Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Palmary WLAN-the feast goes on

Wireless LAN(called WLAN or Wi-Fi) for PalmOne handhelds is a topic-or rather its absence in handheld units. While most PocketPCs ship with WLAN and Bluetooth and sometimes even have both, Palm powered handhelds are usually not very communicative when Wireless LAN networks are concerned. Most users accept the lack of this data transmission as god-given and unchangeable, Investing about 150€ can get any PalmONE handheld back into business. However, many options aren't known enough. Thus, I created the list below. It contains at least one option for every handheld introduced after/with the m500-only the Zire, Zire 21, Zire 31 and some of the Treos are excluded.

Enfora WLAN sleds

Concerns: Palm m125, m130, m5xx, Tungsten W, T, T2, T3, Zire 71, Tungsten E Zire 72
All of these Enfora Sleds are externally mounted to the handheld and then allow it to connect to a WLAN network. They may be bulkier, but leave the memory card slot free for expansions! There are a few varietys available online from Enfora, here is a link to their whole product palette:
Price:About 140$

Sandisk WLAN card

Concerns: Tungsten C, Zire 71
Sandisk has been in discussion for almost two years now-will they ever deliver a WLAN Card working with a PalmOne Handheld. SanDisks cards are known to work with many PocketPC's-the company blamed PalmOne to have made changes with the slot driver on certain models to prevent the creation of a WLAN card. In June, SanDisk released a special version of their card(low power consumption) with drivers, working in a Zire 71 and a Tungsten C only. Since you can purchase this article all over the net, I have not attached any link to a particular store here.
Price:About 100$

PalmOne WLAN card

Concerns: Tungsten T3, T5, Zire 72, maybe Treo 650
This Card is PalmOnes official solution-of course also taking up a SD slot. It has only recently been equipped with drivers for the T5 and shall soon be usable with a Treo 650 too. You can also find this accessoire all over the net cheaper then on PalmDirect-so no special mention here neither.
Price: Over 100$

As you see, the only handheld series not mentioned here is the Handspring-developed Treo series . I don't know any extension possibilities for these. My personal oppinion is that Handspring didn't want to integrate an alternative connection possibility to bind end users to the wireless networks of providers. This can of course be only an assumption, but I think that it is a possible reason anyway. Mobile handsets sell best when providers sponsor them-and providers only sponsor stuff that generates them income.

If I forgot something, please leave me a comment. I am also-as always-looking forward to comments!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

PODS-Tutorials, Ebooks and Help-Webserver

I have been using ther PODS for a few hours by now instead of the aging OnboardC-and got pretty angry about the incredibly bad help viewer. when you change to the PODS with a help viewer window open, all of its contents get garbled! So it is reloading time....
However, a right click on a link showed me that it pointed to a web server on my local machine-altough it was running at an unusual port which changed after every start of the PODS. Here is an example of such a link-it will definitely not work on your machine:

Curious as I am, I immediately opened a current link in my web browser-and alas, I was at the corresponding help topic-but now the Page was displayed in Firefox and all problems were finished. Even after I closed the Help viewer window, the online help still was accessible through Firefox. Now, that is astonishing! PODS automatically starts a web server when loaded into memory-just to serve up the on-line help! If that isn't a waste of memory... .

To benefit from this yourself, do the following: Open up Help, and click on one of the links with the right mouse button. Then, you shall see a menu entry details. Click it, and a window with an URL shall show up. After there will be a few numbers followed by a /, just copy these into the link below instead of the PORT.
Into Firefox with it, and have fun. I am using this since 4 reboots on my Windows 2000 machine-so one can say that it is stable!
Tell me what you think about it!!!

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Treo 650 SD Card Giveaway-Mysteries of memory-explained

PalmOne has announced that each Treo 650 buyer is eligible for one(1) free 128Mb SD Card. This card should help reduce the memory loss from flash memory segmentation-PalmONE announces that it is about 30%, but practically, it can be way more, if the individual chunks are much smaller than 512 bytes. Even though 128MB may not be that muich wehn you lok at it today, this is definitely a step in the right direction. In times whwre Palm's arrogance knew no limits, users were left alone with problems like cases falling apart(IIIc), power buttons not working(V series),.. . Now, PalmONE at least says that there is a problem and offers some recompensation in hardware form. Before, the only recompensation action ever made was with the m130's color display lie(!!yes, I am writing lie!!)-and it was a measly game that nobody seemed to quite want.. . Tungsten T5 users are still excluded-but well, when they buy at PalmDirects, they get a free one anyway as with most other handhelds(C,E,Z72)!

