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Old 11-27-2004, 06:46 PM   #1
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PalmOS to Pocket PC: Part I - Intro

After lots of stalling, I've decided the time has come to share some of my experiences moving from a PalmOS device (my Sony SJ33 Clie) to a Pocket PC device (my "new" refurbished Toshiba e405.) I am by no means an expert on PPC devices after a few weeks, but I think I have learned a lot that might be interesting to others. As I may get a bit long-winded, I've broken this article into parts. Only this first installment is written so far, so I don't make any promises about when the next portions will appear.

When I first made the jump, I thought I would be a lonely voice sharing the secrets of conversion from Palm to PPC. Now I realize I'm one tree in a forest. A lot of people are making the jump. Some turn right around and head back to Palm, but some live happily ever after in the Windows Mobile world. There are some good sources of info out there from people who have converted, and a good Google search will probably pop some up for you. Maybe someone will post a reply to this article that has a few of those links also.

Before I bore you with too much detail, let me emphasize a few high-level observations:

1) You will do even simple tasks in different ways on Palm and PPC devices. In my case, there are a few things that are more annoying with the PPC, but it is more powerful even for basic PIM tasks. For example, even with my 240x320 screen, Pocket Informant has some really nice calendar views that I would find it hard to live without if I ever go back to a Palm PDA. But Palm is simple, when you do something it takes less taps, and when you do it you generally know exactly what you did. With Pocket PC, sometimes I just hope it did what I wanted it to do, and I often am left with the feeling that I "missed" something or maybe it didn't enter the data where I wanted it to go, or just plain OOPs!

2) Neither OS is, in my opinion, significantly better. I prefer PalmOS, but Windows Mobile is more fun. By that I think I mean it is more modern. Going from PalmOS to Windows Mobile feels a little like moving forward two versions of a software application. It's slicker and more powerful. But as you probably have experienced somewhere down the line, the plain 'ole boring versions of software from the past are sometimes actually better than the newer versions.

3) If a PDA is based on a decent OS (such as PalmOS and Windows Mobile), then what matters most to me are the following:
* Large user base (it gives some assurance of software availablity and support)
* Lots of good software at reasonable prices
* Lots of good hardware at reasonable prices
There's been a hiccup in my opinion on the Palm side with the hardware, and that's why I'm using a PPC device right now. But I really do like PalmOS, and may very well make the trip back to the Palm world in the future.

4) If you convert to PPC, you will have to convert to using MS Outlook as this is what the PIM functions sync to. It's similar to the Palm Desktop's role for a Palm PDA.

5) If you are not too picky about how your data is stored, or if you pretty much stick to standard contact , tasks and calendar info, then you may find the transition relatively painless. But get ready for some work if, like me, you have to have everything just right so that you don't have to think about entering or retrieving data, and you don't want to get annoyed while using the device, and you have a whole lot of structured data in places like Shadow and Notepad. Hopefully, though, with some of the ideas in future parts of this article, you will be able to get functional pretty quickly, and then you can take your time to make things just like you want them. That first week or so when I didn't have my data all converted over, and I didn't know what basic programs could serve the functions I was doing on my Palm, I was very frustrated. If you follow some of my suggestions you may get to that point pretty quickly.

THE STATE OF PALMOS

There is a lot of growing discontent these days with the PalmOS products available on the market. Power PDA users are increasingly growing frustrated with the lack of PalmOS power devices with some of the features that are expected by the hi-tech users... HiRes++ screens, decent battery life, stable operation, WiFi and BlueTooth, decent quantities of memory, etc. The T5 shows promise, but came out amidst all kinds of issues, and even the Treo 650 has some memory issues. Now word comes out that PalmOne promises to fix the Treo, but I haven't seen any indication they are so commited to pleasing the T5 customers. I think traditional PDA buyers of the more powerful PDAs may face a string of disappointments on the PalmOne side because all the money and the future hopes are riding on smart phones, not traditional PDAs.

But those desired features are popping up in the Windows Mobile world on a regular basis now. While the screen resolution has actually lagged the hires Palm devices for a while, more recently there are a new crop of VGA devices such as the Dell PDA that our very own Alexander Turcic has picked up. The temptation is there for Palm users to think about a switch to Pocket PC. I suspect that even many of the current Palm users that won't admit it have even been tempted and are thinking about it every now and then.

