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I joined the Palm computing world in August of 1999 with an employer-furnished Palm V organizer. At first, I was very skeptical about its utility. The versatility, power, and features of the Palm V changed my mind within a week. I permanently traded in my 9-year-old, 9.5" x 7.75" x 1.5", 4+ lb Geodex binder/organizer for the 4.5" x 3.1" x 0.4", 4oz , shirt-pocket Palm V. I attacked the Palm V as I attack every new challenge--I learned as much about it as I could. This page is, in part, a result of that work and my knowledge growth since. Very quickly, I found the 2Mb RAM + 2 Mb Flash ROM too restricting. With the multitude of quality programs that I "couldn't live without" and my discovery of the availability of the entire Bible for the Palm, my Palm V memory seemed to shrink to vanishing. I quickly found myself trading things in and out of memory for different uses. In January 2000, I bit the bullet and bought myself a Palm Vx through a Yahoo online auction. I created this page to share my experiences and decision-making process in the hopes of helping others and saving them some time and trouble.
Since this page was originally created, I've outgrown the Palm Vx's 8 Mb RAM plus the 568K of available FlashRom under OS 3.5.3. I was constantly taking things off as ePocrates and Wordsmith data files grew. The last straw was Wordsmith getting a built-in spell checker and thesaurus. I needed more memory! So, it was off to the web to see what was good. I kept abreast of the PDA scene on at least a weekly basis, usually daily, all along, so I simply resurveyed and monitored the scene more carefully. Over the seven to eight month period of research and waiting, I found a disturbing trend.
Bottom line: I finally decided to get the brand new Sony CLIE PEG-T615C/S w/Palm OS ver 4.1 the day it first became available here, 22 January 2002. Although I'd never seen one in the flesh before buying, early owners like Sean Li who were kind enough to spend time helping others answered the community's questions and posting comparative pictures of the displays. So, why not another Palm? Check out my analysis by selecting the Buying Considerations link in the left frame. See my initial T615C review here. I recorded my PDA migration process and hints here.
Well, after six wonderful months with my T615C, I moved up to a new Sony T665C. It is basically a T615C with the gorgeous NR70-type screen (w/o virtual grafitti), a 66MHz CPU, and built-in MP-3 capability. I don't care about the music playing, but word on the street was that the memory stick access was dramatically faster than the T615C and the screen was awesome. I finally investigated the situation with a head-to-head comparison at my local Circuit City and walked out with my new toy, uh, productivity enhancer. I added the migration process page here, and am supplementing my existing T615C review here.
As of 9/3/2003, I had a very nice 32MB RAM in my T665C. I sent it off to RunPDA for the upgrade, and they did an outstanding job. You can read about the experience here. I highly recommend RunPDA for all your PDA upgrade/repair needs. I've spent some time optimizing my setup for the new RAM. I moved some apps from the card, but the biggest advantage was the ability to move some oft-used databases to RAM. These include the MS Dict Pro main dictionary, synonym, and English Phrases databases, as well as the core BibleThumper KJV text, concordance, and Greek and Hebrew lexicons. This sped up these apps significantly, especially BibleThumper. During the time my PDA was on a vacation to Taiwan, I borrowed a Sony SJ22 to use for a week, and jotted some impressions down here. I also took the opportunity to clean up the orphans from my T665C after its return using Cleanup v2. I wrote a quick review based on that experience, which has since been updated here.
Experience proves that life is what happens when you make other plans. Hurricane Isabel hit shortly after I received my 32MB upgrade. We lost power for a week and a half, and rearranged some things around the house to accomodate that situation. After restoration of electricity, my T665C fell from my pocket while I moved some boxes back to their previous location. Unlike previous falls, this time it fell on its side and cracked the LCD. Only a small portion of the lower right screen corner went gray at first, but that area grew alarmingly over the next few days. I called around and searched the web for a broken T665C with a good screen, but came up empty handed. Sony wanted $125 plus shipping and 7 days for the repair, but wouldn't sell me the screen and LCD assembly itself directly. That beaked me considerability since other company's LCDs are available around the web, and soured me on Sony's support.
Providentially, Palm had scheduled release of their new line later that week on October 1, 2003. That line included the Tungsten T3, which sported a beautiful 320x480 screen with a Dynamic Input Area (DIA), small form factor, mostly metal case, 400 MHz CPU, and 64MB RAM (52MB user-accessible). I was loath to give up my enhanced IR, polyphonic speaker, and OS 4 apps and hacks, but some fine folks I respect at PDA Avenue and Brighthand who were able to buy the T3 in advance gave glowing reports of the device. My wife assisted in talked me into abandoning the T665C repair and putting the money into a new device. My research also indicated that the next Sony releases, the TJ25 and TJ35, would prove anemic. So, on October 1st, I did not pass go but proceeded directly to Staples to pick up my new PDA. I believe that the T3 now holds the rightful market position as successor to the wonderful T665C model. I'm thrilled with the T3, as you can read in my review.
