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Making The Transition To The New HP 300/320LX Palmtop PC

Making The Transition To The New HP 300/320LX Palmtop PC

Transferring data from his HP 100LX to a newly purchased HP 320LX Palmtop PC wasn't effortless for this new Windows CE user, but what he learned can help others out.

By James A. Robertson

As soon as I saw the description of Hewlett-Packards new Windows CE palmtops, I knew I would have one. After using my 2Mb 100LX for the last four years I have come to rely on it for most of the tasks I used to carry one of those ubiquitous planner notebooks for.

So when I read after COMDEX 96 that HP would soon introduce a Windows CE palmtop, I hoped maybe expected would be more like it that it would do the kinds of things for handhelds that Windows 95 did to improve DOS and Windows 3.1.

Now that I've been through the transition process, I have to confess to being mildly disappointed by the amount of effort it has taken, and by the missing features in the Windows CE software that I enjoyed in the 100LX. The jury is still out on whether the 300/320LX platform will be as good as the 100/200LX has been.

This article will describe the process I went through to set up my new 320LX and to import files from my 100LX. Ill mention the strengths and weaknesses I have been able to observe in the new platform during my first week of use. I will also describe how I solved various problems I encountered. My solutions may not be the best, but they worked for me. I will not repeat the 300/320LX hardware and software specifications that you can read in the articles that have appeared in The HP Palmtop Paper, (see pages 16-21 of the March/April 1997 issue).

How I Acquired my Unit

Initial shipments of the 300LX and 320LX (along with accessories and card memory) were hard to find as of the first week in June. Early units are likely to be snapped up quickly, so if a similar situation arises in the future, I suggest to keep in daily contact with one or more dealers until they can sell you a unit.

I called HPs pre-sales number (800-443-1254) to obtain the names of local dealers that were supposed to have them. As soon as I had the names, I went shopping. Three out of four local stores did not have any in stock, but I finally struck gold at a nearby discount office supply store.

I spotted the 320LX immediately among the several Handheld PCs at the store. HPs CE screen is noticeably larger, compared to the other units that will be displayed alongside the HP in many stores. After playing with the demo machine for a few minutes, I asked for one in the box but was told the one on display was the only one in stock. The sticker price of $699 was the best I could do. I could have saved $46 by waiting for the mail order dealer to receive a supply, but after six months of buildup of anticipation I couldn't wait any longer. The clerk told me that the store had received two 320LX machines that morning. One sold when the store opened; I bought mine at noon.

Back at my office, the first task was to check the package contents. When you open the box there are two manuals, a large setup instruction sheet (useful for explaining the battery insertion order and reset procedure), an add-on product catalog, warranty, licenses for H/PC Explorer and the other software, and two CD-ROMs containing the software for the desktop (or laptop) partner machine you must have to connect with the 320LX. Inside the inner box the 320LX was enclosed in cardboard on one side. The other side of the box held the docking cradle, with serial connection cable attached, HPs neat folding-prong AC adapter, two AA alkaline batteries and the backup battery.

Use care during setup

I followed the instruction sheet to insert the batteries and reset the new palmtop [Actually, resetting is unnecessary; the palmtop powers on automatically. EDITOR]. I turned it on by pressing the [spacebar] and hurriedly began following the setup and personalization instructions, using the stylus. The result of this process demonstrated the importance of following the on-screen setup instructions precisely.

Pay special attention to stylus calibration. If you do not calibrate the stylus accurately (as I unknowingly did the first time through), the commands and menus will not work correctly when you use the stylus. For example, pressing on one menu item may execute the adjoining menu choice. I could see the problem immediately when I attempted to cruise around the menu bars in the built-in programs. Because of the difficulty this miscalibration caused in restarting the calibration program in the Control Panel, I finally had to remove the batteries (including the backup battery), reset the machine and go through setup and calibration from the beginning. [Pressing (CTRL)+(ALT)+(=) allows you to recalibrate. Its not necessary to remove the batteries and reset. EDITOR]. Everything worked as it should after my second attempt.

I unpacked the docking station and plugged in the 320LX. The palmtops plug on the AC adapter is noticeably smaller than the 100/200LXs, and the serial connector has a flat, rectangular shape with an arrow on top for proper orientation. The serial connector may be removed from the docking station by turning the unit over and pinching the plastic clip that holds the cable in the docking station. The cable rests under the clip and removes easily. Its unfortunate that HP changed the design of the power and serial connectors; it means that none of the accessories for the 100/200LX which use these connections will work with the 300/320LX.