No one knows what the future of PalmOS is, and PalmSource seems to be struggling. Troubles abound in getting devices out with Cobalt (PalmOS Version 6), and many wonder if the operating system is viable. Rumors tell us it may be slow and not ready for prime time. And horror or horrors, it seems that PalmOne is becoming more serious about making Treos with a non-PalmOS basis. That comes just as they are wrapping up their multi-year and multi-million dollar contract with PalmSource. Other licensees are hard to come by, and they are not nearly as large as PalmOne. Anyone who is looking for continuity is surely thinking about how long they will be able to stick with PalmOS devices, or if we will all be buying Treos running Windows Mobile in a year or two.

I don't pretend to be able to tell the future, nor do I think that PalmOS is on its deathbed yet. For example, the Zodiac gaming system is a very impressive piece of hardware, and there's every hope that there will be a Zodiac 2 coming out in 2005. There's a massive collection of PalmOS developers still hard at work, and while there's an occassional defector to the PPC platform, the masses are not jumping ship. I also believe that recent polls have indicated some amazingly high loyalty rates in PDA owners. In a poll I saw, the numbers were something in the neighborhood of 75-80% or more of existing PDA owners plan to stick with their current OS rather than switch. There's just way too much good stuff going on with PalmOS to worry much right now. (If you are shaken by the rapid fire bad news for Palm recently, just spend some more time reading the daily Palm Addicts news and you'll remember all the good news about Palm, and your fears will be eased!)

SOME BACKGROUND ABOUT MY LIFE WITH PDAs

PalmOS PDAs have been my platform of choice for many years, beginning with a Palm I which I splurged on after seeing it at an office products store. But my journey into a more organized life began with Franklin Planners and Day-Timer paper products not long after I began my career in business. Until then I was content with lots and lots of pieces of paper and some sticky notes for the reminders that I wanted to keep right in front of my nose. It worked okay for me in school, but in the business world I needed more, and most importantly, I wanted a backup. The thought of losing my paper organizer was actually frightening because I'd be lost without it. I even made occassional backups with the copy machine. And just the other day, I saw the remnants of someone's paper planner scattered and splattered all over the road I take home from work. My stomach turned as I thought about that poor person's consequences. Not to mention the personal security risk if the wrong people pick up those lost papers.

When I switched to a Palm PDA, I got two very important things. (1) I got a backup copy of my data on my PC, and (2) I got to play with a really cool toy all the time, even at work! When the Palm IIIxe came out, I jumped on one. It lasted me a long time because I was afraid to buy a color PDA and lose my great battery life. Eventually I bought a Sony Clie SJ33 with a hires color screen and I started to discover that PDAs are a whole lot more than I thought. My battery life was great, and the new screen and memory capacity revolutionized my view of PDAs forever. I found some of the great sites like Palm Addicts and Brighthand and PDA247, and eventually even MobileRead.com. I discovered the amazing software available that allowed me to have all kinds of content to read, simpler PIM functions due to the screen quality, and I learned that you can do all kinds of ebook reading as well as clipping web site content for mobile reading.

I'm dependent on all these sorts of functions for my daily life. But mostly I depend on the basic PIM functions... Calendar/Datebook, Address Book, ToDo Lists, and Notes. It may not sound fancy, but that's the real reason I have a PDA, and it really does help me keep my life a lot straighter than it would be without it. Like David Allen says in his Getting Things Done book, you must have a trusted place you can record all the things that are running around in your mind that you feel compelled to keep track of. When you put all that in your trusted place, you can free up all that mind power that was so preoccupied with keeping track of things, and you can be creative and focus on the work you need to do at that moment. Even with paper planners, that principal was so valuable that I felt a huge burden lift once I figured out how to keep all those sorts of things on paper in an organized fashion. (As many of you have discovered, the paper planner or PDA is not enough by itself. You have to figure out what information you need to record, how to record it, and how best to keep it organized.) But now a PDA is a place I can really trust that my data is safe and easy to get to. Not quite so easy on my PPC as on my Palm, but good enough, I guess.

Now that you know why I use a PDA, it will make more sense when I talk about adopting and converting to my new PPC. For me, it's all about PIMs and mobile reading. Everything else is a bonus, even if other programs are useful or important to me. And I'm really only interested in simple games. The kind that you can play to relax when your mind is numb and you're worn out from the day. Anything that has too much action or is too challenging and complex just makes me want to go back to Patience. Which reminds me... I have a complaint about solitaire programs. But for that, you'll have to wait for next time!