Now, many users will not have used an SD Card before and may now ask themselves what will happen. Will the handheld's RAM get extended to 128MB, like we had it with the old memory cards for the Pilot? Or will the card be treated as secondary storage, from where data cannot be run?
I am sorry about having to tell you that the second is the truth. Any program is copied to RAM BEFORE beeing run, then is run from RAM, and then deleted from memory again! Non-VFS-aware apps are even worse, as they keep all their data in the handhelds RAM. VFS-aware apps can at least store data on the card! Now, when there isn't enough free RAM on the handheld for the app-tough luck, the app won't run. Preferences are always stored on the handheld, and only apps resindent in main memory can act as so-called viewers for incoming files!
Thus, this is my advice:
Keep your RAM free! Apps that don't need to synchronize or act as viewers and where delays at startup can be accepted(e.g. games, web browsers, stuff you dont need permanentely)-shouldn't be left in main memory. Copy them out to your SD card-they survive a hard reset there, too!!!

Quo vadis, PalmOS?

On Thursday I was at the Siemens Embedded Day in Vienna-that's where I had the insights about Palm Handheld Bluetooth speed. However, none of the attendants knew anything about the PalmOS-instead, Operating Systems like VxWorks were used. This is definitely a good choice for Real-Time processing. But navigation, car radio controls,..? Wouldn't it be cool to add games and applications to the radio or navigator? This is however impossible-VxWorks and other RTOS(except Windows CE) are not really supported well by third parties. However, cards were distributed that allowed to obtain a free Windows CE evaluation CD at another presentation I visited-M$ even covered the shipment.
Now, the PalmInfoCenter had an interesting article about market shares. The ique3600 is said to be the most popular handheld with a price of over 400$. However, users commented that they never saw an ique in use. PalmOS smartphones are not available at prices under 400€-but I covered that before.
Now, we clearly see that the ique is a GPS system with added features. The PalmOS seems to be alone in the GPS sector when it comes to adding value. I don't know VxWorks, but I don't think that it is easy to create an address book or a game with it.
In addition, a program called Earthcomber was released, that was basically a digital map. It ships with free maps of the whole USA-and Europe should usually follow soon, as the program gets more popular.
Summarizing-the PalmOS currently has a very good stand in the GPS sector. Palmsource however needs to act now, to prevent the creation of different APIs. We experienced that with the Clies already... . To reduce impact on ique users, standardize at least the basics of the ique API. Its proven that it works-set the standard, and let the licencees implement it themselves....
I am-as always-looking forward to comments!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

New data storage on its way

Recently, PDAs get faster. A 400MhZ XSCALE is strong enough to handle a few GB of data. Many users want to carry collections of MP3s and ebooks with them, applications get bigger and bigger as they gain new features!
However, the storage possibilities of most handhelds are still limited to RAM and SD-ard or MemoryStick. Since the later two media types are pretty expensive(per GB), many users wish for a CompactFlash slot in the handhelds! However, size is the prohibitive factor for this fast and comfortable format! So, flash chips aren't the way to go.
When you look for alternatives, most people think of harddisks immediately! They are an old and known concept (since good ole' Seagate Winchester ran for the first time, a good 20 Years must have passed...). Hard Disks have already been reduced in size for portable computers and have been used in the IPOD and as so-called Microdrives for the CF slot. However, they were still way too big for a PDA. Now, however, movement comes into the market!
Around the 15th of October, Sharp shipped the Zaurus C3000 in Japan. It is the first PDA with integrated 4GB harddisk-but well, it's Linux powered and Linux apps needs lots of space anyway...
Since then, movement has come into the mobile HDD market(or the info portals concentrated on the topic). Toshiba announced 0.85 Inch Hard drives that could easily be fit into a SD card. It will come in capacities of 2 and 4 GB at first, but well-we will soon see 8GB versions of this if Moore's Law can also be aplied to memory capacity(I think that it can).
Sony also released some Microdrives with 2 and 4GB of capacity. They are CompactFlash BTW, may this be a sign of death for the MemoryStick, which exists in more than 3 different formats by now?
However, when you look at the medium prices, you make an astonishing discovery. While harddisks tend to get "cheaper" on a cash per MB-ratio with bigger capacities, Memory Cards stay more-less the same. Although the Sony HDD's are pretty expensive with prices of about 200$, they get cheaper on a per MB basis as their capacity gets higher.

