There was a time when we would have drooled at the thought of carrying our address books and calendars on a sleek, 3-by-5 gadget like 3Com’s Palm handheld organizers. We would have thought a handheld Mac satellite that ran for two months on a pair of AAA batteries was cool.
But despite all the catchy features added to the new Palm IIIx and $449 Palm V organizers, this whole address book-calendar thing just doesn’t make jaws drop anymore. The much bigger news is 3Com’s release of its long-delayed but excellent MacPac software kit.
As of right now, the Palm organizer is no longer an expensive electronic address book for the stylish Mac user. Thanks to an ingenious array of new Mac programs, that little handheld device can now be a seamless extension of your Mac. Want to put Microsoft Office, FileMaker Pro, Quicken, or Eudora in the palm of your hand? Let us show you the way.
The new MacPac software comes in two parts. One is Palm Desktop, a made-over version of the address book-calendar program once known as Claris Organizer. Far more important is the component most Mac fans don’t know anything about: the behind-the-scenes software known as Conduit Manager.
Conduits are plug-ins from other software companies that create hookups between the Palm and various popular Mac programs. Thanks to this technology, the Palm can exchange data with your Mac applications, as long as someone has written an appropriate plug-in and you’ve placed that plug-in in the Conduits folder.
Now that the new MacPac has arrived, a flood of new conduits has also arrived. Here’s a look at the first crop of Mac-Palm third-party conduits. With these doodads installed, you can put your Palm organizer in the included cradle, press a single button, and watch as the palmtop synchronizes data HotSyncs with all kinds of friendly Mac programs. Be warned: some of them are good enough to make you rethink the way you do your work.
Business to Go
At first you might consider it ludicrous to work with your business productivity data (in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, for example) on a handheld computer. Be surprisedvery surprised.
It’s no surprise that DataViz came up with Documents To Go 1.0, a handy converter. The company has been in the Mac file-conversion business for years. When you drag your Microsoft Word or Excel documents into the Documents To Go window, they effortlessly convert into Palm-readable format and load onto your palmtop at the next HotSync. The entire process requires only a single mouse dragor less, if you use the contextual control-click menu to select any Word or Excel file in the Finder. Better yet, if you edit the original document later, the Documents To Go conduit is smart enough to noticeand to send the revised version automatically to the Palm at the next HotSync. On your Palm, you read these text and spreadsheet documents using WordView and SheetView, tiny Palm programs designed for the purpose. These programs are thoughtfully designedSheetView is the only Palm spreadsheet application, for example, that lets you split the spreadsheet into individually scrolling panes.
The big Documents To Go bummer is that you can’t edit the translated documents; in version 1.0, your documents are read-only. And it’s a shame that WordView can’t display bold or italicsa feature that’s available in other Palm text readers. (DataViz says it’s working on both issues.) Still, the software does what it does remarkably smoothly, and even just the ability to read your Office documents while you’re in transit is a useful new way to multitask.
His day job is writing software for Apple; good thing Rob Tsuk had time to write FMSync. This conduit synchronizes a FileMaker Pro database with Land-J Technologies’ JFile ($20 shareware), the most popular Palm database program. FMSync’s intelligence is astounding; before the HotSync, you tell it which FileMaker databases, and even which layouts in those databases, you’d like translated to the Palm. (Even if your FileMaker database contains 300 fields, JFile can handle only 20. Therefore it’s usually best to create a FileMaker layoutwith 20 fields or lessexclusively for FMSync.) At the next HotSync, FMSync builds a matching database on your Palm, complete with named fields of the correct type and in the correct order. From now on, after a HotSync your FileMaker database will reflect any changes you make on the Palm, and vice versa.
As though that weren’t enough power, you can even specify FileMaker scripts to run before and after the HotSync process. (You could ferret out clients in zip code 10024 who owe you money, for example.) A check box lets you control whether Jfile should receive the entire database or only the records in the currently found set.
Eudora, Outlook, and More
Windows users enjoy the ability to read and reply to e-mail on the Palmeven without getting a modem for it. At each HotSync, unread messages from their Windows e-mail program appear in the Palm’s built-in Mail program. Macintosh fans have been gnashing their teeth for years, unable to use Palm Mail.