At the end of March, 2005, MobileTechReview asked me to expand my reviews to include Pocket PC software. A very impressive Dell Axim X50v arrived to change my view of the Pocket PC world, previously known to me as the "dark side". Keep posted on my journey to learn Windows Mobile and compatible software at MobileTechReview, which I'll also keep linked on my What's New page. My goal for the journey articles will be to provide useful information on the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms. My intent was that both devices will remain on duty for the foreeable future, but the Dell quickly won the coveted spot for regular use. I now only use the T3 for beta testing and reviews.
One early caveat. Research and experience, not misguided or fanatical loyalty, should govern your choice of PDAs. If you are a true believer in one or another platform, please don't take my choices personally. I've already seen way too much of that on the message boards. A PDA is a tool, not a religion. I attempt to keep this page up to date with changes in technology and the market. I hope that you find this page useful in your Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) journey.
NOTE: In an effort to keep the size of this page down (it had grown to over 120K!) to improve its loading time over dialup connections, I've broken some parts off to separate files. I've also started a What's New page so that you can tell at a glance what I've been up to here. Enjoy!
MAJOR NOTE: As of 26 December, 2006, I don't anticipate that the Palm OS portion of this site will be updated any longer. As I install a new hard disk and go to Ubuntu Linux as my primary OS, I'm also totally phasing out my T3. Appropriate changes here will follow, but the existing pages will remain up as a service for those still using Palm OS. Minor Update: I sold my T3 in Feb 2008, so no longer have it available to test things, etc.
UPDATE: As of January 5, 2008, I've removed the Palm Tungsten T3 from the header here. It has been in a closet for months now and will probably never see the light of day again (unless someone would like to buy it). The Palm parts of the site will remain for reference purposes, as I still get occasional emails from old friends and new folks with Palm issues. I have yet to find a better PocketPC device than the Axim X50v, and it is still working great.
As of February 1, 2008, I found a better PocketPC and have a newly
minted HP iPAQ 211 running Windows Mobile 6 (life comes at you fast!)
The HP pubicity pic is posted at the top of the page. The Axim was
getting tight on RAM and some programs were refusing to play nice in
the free RAM that I had left. With 128MB RAM, 256MB Flash, and about
25MB of iPAQ File Store and a 624MHz CPU, there's plenty of room for
Tanker Bob's stuff to run. Plus, WM2003SE was getting pretty dated,
with newer software releases being geared to WM5/6 and WM2003SE unable
to keep up with the new features. I'll say more on the What's
New page and will be writing a review on this bad boy over at
MobileTechReview in the near future. Note:
Review posted at MobileTechReview. NOTE
2: My 211 is now for sale! NOTE
UPDATE 3: As of September 14,
2008, I sold the X50v. I removed it from the top of this page. It was a
UPDATE 4: As of October 19,
2009, I replaced both my Razr V3 phone and HP iPAQ 211 with an HTC Tilt
2 from AT&T, also known as the HTC Touch Pro 2. I finally bit the
bullet and went converged. The Tilt 2 has great specs: Windows Mobile
6.5 with TouchFLO 3D, a beautiful 3.6" 800x480 pixel color screen, 528
MHz Qualcomm CPU, 288 MB RAM (about 75 MB available after reset) and
512 MB Flash Storage (~226 MB available), a MicroSDHC slot, 3G, WiFi,
Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR/A2DP/AVRC, FM radio, and a 1500 MAh battery to
power it all. I'm now connected to the world wherever there's a cell
phone signal. Plus it's smaller and lighter than the iPAQ 211. Very
cool. I have a lot of updating to do here on the site. NOTE
1: iPAQ sold!
UPDATE 5: As of March 29, 2011, I moved on from the HTC Tilt 2 to the new Motorola Atrix 4G Android smartphone. Few develop for WM 6.5 anymore and I wanted to move on to Android. I wanted to move on some time ago, but couldn't find an Android phone that interested me. The Atrix is that phone. It sports a beautiful 4 inch capacitive 960 x 540 screen, 1 GB of RAM, and 10.7 GB of internal flash storage powered by a 1 GHz NVidia Tegra 2 dual core CPU and a 1930 mAh replaceable battery. Additionally, it supports my 32 GB MicroSD card. What's not to like? Again I have a lot of updating to do here, including adding an Android software page. Please be patient! (P.S., Tilt 2 for sale)
Update 6: As of September 2013, I
moved to a Samsung Galaxy S III. I wanted 4G LTE capability and a bigger
screen. The OLED screen is great. The 2 GB of internal RAM plus 16 GB of
internal storage provide plenty of room for my needs, along with my 32 GB
MicroSD card. I'm very happy with the S III. (Still have the Tilt 2 and
Atrix 4G for sale) Obviously, this whole site needs a major update.