So, maybe we will soon experience a bigger price fall on PDA storage cards-now that there is competition, the Flash Chip manufacturers can dictate prices that well anymore..

I am-as always-looking forward to comments!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Firefox 1.0 Party in Vienna

As you all might know, the popular Internet Explorer replacement Firefox was released as version 1.0 a few days ago! On the 20.11.04, the vienniese user community celebrated this. Lets hope that more people will get to use a safe browser..
The party lasted very long(up to 2 o clock in the night) and was very interesting. Various things were discussed-among them Web hosting, Linux desktops(I still prefer KDE), the Palm OS,.... .
The Firefox Browser is a spinoff from Netscape, and is of excellent quality and security. Tabbed browsing allows you to open multiple pages in one window, for example! I can only advice every IE user to upgrade to this new solution-its free, fast and comfortable!
Here are a few pictures of me(in the green suit with the red tie and the spectacles) on the party:

Me and the organizer standing on a table

The notorious row....

The pub was filed with soccer freaks-so our chanting was gladly accepted!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Dead or alive with the Tungsten T3

The Tungsten T5 is out for quite some time now-it was publicly announced on the October the fourth of this year. Its predecessor, the Tungsten T3 has ben lowered in price and was still beeing sold-as we already had it with the Tungsten T and T2, which were also sold in paralell for quite some time! However, this time it was different to the T/T2 deal-the Tungsten T3 and T5 are attractive to different user kinds, as some T3 features were removed from the T5.
Now, many users rose up against the T5-and adviced others to buy a T3 as fast as possible(thus clearing PalmOnes stock)! This has negative impact on the sales of the T5, which is 50$ higher in price. In addition, a Tungsten T3 at 349$ would also affect Zire 72(299$) and Tungsten C(399$, both prices from PalmDIRECT USA) sales negatively. Thus, every economist would discontinue the good ole T3...
By today, I havent gotten any official information concerning the discontinuation of the handheld. It still appears on the PalmOne US product list, and most of the retailers still have it in their stores(at least in Austria).
So, a good man always is on his own and has connections when he wants to find out something important. Walking into a Niedermayer(big austrian electronics store) with a 10€ note, the clerk was too happy to look up the current price and stock of the T3 and the T5 for me-BTW, my note was rejected... . here is the info:
Tungsten T3-439,9€, 3 pieces available in all stores in Austria, marked as discontinued
Tungsten T5-not listed
On Amazon, I dont find any offer from Amazon themselves anymore, but there are still a few smaller shops offering the Handheld for about 320$. The USA palm store offers the T3 on the bottom of the offert list with reduced price, the UK one has it reduced at about 250 british pounds.....
This tells us that PalmOne is slowly starting to kill the T3 from behind-but not officially removing it from the web site. They just let the stores run out of stock eventually-and the market is free for the T5. At least thats my personal oppinion-but I can as well be wrong.
Leave me behind comments if you have something to say. I am looking forward to hearing about your oppinions!

Information about the counter

As you may already have seen, this blog received a hit counter on the 19 November 2004. This counter is powered by www.blogpatrol.com and has been included into the blogs template to appear on the bottom of thre page after all other informations have been loaded.
This counter will gather the following informations:
  • Screen resolution and Operating System
  • Browser type
  • Time of visits(when somebody visited, IPs are NOT logged)
  • Referrer(where you came from) or Google keywords
  • The last 25 IPs that visited the page are also displayed in the counter control panel, in addition to the time of visit

However, there is no way of connecting an IP adress to referrer or Google keyword. It is also not possible to generate more detailled statistics of the user. Names, Email adresses,.. can not be gathered and anonymous comments CAN NOT be linked to IP adresses!

All data gathered will be used for improving the blog(determinig image sizes, use of Java, use of bandwith-intensive stuff,..). If you want to query statistics, please mail me and I shall send you the statistics.

I have put this up for fairness-I think that everyone should know what the counter gathers. If you have questions, comments or complaints, just leave them here as comment or mail them to me!

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Zire 72s-or how to make a product flaw a new product

Well, a few days ago PalmOne has publicly announced the Zire 72s-a zire 72 with silver coating/without the rubbery paint. This rubbery paint was originally treated as one of the new features of the Zire 72, as it should improve the users capability to grip to the handheld! However, soon there were the first reports ofn its paint peeling off.

A guy at PocketFactory took the game to the end, removing the last reminders of the color and creating a silver Z72. Find some more pictures of this action at http://www.pocketfactory.com/archives/2004/
(I had to split up this link for IE)

A german site called Nexave soon caried infos about the PalmOne Zire beeing available from palmandmore in a silver version on the 21. 10.2004. here is a link to the original information posting in german language, its the bottom post.

