Review: Palm Buddy 1.0.2a
System 7.5.5 or higher (8.0 recommended)
Pilot, PalmPilot, Palm III, or IBM Workpad
Cradle with Mac Pac connection software
By the time you read this article, OS 8.5 will have been out for about 2-3 weeks. As I write this article, though, OS 8.5 is still a blip, albeit a very large one, on the horizon. I predict that this release will scare many Macintosh users, myself included. No, we are not afraid of a PowerPC-native operating system, 32-bit icons, faster AppleScripting, or even Themes. What scares us is the notion that our trusted little friends, our Pilots, will no longer be able to HotSync with our beloved Macintosh.
Yes, it is true. The wonderfully designed Palm Desktop 1.0 software is incompatible with OS 8.5. Never mind the fact that the software is virtually unchanged since the first Pilots, the 1000 and 5000, were released. Honestly, it wasn’t that good to begin with. At least it worked, though. According to the reports of beta testers, either attempting a HotSync or launching Palm Desktop will crash the machine.
If pandemonium is on the verge of breaking out, I urge everybody to calm down. This is not armageddon. There is a partial solution to our shared problem. This solution has a name: Palm Buddy.
Palm Buddy is an installer and backup utility for any of the variations on the Pilot line of organizers, from the 1000 to the Palm III, including the IBM Workpad. It consists of a 1.2 MB application, a plug-in folder (explained later), an electronic instruction manual, and a 13K Pilot application. Launching the application for the first time brings up the Settings window (after the registration window). The Settings window allows you to indicate which port the Pilot is connected to, whether or not to initiate a connection on startup, and some other features that I will touch on later.
The heart of the program is the connection window. The connection window looks like OS 8.0 meets a Web browser (Figure 1). You are presented with a Finder-like list view of what is on your Pilot. The data on the Pilot is broken down into five categories, each represented by a folder: System, Preference Panel, Built-in Applications, Other Applications, and Other Databases. These can be expanded, like in a Finder list view. Expanding either of the Applications folders yields a folder for each installed application. Inside the application’s folder is the application itself and any related databases. The Other Databases folder contains databases that have no associated program. These include Graffiti Shortcuts, system updates, and other files. On a side note, anybody using TealDoc will notice that any Doc files they install will appear in the Other Databases folder unless they are converted to TealDoc’s internal format (an option in TealDoc).
Any item in the connection window can be dragged out of the window. Dragging something to the desktop will create a copy of the file on the desktop. Dragging something to a Finder folder will copy it to that folder. Also, one of Palm Buddy’s nicer options, dragging something to the trash will allow you to delete it (Figure 2), depending on whether or not that option is turned on in the Settings window. Another option lets you choose whether or not to append .pdb or .prc to the end of filenames when they are dragged to the Finder. Palm Buddy does not, however, allow you to drag items from one Pilot folder to another Pilot folder. In reality, though, there is no reason to want to do this. If you have two Doc readers on your Pilot, for example, both will be able to read Doc files, no matter where Palm Buddy places them.
I said that Palm Buddy was also an install tool. As you may have guessed from reading about the connection window, Palm Buddy supports Drag and Drop install. Drag any Pilot application into the connection window and it will be installed on the Pilot. A progress bar on the bottom right of the connection window will show how much of the install has been completed (similar to the page loading progress bar in Navigator). Installs can also be run in the background without any noticeable slow down. I can’t help but wonder if this would be the case if I ran Palm Buddy on my old Preforma 630 as opposed to my brand-spanking-new G3. This not withstanding, installing applications on my Pilot while I type this review is a very nice feature.
Another of Palm Buddy’s nicer features is the ability to view the files on your Pilot while the Pilot is not connected to your computer. After you initialize a connection, you can press disconnect on the Palm Buddy application on the Pilot. You get a warning message that the Pilot has been disconnected, but you can still view files and any pending transfers will resume when the connection is reestablished (Figure 3). In short, if you drag a file to the connection window, it will be installed when the Pilot reconnects with the computer.
Palm Buddy uses plug-ins to identify files that are dropped onto the connection window. I’ll admit that I have no clue what PlugServicesLib does. Judging by its name, though, it is probably some sort of library that Palm Buddy uses. The second plug-in is PRC/PDB. These are the native Pilot formats for applications and databases. The third plug-in is the really exciting one: Text to Aportis Doc. This converts any text document (SimpleText, BBEdit, SimpleText Read-Only, TexEdit, etc) into the Aportis Doc format. This is the format read by all doc readers. The plug-in architecture allows for more translators. Currently, three more plug-ins are in the process of being written: J-File, MobileDB, and ImageViewer. At the time this article was written, the new plug-ins were unavailable.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Palm Buddy’s backup feature (Figure 4). This allows you to keep a copy of everything on your Pilot backed up to your computer. There are two types of backups: Full and Incremental. Full sends everything on the Pilot to you Mac. Incremental sends only the items that have changed or been installed since the last backup.
There are three options in the backup window. First, Palm III owners (or owners of upgraded Pilots) can choose to backup non-system applications in the Flash ROM. Since most users only have system apps in their Flash ROM, this is off by default. The second option is to back up the built-in databases. Since Palm Buddy does not update the Pilot Desktop files, this option also is off by default. The final option gives you the choice of deleting files from your Mac that have been deleted from your Pilot.
Palm Buddy is not perfect, however. There are a few minor bugs that keep me from giving it an ‘Excellent’ score. First, Palm Buddy lacks a memory monitor. The only way to find how much memory is available on the Pilot is to close the connection and open the memory application. If you try to overload the Pilot’s memory, it will crash.
Second, drag and drop install is not true drag and drop. If you try to drop a file that has a corresponding plug-in along with a file that does not have a plug-in, neither file will be installed.
Third, if you install a file that goes into the Other Databases folder, one of the other files in that folder becomes a folder that contains the installed file. I must admit, it was a little disconcerting the first time I noticed this. Clicking the Refresh button fixes this, but I feel that this should not be necessary.
Fourth, HotSync monitoring must be turned off for Palm Buddy to work. This should not be a problem, since Hot Syncing doesn’t work under 8.5. Keep in mind, however, you must install the Palm Buddy app on your Pilot before upgrading to 8.5, otherwise there will be no way to get the application onto the Pilot. (3Com has released an Conduit Development Kit, however, that features a beta version of the new HotSync software. It is possible that this will work under OS 8.5, but I have not tested it. The software can be downloaded from
Fifth, while Palm Buddy rarely crashes (less than half a dozen times in the few months I’ve used it), the serial port remains open if there was an active connection. If you try to relaunch Palm Buddy, you are given a warning that the port is in use. The only ways to close the port are to restart the machine or use a program like CommCloser. CommCloser is only about 10K, but it would be nice if Palm Buddy could incorporate similar functionality.
I have seen a handful of programs that claim to make maintaining your Pilot’s programs and databases easier. Two that jump to mind are SimpleInst and InstallApp. Both of these programs do the job they were created for, but neither is a joy to use. Furthermore, since they both rely on HotSyncing, they are pretty much useless after next month. Palm Buddy is independent of HotSyncing and, to be honest, is actually fun to use. It is a breath of fresh air to use a Mac-like program to maintain my Pilot. As an install and maintenance program for the Pilot, Palm Buddy is the finest program of its type that I have ever seen.
Note: As this issue went to press, Palm Buddy 1.1 was released, which includes two major changes: (1) folders can be dragged to the Palm Buddy window (2) J-File and MobileDB plug-ins, which convert tab-delimited text into J-File or MobileDB format respectively, are now included.