NEXT TIME
... My new Toshiba PPC and the conversion of my Palm data.

Note: Part II can now be found at PalmOS to Pocket PC: Part II - Conversion
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Old 11-28-2004, 01:34 AM   #2
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For me, and many others, PocketPC is simply the wrong choice, in every regard, for many reasons:
  1. It doesn't work with anything but Windows. That leaves out the growing Apple OSX, Linux, and FreeBSD userbase.
  2. It also doesn't use standard, known, documented synchronization protocols, nor are the tools to develop for it or interface with it, free.
  3. It does not use standard file or data record formats, such as iCal (no, not Apple's iCal, the actual iCalendar specification), or vCard, or CSV, or anything else that would make it easy to migrate to or from other devices and platforms to this device.
  4. Battery life, weight, size, and lack of solid applications are another handful of things missing from PocketPC devices.
Sure, in time, these devices could possibly equal or surpass what Palm developers have now, but Palm has 8 years ahead of PocketPC and hundreds of thousands of developers. Why? See #2 above for one major answer.Its not about the OS, its about what it does, and PocketPC, when compared to a recent PalmOS-based handheld device, doesn't even step up to the table.

PalmOS devices are quick, powerful, simple, and work with every single major platform out there, out of the box. PocketPC forces my choices down to the very slim and narrowing Microsoft product suite.

I'm also not in the habit of recycling my $400 device every 6 months, like these vendors try to encourage everyone to do. $400 devices are not "disposable" in my world.

But that's just my opinion. Microsoft has a LOT of catching up to do.

Last edited by hacker; 11-28-2004 at 01:36 AM.
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Old 11-28-2004, 09:32 AM   #3
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hacker,

I too thought that there was a lot of catching up needed by PPC, but I tell you that gap has narrowed significantly. I think Bob is very much on point here, and expresses many of the same issues that I have had with Palm devices lately. I changed from a Sony Clie NX80 to a Tungsten T3 and it has been an unmitigated disaster. The platform from the HW side is becoming a large problem.

You are correct about all of your issues, of course, but for most of us (Windows users) this is not a huge issue. Of course, my company uses Outlook, so this is much less of an issue for me. The biggest issues you listed, in my opinion, is the form factor, but I expect that to improve over time.

Myself, I am looking at the Dell Axim, so I look forward to seeing what Bob and Alex have to say about their conversion experiences.
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Old 11-28-2004, 08:51 PM   #4
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Excellent article, Bob. I'm really looking forward to the rest of your posts on the subject (as someone who made the jump from Palm OSto PPC well over a year ago).

Craig.
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Old 11-28-2004, 10:05 PM   #5
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Very nice article, Bob.
I find it funny, but it's hard for me to be impartial in such a discussion. I guess I'm too attached to my Palm, or is it just that I've spent a lot of time learning about PalmOS?
So far I'm still satisfied with PalmOS, but I can tell you my disatisfaction has been growing. Otherwise, why would I be reading a post named PalmOS to PocketPC?
I've owned three devices so far: a Vx, an SJ22 and a T3. If you ask me what are the main differences between them, among the top ten I would list the MTBR (mean time between resets... I just made it up). God Lord, PDAs DO a lot MORE now, but at the cost of a less stable performance.
Right now my T3 is as stable as my previous PDAs, but this has costed me a lot! I've had to find different ways and apps to go around Garnet shortcomings. For example, I was forced to use TealLock, because my PDA would never autolock at midnight. I realize, right now, that I would never bother to deal with PalmOne support! I've fixed everything through forums like this one! I guess I'm ready for Linux.
However, now that my PDA is running smoothly, I can only see the bright side: I think the T3 hardware is outstanding (I love the mic, the slider, even the voice memo button --so handy to scroll in iSilo--, etc.) and software can (almost) always be patched (LOL).
As for what you mention, from my point of view, syncing with nothing but Outlook is a big disadvantage, as I plainly hate it. That wouldn't be a nice surprise.
I'm looking forward the following parts of your review. I'd like to know about crashes (how often), time to recover from a reset (do resets exist in the dark side?), although this is much more device oriented. How about virus? (we're talking about MS here).

