Primer on Memory Card Use
March 30, 2002

For discussion of the types of cards and programs that access them in special ways, go here. As explained there, VFS is a disk-like structure imposed on FlashRAM cards. Consequently, the vocabulary used in relation to VFS cards is the same as that for PC hard and floppy disks. This document will briefly answer the most commonly asked questions on the web boards. It applies to all cards that support VFS.

For those new to this handheld platform, the default launcher referred to throughout this page is the program that launches when you tap the house icon on the left side of the graffiti area. It displays the applications present on the device, which can be executed by tapping on an icon.

Most memory cards come formatted from the factory, and work perfectly upon plugging into your handheld. On rare occasion, particular cards may need to be reformatted by the host OS to work reliably. If you find yourself getting bad sector errors, reformatting is probably the only way out. When formatting, use whatever formatting utility that came with the OS. For Sony devices, you could use MS Gate, Sony's VFS file manager. You can also do it from Card Info, which comes with all Palm OS-based devices that support expansion cards.

Some handhelds also require "initializing" the card. This is usually available from the menu system of the program that can format the card. As far as I can tell, initializing simply puts the directory \Palm\Programs\MSFILES\ directory on the card. My T615C did not require this.

Once your card is ready to use, whether from the box or through formatting and/or initializing, you need to get programs and data onto the card. We'll start with the tools that came with your PDA. To copy programs to the card, simply go to the default launcher's menu, select Apps, then Copy. A list of apps will appear eventually, with Copy To: and From: selections at the top. Simply select the program that you want to copy to the card, make sure that the source and destination are correct, and tap copy. The executable application file will be copied to the \Palm\Launcher\ directory on the memory card. Repeat as necessary and then tap Done when you are, well, done. Note that this will only make a copy of the file on the card. The original still exists in RAM, so you haven't bought much so far other than backing up the application to the card. DO NOT automatically use the default launcher's delete utility to delete the file from RAM, as this will also delete all the data associated with the program.

The best way to get a program on the card instead of in RAM without a file manager is to hotsync it there. In the desktop install tool, select Change Destination button. In the next window, select the files you want on the card and hit the arrow pointing towards the card window. Select OK and then hotsync. The app will end up in the Palm\Launcher\ directory, ready to use. There is no disadvantage to this approach of which I am aware. Not that hotsync doesn't back up any data from the card, but BackupBuddy will if cardsync is loaded in RAM and its options are set to do so.

Time to discuss file managers. Palm, Inc., devices don't come with a file manager. Sony's come with MS Gate, which is pretty capable but lists files by their creator's ID. Filez is a freeware file manager that is also good and lists/sorts files more logically. McFile is shareware, and probably has the best interface. Filez and McFile have about the same power. Both are linked under my software listings. With a file manager, you can move applications to the card, freeing up RAM without jeopardizing the program's data. You can also create directories, peruse the card, and exercise a number of other features. McFile sports a context menu when tapping on a file, and you can work with groups of files at a time.

Here's an important safety tip about MS Gate and Filez. When copying or moving files from RAM to the card, both MS Gate and Filez will put the file in the directory that is displayed on in the card window. By default, that's usually the Palm\ directory itself. The way to get a file somewhere else, you must first display the intended target directory on the card, then switch back to the RAM display and select the files to copy. Both programs display the target directory-MS Gate towards the top of the screen and Filez when you execute the operation. You can enter the target directory into Filez at that time if so desired. McFile presents the user with a directory tree to select the copy/move target-a very nice feature.

Programs on the card show up in one category in the default launcher-the card category. That's pretty lame, but what do you expect for the OS default? Most 3rd party launchers allow you to put card apps into categories, just like the programs in RAM. When programs are executed from the card, only the program file itself is copied to RAM to execute, not its data if it is on the card and the program itself isn't VFS-compliant. There are programs to deal with that issue, which are discussed here. Even if a VFS-enabled program's data isn't in the correct directory on the card, it just won't find it. If a file gets misplaced on the card, having a file manager can be very handy.

If you want apps on the card to appear in a launcher, put them in the Palm\Launcher\ directory. Each app that supports direct access to data on the card uses its own directory, usually under the Palm\Programs\ directory. WordSmith, MyBible, Presenter-to-Go, PictureGear, and McFile all do this. MiniCalc, on the other hand, creates its directory directly under the \Palm\ directory.

This brief discussion probably doesn't answer everyone's questions, but I hope that some may find it useful.

Tanker Bob
Tanker Bob's Palm OS Page