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Through the Looking Glass: The 1997-98 Subscriber PowerDisk
Ed picks the "best of the best" free software from The HP Palmtop Paper 1997-98 Subscriber PowerDisk.
by Ed KeefeFor the past eleven years, I and the staff at Thaddeus Computing, Inc., have set aside a month or two each summer to select and test the best free software for the HP Portables and palmtops. The result has been five Subscribers Disks for the HP Portable and six PowerDisks for the HP palmtop. The task has been rewarding, challenging and time-consuming.
The rewarding part of the task has been finding the great number of HP palmtop users who like to give away their computing creations. Every year we'd start out thinking that there would not be enough material to fill a disk. Then we'd start the search process and wind up with enough software to fill two or three disks.
The challenging part of the task has been deciding which programs to put on the disks. We've had to set aside some really great programs merely because they took up too much disk space, or even though they were well written, the programs were more of a "vertical market" application than something having mass appeal.
The most time-consuming aspect of the job has been testing more than a hundred programs every year. We've crashed our palmtops countless times so you wouldn't have to crash yours. But what has taken even more time is finding a real gem of a program and spending several weeks exploring all it could do. That happened this year with the LXBatch program. We'll tell you more about that in the next issue of The HP Palmtop Paper.
The end of an era
The 1997-98 Subscriber PowerDisk will be the last such disk produced by Thaddeus Computing, Inc. Many of our subscribers have pointed out that, by the time they receive the disk, new versions of the software have appeared on the World Wide Web or one of the commercial databases. We're also aware that the MS-DOS era is winding down. There are fewer and fewer DOS programs being written. This makes the task of searching for free programs even more time-consuming.
The best of the best freeware
As a final offering we decided to collect the best-of-the-best freeware for the HP 100/200LX and put it on this year's PowerDisk. The collection shows the wide variety of free software. It presents a virtual "hall-of-fame" for some of the folks who have contributed their time and energy to make our palmtop computing more productive and more pleasurable.
There are over 50 files on the 1997-98 PowerDisk. Some of the files contain games. Others include "utility" programs, while yet others contain databases or Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets. All the files have been tested to make sure they work as indicated and are free of any known viruses. They are offered "as is."
Due to limited resources, Thaddeus will not be able to offer support for any of the files on the PowerDisk. If you need additional help or you find that a program does not work on your machine, please contact the author of the file. Each archive contains a documentation file with the name of the author. Do NOT contact Hewlett-Packard with questions about the 1997-98 PowerDisk or its contents.
Where's the install program?
To squeeze a couple more programs on the PowerDisk, we omitted any installation program. Instead, we compressed the files with the popular PKZip program and included a small UNZIP program to expand them. Just copy one or more of the .ZIP files, along with the UNZIP.EXE file, to another disk and use the command UNZIP filename , where filename stands for the name of a ZIPped file. The documentation file on the PowerDisk tells how many bytes you'll need to expand each file.
Ed's favorite files on the 1997-98 Subscriber PowerDisk.Most of the files on the 1997-98 PowerDisk will be familiar to seasoned users of the HP palmtop, but if you're new to the HP palmtop, the chore of wading through 50 or more programs may be overwhelming. To help get you started, Hal Goldstein asked me to come up with a list of my favorite programs on the disk. Here is what I came up with.
Several years ago I wrote a program, Multi-Macro Manager, for the HP 95LX. It enhanced the System Manager macros for that machine. I never did get around to updating "MMM" for the HP 100/200LX. I'm glad I didn't. Addkeys, by Dave Vickers, does much of what MMM did and in a leaner, meaner package. There's no fancy input screen, but Addkeys will let you record keystrokes and save them in executable .COM files. Instead of running a macro, you can run a COM file that will automate loading and starting System Manager or DOS programs. Pretty slick!
DBV220 has become a real workhorse on my palmtop. I use it rather than the built-in database engine to view my database files. Why? The System Manager database engine changes the archive bit and the date/time stamp of any file that it opens. DBV does not. This means that if I look up MSCDEX in my 408Kb DOSHELP.GDB file, I can get to the information quickly, AND the next time I perform a back-up routine (using ZIP.COM) I won't have to wait while DOSHELP.GDB is transferred to the hard drive on my desktop. DBV also contains an option that will let you find the total, average, minimum or maximum of a field that is equal to, greater than, less than, some criteria: something the built-in database engine should be able to do but doesn't. DBV is the fine work of Harry Konstas.
Hiroyuki Sekiya is one of the many Japanese contributors to the HP palmtop. His GS program will search an entire collection of database, NoteTaker, PhoneBook, Appointment book and Memo files for a single word or phrase. It works fairly quickly and accurately. The only downside to the program is that, when it launches a database file, it uses the built-in database engine. I wish it could launch DBView instead.
