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PiDirect II Review
By Scott Windom
PiDirect II is a solution that I would recommend to anyone trying to use large amounts of read-only data with a handheld. It is especially useful for data which come in large chunks, such as eBooks, dictionaries, graphics, and large applications. It has its strong and weak points, but all in all, it is very well worth the $30 registration fee.
When I first used PiDirect II, I was relatively early in the process of looking for a VFS solution to work with the cards in my HandEra 330. I found a very valuable one in PiDirect II. I was able to install the software and rather intuitively go right to using it. When I first installed the program, I found it easy enough to set up that reading the manual was an afterthought.
I installed the software and immediately put a few files into the default directory, /Palm/PiDirect. I then ran the program and discovered the first of very few things that I don't like about it: It makes itself a selection in the dropdown box in Prefs. I think I would prefer a simple stand-alone application. However, they did provide an icon that goes directly to PiDirect II in the Prefs app. This wouldn't bother registered users too much, but when I was using the trial version, it was a bit unnerving to go to Prefs and be hit with a registration nag for an app that I didn't even think I had run. I had to dismiss the nag and then go to the Prefs selection I was looking for.
Once I got the program enabled, I was quite impressed with the speed of access to applications and databases mounted from the card. In most cases, it was difficult to tell that the apps weren't actually in RAM. The only place where I found a significant lag was in the refresh of the icons list when I went back to the apps screen for the first time after enabling. The developer recommends that, in order to keep the app stable, users not mount more than 50 files per directory. Below this limit, the lag is quite manageable.
When I started using the program for the first time, I went right for the most extreme large data use I know: Mounting the 1920-to-Present detailed view of the Internet Movie Database in TomeRaider format. The app worked like a charm and TomeRaider ran perfectly.
I didn't find the VFS access inconvenient at all. Over time, I discovered a few of the finer points, one of which I feel merits mention in the review to make trying the application easier for others. Some applications don't like PiDirect mounted databases when the program is set to its defaults. It does wonders for compatibility to go into PiDirect II preferences and uncheck the option to set card databases as read-only. It was quite interesting to me how much this helped. Since only the header information is copied to RAM, the databases mounted from the card can still not be altered, but some programs just don't like for their databases to be set as read-only.
One rather surreal moment was when I first looked at Menu->Info with PiDirect II enabled. I was quite alarmed to see that my machine told me that I had 0K of memory free. I found out soon that this is simply because PiDirect II confuses the memory manager in the Palm OS. If one looks at free RAM with another utility, such as McFile, then the correct number will be displayed.
For the HandEra 330 users among us, multiple card support is available through a dropdown box in the application.
The app will also allow for switching directories while enabled. If a given directory is enabled and then another one is selected, then PiDirect II will automatically disable the first directory and enable the second. It should also be noted that it reacts well to the removal of a mounted card. I tested this without even knowing it, because I found myself occasionally removing a card while the application was enabled, forgetting to disable it first. The worst problem I had with this was a soft reset, and often not even that.
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