The easiest forms software gets better
by Kermit Woodall
Pendragon Forms has been one of the easiest to use forms and data acquisition systems for the Palm since its introduction.
Pendragon Forms is a data acquisition system that is easily carried around anywhere, to collect data for any conceivable need. It can export its data easily to a Microsoft Excel database and can maintain data in the Palm or in the Pendragon Forms Manager database. Exporting data to Excel would be recommended, as the Forms Manager isn't designed to be an all-purpose database tool. The Forms Manager is written in Microsoft Access and can be linked directly from Access as well.
The Pendragon forms package comes on CDROM with a bound reference manual. The CDROM contains the Windows Forms Manager software and the Palm software as well as developer documentation, sample code, and ActiveX control. In addition to your Palm you will need Windows 95/NT 4.0, 16mb of RAM, and 20mb of available hard drive space.
Jumping Right In
Installation is largely automatic and a signal of the ease of use you'll find in Pendragon Forms overall. You pop in the CDROM, and you just click on the Install option once the screen comes up. Once installed on your computer you will find a new menu in your Start bar Programs listing with all the Pendragon entries. Copy the forms program over to your Palm by simply selecting that option.
You can also run the Pendragon Forms software from here as well. After selecting this option it will bring you to the main menu of the Forms Manager. At this point you will find yourself needing to reference the Pendragon Forms program's concise manual for the few points that aren't immediately intuitive. These points relate to how to Freeze a Form Design so that it can be transferred to the Palm and used for data collection.
Creating a form is simple yet quite thorough. As promised, Pendragon Forms is a data collection system. The 'Forms' layout is a nicely organized record definition system that allows for practically all of your possible input needs including input for digitized signatures. The resulting form can be displayed for entry or viewing on the Palm side in Record-by-Record display or with each record displaying on a single line of up to eleven lines. Multiple screen input is supported and the layout is well thought-out and reasonably intuitive. What you won't get is the ability to design your form or control the precise placement of fields in chosen locations. The closest you'll come to this is ordering your records to show up in a specific order in your record views.
A new data type, Button Field, has been added to allow you to launch scripts, and new field types have been added to allow you to prevent columns from updating or printing.
Microsoft Access compatibility has been enhanced with the following features:
Automatically generate Microsoft Access form designs for data entry
Automatically generate a Pendragon Form from an external table or query (including ODBC)
Map a form to synchronize with external databases or queries (including ODBC)
Manage the list of authorized users
Assign users and forms to groups for large-scale distribution (and revocation) of forms designs.
You also now have the ability to email your forms through the popular Palm email program, MultiMail Pro, which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue. There are also new scripting commands throughout this new release. The biggest of the big new features is the enhanced synchronization features, which boasts the following:
DAO Synchronization Conduit -Synchronizes directly with Access 97 databases and ODBC databases via the Microsoft Access database engine.
ADO Synchronization Conduit -Synchronizes directly with Access 97, Access 2000 and ODBC databases via the ActiveX Data Objects database engine.
Server Synchronization-Compatible with the WaveSync Server software from WaveWare Communications, Inc. This allows you to centrally deploy, modify and manage your Forms applications from an NT server with increased security. WaveSync supports multiple simultaneous sync sessions, enables remote synchronization directly with the WaveSync server and speeds up synchronization by up to 5 times.
Creating a simple one-screen form took me about ten minutes. The longest times were in simply deciding which of the options to use for data entry, and what to put in some of the tables. You can create tables of options for entry and also maintain freeform data entry fields for notes and more.
You can choose to have a Form keep data on the Palm as well as on your desktop PC and so you will always have the information with you. You do have the option to remove the data automatically once it's hotsynced as well, which helps hold down on memory usage. I could see applications here for developing order-taking systems for the wait-staff at your local restaurant, or auto parts stores.
One of the nice options in the packages is to allow entry in two formats. The Field View mode, which allows entry one record at a time, is ideal for surveys as it shows you all of your options and gives you numeric keypads to assist you. Record View mode lines up the records, eleven at a time, in the same way that your Address Book displays information.
Is There More?
Pendragon Forms supports barcode readers and thermal printing directly. Information is provided in the manual on how to connect to these products.
Pendragon also keeps a collection of solutions on their web site for you to download. These solutions are forms created by users in various fields that you can use. Currently available solutions include aviation logging, patient data forms, and troubleshooting forms.
Pendragon Forms delivers all that it promises and more. It's both easy to setup and easy to use. It would be nice to be able to apply more layout design to the final form on the Palm, and I would have preferred to do direct data entry in the Forms Manager side under Windows as well. The direct link to Access and Excel tempers that need somewhat.
If you need to collect data in custom formats, Pendragon Forms is invaluable. As promised, you'll be creating forms in minutes. US$149.95. -Kermit Woodal