FreeCell and HP Sokoban
I keep only one game on my desktop machine: FreeCell. Now I can have this same game on my palmtop along with HP Sokoban (for which there is no desktop equivalent). Why are games like FreeCell, Sokoban and Solitaire so darned addicting? They're like potato chips: once you start playing, you can't stop with just one. If you don't understand FreeCell and can't get beyond the fourth level of Sokoban, try a game of Klondike solitaire. It's on the PowerDisk as well.
Hypertext Viewer HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) files are all over the World Wide Web. Even Microsoft is using this type of file for its help files in such products as Visual C++. It's another way to access information quickly and almost effortlessly. If HTML would have been a more mature "language" when the palmtop first came to market, I'm sure that HP would have considered it in place of their database engine. However, thanks to the work of Andreas Garzotto, we can now capture documents from the WWW and elsewhere (perhaps using WWW/LX, the commercial Web browser for the HP palmtop) and read the documents off-line using HV on the palmtop.
HTML documents are usually full of graphics images in the form of GIF or JPG files. Although the HV program has the ability to show GIF images, there are times when you might like to scan through a collection of such images without having to load HV. The LXPIC file will let you do this either on the HP palmtop or on an MS-DOS desktop. Stefan Piechl, the author of LXPIC, has done a marvelous job of creating a very small viewer that will let you examine GIF, JPG, BMP, and PCX graphics files and shrink or expand them, invert the colors, flip them upside down and gather technical information about the files.
Rob Koenis's LXBatch program is my personal pick for software product of the year. It's a programming tool that adds several HP palmtop specific commands to the MS-DOS batch file language. With this tool, anyone who has ever written a batch file can create a palmtop application that has much of the look and feel of a built-in program, and you won't have to learn the "C" programming language to do it.
If you're looking for a text editor that's more capable than the palmtop's Memo, yet has the same look and feel of Memo, then by all means give Pal Edit from D&A Software a try. Those of you who have read my columns over the past eleven years know that I favor the Video Display Editor for most MS-DOS editing tasks. I still use VDE on my desktop machine, but PalEdit is quickly becoming the preferred editor for most of my palmtop writing tasks. It's fast, can handle files greater than 64K bytes, and has a clever way to help you find words in any document. Definitely give this program a trial run.
And speaking of writing tasks on the palmtop, I still like the Remkey program from Craig Payne. For the past couple of years, I've been using Remkey to type on a standard PC keyboard and watch what happens on the screen of the palmtop. About the only time that I don't use Remkey is when I'm away from a desktop computer and want to look up something in the palmtop. Without Remkey, I probably would have abandoned the use of the palmtop altogether. I still don't like typing on a tiny keyboard.
Yet another way to avoid a lot of typing on a tiny keyboard is to use keyboard shortcuts or macros. Palmtop users have been exploiting the power of the built-in System Macros ever since the days of the HP 95LX. However, for creating macros for the MS-DOS side of the palmtop, I prefer Toddy. It isn't exactly the easiest program to learn how to use. It has almost too many features. Yet with a little persistence and experimentation, you can create macros that can be run either by typing a command at the DOS prompt or by pressing a hot key.
Math on the Palmtop
The HP Calc program built into the HP palmtops is the equivalent of the HP 19B-II financial calculator. If there's a financial problem that can't be solved with the built-in functions, you can add your own functions with HP Solve. There's a database file on the PowerDisk that contains over 80 Solver equations. You can copy them from the database and paste them into Solve's editing screen and try them out, or use them as templates to create your own Solver equations. For those people who favor a good, old RPN scientific calculator in the style of the HP 15C, we've included TNCALC. I wish the author of TNCALC would have continued to upgrade this program, and perhaps, integrate it more closely with HP Calc.
Most honorable mentions
There were many applications that didn't "make-the-cut" for one reason or another. For example, PAL (Palmtop Application Interface) remains the best software for palmtop "C" programmers, but it was too big for this disk. BUDDY still retains its title of best-of-the-best shareware, followed closely by Vertical Reader (VR100) and the Video Display Editor (VDE). But since they're shareware, we chose to omit them from the PowerDisk.
The list of "honorable mentions" could go on and on. And it does. If you're looking for more and more software for the HP palmtop, you can save a lot of time by getting a copy of the 1998 CD InfoBase from Thaddeus Computing, Inc. It contains everything you'd ever want to know about, or do with, the HP palmtop: everything but the commercial software offerings, of which there are several hundred mentioned in articles and ads on the CD (end of commercial). Of course, you can power up your modem and visit us at www.thaddeus.com. From there you'll find links to other popular sites devoted to the HP palmtop.
Even though there will no longer be an annual Subscribers PowerDisk,
we firmly hope that the enthusiasm for the one and only true handheld computer
will continue to grow, and that you'll continue to enjoy the best-of-the-best
software ever written.
Copyright © 2010 Thaddeus Computing Inc