That wait is over, thanks to Actual Software’s simple, cleverly designed MultiMail Conduit 1.1. Each time you HotSync, your e-mail from Qualcomm’s Eudora or Eudora Light or (with version 1.2) Microsoft’s Outlook Expresseither unread mail or messages a specified number of days oldtransfers to Palm Mail. If you prefer, you can HotSync your e-mail into the more powerful MultiMail Palm program itself ($60 bundled with the Mac conduit), which can also retrieve your e-mail directly from the Net if you buy a Palm modem. Either way, if you write replies on the palmtop, they transfer back to your Mac e-mail program at the next HotSync. (Support for Claris Emailer is coming soon.)
Money Matters 3Com calls its best-selling baby an organizer, but make no mistake: it’s a real computer. (It even runs a Motorola 68000-family processor, just like Macs of old.) As such, it’s perfect for crunching your financial numbers.
You probably conduct most of your financial transactions, such as cash-machine visits and writing checks, when you’re away from your desk. The Palm screams for a program that could record this information as you make your transactions and then dump this data automatically into Intuit’s Quicken when you return home.
Enter LandWare’s $40 Pocket Quicken. It’s a nearly full-fledged Quicken clone, complete with transaction splits, memorized transactions, autofill, password protection, categories and classes, and a Quicken-like transaction register.
At the first HotSync, the Pocket Quicken conduit sends your Quicken file’s list of accounts, balances, and categories to the palmtop. You go about your business, recording transactions as they occur, enjoying how Pocket Quicken reduces writing to the bare minimum.
Finally, you return to your desk. You press your HotSync-cradle button and watch in amazement as Quicken 98 launches by itself and, before your eyes, starts generating register transactions that reflect what you recorded on the Palm. The process is smooth as silk, even in the beta version we tested.
Major note: this data transfer is one-way. Your desktop never sends the transaction data to the Palm. Pocket Quicken is a sophisticated electronic scratch pad for recording transactions that you pour into your desktop computer.
Another built-in Palm program long useless to Mac users is the Expense application, which lets you jot down travel and business expenses as they occur. On Windows, when you return home, Expense totals, categorizes, and neatly lays out all these expenses in a ready-to-print Excel spreadsheet.
Shana comes to the rescue with Expense Creator, a free program included with the new MacPac. (To get it, download the Palm Extras file from palm.com or get Expense Creator directly from Shana.) It works exactly the same way except that it doesn’t require you to buy Microsoft Excel in order to print out your expense reports. This free program is actually a full-fledged database application that retains all your expense reports, which you can search, summarize, and organize. Its breadth of preference settings is impressive, especially for a freebie: you can input your reimbursement rate for mileage, foreign-currency exchange rates, a date range for items you want to appear on the report, and so on. Shana’s Expense Creator Advanced offers even more features and a wider selection of report templates. It’s better suited to hard-core corporate types, since it lets you add your logo, calculate sales tax, create custom fields, and more.
Mac users can now use the Expense program built into the Palmtoo bad it’s so bare bones. Among other limitations, it lets you tag each expense with one of 28 categories (Dinner, Taxi, and so on) but if you want to record an expenditure that’s not on the list of 28 types, you’re out of luck.
If expense reports are part of your life, you’d be much happier with WalletWare’s Expense Plus. Thanks to its unusual level of intelligence and logic, recording an expense as complex as “Taxi to the restaurant today, paid in cash, $5, to meet with Bob Smithers” takes only four taps. The large icons for specifying such data aren’t just easy targetsthey’re in shades of gray, making Expense Plus the first commercial program to take advantage of the Palm’s gray-scale screen features. You can even enter dollar amounts by pressing the Palm’s scroll buttons, making it easy to record an expense on the run without the stylus. When you return home, a HotSync transfers all of your data into your choice of Mac expense-report-generating software: Excel, FileMaker, Expense Creator, or any AppleScript-savvy program you care to script. However, it’s important to note this program’s size: 326K, absolutely massive by Palm standards.
