CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, September 04, 2000

Personal Digital Assistants

Back in high school, too much PDA meant there was too much "public display of affection" going on. Today, PDA is still a hot topic but with a new meaning: Personal Digital Assistant. The proliferation and popularity of PDAs can be seen everywhere as people connect and beam with Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor, Newton eMate and a host of others.

These handheld devices are personal organizers designed primarily to manage addresses, phone numbers, calendars, expense reports, e-mail and synchronize this information with your primary computer. Additional entertainment value is derived from the hundreds of downloads and programs available for the many PDAs.

The hype surrounding these baby computers, however, is often followed by frustration and buyers remorse after some users find the practical use of these portable devices challenging. After using the Palm Pilot for one year, I've experienced this frustration, but a much needed software upgrades and add-on hardware has finally restored harmony between my Palm and me.

One fact to realize with the Palm is that all you need is not always boxed in one neat package. Often software from third-party vendors is necessary to configure your PDA to perform as promised. For example, I wanted to configure my Palm to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook 2000. This is touted in the marketing materials, but in fact the native Palm Desktop software only synchronizes e-mail with MS Outlook. Address Book, Calendar, To Do List and Expense Reports are synchronized by default with the Palm Desktop software, not Outlook.

For Palm to synchronize the Outlook address book and calendar requires a "conduit" between Palm and Outlook that's provided by Chapura, a third-party vendor that supplies the Pocket Mirror software. The original Pocket Mirror 2.0 software was old when it came with the Palm software and required a 2.05 download to configure Outlook 2000, but still it didn't support many of Outlook's features. Additionally, I was getting duplicate address book entries and errors when synchronizing between multiple PCs.

Chapura has recently resolved most of my problems with their beta release of Pocket Mirror 3.0. Finally, my Palm Pilot is a more true representation of my Outlook desktop configuration. I can now filter my Palm address entries by Outlook catalogs, transfer alarm settings between the handheld and Outlook, and enjoy improved synchronization features.

The new conduit software gives you the ability to resolve conflicts when the same item has been modified on both the Palm and in Outlook. The user can choose between the following options: Outlook wins; Palm wins; or allow duplicates. And the winner is... In short, the new Chapura 3.0 conduit software brings long needed improvements that finally mesh the Palm Pilot and MS Outlook into a much more workable format.

When I first starting using the Palm, I tried diligently to input data into the handheld device using the stylus, but it was just too cumbersome. It was faster to scrawl the information on paper and do the input later in Outlook. The Palm quickly became a "read-only" device, with the exception of Solitaire and Gin Rummy, of course.

Since this defeats the purpose of the device, I investigated the Palm keyboard, as an external add-on device. What a difference a real keyboard makes. This nifty fold up device lies out to a full size keyboard, allowing you to enter data quickly and accurately whether in meetings or on the road. When folded, the keyboard is a little larger than an index card and weighs just 7.9 ounces.

As you evaluate your own needs for a PDA, realize it's not quite as easy plug and play. It requires persistence, keeping pace with upgrades and third party vendors and hardware add-ons to make it truly a useful, portable tool.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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