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User to User: Online in Uruguay

User to User: Online in Uruguay

During Hal's recent travels, he rediscovered how to both reduce and recover files on the palmtop. He also had a chance to try several laptops and Windows CE devices.

By Hal Goldstein

Our family tries to visit my wife's family in Uruguay as often as we can. On our most recent visit I pledged to stay connected to my business and the world via email. In the U.S. I found an Uruguayan Internet Service Provider and after the few predictable false starts, I got connected through the Internet to hal@thaddeus.com and to CompuServe. I used both WWW/LX on the palmtop and an HP OmniBook 800D laptop. That's the happy ending of my story. Here is the beginning.

 Thaddeus Computing Vaporware

 Before leaving, I worked night and day to finish Super Software Carousel and to give feedback to Ed Keefe who was writing our Software Carousel Manual. I originally thought the Software Carousel products would take 1 to 2 months and be ready to ship in April. Instead they had evolved into time-devouring monsters. Everything that could delay the projects did. By mid-July, we had hundreds of orders to fill. I refused to leave home with the odor of vaporware hanging over my head. The push was on: get the products done before getting out of town!

 Late one night while I was checking the correctness of Super Software Carousel's file structure, I found that a number of files in Ed Keefe's Software Carousel master had the same date as my Super Software Carousel master but Ed's files were significantly smaller. For example, my version of SCCONFIG, the main Software Carousel configuration program, was about 70K, Ed s version was 28K!

Saving Space with DIET

 I gave Ed a call. "Yes," said Ed. "I routinely run all my EXE and COM files through DIET." DIET can compress EXE and COM files as much as 70%. These DIETed programs still execute fine. The only penalty is that these programs take a fraction of a second longer to get started. (Long time readers of The HP Palmtop Paper will recall that DIET can also be set up as a TSR resulting in compression of data files).

 With that reminder, I started DIETing Super Software Carousel files and other files on my prototype 64 Meg palmtop. I reduced the entire disk space requirements of Super Software Carousel 750K bytes, realizing my 5-megabyte target with plenty of kilobytes to spare. Below is a listing of my successes. Note that in keeping with the spirit of my agreement with Software Technologies, the authors of Software Carousel, the products ship with the original sized files. SSC also ships with the compressed files, which are what the user installs.

 Rediscovering Undelete in Filer

 Towards the end of my family's 24-hour journey from a small Iowa town to a small town in Uruguay, bleary-eyed, playing with my palmtop, I was writing batch files (big mistake). I had just learned that my 1 megabyte 200LX upgraded to 64 megabytes actually had 66 megabytes. It turns out that all palmtops (1 meg, 2 meg, or 4 meg) upgraded to 64 megabytes end up with a 2 meg F drive (640K for System Memory) plus a 64 meg C drive.

Actually, the 2 Meg F drive is the original C drive. So, if you do a hard reset (CTRL SHIFT ON) and answer Y to reformat C, the 2 Meg drive gets reformatted. However, once the 64 Meg drivers are re-installed, the 64 Meg drive remains intact even after reformatting C. This is also the case on 32 Meg upgrades which have a 1 or 2 meg F drive.

I decided I would use that F drive space, which normally wouldn't get used, as a place for Software Carousel's swap file and use the C drive for EMS memory. EMS memory gets created using the INSTEMM utility that comes with our upgraded palmtops. This strategy would allow me to use space on both the F and C drive for Software Carousel's swap duties. I planned to run SCCONFIG to tell Software Carousel to use F for disk space and use expanded memory on C.

Eventually, it all worked. However, in the process, at the end of my journey, I created a batch file that was supposed to delete unnecessary F drive files that get created on reboot. Instead, due to minor exhaustion and lousy programming I managed to wipe some key files off my flash card that I wanted for the trip.

 I usually have a copy of Norton Utilities Undelete' program on my Palmtop: however, I forgot to copy it to my new 64 Meg prototype. Then I remembered that those wonderful HP Palmtop engineers included an undelete utility in FILER. I pressed MENU File Undelete and was able to recover most of my lost files! As Ed Keefe points out in Quick Tips, you can also undelete lost directories.