Organizing Done Better
Palm Desktop is an important part of the MacPac; for the first time, it offers a better-than-decent address book-calendar for Mac fans (and it’s free). But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement: the Palm Desktop calendar isn’t networkable, for example.
It’s been two years since Qualcomm bought Now Up-to-Date and Contact and promised to merge the two programs into a single, updated app with Palm connectivity. But at press time, Qualcomm refused to promise to ever ship the new Eudora Planner, with or without Palm connectivity.
But that’s OK, because a newcomer has filled the voidChronos’s calendar, address-book, to-do, and memo program, Consultant 2.5.6 with Conduit 1.10. This potent, full-fledged program is an organizer along the lines of Palm Desktop itselfbut offers a prodigious list of extra features, such as a built-in journal, speech, a customizable button bar, Gantt charts, networkability, and copious preference options. And unlike Palm Desktop, Consultant lets you attach notes to your appointments and other records without creating any weirdness. As disappointed corporate users have discovered, Consultant’s networking feature is its weakest link. It relies on file sharing, not a server like the defunct Now Up-to-Date, and you can send only private appointments to the Palm; public events get stranded on your Mac. If hard-core networking isn’t your thing, though, you’ll appreciate the cool looks, modern feel, and English-translation features of Consultant.
For Mac fans pining for the server-based convenience of shared group calendars à la Now Up-to-Date, the solution is at hand. TeamSoft’s TeamAgenda 3.1, in beta testing as this story went to press, seems to have it all. It’s fast, stable, small, cross-platform, mind-bogglingly flexible, and inexpensive ($130 per seat for four users, with the per-user price decreasing as you buy more copies). You can scale the time “slices” in TeamAgenda’s Day View from 5 minutes to 2 hours, specify fonts for everything, and even compare multiple agendas side by side. The program syncs with FileMaker, offers an optional Web interface, and is as simple to use as you could expect a group scheduler to be.
The included, free Palm conduit lets you specify what range of dates you’d like HotSynced and uses logical rules to govern how TeamAgenda’s various appointment types transfer.
Aportis Technologies’ BrainForest is the commercial incarnation of the popular Palm shareware program Outliner. The program is like a cross between an outliner and a project schedulerit lets you add check boxes or due dates to each item in the outline.
BrainForest Professional includes a smooth, solid Macintosh version of the program, with files the Palm version can read. BrainForest is not, however, a true conduitit can’t intelligently resolve simultaneous changes made to the Mac and Palm versions of your outlines. Instead, it’s up to you to keep track of where the current version of your complete file existson the Palm or on the Mac. Coming Soon
The floodgates have opened. Among the Mac programs soon to HotSync with the Palm: On Technology’s Meeting Maker, a corporate scheduling and calendar program; CS&T’s Corporate Time enterprisewide, cross-platform calendar, scheduling, and e-mail program; Century Software’s ClockWork Day Planner personal calendar and to-do manager; and, we suspect, many more.
The Last Word
In attempting to track the popularity of the Palm among Mac fans, Palm Computing once tallied the sales of the MacPac. Today, however, Mac fans don’t actually need to buy the MacPac. They can download the free software and buy the necessary cradle adapter for $6 from Palm Computing (or, since it’s a standard serial-port adapter, from an electronics shop).
Therefore, Palm now gauges Mac interest by watching subscription requests for InSync Online, the company’s free e-mail tricks-and-tips newsletter. You can sign up for it at palm.com (specify that you’re interested in Mac information).
More important, the company closely monitors the registration cards for newly purchased Palm devices. (You won’t wind up on junk-mail lists if you check the “I prefer not to receive mailings” box.) It’s worth mailing that card (with the Macintosh check box selected) to ensure that 3Com hears from the Macintosh crowd. After all, now more than ever, the world’s most elegant palmtop and the world’s most elegant desktop computer are a match made in heaven.
Contributing Editor DAVID POGUE is the author of PalmPilot: The Ultimate Guide, second edition (O’Reilly, 1999).