The first accessories I obtain will be an extra AC adapter and serial connection cable for my travel kit. Nearly as important will be a CompactFlash card, which will allow me to leave the PCMCIA slot free for a modem. (The HP 320LX unit has two card slots: a PCMCIA slot, as well as a CompactFlash card slot.)

Importing usable 100/200LX files

 One of the first things I wanted to know was whether the Windows CE machine would read files directly from the Sundisk 5Mb PCMCIA card on which I have stored programs and all reference files I have maintained on my 100LX for the last four years. (The predecessors of SanDisk cards were Sundisk cards). I turned the 320LX off with the [fn] + [spacebar] keys, inserted the card and turned the CE machine back on. I searched everywhere on the Windows desktop and My Handheld PC menus, but the palmtop gave no sign of recognition of the card.

I called HPs Technical Support folks. It seems that the 300/320LX is known to recognize only the SanDisk PCMCIA cards and CompactFlash cards that are listed in the README file on HPs CD-ROM which comes with the unit. Other ATA flash cards using 3.3v should work, but cards requiring 5v are not recommended by HP.

Another revelation came out of this experiment: All file translation/conversion of 100/200LX files must be performed on your desktop machine (not in the palmtop), using HPs PIM conversion software and the H/PC Explorer synchronization option that must be installed on the desktop PC from the CD-ROM. If you've been using HPs Connectivity Pack to back up your palmtop on your desktop PC, you already have the files, but its unfortunate that you cant simply interchange files by moving a PCMCIA card from a 100/200LX to the 300/320LX.

Phone to Contact conversion

Converting my phone/contact list was the most important task to me; I have almost a thousand names and phone numbers of clients, friends and professional associates. The first step in this process is installing the special H/PC software on the CD-ROMs that accompany the 300/320LX. When the Microsoft CD setup program starts, it shows three software installation options (which must be installed in the order displayed): (1) install Microsoft exchange updates (not required if you already have installed this update from Microsoft's Internet download site, or if you have Microsoft Outlook, released with Office 97); (2) install Microsoft Schedule+ 7.0a (not required if you have Microsoft Outlook); and (3) install H/PC Explorer, which is the heart of the desktop interface with your new HP palmtop. Next, load the HP CD. Although there are many free trial software offers on the CD, the only one you need immediately is the translation program in the directory named \HP\PIM. Setup for these programs is easy if you follow the menus.

When you start the HP PIM translation program, it asks you to locate your 100/200LX Phonebook (.PDB) or Appointment book (.ADB) files. After loading the Phonebook file, you will be shown a fieldname conversion table. You have the opportunity to remap the new fieldnames at this time, but you cant add fields, rename fields or modify the database structure like you could in Phonebook. Note that the only PIM conversions are the Phonebook and Appointment Book files. There is no conversion utility for database files.

Synchronizing PC and palmtop files

I discovered another problem after conversion: H/PC picks Outlook as the PCs interface with the palmtop if you have Outlook on your PC. However, the HP PIM conversion program only converts Phonebook files into Schedule+ contact files. You may then need to import your contact list into Outlook from Exchange/ Schedule+ before you can synchronize the PC and palmtop files. The first conversion/synchronization I performed joined the name and business phone fields into the Contacts name field, instead of placing them in the correct Contacts database fields. This problem resulted from my attempt to rename the fields being mapped. Everything converted recognizably after a second conversion of my PhoneBook. However, synchronization with the palmtop was another matter.

When you have connected the desktop PC to your palmtop with the serial cable, turn on the 300/320LX and start H/PC Explorer on the PC. The program immediately begins establishing a connection between the PC and palmtop. H/PC Explorer shows its progress establishing a connection on its status bar. The palmtop screen displays a corresponding message. If you have an open, correctly configured serial port, connecting the two machines will be easy.

My suggestion: turn off automatic synchronization

You have the choice when you configure H/PC Explorer to perform automatic synchronization between files on the PC and the HP palmtop. I recommend turning off automatic synchronization in H/PC Explorers Tools menu. Automatic synchronization is safer, but it takes time and may inconvenience you while you wait for it to finish. Just remember to synchronize before you disconnect the palmtop or before you close H/PC Explorer on the desktop.