Although prices are coming down, a PDA is still a hefty investment for most of us. There is quite a variety out there, and choosing the right one for you can be difficult. My personal choices have already been made manifest, but they are certainly not the only choices possible. Offerings change so often that there's no point anymore to maintaining a table here. I merely provide links to the product lines of what used to be the two major players: PalmOne and Sony. However, Sony has departed the US and European PDA markets, essentially removing themselves as a contender. Microsoft maintains a list of manufacturers here.
Let's start by defining a shirt pocket, which is the targeted traveling location of palm-sized devices (for men, at least). A quick survey of my closet revealed that shirt pockets range in height (at the outside corners) from about 4.2" to 4.7", with the majority grouped at 4.5". Width covered the same range and grouped in about 4.4". Volume varies accordingly, depending on how tight your shirt fits :-) My old Palm Vx in its Palm Hard Case easily fit in my smallest shirt pocket, with some lateral room left over. At 0.4" thick and 4 oz, I didn't even notice it there. The T615C/T665C and Tungsten|T3 work the same, as that criteria is critical to me. Keep in mind that it's not just the height and width that limit the devices' fit, but their depth as well (overall displaced volume). You probably won't be carrying your wireless Palm i705, Handera 330, or Visor Prism there. The Sony PEG-T415, T615C, and T665C are finally down to shirt-pocket size and weight, making them competitive for my pocket. The Dell Axim series fits nicely in a shirt pocket, even in their slip case.
The bottom line for me (my personal opinion) from a performance perspective is that PocketPC devices try to be a mini-laptop with that level of attempted capability. The latest hardware and Windows Mobile 2003 OS actually achieves this to an impressive degree. They bring Windows networking support, WiFi connectivity, and run a host of complex programs that will have you wondering why you ever carried a laptop. WM2003's strength lies in its versatility and usability on high-end hardware.
Palm OS devices don't attempt that, and therein lies their strength. They are still powerful little computers, but tailored to simpler needs without a lot of bells and whistles. Sony's MP3-supported devices added another dimension for personal entertainment, but those capabilities are now ubiquitous. You won't find any native networking support here, though, and built-in WiFi remains rare.
In years past, the better reliability, usability, and form factor of the Palm OS devices provided more bang for the buck for the simple user looking to track their schedule or listen to music. A PPC device may be for you if you need fast WiFi over CF, built-in connectivity with WiFi, or network connectivity either at home or to the office. Palm has no native networking support. Programs like Documents to Go for Palm OS are still more Word-like and Word compatible than Pocket Word on the Windows PDAs. Same for MiniCalc vs. Pocket Excel. However, TextMaker for Pocket PC is probably the closest thing to MS Word in your hand on any platform, and Pocket Informant 2005 has even more capability than MS Outlook on the desktop. These are exciting times.
So based on my requirements in 2003, the Palm Tungsten|T3 was the perfect PDA for me and still serves me well. In March 2005, though, my networking requirements had grown to the point that the Dell Axim X50v with its gorgeous VGA screen and built-in WiFi replaced the T3. Only you can answer the question for you in light of your own requirements.
Upgrade note: When upgrading, compatibility of accessories is a joke in the entire handheld market, so things like modems, GPS accessories, charging cradles, etc., are usually history and must be duplicated for the new device. This was a major issue when switching from my heavily accessorized Sony T665C to the Palm T3.
The next obvious question is how to protect your PDA. There is much debate about screen savers. Some say they've gotten months or years of use w/no screen damage/wear. Others say they wish they'd used a screen protector from day one. I haven't personally met anyone in the former category, but personally know a couple in the later boat and seen messages on this problem on the newsgroups. So, I used Concept Kitchen's screen protectors on both my Palms from day one. No problems and no regrets, and they looked great when sold. I like it that way. For a color screen like the Sony T665C, the screen protector must be clear, as the no-glare models make the screen very difficult to read. After monitoring the web forums for a while, I settled on CompanionLinks (www.freescreenprotectors.com, use the discount code FREESP). There are a number of alternatives, including self-made protectors and low-tack masking or other tape over just the silk screen area. Scotch Brand #811 Magic Tape (blue box) supposedly uses a similar adhesive to Post-It notes and is usually recommended on Palm OS newsgroups. Low tack is important so as not to leave a sticky residue. Another individual says he uses clear overhead transparencies that he cuts up to fit the screen. I even heard a story of a fellow who took his Palm III apart and put a vinyl cover over the screen. He said it also sealed the edges better. Be warned that taking your handheld apart will void the warranty, and is also done at your own risk and certainly against my personal recommendation. On my T3, I'm still using CompanionLinks. The ones for the Sony NR-series fit the T3 fine and still work the best for me.
