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These Palm Programs Are Hardly 'Essential'

November 16, 2000|P.J. HUFFSTUTTER | p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

When I bought my Handspring organizer, the first thing I did was start scrounging around for new software. Games. Phone books. Even an ingenious--or some would say ridiculous--application that turned my orange device into a shiny mirror.

So when I saw the words "500 Essential Programs" scream from the box cover of Data Becker's latest software package, I had to have it. The possibilities seemed so enticing: more than 200 reference guides, more than 100 utilities programs and a slew of city guides, office tools and games.

Now understand, I'm an average, casual user of the Palm operating system. I'm not relying on my organizer to maintain a massive database of financial information, and I don't use it to balance my checkbook. (Though I do have fantasies about tuning out of very boring staff meetings and using my Handspring to answer e-mail.)

I was hoping that I could spend about $40 and use these 500 essential programs to help me become a Palm guru. After a month playing with this disk and trying out various programs, I have just one thing to say.

Oh. My. God. What an absolute waste of money and time.

First of all, the disk offers nearly 500 free applications, written by various programmers and software companies. But most of the ones I found remotely interesting, such as the address books and many of the action games, actually cost extra.

There are at least 200 shareware or trial versions of Palm applications included on this disk, which means you get to try out the program for only a short period--up to 30 days--before you have to pay an additional fee to continue using the program.

The best thing going for this package is, by far, the database applications. Take TealPhone, a really nice replacement for the basic Palm address book. I've always hated how my address book looks, with its seemingly endless list of names that I have to scroll through forever to find the number I need.

Besides having a quick index along the left side of the screen, TealPhone shows the entries sorted by first name, last name or company name. You can toggle between the different views by tapping on the L, F or C button located at the bottom of the screen.

It's simple and, because of that, great. Unfortunately, I overlooked the licensing fee of about 18 British pounds. That's right, pounds.

Data Becker, known for its popular line of music and MP3 software, created this collection of software programs in Germany, and most of its offerings carry a heavy European slant. Company officials say they are working on a more U.S.-focused version, to be released by early 2001.

It better be, particularly if Data Becker wants to appeal to anyone beyond the business-class crowd. Right now, under the guidebook category, the best program is one that outlines the Moscow Metro. Of course, it is written in Russian.

Or take the currency calculator, which works under the assumption that you're converting everything to the Euro. The help file offers this not-too-insightful tip: "IMPORTANT: The easiest way to learn how to use CurrCalc is to turn [the] 'Help' mode on and tap ALL OVER THE SCREEN!!! There are some screen areas that don't look like buttons, but act like buttons!"

Terrific. Remind me to hit delete.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

500 Essential Programs

* Publisher: Data Becker

* Price: $39.99

* What it does: Contains dozens of electronic books and stories; guides to foreign countries and cities; and scores of database files on topics as diverse as computer terminology, wine selection and drug interactions.

* The good: Easy to navigate. Hundreds of free applications.

* The bad: Too many shareware programs that you have to buy. Too many of the programs rely on information that is out of date. Most of the programs are too specific to appeal to the masses.

* Bottom line: Stay away. Life is too short for this kind of aggravation.

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