When I finally attempted to synchronize the files, the process appeared to be working smoothly for awhile. Eventually, however, I received an error message that the desktop was not receiving a reply from the palmtop. Both machines indicated that they were successfully connected, so I had no other tools with which to test the direct serial connection. Unfortunately, if the number of synchronized contacts does not increase after this message, I found (using the Troubleshooting guide in the Help files) that the only way to eliminate the synchronization error was to disconnect the two machines, reset (reboot) the palmtop, reboot the desktop and reconnect the machines. A few more contacts can then be synchronized until it times out again and the rebooting process must be repeated.

After over a dozen attempts and reboots, including a 3-1/2 hour phone call to HP Tech Support, I finally achieved a synchronized state between the desktop and palmtop files. However, the palmtop file is not alphabetized and I have not yet been able to clean it up so that it is entirely useable. Frankly, conversion of this file has been a nightmare and has wasted at least two full days of my time. I hope none of you experience it, but if you do, follow the Troubleshooting instructions precisely before you bother calling HP. They don't have a solution for the problem (as of early June).

Difficulty recognizing MEMO and Lotus files

Before experimenting with other file conversions, I made a copy of all my 100/200LX files in a new directory for 320LX files on my PC. I did not want to risk losing the desktop backup copy of my 100/200LX files. Then I tried to move groups of the copied 100/200LX application files to H/PC Explorer and synchronize them, to see what file types the 300/320LX software would recognize without further effort.

This was another disappointment. Neither Pocket Word nor Pocket Excel recognize the 100/200LX Lotus 1-2-3 files with the .WK1 extension. H/PC Explorer thinks .WK1 is a Pocket Word file type.

However, Pocket Word recognizes .TXT files without difficulty, and in order to get the program to recognize 100/200LX MEMO files with the .DOC extension, just change the display of files from Pocket Word Documents to All Documents.

To solve these conversion problems I opened my Office 97 desktop copies of Word and Excel and imported each 100/200LX file with a .DOC or .TXT extension into Word, then used the menu command Save As... to save the files in standard Word format. Then I imported the 100/200LX Lotus 1-2-3 files with .WK1 extensions into Excel and saved them as Excel files. I then deleted the old 100/200LX versions of the files from my 320LX file directories.

When I moved the newly saved files onto the H/PC Explorer desktop (using the copy and paste commands), each file automatically converted effortlessly into Pocket Word or Pocket Excel format. After conversion, I was able to open and review my files on the 320LX, using Pocket Word and Pocket Excel. Many of the text files will require reformatting, but I will do this as I use them over the coming months.

Note that conversion to or from Pocket Word and Pocket Excel format occur automatically as you move or copy files from the desktop to the palmtop and back. This file conversion process is separate from the synchronization process used to compare desktop and palmtop copies of your appointments, contact and task (to do) databases.

HP technical support

Several setup and configuration problems caused me to call HP Technical Support during the first days after I bought my 320LX. My longest wait was about 30 minutes, when I started out as caller 15 in the queue. They are trying to be as helpful as possible, but the 300 series units are so new that they don't have solutions for every problem. The technical support representatives I spoke to had only recently received their own 300 series units, so they couldn't possibly have had too much experience with potential problems. I plan to report the resolution of all problems to HP so they can add to their knowledge base for 300-series problem-solving.

The missing database engine

I have a sizable number of 100/200LX database, notepad and HP Calc equation files (.GDB, .NDB and .EQN) that cannot be converted into usable format for the 300/320LX. (However, see sidebar for conversion of Database files.) The new machine has database files for appointments, tasks and contacts, but these functions are entirely different from the 100/200LX databases. I made extensive use of the database functions on the 100/200LX. They are great for a wide variety of uses.

At this point in my discovery of the 320LXs capabilities, I feel that HP or Microsoft made a grave error in omitting the database from the 300/320LX. I know other 100/200LX users who will not switch to the Windows CE platform because of this omission. Third-party developers are going to have a field day with this, but how much of the precious 2 or 4Mb of RAM will be sacrificed? Perhaps HP and other Windows CE machine OEMs will put pressure on Microsoft to add a Pocket Access program for future ROM updates. HP then could include database converters for the desktop version of Microsoft Access that will make the files usable in Pocket Access on the 300/320LX.