As for covers or cases, taste plays a huge role. The manufacturer-included "cover" might protect the screen under highly favorable circumstances if you're lucky. If you're going into combat or plan on being run over by a truck but want to pass your PDA on to your heirs, RhinoSkin makes titanium slider covers for around $50. They also have a solid aluminum one for about $40, but reviews say it scratches easily. I started with Palm's Slim Leather Carrying Case but it didn't protect the edges of the Palm very well (including the IR window) and constantly allowed inadvertent activation of the Palm's buttons. Installing StayOffHack solved the latter problem (see software discussion above). When I bought my Vx, I sprung for a Palm V Hard Case, despite the bad early publicity, because a friend highly recommended it. It's a combination of high-impact plastic covered by brushed aluminum--very attractive match for the Palm V/Vx and hardly weighs anything. It also turns out to fit in small shirt pockets better than the leather case, presents a flat contour in the pocket, and protects the Palm very well. Inadvertent button pushing isn't a problem, except for the scroll button under high pressure. The good and bad news is that it also slides out of your pocket pretty easily. Mine hit the floor/concrete a number of times, but with no damage to the case or the Palm. After full-time for over a year and absolutely loved it. I gave my Slim Leather case to a friend after two months of non-use.
Sony CLIEs pose an additional challenge with their jog dials. In order to use the CLIE in the case, the jog dial needs to be accessible. I haven't seen any hard cases that interest me yet (a/o 26 Jan 02) and do the job well enough. I bought a Sony leather carrying case for my T615C. It looks and works well, wrapping around the CLIE lengthwise. It protects the screen, top, and bottom, which are the most vulnerable to damage. The T615C has an interesting connection method for cases--two slots on the top-back of the device. Both the factory case and the new leather case actually have plastic slide locks to keep the covers in place--very slick! The carrying case adds some bulk to the device in my pocket, but not a lot. Innopocket announced a form-fitted hard case in March, but I've seen mixed reviews on it. In the intervening months, I've grown rather attached to the Sony leather case. Another nice case leather is by Case Techworks. The same case fits my T665C, so Sony leather it remains. That is, until the floor came up and smote it mightily on an unprotected side...
So when my T665C hit the floor the last time, the value of a hard case came back to me in a graphic way. On my T3, I love the new PDAir Aluminum Case which sells for $29 at DSI. You can sync in the cradle with the T3 in the case, something no other T3 hard case can do as of this writing. For those times when leather may be more appropriate, I like the PDA Surplus Zipper Case for $29.90. See my review page for some case reviews.
For my HP iPAQ 211, I opted for the PDAir Leather Flip Case. I've been happy with PDAir's fit and quality. I really liked their aluminum armor cases, but metal cases tend to wear large holes in pants pockets over time.
UPDATE: The belt clip broke on my PDAir case, so I picked up a Sena Leather FlipDown Case to replace it. It fits tightly and has a metal attachment button that screws onto the back of the PDA. It attaches with a separate hex-head screw which is begging to be lost, but we'll see. I really like the Sena's smooth front profile and the way that they worked its magnetic catch. Overall very nice.
Accessories for the HP iPAQ 211 are just coming available as this paragraph is written. The Boxwave ClearTouch Crystal Screen Protector should last years as it did on my X50v. The 211 charger does fine as a travel unit. I simple added a spare 2400 mAh battery from Mugen to cover long airline flights. I'm waiting for Siedio to come out with an adapter so that I can use their charger accessories with the iPAQ. I bought a 4GB RiData SD card for the X50v which I'm using in the HP now. I'm considering a much larger CF card but will wait until prices come down.
The required X50v accessories were few. I found the Boxwave Clear Touch Crystal Screen Protector, which lasted several years under heavy use. Flash cards, the largest that you can afford, are virtually required. I've found the Dell slipcase sufficient for a case, so nothing needed there. The 1GB Panasonic SD Card migrated to the Dell, joined by a 2GB Kingston Pro 50x CF card. I opted for Seidio's 9-volt travel charger with accessories for charging in a car or on an airliner. Then there's the D-Link 802.11g Pocket Router/AP for WiFi in hardwired hotels. Simple needs.
The first things I bought with my T3 were two 256MB SD cards (doggy Toshiba-based ones which I've since replaced with a fast 512MB Panasonic SD card) and screen savers. Unfortunately, the screen savers were for the earlier Tungstens and are too short for the T3. If installed from the top, they don't cover the status bar at the bottom of the 480 pixel screen. That's all fixed now with CompanionLinks for the Sony NR-series. Palm doesn't include a file manager or means to install the SD card as an external hard drive on the PC. PalmInsiderPro and ZLauncher take care of the file manager requirement, and I bought Card Export to do the job that Sony's MS Import did on the T665C. I also purchased a Palm Travel Charger for road trips.
By far my most useful accessory for my CLIE was a 128Mb Lexar Memory Stick (MS). It arrived already formatted, so I just plugged it in and away we went. I've add a discussion here about the Virtual File System (VFS) that Sony created for the MS and Palm incorporated into OS 4.0, and it works very well. Access is snappy when loading programs from the MS, and PiDirect's virtual memory approach really speeds access to large databases like dictionaries and formularies. Sony also includes drivers and programs (MS Import/Export) to enable direct copying of files from the PC to the MS while the PDA is in its hotsync cradle, with no hotsync required. Very cool. WARNING: If you overclock MSImport on the handheld, it will not connect with the PC. In Afterburner, just set the speed for MS Import to 'Normal' and all will work fine. In FastCPU, just set MS Import's speed to the system standard speed. In addition, I bought a Sony Travel Charger and a Sony charger that ran off of four AA batteries. The latter proved a critical component during Hurricane Isabel's aftermath.
