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February 2000

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Small & Home Office

A Beginner's Primer for Piloting Palm and

Not just for jet set, tech-savvy lawyers, handhelds computers can save you time and aggravation.

By K. William Gibson

HANDHELD computers are no longer the province of only the most tech-savvy, jet set attorneys. Reasonably priced, these small computers can help solo and small firm lawyers manage calendars, e-mail, "to-do" lists, and even document processing.

With the ability to synchronize calendars and other information, among office, home and laptop computers, they can help reduce stress and missed appointments.

Palm Dominates

Handheld computing has arrived in a big way and, with the demise of the Windows CE platform and Apple's Newton, the Palm operating system from 3Com Corp. (Palm OS) is the undisputed winner.

With a reported 80 percent of the market, Palm OS has succeeded where others have failed because of three factors:

First, the Palm did not attempt to replace the user's desktop computer, as did some of the early handheld computers.

Second, Palm's success is that it is not as ambitious as its predecessors in the area of handwriting recognition. The Palm does not attempt to interpret the user's handwriting, as the Newton did, but requires users to enter data using characters that the handheld computer recognizes in script known as "Graffiti."

Third, the price of the handheld computers based on the Palm OS cost a lot less than the earlier handhelds.

Just how big is handheld computing? According to David Pogue, author of Palm Pilot, The Ultimate Guide (O'Reilly) a total of 5 million units have already been sold, with another 1 million units being sold every 10 weeks.

Pogue reports that there are 23,000 programmers writing software to run on the Palm OS and that there are now 10,000 programs that will run on the Palm.

Most of that software can be found on any of the 500 Web Sites devoted to Palm technology. (Two of the biggest Web Sites are and

Many of the programs are freeware and low cost shareware.

The Hardware

3Com's line of handheld computers has been joined by a low priced upstart from Handspring, Inc. Handspring's entry into the handheld market is called Visor and is priced below the comparable Palm units.

Handspring was founded by two people who first designed the original Palm Pilot and the Palm OS. They left Palm Computing not long ago and licensed the Palm OS. Any program that will run on one platform will run on the other, so compatibility is not an issue.

Both Palm and Handspring offer entry level units in the $150 to $200 range. One of the most popular units is the mid-range Palm IIIx. The top of the line unit is the Palm VII which has a built in antenna that lets it send and receive e-mail and connect to the Internet via 3Com's nationwide (To check out the various models to see which one meets your needs, visit the Palm site at

Palm OS users can download Web content from Web Sites that publish data in a text-based format designed for handheld computers. A newly emerging technology will soon allow wider distribution of Web content to a variety of handheld devices.

Some of the hardware add-ons that have been designed for both the Palm and Visor units include a global positioning system (GPS), a digital voice recorder, a keyboard for data entry, a pager system, a universal VCR controller and a modem.

One major difference in hardware between the Palm and Visor units is the Visor's "Springboard" expansion slot that lets the user add such items as memory (up to 8 MB) or a backup unit, or a 33.6 kbs battery powered modem or other devices.

Both the Palm and Visor handheld computers have an infrared port that lets Palm OS users "beam" business cards, other documents, or even programs to each other at distances of up to three feet. (At the recent MacWorld show in San Francisco, users could "beam" the entire event schedule into their units).


Both the Palm and Visor handhelds are sold with a cradle that the unit sits in to connect to the user's desktop computer via a USB or serial cable.

Data from the handheld is synchronized with data from the desktop computer using 3Com technology known as "Hot Sync." The Palm and Visor synchronize with both Windows and Macintosh computers.

(And if you use both Mac and Windows computers, the unit will synch with both -- you don't have to choose only one platform.)

Macintosh users need to purchase a "MacPac" for the Palm handheld, while the Visor comes ready for the Mac right out of the box.

Built-in Software

Both the Palm and Visor units ship with software called the "Palm Desktop" -- a suite of programs including a datebook (calendar) program, address book, "to-do" application, memo pad, and an expense tracker.

These programs were formerly part of the Claris Organizer, a personal information manager, which 3Com purchased two years ago. Data can be entered into any of the Palm Desktop programs using either the handheld device or the desktop computer.

To enter data manually, you use a pen-like "stylus" to write, using the easy-to-learn "Graffiti" handwriting style, or you can tap with the same stylus on a "pop-up" keyboard to spell out entries.)

When the handheld device is later synchronized with the desktop computer using the HotSync program, the data is transferred and synchronized on both units.

Additional Software

New software is loaded into the handheld device via the desktop computer. Here is how it works. First, you download software from the Web or copy them from a CD onto your computer's hard drive.

Next, you open a Palm OS program on your desktop computer called the HotSync Manager and tell that program to transfer the new software to your Palm or Handspring unit the next time you run the HotSync program.

After synchronizing, your new software shows up on the screen of the handheld unit and is ready to run.

The tens of thousands of Palm OS compatible programs include simple programs to keep track of exercise and diet, analyze your stock portfolio and to chart your golf score, as well as more complex programs. Some of the popular Web sites for locating software include,,, and

The most useful may well be the Palm OS versions of existing popular programs that allow synchronization between the desktop computer and the handheld unit. Companies that have released Palm OS compatible versions or have them under development include Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Schedule+, FastTrack Scheduler and a host of others.

The Palm OS compatible versions usually include only key data from the desktop program in order to keep the program size low, but still allow the user to be able to access important information while away from the office and to sync it up with the office computer later on. If the handheld trend continues as expected, Palm OS compatible programs will be the rule.

The Palms also synch with some of the new online calendar (datebooks), such as the planner offered at (Synching is not yet available for Macs.)

Working with Documents

Here are a few of the documents on the Web that lawyers might find useful:

U.S .Law-Copyright Act

Title 17 of the U.S. Code

The United States Constitution

Various State Constitutions

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

U.S. Supreme Court Landmark Decisions

Robert's Rules of Order

Trademark Basics

Directory of the 106th Congress

U.S. Law-Federal Patent Act

U.S. Law-Federal Rules of Evidence

Additional documents are posted ever day and with new software from DataVis, Inc., anyone can post documents for the Palm OS on the Web.

Text documents for the Palm OS are stored in several formats, with the most popular being the "Doc" format. A free Doc reader can be downloaded from the Web.

A new program from DataVis , Inc. called "Documents to Go" not only allows you to read documents created by someone else in the Doc format, but also lets you convert word processing and spreadsheet documents so that you can read them on your Palm OS device.

"Documents to Go" automatically converts Word and WordPerfect documents, Excel spreadsheets and other documents for viewing on the Palm unit.

A scrolling feature lets you view documents in their original size so that legal documents such as pleadings, motions and even deposition transcripts still look like the original, even on the small screen. "Documents to Go" works with Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect Suite, Lotus SmartSuite and ClarisWorks and is available for both Windows and Macintosh systems.

Shop Around

If you haven't tried a Palm or Visor yet, now's the time. And one final tip: You can save a lot of money by buying your handheld on the Internet.

Once you've decided which model you are interested in, check out sites such as, which offers price comparisons for a number of e-commerce shopping venues.

A few weeks ago, using cnet, one friend found a new Palm IIIx on, for $216/ Then, on, she bought accessories at about 50 percent off retail price: an extra cradle for about $19 and a leather case for about $16. (All threepurchases included free shipping!)

Of course, there's always eBay, but right now, Palms are so hot that used units are actually selling for more on eBay than new units on the e-commerce sites. (Of course, use normal caution if buying a used unit.)

K. William Gibson is a solo in Portland, Ore., and the founder of De Novo Systems Inc.

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