[linux-elitists] Handheld computer - as free as can be

Karsten M. Self kmself@ix.netcom.com
Mon May 12 23:00:54 PDT 2003

on Thu, May 08, 2003 at 05:12:31PM +1000, Ben Finney (bignose@zip.com.au) wrote:
> Howdy all,
> My Palm V is aging fast (the touchscreen is flaking out regularly),
> after four years of heavy use.  This, combined with my recent change of
> employment status (i.e. I now have some) means I'm in the market for a
> new handheld computer.
> What should an Elitist like myself be looking at for a replacement?

In my case, the Handspring Visor Pro.  It's still PalmOS, though
upgraded, and for $200 you get 16MB RAM, which holds a fair chunk.  More

> My wishlist:
>   - Free software on the machine itself, if possible.  Probably this
>     limits me to the Linux-based machines.

There is free software available, and Google will get you there in short
order.  I have Keyring, several console command apps, desktop
software and pilot-xfer on my Linux box itself, and a few other apps.
My experience with PalmOS requiring hard resets and software requiring
me to prove that I owned it is one of the reasons I avoid most
proprietary SW for the platform now.  I *paid* for this shit, just let
me use it....

>   - Free software for accessing it on a PC.  The range of free software
>     tools available on GNU/Linux for PalmOS machines is impressive and
>     has spoiled me.


>   - Small form factor.  The main reason I liked the Palm V at the time
>     it came out was the slimness compared to other then-contemporary
>     machines.  Its leather case doubles as a wallet, and that's just as
>     I like it -- one less thing to carry in my pocket.

Slightly smaller than my PalmIIIe, and the BodyGlove case protects it
well while fitting comfortably in my leather jacket breast pocket.

>   - Connectivity.  I see may people sticking USB and CF and other
>     whatsits into their handhelds, and am getting envious.

USB cradle, IrDA works well (though it's about 1/10 the speed of the USB
cradle).  Probably other plugins, but I'm just not enough of a hardware
weenie to care....

>   - Other things to look out for; I've been stuck in a time warp since
>     1999 as far as these things are concerned.

It was a good year.  Linux was on the cusp of knocking over Microsoft 
(where it remains to this day), the stock market was booming, parties 
were great, the towers stood, the millenial gloom hadn't occured yet, 
we had a democratically elected president.  Why leave?  ;-)

> I could rely on brochures and reviews for this, if it weren't for the
> free software requirements.  Hence I turn to you.

I'll make a couple of observations:

  - I'm a cheap bastard.  The Visor replaces the Palm which replaced a
    Franklin Planner.  Electronics are smaller and hold more than paper,
    and cost less (after you factor in binders and all the other crap
    Franklin Covey wants from you, not to mention their spam).

  - In the range of $75-$200 street, you can get a PalmOS device with
    from 2-16MB RAM.  The Zire is *too* crippled IMO, but what the hey.
    If you don't mind not having Graffiti, there's the Treo (about $300
    after phone rebate).   Frankly, Xerox's patent on handwriting and
    its banishment of same from PDAs sucsk, so the Treo's out of

  - I've looked at the Zaurus.  As with a lot of handhelds, it's more
    than I'd pay for what you seem to get.  I'm also concerned about
    durability -- again, the Handspring seems reasonably rugged.  The
    PalmIIIe was pretty much a brick, though mine eventually lost its
    display (2.5 years).

  - There are several clamshell type devices, Zaurus makes one (the CL
    something, about $700 street), which look reasonably promising.  For
    true mobile computing, these might be good.  Similar in concept to
    the Psion (is that thing completely dead yet?).  If I was to expand 
    my portable devices collection, I might head this way.  OTOH, what I 
    like about PalmOS devices is that the key functions are right 
    there:  calendar, phone, tasks, notes.   It's basically a m inimal 
    PIM and notepad, and that's how I use it...except...

  - Killer apps.  Two of 'em now.  One is Keyrigh, a secured database
    for holding passwords.  I hav etoo many, can't keep 'em straight, 
    and appreciate being able to carry them with me...but encrypted so 
    that others can't pry.

  - Plucker.  A free software version of Avant-Go, essentially.  Offline
    web browser.  The two ways I use it are:  I have a "home page" which
    specifies a number of news and interest pages I read daily.  My
    system spiders these at 2am, I pop 'em onto the Visor before I catch
    the bus, and have an hours' worth of recent news on the trip,
    without disturbing my seatmate with a paper.  It's also very handy
    for grabbing technical documents -- say, /usr/share/doc/, or the LDP
    HOWTOs (which are available in Plucker format), or any other HTML or
    text document, and reading them on the go.  I've compiled, for
    example, RFC 1118 and its references from Appendix B as a Plucker
    document.  With several daily newsfeed, several selections from my 
    Debian docs tree, and a selection of core RFCs, I'm still only using
    half my available storage.  Very cool.

  - Things I don't particularly care about:  connectivity (I'm not a
    wireless / mobile freak, I just want to have portable information
    and something for the road), color (text works great on B&W),
    complex features (I'm rarely more than an hour from a real computer,
    and I can take notes on whatever it is that's on my mind until I get

  - Bonuses:  battery life's great.  The unit is rechargable.  I've run
    the backlight for hours without draining it, and have left it
    (inadvertently) on most of a weekend to find it still has half a
    charge.  Recharging is fast (~1hr or less).  The apps are basic and
    simple, but they work and show thought into human factors (eg:
    no-stylus contacts lookp using hardware buttons in address book).

If you want further information on the area, I'd suggest checking up
with Andrew Orlowski of The Register.  He's absolutely mad about
handhelds, particularly phone/PDA devices, and usually has a half dozen
or so spilling out his pockets and/or knapsack.


Karsten M. Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
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