The most useful accessory I had for my Palm Vx was an extra HotSync cradle, which gave me one at home and one at the office. I did all my schedule, etc., syncing at the office, but all my software and document conversion work at home. A cradle both places was very handy. The travel kit was also handy, and I picked up an AC adapter for traveling with my Sony.
I bought my Palm Vx through a Yahoo auction. I studied the auction process and observed it for a couple of weeks before taking the plunge. My experience was very satisfying and I'd do it again. OTOH, there are inherent risks that you should consider.
I checked out three major auction houses: EBay, Egghead, and Yahoo. Prices on EBay were consistently indistinguishable from retail and availability of new devices was sparse. Egghead seems to specialize in older equipment sold by companies, and didn't have any Vx's on the block. Yahoo averaged 12 or so Palm Vx auctions at any given time, almost all private sellers. Their rules and procedures were straight forward, and didn't require a credit card up front to participate.
Check out prospective sellers before bidding. After every auction is finally consummated, the seller and buyer have the opportunity to rate each other. Some folks have excellent track records, while a few have abysmal records. The only way to find out is to check out what other buyers said about them. This data is linked to every auction page. Read carefully about the payments prospective sellers accept and make sure you can live with that. Credit cards are ideal and the safest, but rarely accepted. Personal check acceptance runs about 40% or so, but the seller will wait for the check to clear before shipping. The most common rule is either money order or cashier's check. The last two are at the highest risk of loss w/o receiving your merchandise. Read rule one--checkout the sellers' ratings. Another alternative is PayPal, which is increasing in popularity. PayPal gives you the option of paying by credit card or bank transfer, and then PayPal sends a check or bank transfer to the seller. PayPal use carries a guarantee on eBay as well. The last alternative is to use an escrow-type service, but I don't know what that costs or how the arrangements are made. Your only recourse if you get hosed is the usual legal avenues. Most times all goes well, but the risk is there.
Automatic bidding is the way to go. Decide your limit price and set that as the top automatic bid. Yahoo does the rest. There is an advantage to early bids, because in the event of a tie bid (usually only happens on multiple-item auctions), the earliest original bidder wins. What I observed, though, is that nothing much usually happens until the last day or so of an auction. That's when folks get serious. So, don't get excited if it looks like your $100 bid for the Mona Lisa is a winner with 4 days to go. If you use automatic bidding, you don't have to keep checking back to keep up. Auction houses will send you an email if you are outbid with a link to get right back in the fight. Remember that a card laid is a card played--no retracting bids w/o seller's permission. You will also get an email if you win, with instructions on what to do next.
Sellers can set secret reserves on their auctions, and that will be indicated in red at the bottom of the auction screen if it hasn't been met yet. If they don't get a bid above the reserve, the auction is invalid. Also, some sellers start the bidding at a high price but advertise "no reserve". If a seller starts high, they obviously don't need a reserve to preserve their investment, but the auction title attracts unsuspecting bidders. Ensure you know the shipping charges. It costs about $11 to ship a Palm V/Vx priority mail in CONUS. Some sellers charged $25 shipping on top of the auction price for normal shipping--an obvious attempt to pad profits at bidders' expense.
Six months after buying my T3, I picked up a 512MB Panasonic Secure Digital Card on eBay for about $50 less than the best Internet price. Everything went great. I also bought my Sony MDR-EX71SL headset on eBay for 72% of retail, brand new and including shipping.
Bottom line: Know exactly what you want and what you're willing to pay.
Patience and prudence are critical factors
in auction success. If you don't win the first couple of auctions, don't
get antsy if your max bid is reasonable.
It took me about 3 weeks one time to win an auction at the price I wanted
to pay. Most PDAs are sold new in the box, but
not all. Read the auction carefully. There is a place to ask sellers
questions, but I didn't have much luck getting
responses from the more questionable sellers.
PDA Issues at the Office
PDAs represent an incredibly inexpensive yet powerful productivity enhancer for appropriately targeted corporate personnel like managers, sales reps, medical personnel, field maintenance, et al. Realistically, most corporate security issues presented by PDAs already exist in one form or another. Zip disks and large USB Flash memory dongles present a far greater security risk in data theft, as do CD R's and any other high-capacity removable media. The use of personal PDAs on corporate networks presents far less of a risk than laptops (just ask former CIA director John Deutch). I personally wouldn't blame any technology for human failures in security procedures, but we also need to be prudent. As far as accessing corporate email by modem, you should know that the Palm apparently passes the login password in the clear. Newer devices do better, so you should look at your Remote Access Server (RAS) configuration and PDA encryption capability before making a decision on this one. To be frank, most corporate RAS setups don't require dial-in client passwords to be encrypted, although they should.
