Saturday, July 1, 2000

Have your Documents To Go


By Michael Compeau

It's hard to review an intriguing offering like the newest version of Documents To Go from DataViz without doing some comparisons to the other solutions available for getting our Word and Excel information squeezed into our Palm OS devices. So forgive me, but I must be a little nostalgic for a moment to put things in perspective.

The long march: putting Word and Excel in our Palm devices

When Rich Bram released his text-viewing application DOC back in 1997, early tools like MakeDOC soon led to the ground swell of interest in e-text and ebook reading on PalmPilots. PalmPilot owners suddenly had a means (twisted and convoluted though it was-remember DOS?) to convert ASCII text to a compressed readable form on their devices.

With a rather pathetic fondness, I remember the clumsy process of saving my word processing files as simple text, running MakeDOC in a DOS window, and entering the magical command line which would give birth to my data in the treasured *.PDB form, ready for installation on my PalmPilot. The excellent PalmDOC came later, enabling the conversion directly from within Microsoft Word for use in DOC+, SmartDOC, QED, or the other DOC-format viewers and editors that arrived to finally bring full text editing capability to the DOC format.

On the spreadsheet front, about the time Bram was fine-tuning the early DOC application, Jeff Musa was hard at work coding QuickSheet, the first-and still most popular-spreadsheet for the PalmPilot. Over time, Musa added further integration with the Windows desktop and the Excel application, enabling full synchronization with files in users' desktop folders and even with linked server data. Other Palm OS spreadsheets, such as TinySheet and MiniCalc, have followed, all working to put our primary PC's Excel data in our hot little hands.

It seems that in the past year, the various spreadsheets available for the Palm OS have been racing to become the perfect pocket Excel for the Palm OS. We've all reaped the benefits as feature after feature has been added-even charting!

There was plenty of early skepticism from some critics about the usefulness of reading documents or manipulating spreadsheets on the Palm OS platform. In spite of this, the vision of folks like Bram and Musa has been vindicated recently in Microsoft's move to integrate Pocket Word and Pocket Excel into their newest handheld operating system, the Pocket PC.

All existing Palm OS licensees seem to have passed on the incorporation of such applications, and Palm itself has apparently rejected the notion in the interest of supporting third party developers. Whether this is a strategic boon or blunder remains to be seen.