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@Palmtop - Internet e-mail Service for the HP Palmtop

@Palmtop - Internet e-mail Service for the HP Palmtop

ACE Technologies' @Palmtop service lets Palmtop users send and receive e-mail via the built-in cc:Mail communications program.

By Mark Scardina

[Hewlett-Packard has viewed the Palmtop as an e-mail companion since they provided cc:Mail Mobile in the 100LX. Unfortunately, it proved to be a vision that was well ahead of its practical use. Now that we have e-mail access as a company requirement and the Internet as the vehicle of choice we thought it would be timely to investigate how the Palmtop could fit into this new scenario. Long time readers are familiar with Mark Scardina's contribution to this magazine. For this article, I asked him to put on his "day job" hat as Director of Technical Marketing for ACE Technologies and talk about the @Palmtop e-mail service that ACE has started. Hal Goldstein]

Q: What exactly is @Palmtop?

A: @Palmtop provides nation-wide Internet e-mail and fax service to HP 100/200LX users using the Palmtop's built-in cc:Mail Mobile program. What we have done is to set up a cc:Mail Post Office on our server and connected it directly to the Internet. This "gateway" allows Internet e-mail to be converted into cc:Mail and vice versa. Users who subscribe to our service can send and receive e-mail by calling our 408 or 800 numbers from cc:Mail on their Palmtop.

Additionally, we provide a "mirror POP3" account. This allows users to send and receive e-mail via a desktop or other computer running any Internet e-mail application such as Netscape Navigator, Eudora, Internet Explorer, etc.

We have also just started a fax delivery service for mail and attachments, a Pager forwarding option, and IMAP support (more on this later).

Q: Do I have to use your e-mail address? Will I still get mail addressed to another e-mail address? How does this work from the point of view of an end user?

A: @Palmtop users get an e-mail address and mail received to this address can be forwarded to any or all of your other e-mail accounts. Any of your other e-mail addresses that have forwarding capability will be able to send mail into your @Palmtop mailbox.

Q: How is the 800 number billed?

A: The actual phone call to the 800 number is free, but your account is billed by the amount of time you are connected to the system, in one minute increments. We have set up Silver and Gold service plans that provide 75 and 150 minutes respectively. In addition, users can call our 408 access number, which has no per minute charges or limits on the number of bytes transmitted.

It should also be remembered that cc:Mail is a very efficient e-mail application. An average call is well under two minutes, thanks to it being a full 8-bit protocol. Also, the Internet mail header is not transmitted from the gateway. This results in over a 50% savings in online time compared to current Internet e-mail applications.

Q: Would I use your service if I lived outside U.S.?

A: We currently have a number of international customers even though we do not have in-country access numbers at this time. For E-mail use, @Palmtop can be advantageous when compared to some of the surcharges that are charged by local Internet services. We are planning individual international access in the near future. We can connect to company post offices in the U.S. This lets companies that have international divisions use the Internet with cc:Mail for economical inter-office e-mail.

Q: PALMTOP.COM used to advertise in The HP Palmtop Paper. What is the relationship between the two companies? How is @Palmtop different?

A: Martin Paul founded PALMTOP.COM in 1994 and built it up not only user by user, but by attracting companies that already used cc:Mail internally but needed Internet e-mail addresses and access.

Since my early days in the CompuServe Forum creating HP Palmtop access programs, I have felt that communications was one of the Palmtop's greatest attractions. The ability to get a running start on your daily e-mail or catch up while at a restaurant, standing in line, etc., makes the Palmtop a very powerful and compelling tool.

ACE's expertise in Palmtop communications and our continuous Internet connection made this business venture a good fit, therefore ACE acquired PALMTOP .COM and renamed it @Palmtop. Martin is still very much involved in the corporate services end of this venture.

Q: What are the advantages of using cc:Mail rather than other software?

A: cc:Mail is built into the Palmtop's ROM, which is one of its most important advantages. You don't need to take up disk space for another piece of software.

cc:Mail is a mature e-mail application that brings with it a number of advantages for the remote user who has restricted disk space. First, cc:Mail uses a binary protocol to send and receive messages.

UUENCODE or MIME encoding and decoding is handled by our gateway instead of by the Palmtop. This reduces the disk space requirements and connect time for the Palmtop user. You can also set a file attachment limit in cc:Mail before going online to prevent getting a file that would cause you to run out of disk space.

cc:Mail handles message overhead very efficiently. It does not need to transmit a huge Internet header and logs on and off very quickly as compared to some Internet e-mail applications. We have tracked average calls for our users and found they are typically one minute.

Q: Does @Palmtop have advanced or special features a company might want to take advantage of?

A: @Palmtop offers a number of advantages for companies. Since we are a full cc:Mail Post Office, companies can gain access to the Internet by simply having their own cc:Mail Router call ours on a periodic basis. As distinct from many other services, we provide a number of addressing options. Companies can have their own domain. This is useful if the company runs cc:Mail internally and simply wants to add Internet e-mail access. They also can use sub-domains.

Companies also have a different billing plan with a rate tied to usage. This allows them to easily add or delete users as their account is in the companies' name and not the individual's.

By subscribing to @Palmtop, companies can add Internet e-mail access by simply adding a modem to their cc:Mail Post Office. The alternative is setting up their own gateway and installing a direct connection to the Internet. This quite typically would end up costing over $10,000 and have monthly charges well in excess of our service.

Q: What do you see as the future enhancements and direction of remote e-mail?

A: The Internet has proven itself capable of supporting e-mail for communications between companies, and within a single company. There is a relatively new mail protocol called Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP) that is an alternative to Post Office Protocol (POP). They both are designed for offline processing but IMAP's strength lies in its online and disconnected operation. IMAP allows users to view the message headers before downloading them and selectively Mark, Delete, Reply, Forward, etc., without actually downloading the message until needed. It can also recover from disconnections and synchronize your mail box with other PC's you may be using.

These differences are major advantages to Palmtop and Notebook users as they give them the control that many proprietary mail servers (such as CompuServe and AOL) offer, but with an open-standard protocol. @Palmtop's mail server is already IMAP compliant and we plan to introduce shortly a IMAP application that will run on the Palmtop to bring these features to our users.

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