On the 15.11.2004(!!) PalmInfoCenter carried a bigger story saying essentially the same thing-find the story below:

Now, lets take a look at the two Zires beside each other:
Image off DailyGadget, by the way!! We can clearly see that the new Zire 72s is essentially a Zire 792, but with color peeled off and the logo reprinted. Internally, nothing seems to have changed. The hardware is still a 312 MhZ PXA270 CPU, the RAM is still 32MB non flash! The handheld isn't mentioned on PalmOnes web site, just as information to all of you!

Basically, no change whatsoever! Just the removal of the silly looking color-and alas, we have a nice business handheld(although the camera may make it unusable in some areas).
Now, why did PalmOne take this move? I personally think that it has something to do with creating another mid-line business model, as the Tungsten E's hardware specs are pretty odd nowadays-the Zire 31 has more CPU power.
In addition, users who have had more than two exchanges can now be "upgraded" to the silver edition essentially free-I cost PalmOne more than 1500$ with their defective units by now-same valid for my comrade and his Palm vita! However, now a Zire 72s can be given instead of the new, elusive Zire 73 when it is out-no additional cost! PalmOne can however still say that an upgrade has been issued!
Well, as always, leave behind your oppinions on the topic!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Bluetooth-why ar't thy so slow

The wireless data transmission standard Bluetooth can transfer up to 723kbps which means speeds of up to 72kbytes/sec are possible. However, not one of my handhelds acheived speeds of more than 10kb. The Palm OS connection settings limit the speed to 115200bps. I have already wondered about this for quite some time. I was at the vienniese Siemens Embedded Day today. There were some electronic soccer robots-and the operator talked to somebody else about wireless data transmission. My presence led to the discussion of bluetooth speeds in mobile devices. This is what the operator had to say:
Most bluetooth chips use the HID protocol for communication-and usually connect to the host CPU via a serial link(USB dongles use-nomen est omen-USB). These serial links usually cannot acheive much more than 115200bps. Thus, most stacks are designed for only this speed. If the link is faster, the stack slows it down.
Seems quite plausible to me, because: Many people underestimate the importance of the stack. Some Freescale Semiconductor Microcontrollers include an ethernet stack. The Freescale engineer urged the participants of the seminar to evaluate the different stacks, as some could MORE THAN DOUBLE data throughput. Now as if this isn't performance impact!
BTW, the presentator informed the listeners that neither symbian nor PPC devices are faster. They use Xscale CPUs too, so they won't have a faster link. So, we can at least rest assured that the competition doesn't surf faster!
I am-as always-looking forward to some interesting discussion!

Nokia gets the Touch(screen), Palm Platform lays on silky couch

Today the german c't newspaper contained a short information that Nokia shall soon launch a touchscreen mobile with Symbian OS called the 7710-ganging up with the T900 from Sony Erricson. Not much futher info was given, but a picture was shown.
Immediately I thought about the Palm OS smartphones. Many people own phones-and phone sales are way higher than the sales of all PDAs together. Mobile phone hardware is on the niveau of a Tungsten T, with tiny displays and bad ergonomics+slow input options. They however sell enormously well -because of their low prices.
A Treo goes for at least 400€, while a Symbian Phone can be essentially obtained for free with a contract.
Now, my mind gets distracted to yet another c't report, this time findable in the on-line newsticker. PalmONEs best-selling Handheld is the Zire 31 - yes, its the cheapo with DSTN-Screen and only 16 Mb of RAM. It doesnt sell well because of its impressive hardware-its cheap to have and can do everything a user could want.
Now, lets conclude. If PalmOne could create a Zire 31 with a internal mobile phone and keypad instead of buttons and Grafitti-Area AND could keep the price under 199€(that's what some top-class phones cost after subventions), a true killer phone would be born. The physically big touchscreen will make the unit easy to use, the keypad simplifies SMS input. Chuck in DocsToGo, email, java midlets, MP3, games and WAP(PalmOne has most of these programs), and adios Symbian.
The current Treos are not much more than this, but their high prices will limit popularity. 500€ get you PDA and Phone-and this isn't good for PalmOne.
I am-as always-waiting for oppinions!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It flashes-Fixed

The article about the Tungsten T5 hat brought me quite a few comments-including a flame in german! Thanks to everybody who commented and helped me update my understanding of Flash chip architecture.