Another way to look at PDAs, and perhaps the best way after all is said and done, is to compare them to what they replaced. If I photocopy or print a memo or personnel list and stick in my Geodex, Day Planner, or pocket, is it any more secure than in my Clie? We all carry documents and lists sensitive to our business on us in one form or another. Someone can easily pick up a Geodex or Day Planner and walk off with it. Worse yet, one can easily leave their planner somewhere and forget it briefly. I can drop sensitive papers out of my planner. I submit that these scenarios are much rarer w/Palms because Palms fit in your pocket and the electronic documents in them can't fall out and be compromised. I HAVE to leave my planner somewhere all the time, but my Clie is ALWAYS in my pocket. We must remember that, at the core, Information Technology is primarily about information, not technology. Sometimes we become so enamored with the technology that we lose site of the big picture. I recommend a corporate policy for non-WiFi/phone PDAs that recognizes the PDA's limited storage capacity, file-type limitations, and realistically places them in the correct technology category. They are not laptops, and shouldn't be lumped in the same security risk category.
Classified environments present some challenges to policy makers. There is no know way at this writing of "cleaning" a PDA of classified material. Therefore, once classified, always classified is the prudent rule. PDAs w/classified information should be marked and handled appropriately. However, PDAs w/unclassified information, personal or corporate owned, are no higher risk than a paper planner or brief case if they are not connected to classified computers. I recommend a rule that PDA cradles be prohibited from connecting to any classified system, unless that PDA will be marked and treated as classified. Connection to unclassified systems in a classified environment shouldn't be a problem, but bears monitoring to ensure no improper connections. Another key issue in classified environments is recording capability. Most WinCE/PocketPC devices have voice recording capability, as do most OS 5 Palms and Sonys. If you prohibit recording devices from your classified environment, then prudence would indicate that all PDA recording capabilities be kept off in sensitive environments. After all, security at its core is about people, not hardware. Technology is changing faster than security policies can keep up, so you must demand that IT and security personnel maintain a close, communicative relationship and avoid answers easy for them but crippling to the users' productivity.
Wireless (WiFi and phone) devices like the Palm VII/VIIx/i705/Tungstens, Sony NX, NZ, and TG-series, Blackberrys, Axim X30, X50, X50v, HP 4700, et al, present several special challenges. First, you have to weigh the risk of sensitive corporate email being transmitted over an insecure medium. Even if you don't use the wireless connection for corporate email, there is still a potential for accidental compromise if personal emails are mixed w/corporate on the same device. Next, there are frequency spectrum interference issues depending on your type of business and location. Most Palm OS 5 devices have some sort of RF capability. Fortunately, these can be turned off or disabled in software. The 802.11 family of WiFi protocols constitute a full-up LAN that can be secured, but there are still security holes in the initial handshake process. The advantage of WiFi is that you can wire your workspace so that employees can move around freely and stay connected to the network. WiFi has significant range--150 to 300 feet--which means it sucks considerable battery life. The other RF protocol that pervades handhelds is Bluetooth. Unlike WiFi, Bluetooth a is short range (~30 feet max for Class 2, 2.5 mW output) radio on a chip and has a simple connect protocol. Its primary uses includes connection to computer peripherals (mice, keyboards), cell phones, etc., as well as other handhelds (like RF beaming). Being lower power, it takes less battery to operate. Security concerns are greater for WiFi because of its greater range and the fact that most folks don't configure its security properly. As devices with RF capability proliferate, company security policies must keep up. If you company provides WiFi connectivity at the office, security protocols should be strictly administered. In senstitive environments, a prudent policy would required that RF capabilities be turned off. Bluetooth is less of a hazard, but should still be kept off. Users should be trained in the respective capabilities' security setups.
The only unique PDA issue is HotSyncing or ActiveSyncing. I cringe at talking about this one as it makes me look hopelessly paranoid, but there are folks who consider this a real issue. It is theoretically possible to steal someone's email, calendar, contacts, etc. by HotSyncing an identical, blank device on their network workstation even with a passworded screen saver enabled. For this to be worthwhile to a prospective corporate spy, the spy would have to know exactly what kind of device the target used and the taget's Palm user name/ID, that the HotSync software was set appropriately to get the information they wanted, that the sync cradle is in a unsecured and unobserved location where the intrusion would also go undetected, and that the HotSync conduits were set not only to allow access to the targeted information, but set up to sync the right amount of information (message size, private items, all mail vs. new mail only, etc.). The same would be true for ActiveSync, but AS is a bit more secure in that regard. While I grant such a situation could theoretically arise, the probability of such an intrusion attempt being worthwhile is virtually negligible. Stealing a laptop that had offline mail folders set up would be a better approach for this kind of corporate espionage. If this issue is a concern, however, you could set a corporate policy that the HotSync or ActiveSync software be closed before leaving the area for an extended time or the office door be locked. Alternately, most newer PDA security programs permit disabling synchronizing when the device is locked.