Last edited by Francesco; 11-28-2004 at 10:11 PM.
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Old 11-30-2004, 09:33 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hacker
For me, and many others, PocketPC is simply the wrong choice, in every regard, for many reasons:
  1. It doesn't work with anything but Windows. That leaves out the growing Apple OSX, Linux, and FreeBSD userbase.
  2. It also doesn't use standard, known, documented synchronization protocols, nor are the tools to develop for it or interface with it, free.
  3. It does not use standard file or data record formats, such as iCal (no, not Apple's iCal, the actual iCalendar specification), or vCard, or CSV, or anything else that would make it easy to migrate to or from other devices and platforms to this device.
  4. Battery life, weight, size, and lack of solid applications are another handful of things missing from PocketPC devices.
Sure, in time, these devices could possibly equal or surpass what Palm developers have now, but Palm has 8 years ahead of PocketPC and hundreds of thousands of developers. Why? See #2 above for one major answer.Its not about the OS, its about what it does, and PocketPC, when compared to a recent PalmOS-based handheld device, doesn't even step up to the table.

PalmOS devices are quick, powerful, simple, and work with every single major platform out there, out of the box. PocketPC forces my choices down to the very slim and narrowing Microsoft product suite.

I'm also not in the habit of recycling my $400 device every 6 months, like these vendors try to encourage everyone to do. $400 devices are not "disposable" in my world.

But that's just my opinion. Microsoft has a LOT of catching up to do.
Those are some good points Hacker, and got my interest, so I wanted to share my perspective even if it's slightly different. I don't know that there's any "right or wrong" here, but it does reflect my impressions.

As far as being limited to Windows, I only use Windows with my PDA myself, so that's not a limitation for me. But I wouldn't be surprised if I end up with a Linux desktop in a few years. That would certainly be more of a problem with Windows Mobile as I don't expect Microsoft to put many $s into Linux compatibility

As far as internals and file/synch issues or tools I simply defer to you as the expert. But from the perspective of the apparent effect on the user, I haven't noticed any lack of software. In fact, the quality of PPC seems to be very good, which surprised me a bit. And I've read some comments by PPC MS Mobile developers who speak of it being easier to program for than Palm OS. Plus programs like Skype and games seem to be harder to roll out for Palm. That may be entirely due to the different approaches to multitasking, though, so all I can really say is that PPC developers seem to be doing pretty well. I don't buy any self-reported developer counts such as those from PalmSource, but it might be interesting to compare, say, the number of programs at www.freewarepalm.com vs at www.freewareppc.com.

As far as the hardware, my Toshiba is smaller and lighter than my Clie, and seems to be built better. (Of course, Toshiba is out of the PPC game now, so that doesn't really mean anything!)

The battery life seems to be pretty similar so I don't have any problems there. But I have noticed that a lot of the PPCs seem to be pretty big. And if I succumb to the smart phone thing to avoid two devices, I'll probably have to go with a belt clip or I won't be able to walk right with something that big in my pants pocket!

Additionally, even though my 64meg memory is adequate, I'm almost as "tight" on memory with 64meg on my PPC as I was on a 16meg PalmOS Clie! And the VGA display models probably do require bigger batteries to keep up.

As a consumer, I felt pretty much pushed into PPC because there wasn't a PalmOS choice I was comfortable with. I know there's some decent devices out there, but none of them seemed like one I wanted to spend money on. There seems to be more life in PPC right now. That may shift back and forth between Palm and Windows Mobile devices in the future, but I'm not too worried about the switch too much anymore because I'll stick with MS Outlook on my desktop either way and continue to simplify how my data is stored on the device.

You did mention that Palm is better out of the box and I highly agree!!!!! Palm is not only usable, but with Docs To Go, it's really great. Add-ons are just a convienence. Except for the need for a boxed weekly calendar view with text entries to get some perspective when looking at the date book, I think Palm as-is works fantastic.

But with PPC, add-ons are necessity in my mind. Launchers, task managers, PIM replacements are all pretty essential as far as I can see. Plus, if you want to use MS Office documents, you really need to buy software because the documents are said to lose formatting if you move them to PPC, edit them, and bring them back to the desktop. In fact, of about 5-6 documents I've tried to move into Pocket Excel and Word, only about half of them even worked okay for me. That's pretty bad in my opinion, but on Palm DTG works great.

