Palmed Off

My Palm Tungsten T3's battery doesn't recharge worth a hoot any more, so it's time for a new PDA. I'd like to say that I'm searching among the Palm devices for a replacement, but I'm not—although I wish I could.

I've liked the Palm line of PDAs since back in the days when we called them Pilots. I liked their simplicity, power parsimony, and ability to synchronize with just about everything. Furthermore, I really liked owning a computer device that didn't have the Microsoft logo stamped n it. But I fear those days are past.

Originally, a Palm device ran on a couple of AAA batteries—just regular disposable batteries that I could pick up anywhere. Not that I worried much about finding batteries, as I could often get four to six weeks' life out of those batteries. I loved not having to drag around yet another charger and not worrying about how many more minutes I could get out of my PDA before it died. I thought it was hilarious that the Palm device's early competitors—the initial Windows CE devices—were good for about a day’s worth of work before they needed a recharge. I wondered who on Earth would buy such a cumbersome thing. I'm OK with recharging my laptop daily, but my PDA?

Palm devices were simple but reliable. They had a small monochrome touch screen that seemed just right to me. After all, it was just an electronic calendar, a contacts page, a place to scribble notes to myself and keep track of things to do. By keeping the screen resolution low, Palm could make the screen easily readable in many lighting situations, so the device didn't need a backlight. The Windows CE devices, in contrast, had big, bright, power-sucking color screens with backlights. Who needs color in a calendar, anyway?

Palm devices were compatible with everything, it seemed. You could hook up a Palm device to either a Macintosh or a PC with equal ease. You could synchronize your PDA's data to the free Palm-supplied Palm Desktop application, but if you liked Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Organizer, or a raft of other PC-based PDA applications, you could usually get the Palm to sync to them, also. Windows CE devices used a truly awful synchronization program called ActiveSync that would often just simply forget that you had a Windows CE device attached to your PC, and—no surprise—it synchronized only with Outlook.

How the Palm fell apart is almost a comedy. The company held most of the market share in handheld PDAs, and its primary competitor, Microsoft, was turning out really awful products. So, Palm decided to make its products more like Microsoft's. Yeah, you read that right. And no, I have no idea why Palm did such a thing.

First, Palm replaced the AAA batteries in its Palm V with internal batteries that required a charger. That change wasn't that awful, as the Palm V still let me go for weeks without a recharge. But then the company decided to add color, which required a bit more CPU power, a trifle higher resolution, and a backlight, resulting in the Palm IIIc. You won't be surprised to hear that this device needed recharging every day. To this day, I can’t think of a single Palm application that benefits noticeably from color (except, of course, photo or video applications), and yet Palm users dutifully recharge their systems regularly to serve the needs of color.

The final straw for me, though, was compatibility. For the past two years, I've been running Windows XP x64 on my laptop, and Palm offers nothing in the way of 64-bit drivers for XP, nor apparently does Palm have any intention of creating them despite the fact that Microsoft's stance for Windows Vista and Longhorn Server seems to be that 64-bit is the default and 32-bit is "legacy." Bluetooth serves as a workaround, but it's a clumsy one.

So, I looked around the other day and realized that slowly, inexorably, Palm has managed to make Windows CE look attractive. Do you think Microsoft has actually gotten that ActiveSync thing working yet?

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