Putting the New MacPac to Work
If you’re a Palm user, Palm’s MacPac software is destined to become an integral part of your life. To save time and hassle, it’s worth getting to know these undocumented shortcuts.
Palm Desktop’s calendar, like the Palm’s, offers three views Daily, Weekly, and Monthly. You can quickly switch among the views via the keyboard shortcuts command-shift-D, -W, and -M, respectively. Or repeatedly click on the View Calendar icon on the tool bar to jump from view to view.
To jump to the previous or next day, week, or month, press command-left arrow or command-right arrow insteadand if you throw in the option key as well, you jump a week at a time in Daily or Weekly views. In Monthly view, if you double-click on a calendar square, a dialog box appears, asking if you’re creating a Task, Appointment, or Event Banner. Double-click on the option you wantor just type the first letter and press return.
If you’re entering names and addresses into Palm Desktop directly, don’t bother pressing the shift keyPalm Desktop capitalizes the first letter of each name automatically. Nor do you have to format your phone number with parentheses and hyphens. By choosing Preferences from the Edit menu, you can select an automatic formatting option for your phone numbers and then type them all without any punctuation.
Another caution: resist the temptation to use the Email label in the first block of four phone numbers in Palm Desktop. Instead, enter each e-mail address in the Email field at the bottom of the Contact window (in the Other Information area). Only this field is HotSynced to the corresponding Palm address-book e-mail field. Finally, use the Comments field to store miscellaneous notes instead of attaching a Note; by doing so, you avoid having to face the Note Conundrum.
The Note Conundrum
On the Palm, you can attach a Note to an appointment, to-do item, or address-book entry. In Palm Desktop, however, this note-attaching feature doesn’t work the same way.
Adding notes on your Palm device works beautifully. When you HotSync, such notes transfer to Palm Desktop as attachments to the correct items, exactly as on the Palm.
The problem arises when you want to attach notes in Palm Desktop . They don’t appear as attached notes on your Palm unless you take a peculiar step. You must name such a note using one of these special titles Handheld Note: To Do Item, Handheld Note: Address Book, or Handheld Note: Date Book (depending on the kind of item to which you’re attaching the note).
After creating your note in this way, then you can attach it to a calendar, address book, or to-do item (by dragging its handle onto the target item) and it indeed HotSyncs to the Palm as a note attachment.
If you HotSync two (or even more) Palm devices to the same Mac, you can make it easy to switch among different Palm Desktop data sets.
Open the folder in which Palm Desktop is installed, open the Users folder, open the folder with the first Palm device’s name, and make an alias of the User Data file. Rename that aliasfor example, “Dave’s Palm IIIx”and stash it in your Apple menu. Repeat the process with the User Data file from your other Palm device, this time calling the alias, say, “Jennifer’s Palm V.” From now on, you can switch Palm Desktop files by choosing the appropriate name from your Apple menu, cutting many steps out of the usual procedure.
In addition to Palm Desktop, the new MacPac includes an assortment of clever add-ons. (If you downloaded the MacPac from the Palm Web site, be sure to download the Palm Extras component as well.) The Faster HotSync software, for example, doubles the speed of HotSyncing to a Mac (to 112 Kbps instead of the usual 56). But don’t install this amazing utility if you HotSync the same Palm to Windows and the Mac OS.
And if you’re the proud owner of a late-model PowerBook or a Bondi blue iMac, you can actually HotSync by just pointing your infrared-equipped Palm at your computer’s infrared jackno cradle needed. This kit consists of four files you drag onto your Mac’s System Folder icon, plus four files you install onto your Palm (their names end with the usual .prc suffix).
To save time, use some of Palm Desktop’s undocumented keystrokes. Change the date
by pressing plus (+) or hyphen (-), or click here
to choose the date from a pop-up calendar. Specify time
by typing the minimum keystrokes necessary-8a suffices for 8 a.m., and 135 indicates 1:35 p.m. Press plus and hyphen to set the hour, and shift-plus and shift-hyphen to adjust the minutes. Or just use a 24-hour clock
(D); if you type 2115, Palm Desktop records 9:15 p.m.