Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for the ‘Buzzwords’ Category

Another buzzword: Compatibility

Posted by Michael Brown on August 10, 2005

When it comes to handhelds, there are three key areas for compatibility: expansion media, connection interfaces, and software. Expansion media are removable memory cards, like “floppy disks”. There are several kinds out there, but the two that are compatible with palm products are MMC and SD cards.

Connection interfaces refers to how you want to hook your handheld up to the desktop computer. Most new units ship with a USB (Universal Serial Bus) cable or cradle, as all new computers have them. Older computers, or PC’s running Windows 95 or NT, don’t support USB and require an optional serial cable or cradle. It should be noted that the actual connector on the handheld has evolved over the years and different models, so you should check compatibility if you buy any peripherals. palmOne models use mini-USB on some Zire and Tunsten models, the older Universal Connector (currently on the Tunsten C) and the new Athena connector (as seen on the Tungsten E2 and T5, Treo 650, and the new LifeDrive).

Our final piece of the compatibility puzzle is software. Software must be written for your type of handheld (Palm OS, as opposed to Windows or Pocket PC), and it must be written to support the hardware inside your handheld. Palm handhelds and smartphones have evolved over the years, and so have their “guts”. Earlier models ran on Motorola DragonBall microprocessors, and shipped with Palm OS versions from 1.0 to 4.1. Newer units are based on ARM processors, and run Palm OS versions 5.0 and up. Normally, such a drastic change in processors would mean that all software written for older units would not run on newer units. Palm, however, wasn’t going to obsolete the nearly 20,000 software programs available for Palm handhelds.

PACE was Palm’s solution for running older software on newer handhelds; the Palm Application Compatibility Environment. PACE basically “translates” the older software’s instructions into something the new processor can understand, and vice versa. Older software that “follows the rules” will generally run on newer devices. If it did “sneaky things under the hood”, then likely it won’t work. I moved several applications I used on my older Palm OS 3.5 units to newer ARM-based OS 5 units without problems. There are always exceptions to the rules, so it’s best to check and make sure that the program you want to use/buy is compatible with your device.

These buzzwords really become issues when you either buy new stuff for older handhelds, or you want to take a handheld beyond what initially came in-the-box. When you are shopping for new stuff for older devices, consider getting things that can move with you as time and techology progresses. The palm Infrared Keyboard is a perfect example of this. I had bought a Palm IIIx a while back, and later bought a folding keyboard for it. When I upgraded first to a TRGPro, and later a Handera 330, I was still able to use that keyboard, because all three devices used the Palm III HotSync connector. When I later upgraded to a Tungsten T, I was out of luck; the Universal Connector was the new standard, and the keyboard was incompatible with it. The Universal Connector has now been replaced by the Athena connector, which is not compatible. The Treo line, up to the 600, use their own type of connector, which isn’t compatible with the others. So, when it came time to buy a keyboard to use with my current handhelds (Treo 600 and Tungsten T), the choice was obvious; the Palm Infrared Wireless Keyboard would work with both my current devices, as well as any future ones.

Now that we’ve talked about some of the “techo-babble”, let’s start talking about using it. Next week we’ll talk about things we can do “out-of-the-box”.

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This weeks buzzword: Inter-operability.

Posted by Michael Brown on July 15, 2005

Inter-operability can be very simply defined as “plays well with others”. Once information is entered or stored in any digital system or media, it should be able to be read in any other system, right? After all, it’s digital now, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case; hence the need for the term inter-operability.

The most important aspect of inter-operability is the least tangible one; namely, software. Software is what really makes a computer go, kind of like how gas makes a car go. Software must be “compiled” for a particular type of computer, similar to needing gas for a car and diesel for a dump truck; different “stuff” for different “engines”. Software creates “files”, which are the means by way digital information is shared. So, to inter-operate with one another, both the handheld and the desktop must be able to understand the file they share.

Since handhelds are meant to synchronize with a desktop computer, they need to “play well” with your desktop’s Operating System and it’s relevant files. For example, all palmOne devices ship with Palm Desktop for Windows, which is a mirror of the information on your handheld, but in a Windows application. Similarly, business-oriented handhelds like the Tungsten and Treo lines ship with Microsoft Outlook synchronization conduits, allowing your PDA to “play” with Outlook’s files. Most palmOne handhelds ship with Documents to Go, which lets your handheld work with Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, as well as text files and some other document types.

Inter-operability isn’t simply limited to the Windows Operating System and it’s applications. Palm OS inter-operates with other operating systems. Palm Desktop is available for the Mac platform, as is Apple’s bundled iSync solution. There is a product called “The Missing Sync” that adds additional support for Palm-Mac synchronization. Many third-party Palm applications have Mac desktop components. Palm handhelds inter-operate well with Linux desktop systems, through pilot-link conduits and other Palm-friendly means. There are a number of Linux applications that share information with Palm Powered handhelds and smartphones.

Inter-operability doesn’t end at the desktop. Many large companies have corporate e-mail, calendaring, and customer relations management/sales force automation software (CRM & SFA) that connect office staff to mobile workers. There are several companies that supply software that allows Palm handhelds and Treo smartphones to integrate/inter-operate with these corporate solutions. These products run on a server in your companies’ datacenter, or are “hosted” by service providers like Bell Mobility or Rogers Wireless for smaller businesses. These products are available for Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange/Outlook, Novell Groupwise, and other groupware solutions. There are also market-specific software like Top Producer and Agent Office, both of which are Palm inter-operable Real Estate software applications.

They key to inter-operability is the same for collaborating amongst people; a clear understanding of the information being shared. This is best achieved through the use of standards and extensible platforms. There are few technical reasons why electronic devices cannot inter-operate; usually it comes down to vendors choosing to support – or not support – particular platforms. Fortunately, Palm OS is the most widely supported mobile platform in existence today, which is why we have such a choice of software available to work with, both on the desktop or server, and on the handheld or smartphone itself.

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Convergence and other buzzwords.

Posted by Michael Brown on June 12, 2005

There are a lot of “buzzwords” in the tech industry, and they’re seldom broken down into simple language and clear analysis. The one I’ve chosen for today is “convergence”. Next week, I’ll look at “inter-operability”.

Convergence in technology refers to the evolution of hardware and software so that the functions of several pieces of equipment can be combined into one. A Treo smartphone is an example of a converged device. It combines the power of a handheld computer with the voice and data features of a digital cellular phone. So, that makes converged devices better, right? Well, yes and no.

Stand-alone or single purpose devices are designed to do one thing, and do it well. Converged devices are designed to carry out multiple tasks, which requires both the hardware (and the user interface elements, like buttons) and software to be more general, in order to accommodate those different tasks. Any converged device will involve trade-offs compared to similar single-purpose devices, *guaranteed*.

The question really becomes whether or not the benefits of a converged device out way any drawbacks of not using a single-purpose device. My Dad is fond of using the phrase “Use the right tool for the right job”. I’ve got lots of tools of various types: some are single purpose, because it is the best tool for the job. Others are multi-purpose, because it’s more convenient. Generally, I like multi-purpose tools, which is why I’ve loved the Palm Platform since I first started using it. The biggest advantages of a converged device over single-purpose devices will always be the reduced number of items that one has to carry. Using a Palm Handheld or a Treo has allowed me to get rid of many single-purpose devices, and replace them with a single device, which I carry with me everywhere.

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