I have investigated third-party solutions for the database problem, but the program described as most closely matching my needs has been withdrawn for reworking. The others do not appear to meet my needs.

The .EQN files are used in many HP Calc applications for the older palmtops, but these applications are missing on the new model. For example, I'm a pilot, so I have an E6B flight calculator program for HP Calc in the 100/200LX that makes extensive use of .EQN files. I have not seen comparable functionality in the 300/320LX calculator. Its menus do not include the ability to store or call up saved functions or equations.

Don't look for a DOS prompt on the 300/320LX desktop. Windows CE does not have the ability to open a DOS window or run DOS programs. This is one of the Windows 95 functions missing from Windows CE. If you made extensive use of DOS programs on your 100/200LX, you will have to wait until third-party developers introduce Windows CE versions of their DOS program to perform the same work on a 300/320LX.

Initial impressions

As I use the 320LX I am impressed by many of its features. I used Pocket Word to prepare the draft of this article. Although I could not touch-type at 80 wpm (like I can on my PC), I made steady, acceptable progress with a modified hover typing technique in which I basically use three fingers of each hand. The keyboard is still small, but its a great improvement over the 100/200LX.

I'm wildly excited to finally have a useful handheld computer with a backlit screen. It works! Everything on screen is visible in the dark, but you may need to go slow until you learn where the curser and alternative function keys are located. I wish HP had included backlighting on the 100/200LX! External screen lights have been the only solution until now. Warning: extensive use of backlighting will quickly drain a new set of AA batteries. Keep a spare set on hand at all times!

Hasn't abandoned 100LXs database

At this point I have not abandoned my 100LX, and I don't think I will until HP and Microsoft solve the missing database problem in Windows CE on the 300/320LX. I read all The HP Palmtop Paper pre-release articles and comparisons on the 300/320LXs built-in software, so I was aware of the missing database engine. But until I was reviewing my files during the transfer process, I did not realized that I made more frequent use of the database applications than any other program in the 100LX PIM suite. My largest files were the Phonebook and a Lotus 1-2-3 file on which I keep my pilots logbook entries. If I had given it more thought, I probably would have put the logbook in a database, but its a little late to start over now.

You may have noticed that I have said little about the 100LX Appointment Book database function. The reason is that I have used a desktop PC scheduling program for several years and I refused to enter the data twice (on the PC and again on the 100LX). The synchronization of Microsoft Outlook and the 320LX is, for me, one of its strongest selling points (if only it would work with less effort!). In addition, I can now exchange files easily between Word and Excel on my PC and Pocket Word and Pocket Excel on the 320LX by inserting a serial plug, starting H/PC Explorer and simply copying or moving files back and forth. It cant get much simpler. Interchange between my PC and the 100LX was certainly possible, but hardly as easy and convenient as it is with the 320LX.

I have purchased a 33.6 PCMCIA card fax/modem (one of the ones that's on HPs list of tested devices). Although HP advised me that this model was withdrawn from the list the last week in May, my initial test of its operation was successful. I was able to dial into a remote site and establish a working connection. I'm looking forward to trying out the 320LXs communications, Internet and e-mail capabilities. Warning: Don't leave a modem card in the 300 series slot unless you are using the AC adapter! I went through a new set of batteries in an evening by ignoring this advice.

I have ordered a 15Mb compact flash card for file storage. So far I have transferred less than 1Mb of usable files from the 100LX, but I expect the 320LXs 4Mb to need cleaning soon because of my past palmtop work and filing habits. In the past I have always tried to keep all working copies of files on the card rather than clutter up precious RAM.

What I recommend

Overall, I expect my palmtop usage to increase on the 320LX, but I still need the 100LX for work involving the database programs. My recommendation? If you want what the 300/320LX has, go for it you'll love it! But if you have been using a lot of DOS software on your 100/200LX, or if you make extensive use of HP Calc and/or database functions, stick with what you have. Each machine has special strengths that are not duplicated by the other. And each machine is extremely useful, in spite of its weaknesses. HP probably loves my current dilemma best: I've decided to keep both machines.

Moving 100/200LX NoteTaker and Database files To Pocket Word and Pocket Excel on the HP 320LX

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