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Palm OS 3.3

Faster, but some upgrades required

Just before PalmSource opened-on October 18, 1999-a new Palm OS was made available for download on the web: Palm OS 3.3. Upon arrival back from PalmSource, I quickly downloaded and upgraded my Palm IIIx so that I could tell you about the experience. The upgrade went flawlessly, the screen looked all snowy like it was supposed to, and when all the data on my 8MB machine was finally restored and backed up, it still worked. Whew. Until I tried running Album to Go and Proxiweb. Both of those programs use the 16 gray scale abilities of the DragonBall EZ processor in the IIIx and V. Well, the images did display, but many of the grays wiggled and jiggled, unable to stay at a steady shade. It actually looked a lot like a television getting bad reception, with vertical waves of inconsistency traveling from left to right across the screen. I immediately put a warning up on our website, letting people know that there might be an annoying problem when switching to OS 3.3.

Well, a few calls back and forth between Palm's PR agency and a final conference call with Kirk Stromberg, the Product Manager for the Palm OS at Palm Computing, cleared things up. It appears there is some incompatibility between the way the Palm OS used to drive the screen and how it drives the screen with the new OS. Developers have known about it for some time-perhaps as early as June 1999-and most will have a new version of their software by the time this issue hits the streets. However, if you rely on a particular program's ability to display 16 gray scales, you'll want to check with that program's vendor for an upgrade before you dive into Palm OS 3.3. This rule also applies for other programs you rely on, even without grayscale support. I ran MultiMail through its paces, and found a small problem with the email address lookup feature. I contacted the vigilant folks at Actual Software, and an upgrade was already available and in my email inbox immediately. Double check everything before you go on your next trip; if that trip is imminent, wait until you get back before you upgrade.

So what does this upgrade offer? Well, it speeds operation up, scoring 108% on Neal Bridges' Benchmark program. It offers faster HotSyncing, up to twice as fast-115,200 bps-depending on the items you're syncing. For those of us with lots of data on our Palms, it can sometimes take twenty minutes to sync and back up (using Backup Buddy). That can get tiresome when all you wanted to do was quickly HotSync and get out into traffic and on your way home.

Greater speed is achievable only if the Palm and the PC are upgraded, and that's why the upgrade software you download also updates the HotSync Manager. I'm at a bit of a crossroads in this area, because to bring you the best coverage of the growing number of Palms, I try to have at least one of each for testing. Unfortunately, Handspring's Visor requires that I have HotSync Manager 3.0.2H running, which overrides my 3.3 enhancements, including that speed thing. This shuts out my TRGpro and Palm Vx, as well as the upgraded Palm IIIx. I'm going to have to HotSync the Visor at home, I think (the Visor doesn't need a speed enhancement, since it uses a USB port and can theoretically talk at up to 12MB per second).

Also in the HotSync area is the ability to HotSync via an IrDA port. This has been available on IBM Workpads since WorkPads were first outfitted with IrDA by IBM themselves, quite a bit before any other Palm even had IrDA (before the Palm III). The driver had to be downloaded from IBM's website, but now the full implementation of IBM's creation is finally available on the Palm, and it's as easy as selecting "IR to a PC/Handheld" in the new HotSync program. Oh yeah, you must also set up an IrDA port on your computer if you don't already have one. Not always so easy. My Gateway 2000 Solo is configured so that the IrDA port wants to exist on the same IRQs that my serial port and ethernet card need. IRQs are a bit of PC history I won't be nostalgic about.

Finally satisfied that the three interfaces wouldn't co-exist, I unplugged and disabled the ethernet and physical serial port to test the IrDA feature. It was nice. It worked flawlessly once I realized that you have to put the Palm into HotSync mode before you put it next to the PC's IR port. If you don't, the Palm thinks it's going to receive a transmission from another Palm. IR HotSync works great, if a little slower than the cradle, but with a Palm V or Vx, it actually doesn't make things easier, since you need either the cradle or a cable to recharge the unit.

Another IrDA feature long missing from the Palm is IrCOMM compatibility. Up until now, you used to have to rely on third party applications to make this compatibility happen. Now cell phones and pagers can more easily communicate with Palms.

Finally, though it seems trivial to most Americans, you can now enter the Euro symbol into your Palm, and programs can access it as well. This will be very important to international currency traders around the world, as well as people who just happen to live outside of the United States. Palm's popularity around the world is growing, and the absence of a symbol for the world's newest currency would make the Palm Computer seem an out-of-touch, American-only device.

In order to insert this character onto the onscreen number keyboard, the tab button was moved to the right side of the screen, and the "pipe" character was removed altogether (though it can still be entered via Graffiti).

Do you need 3.3? No. If you're happy with your machine and don't carry unreasonable amounts of data, stay happy and stay where you are. No headaches, no searching for new versions of software. Is backing up your Palm threatening to fill up your hard disk and wasting hours of time? Upgrade to 3.3 (and go get a bigger hard drive you cheapskate). It's that simple.

If you do install the upgrade and find that your most important app doesn't work anymore, and the programmer took up professional juggling, eschewing coding forever, you can remove the upgrade. There is a utility available on Palm's website that will take you happily back to Version 3.1. "What happened to 3.2?" you say. That's what runs on the Palm VII. I'm guessing that if the upgrade for the Palm VII ever materializes, it will be 3.4, because the next version of the OS, slated to be released early next year, is 3.5, and that will only ship on newer devices that need its special abilities to support things like the possibility of... Color. More on that next time. Download at:

-Shawn Barnett

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