Support can each your lunch with any significant IT change or addition. Fortunately, PDAs are pretty much self-sustaining. The only problem I've seen is corruption of the synchronized files unrelated to the device itself. Reinstallation solves the problem. User training should cover basic care and feeding (e.g., don't get it wet), including the use of screen protectors if you choose to go that route. If you want your users to carry important memos, spreadsheets, et al, on their PDAs, they'll need instruction in that software as well. Fortunately, Palm made the devices so easy to use that an hour or two with their excellent user manual will accommodate all but the densest user. PocketPCs will be familiar to desktop Windows users. Your best friend is configuration control. Set a company standard for corporate-provided devices and stick to it. I'd allow private devices w/no restrictions (except wirelesses) with the caveat that the owner is solely responsible for loss or damage, and that NO company support will be provided for devices that don't match the company's standard.
IR Ports Threats, Palms & Laptops
There has been a thread running that claims your data can be stolen in an
airport or other public place through
your laptop's or PDA's IR port. The inevitable recommendation is to tape
over your IR ports with opaque tape.
I've actually heard of organizations making videos dramatizing such
thefts. The folks purveying this myth trivialize
to the point of absurdity the process for accessing files on a laptop
through the IR port. The chances of this
scenario happening are astronomically minute and require violation of all
relevant company computer security guidance
or a malicious setup on the target laptop--you stand a much better chance
of winning $1B in the Powerball lottery!
Let me explain.
By default, NOTHING in the laptop is shared and the IR port is DISABLED in the BIOS. For someone to get to your computer through the IR port, you must first activate the IR port in the BIOS, configure the IR port for network access in Windows, consciously allow network access to your computer (either with wireless networking or direct connect) without requiring a password for login, then set your computer to globally share your hard drive, directories, files, or other resources WITHOUT requiring a password. When the IR port is enabled, an icon appears in the Windows system tray on the lower right of your Windows screen. THEN, the person accessing your machine has to be close enough to be within IR port range (less than a dozen feet depending on ambient conditions), pretty much directly in front of the IR port, AND you have to not notice the IR port icon in the lower right of your screen flashing during access. The only real reason to enable IR at this time is for accessing an IR peripheral, like a printer or modem, or an IR network entry point. Attempts to access in a peripheral-type setup would be fruitless, leading to a dead end. Attempts to access in a wireless network setup should immediately be blocked by a request for a password just like your corporate LAN challenges you when you log in to your network. Hardly what I'd call a transparent or serious security threat.
As for the Palm, your Palm IR port is set on to receive by default. PocketPCs have similar safeguards. However, PDAs can only initiate a receive, not a send, without active user permission. The user must initiate all sending actions from the host handheld. In addition, Palm OS doesn't multitask yet (verdict still out on the coming OS 6). So, when receiving or sending via IR, the machine stops and a window appears as the IR ports conduct their handshaking. PocketPCs also popup a notification requesting permission. This is painfully obvious to the user, which should hardly be a surprise on sending since the user must initiate the action. The user can cancel any receive action upon appearance of the handshake window. AND, on every receive, the Palm OS asks if you want the delivered product. PocketPCs to the same. If you decline the reception, it deletes the offending file/data from memory. Some claim to have bypassed these protections, but the measures used do not just stretch but destroy credulity. These devices have ample safe guards built-in for all but the hopelessly paranoid.
Now that you have the facts, I wouldn't waste my time taping over any IR windows. Just leave your company's computer hardware and network setups alone, or at least don't go out of your way to enable the IR port or disable all password protections in violation of your corporate or government computer security guidance, and you'll be fine. If you're a company security manager, make sure you check with your IT folks and do some homework on the OS operation before falling for these urban legends. Your credibility is easier lost than regained.
One Handheld, Two PCs
One of the most common questions I get concerns how to Hotsync one Palm with two different PCs, usually office and home, w/o getting duplicate records or a messy combination of data. This actually poses little difficulty once one understands Hotsync conduits and how to tailor them. The Palm Desktop has significant capability in this area for the basics. If you use a network-based PIM at work (Exchange, Notes, et al), then you'll need a third-party conduit manager. Chapura's PocketMirror (PM hereafter) comes on the CD accompanying newer Palms, but doesn't install by default. At this writing, PM 2.x is usually on the CD. PM 3.0 is the current production version which can be had for a reasonable upgrade price. The 3.0 Professional version is a must if you use an advanced, server-based PIM like MS Outlook 2000 and want to use categories to their potential.
The first step in syncing to multiple PCs is to decide what you want to carry on your Palm and also share between desktops. The next step is to set your conduits on both computers appropriately. Conduits in the Palm Hotsync Manager are set either in the Palm Desktop by selecting 'Hotsync/Custom...' from the menu bar, or right-clicking on the Hotsync icon in the Windows 95/98/2000/NT 4 system tray and selecting 'Custom...' See the documentation for the details on individual settings. If you use PocketMirror, the better way to go (except for mail, Avantgo, ePocrates, WordSmith, et al, which only appear in the Palm Hotsync Manager) is to select the PM Settings icon on the desktop. PM allows you to make quick one-time global changes based on common scenarios, which saves considerable time.
