.com/) where you can post questions, most of which Prejean answers in a day or two.
As Prejean says, "Palm users have an innate urge to create, and PDA Toolbox allows them to do just that (and have fun at the same time)." If you feel the need to create and you want to try your hand without a serious commitment in time and effort, PDA Toolbox is perfect for you. And you certainly can't beat it for the price.
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