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Connecting | Hand-Helds

Software Connects Palm OS and Pocket PCs

October 26, 2000|MARK A. KELLNER | Mark A. Kellner is editor at large for Government Computer News. mark@kellner2000.com

Although hand-held computers running the Palm operating system outsell those using Microsoft's Pocket PC four to one, the latter are gaining ground fast.

Pocket PCs such as Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq H3600 and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Jornada 540 have attracted legions of fans. The iPaq, for instance, draws $400 and $500 premiums over its retail price of $500 when auctioned on EBay, and Compaq Chief Executive Michael Capellas has vowed to increase production.

But like the early days of videocassette recorders, there are two competing standards. That's a problem. In their native state the two devices can't talk to each other. Palm users happily beam electronic business cards to one another, and Pocket PC users can share files with similar devices. But a Palm user can't zap a picture to a Pocket PC.

There is, however, a way to bridge the divide. And others may be coming soon. Realizing coexistence is key to Pocket PC's popularity, HP bundled a program called Peacemaker on its new Jornada.

With a couple of taps, users can send business cards to Palm users or receive them. A new version of the software, Peacemaker Pro, lets users send other kinds of files, such as appointments. It's available online for $14.95 from its developer, Conduits Technologies Inc., at http://www.conduits.com/ce/peacemaker. A free version, which can be used only to exchange contact data, is also available there.

For its basic purpose, Peacemaker succeeds admirably. Whether the other person has a Palm OS-based device or one from Psion Inc., a Pocket PC user can receive a business card and add it to the contact list. Conversely, I've used my iPaq H3600 to beam my card dozens of times to Palm users, many of whom were pleasantly surprised by this feature.

Yet even with Peacemaker, the exchange between Pocket PC and Palm isn't as simple as between two Palm devices. On the Palm platform, users designate which address card, usually their own, to send either with the Beam Business Card command or, more commonly, by holding down the Address button on the unit. Just point at another Palm and, presto, the information flies over. The recipient has the option of accepting or rejecting the card.

On a Pocket PC, sending an address to a Palm requires a little more work--and usually both hands. Pressing and holding the Contacts button on the front will only bring up a field for a new contact. To send a card across requires opening the contact list, finding and selecting the name and holding the stylus there long enough to bring up a menu that offers either to "Beam Card" or set up a "Card Exchange," in which one card is sent and another received.

That's all well and good, but the job's not done yet. The Pocket PC software is tied to Microsoft Outlook on desktop computers--a no-brainer given the Redmond, Wash., origin of both programs. But Outlook allows entry of business and home addresses. If a card has both, users are asked to choose which to beam over to the Palm.

First-time users may find this step confusing. Frequent users may well be irritated. A better way to resolve this would be for Conduits Technologies to allow users to select one option or the other as a default setting.

By the same token, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Palm Computing to upgrade the Palm address book to accommodate more than one address. This would also have to be done on the Palm Desktop personal information manager, which itself is very popular with Palm users.

However, the bundling of the basic Peacemaker software by HP in the Jornada and the availability of Peacemaker Pro are positive moves. And Microsoft is investigating the development of its own "inter-platform file exchange software" for the next release of Windows CE, said Ed Suwanjindar, a product manager at the company.

Wouldn't it be nice if Microsoft learned to make its programs work with existing platforms rather than try to rework the world in its image?

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The Skinny

Peacemaker Pro

* What it does: Allows personal digital assistants running the Palm and Pocket PC operating systems to talk to each other

* Price: $14.95 (Limited version is free)

* Manufacturer: Conduits Technologies Inc.

* Availability: Downloadable at http://www.conduits.com/ce/peacemaker/

* The good: Fills a huge need as Pocket PCs become more prevalent

* The bad: Awkward interface

* Bottom line: Good at the basics

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