Actually, there are two types of flash: The NOR Flash and the NAND flash.
NOR Flash is the older of the two(developed by Intel 1988), and is the one I have practically used in my projects. Lets discuss the differences here:

NOR Flash
This Flash memory type can be adressed byte for byte. It basically works like a SRAM chip that doesnt loose data when powered off and works a bit slower. Flashs are only sector-erasable.
Programs can be run from it because it basically is like RAM when beeing read-and it has been used ever since the Palm III to store the OS of the Handheld. It didn't get lost when the Handheld was reset nand out of power, but it could still be updated(I say could, because PalmOne didn't always release Flash Upgrades recently, e.g. Tungsten T!). ROM's couldnt be updated....

NAND Flash
This is the new kid on the block here-and I haven't ever ever seen such a chip in action. You feed a sector adress into the chip, and out comes a serial stream of the whole sector. Writing is alsdo accomplished in whole sectors.
Since it is very difficult to execute a serial byte stream, programs cannot be directly run from this kind of flash! However, it is way cheaper than NOR flash.

This was aninteresting stroll through electronics. I maybe get my lab back working someday(damn accident), then I will give you further coverage on the topic!

Find further Information in the Wikipedia on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_memory

How less can('t) be more on the Tungsten T5

Yes, we all heard of the new Palm OS Handheld called the Tungsten T5. It sports 256 MB of Flash Memory-what was that once again? NAND Flash used as RAM is the new buzz feature that is busily discussed and that has generated a lot of strain on developers. You may ask why a subtle change in memory architecture causes the developer mailing lists to go havoc and bubble with information. Didnt we have that with the Palm III-it used DRAM insted of the SGRAM forthe storing of data? There was no fuzz that time!
I agree on this, but the change from RAM to NVFS/NANDFlash memory is much greater than the change from one type of RAM to another.

Flash is a different type of memory that doesnt loose its data when power is removed. However, most types can only be written(and sometimes read) in sectors-that means that you cannot change a single bit or byte at once, as you can do with RAM. You can only specify the sector address, and out flows a stream of serial data. Thus, it is rather difficult to run a program without a RAM buffer!
In addition, it is much slower than real RAM -and thus the TT5 has a shadow ram of 32MB! 16MB of it are used as storage space for the OS. The remaining 16 MB of RAM are subdivided into a cache for writing and reading data and into 4MB of dynamic stack. Just remeber that the Tungsten T3 has 12MB for stack and operating systems-while the T5 must work with chintzy 4MB. Big background tasks will now consume the memory that the foreground app needs-didnt we have that with then Tungsten T? In addition, the whole write cache is sized only 10MB-so you cannot open a PRC file or a single database record that has more than 10MB even if there is enough storage free. Imagine this-the good old m515 can handle PRC files bigger than the T5. With data records, the problem isnt as bad-as only the record that is currently beeing used resides in the cache! However, huge PRC files or reading and using more than 10 MB of data at the same time may become a problem!

In addition, many PalmOS applications use one database with many little records-the PalmOS allows up to 64k with only little performance penalty. However, on the TT5, each record resides in an own sector and munches up at least 512 bytes(I am not 100% sure about this number). Thus we now have the same sector problem that the FAT file system has had for many years on the PC-but now on the Palm!

Concludingly, there is an old german saying: Weniger kann oft mehr sein! Translated, it means as much as less can be more! However, this is definitely not true witht he new T5 and its memory architecture!

If you want further information, just scan the PalmOS Mailing List for the words Big issues with the T5.
Additionally, the following pages may be helpful:
PalmONE Pluggedin program
Red Mercury Flash answer page

As always, I am looking forward to interesting comments!

Introduction and Welcome

welcome all to my blog. I just had to get one because I think that my knowledge about the Palm OS platform needs to be set free somehow! In Austria there arent that many Palm OS users(mainly PoPC), and so I thought that ablog may be the best way of expressing more informations and my private opinions about stuff!
First things first, here is a little bit of Information about me:
I am 16 years old, live in Austria - I have been using Palm Handhelds for almost three years now. Having started off with a IIIc, multiple device defects have led me a long row up to a still defunct T|T3. I am fluent in C, SQL and Visual Basic 6 and can speak german, english and a little bit of french.
I am a certified Microsoft Office Specialist in Outlook 2002 and Powerpoint-also Version 2002. I am member of the vienniese Palmusergroup and also publish stuff regularily in the german beam magazin!
I hope that you all shall enjoy reading my blog-if you don't agree witrh me on something, feel free to post it as a comment!