Thursday, June 1, 2000

Inputting text one SIP at a time


By Clifford Brooks

Ironically, I'm writing this article on one of the IBM WorkPad z50s. The z50 is one of the few larger Window's CE form factors--the PC Companion goes laptop. For all intents and purposes, it's a small laptop with an even smaller OS, but for men and women who make their livings processing words, it's a dream machine. For now, though, suffice it to say, I'm still primarily a Palm-sized PC/Pocket PC user.

This brings us to the SIP panel. SIP stands for Soft Input Panel, so calling it the SIP panel creates a bit of redundancy (i.e., Soft Input Panel panel). However, it makes for cleaner prose, so that's how I will refer to it. The SIP panel, as the name implies, allows you to select the manner of input. Since Palm-sized PCs don't have keyboards, the SIP panel is probably the most important, not to mention overlooked, element of the operating system. Without the SIP panel, our devices would be read-only units. You can take a look at the SIP panel in Figure A.


The SIP panel takes our devices above the level of mere read-only units. (click for larger image)

Palm-sized PCs come with two SIP panel methods to choose from: JOT and the soft keyboard. While JOT is similar to Palm, Inc.'s Graffiti input method, there are a couple of important differences. First, the learning curve is decreased thanks to a less archaic input method. Graffiti's shorthand-like abbreviated letters work well, but they require a bit of getting used to. With the exception of letters that normally require you to lift your pen, JOT's system is less didactic and more forgiving.

Second, and equally important, the SIP panel is a pop-up panel, freeing up screen real estate when not necessary. This is very important, as the extra screen space allows programmers to create more complex and interesting programs and provides more room for displaying electronic books, maps, games, etc. Also, when using a couple of the alternative SIP panel programs outlined below, the SIP panel is not displayed at all, freeing up room during the input stage.

While a number of programmers and developers have dabbled in SIP panel programming, the granddaddy of them all has to be Developer One. Developer One offers a number of creative alternatives to the built-in offerings and even provides a free SIP panel manager so you can organize and select among the installed offerings.

If you're like me, and you've grown tired of the built-in methods, you may want to investigate some of the SIP panel alternatives on the market.