Let's say, for example, you want all your work data in the Palm, with the calendar and memo pad backed up at home. Simple set all the conduits at work to 'synchronize the files'. At home, set only the calendar and memo pad conduits to 'synchronize the files' and set the rest of the conduits to 'do nothing'. You should not get any duplicate records or encounter problems as long as you synchronize both regularly.
What could go wrong? Well, if you aren't careful or don't think things through first, you could wind up with a mish-mash on your Palm and both desktops. For instance, if you have separate address books at work and home and set both PC conduits to synchronize files, the address books will be merged (work + home) in all three machines. Worse can happen if you try to fix the situation without thinking about it first. For simplicity, think of the Palm as a conduit between the PCs. Whatever you do on the Palm or any one PC will be reflected/merged into the second PC unless you set the Hotsync conduits correctly for your desired configuration, mainly to preclude merging data onto a PC that you don't want there.
For about a year I Hotsynced my Palm Vx both at work and home. The Palm was used mainly for work, so everything except for mail was synced from work. At home, I used Outlook for Internet email and didn't want to mix my personal contacts with my work contacts. I also did all my Palm experimentation work from home, which sometimes resulted in a configuration recovery situation. In addition, I also Hotsynced with my work Exchange server over the Remote Access Server. That amounts to a 3-PC equivalent Hotsync situation. So, at home I used PocketMirror with my Outlook RAS profile to Hotsync with my Exchange server at work. I then used the Quick One-time Action Setup in PM Settings to select 'Backup to Palm Desktop Files' to backup the Palm to my home computer daily. At work, everything was synced by default. Net result: the ability to Hotsync my Palm to my work setup from both home and work, plus a backup of my entire Palm in my Palm Desktop at home for development purposes. My personal information in Outlook at home was never Hotsynced to the Palm. Now with PM 3.0 Pro, I can select individual categories to Hotsync to tailor the data I carry and share across PCs to a finer level of detail.
Categories are powerful aids to multiple PC synchronizing if you use a product like PocketMirror 3.0 Professional. It allows you to select not just conduits to Hotsync (calendar, address, etc.), but also individual categories inside conduits. It also allows syncing subfolders in Outlook as categories in the Palm. Note that the built-in Palm Datebook does not support categories, so you'll need a program like Pimlico's Datebk4 to put two separate calendars in your Palm using categories. For example, a busy husband and wife can have their respective calendars in different profiles on a PC (or on two different PCs) under different category names (e.g., John's Cal and Jane's Cal). Each can Hotsync just the calendar to the other profile and both will have each other's calendars, with the display depending on the category selected for view. An executive assistant can do the same with their boss' calendar, contact list, etc.
Here's a scenario a friend encountered and the solution using selective Hotsyncing. Let's say you have a large amount of mail on your Palm but don't want mail on your Palm anymore. You wish to delete the several hundred messages already on your Palm. Since you can only delete one message at a time from the Palm, you need a quicker way. Here's the solution. In your mail program, move all the mail from your inbox to a temporary subbox or folder, leaving an empty inbox. Now set your Hotsync mail conduit to 'Desktop overwrites Handheld' and Hotsync. Since there are no messages in your inbox, all the mail will be deleted from your Palm. So far, so good. Now, you can set your mail conduit default to 'do nothing'. Move the former inbox messages from the temporary folder back to the inbox and you're done.
One last thought. Even if you use another PIM like Outlook or Notes, I
recommend that you regularly back up
your Handheld to the Palm Desktop. One, it's free. Two, it gives you
recovery capability should something go terribly
wrong. Chances of the latter are incredibly slim if you don't do
development work, but hey, it's free insurance.
Remember, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get
Palm and Pocket PC on One Desktop
This is a new one for me and yet an easy one. I already had the T3 syncing with Palm Desktop as the Axim traveled to my doorstep. I wanted to use both and keep both current, and deduced that Outlook would be the only possible conduit between them. So, I reinstalled PocketMirror Pro XT (which I hadn't used in a long time) and Hotsynced my T3 to Outlook XP. This worked flawlessly as had been my previous experience. When the Dell showed up, I just installed ActiveSync and on the first sync it copied all the Outlook data to the Axim without question or missing a beat. Wala! I effortlessly had two devices with the same data. This may also work with the native Outlook conduits for HotSync, but I didn't feel like betting my data on it.
I make it a rule to only change data in one PIM area on one device at a time. That avoids interesting conflicts. With that simple and easy-to-execute rule, I've been able to HotSync and ActiveSync at will and always have the same exact PIM information on both the T3 and the X50v. Very sweet!
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This page last updated on April 28, 2013