You also hit the nail on the head that it's really not so much the OS but what the PDA does. But I feel like PPC steps up to the table pretty well. The biggest things I miss are the simplicity, responsiveness and consistency of Palm apps. (Funny... my description of what I miss most probably changes every time I describe it. Maybe there's a lot I miss! Like ShadowPlan. And the Palm version of iSilo. My Patience solitaire game. Etc.)

And some of the difference is because of the OS, but most of it probably has more to do with market momentum and the culture. With Palm you get the zen of Palm, and it really does leave apps with a particular style of minimalist efficiency and consistency, which I prefer. With Windows Mobile on the PPC, I find it's very annoyingly inconsistent in the UI, but it seems to be more colorful, have more powerful software, and have better hardware. But if all PPC developers applied the Palm zen across the board, it would have been a spectacular platform!

I have some pretty stubborn opinions (and unfortunately longwinded ones also)! But I'm very aware it's just one set of thoughts and that doesn't mean I have the answers. Maybe it's a little like how different people with a glimpse at different parts of an elephant will describe it totally differently. All I really hope to do is share what I'm thinking and experiencing. The more views and opinions we get, the better.

And I want very much to see PalmOS grow and prosper. To keep up the competition, and to provide me with a viable choice that I might hop back to in the future.
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Old 11-30-2004, 09:44 PM   #7
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Francesco,

I share your reaction about Outlook.

The interface is badly designed in my opinion, and you have lots of limitations in activesync for note (all notes created on the desktop go to the default mydocuments directory along with a lot of other stuff. yuk!)

But the main reason I don't like it is similar to some other Microsoft software. I guess they try so hard to "simplify" the interface that you really don't know exactly what's happening. It's like when you need technical detail but all you get is broad imprecise laymans language. Or like any bad GUI design that makes you unsure of what the program is doing behind the scenes, or even how and where the data is being stored.

Maybe with time I'll get just as comfortable as I was with the Palm desktop, but somehow I doubt it.

But the good news on PPC is that there are some third party apps that are more straightforward than the Windows Mobile platform itself. Maybe they're converts from Palm programming that wouldn't let go of the zen! I'll share a couple of them in future parts of this article, but for example one is Tombo. In fact, if not for the existance of Pocket Informant and Tombo, I probably would not have wanted to stay on the PPC platform. Tombo is basically a hierarchical list of folders and text notes, and each note is a txt file in a directory. Straight forward, can be worked with on the desktop even if the desktop app is not available, as long as you can see the mydocuments on your pda from your pc. I.e. if activesync is connected. Maybe I could have adjusted to an alternative like Streamliner or Phat notes, but I think I would have hated it. And when you depend on something all day long, you don't want to hate using it!!!!
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Old 12-26-2004, 04:33 PM   #8
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I'm another "loyal" palm user who's made the jump to the Pocket PC world... Some of you might find interest in my PDA history:

I used a Palm IIIx throughout college. Batteries and a slowly dying pda sent me to the Handspring Prism. I loved using the SmartMedia card with it once 3rd party support for it came (my wife still uses this set-up, but she doesn't use her PDA as much - just for ePocrates as she's a pharmacist). Eventually the prism battery wouldn't take a charge and I got my Palm Tungsten|T - interestingly the T|T was free because the Handspring was still under warrantee (and no longer being sold).

Finally, I got pissed off at my half-working Tungsten. The T|T (1 through 5) has had power and button related hardware problems and my unit was no exception. The power button stopped working for a while, and eventually the unit degraded until it would turn itself off and on randomly (sometimes repeatedly, and once or twice non-stop for days at a time).

When I read in forums that the later tungstens had the same problems, I decided to be rid of the Palm line and researched other Palm-source brands. I'm not a big fan of Sony (I use SD not memory-stick) and there aren't many other reasonable choices out there.

At this point I looked into the PPC devices. I'd always heard about compatibility issues and lack of software. Although there is less software for the PPC, the average quality seems to be better (which makes it easier to find the A+ applications). Any compatibility issues (ARM vs. other processors) seems to be non-existant with the new PPCs. I also liked the compatibility with Outlook (which I use at work and home). Once I confirmed that there were Go (game) applications for PPC, I was decided.

I now have a Dell Axim X30 (high) thank's to Santa Claus.
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