 Trying the OmniBook 800D for size

 For my trip I decided to purchase a laptop since there were various Windows 95 programs I needed to use. I bought a 233 MHz Toshiba Satellite with CD and disk drive, active matrix screen, 4-gigabyte drive, and 32 megabytes of memory. The Toshiba box was very powerful and practical, but I just didn't like it! I guess after all these years enjoying and writing about HP portables and palmtops, I've been spoiled. I think HP Palmtop users will understand this. I didn't have the child-like excitement of playing with the Toshiba. There were no surprises-nothing special about the machine. I returned it. Then I cashed in some favors from 12 years of writing about HP mobile computers and requested an OmniBook 800D for review from HP's PR agency.

I know I should have requested a Sojourn, but I felt I was "cheating" anyway, since I didn't really know if I would write about it. As it turned out, the Sojourn's were reserved for a few of the elite computer publications (The HP OmniBook Sojourn is an ultra thin - 11.69" x 8.58" x .71", 3.2 lb - 233MMX laptop with 64MB of RAM, 2.1-GB hard drive and 12.1" SVGA TFT screen). It is pricey at $4999 and is the fruit of a joint effort with Mitsubishi.

In any case I was happy to get my OmniBook 800 for the trip. Especially since I really like it.

 Unfortunately, the HP OmniBook 800 5/166, introduced over a year ago, with its 166Mhz CPU, 16 MB RAM, 2100MB hard drive, and 10.4 TFT SVGA display is already a bit out of date. I would assume HP would come out with an upgrade soon. The good news is that you can pick up the OmniBook 800 for about $2300, and by the time you read this, probably less.

What I like is that it is truly portable. Weighing just 3.9 pounds and being only 11.12" x 7.27" x 1.57" means you can easily work on a plane or throw it in a briefcase (The Sojourn's screen is larger but that increases its length and width). The OmniBook 800 uses the HP-designed pop-out mouse that can be a little awkward, but I like it better then touch pads. The keyboard is touch-typeable.

HP Palmtop users will appreciate a truly distinguishing quality of the OmniBook 800: its palmtop-like instant-on feature. What a pleasure not having to shut down the machine wait for it to boot up Windows. Few, if any, of the competition including the Sojourn, have this feature.

Anyone who appreciates a compact, useful, well-engineered computing device would probably enjoy this machine. I like HP's compromises much better than the Toshiba Libretto or the Hitachi VisionBook Traveler. I do look forward to seeing the Sony VAIO, and the new Sharp machine, but as I mentioned, I am not fond of touch pads. I hope HP continues this line of OmniBooks.

 Useable Windows CE devices!

 OK. I admit it. I've finally met a Windows CE device that I like. On a previous trip in the Catskills I had the opportunity to play with Windows CE devices. I typed this portion of the article on an NEC MobilePro 750C on a bus winding its way through the Catskill Mountains towards New York City. The MobilePro sat on my lap, Pocket Word open, clearly displaying 16-point bold red type. The responsive keyboard was just large enough to touch-type on. Given the quality of the MobilePro and obvious attention to detail, I almost thought it was an HP product. It is amazing what they packed into this 1.9 lb, 9.6 x 5.4 x 1.25 inch handheld PC.

The MobilePro 750C comes with 16 MB of internal memory, half of it devoted to file storage and half to running programs. It comes with the standard Windows CE 2.0 fare built into ROM, including Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket PowerPoint, Pocket Outlook. In New York, I used the MobilePro's internal 33.6 Kbps modem and Pocket Outlook to get my email.

 The MobilePro 750C also has VGA and serial ports, and slots for Type II PC cards and Compact Flash cards. The card slots mean there's plenty of room for additional storage space or I/O cards for Ethernet connection, parallel port or SCSI port adapters, and more.

In addition to the typeable keyboard, the MobilePro offers both pen and voice input options. The CalliGrapher handwriting recognition software is built into the MobilePro. It recognizes separate characters, written on the screen with a stylus. An upgrade is available to MobilePro users (and users of other H/PCs) that recognizes continuous cursive writing.

You can also record a voice memo (in .WAV format) with the MobilePro's clamshell case open or closed. Simply press the record button located above the left hinge. Play the message back with the built-in voice recorder application. The feature is potentially quite useful, especially when voice recognition technology can be incorporated. Unfortunately, the current implementation does drain the battery and takes about 10K per second of voice (a little over one-and-a-half minutes of recording per MB). The bad news is that while the microphone is in the front of the keyboard, the speaker is underneath the unit. Even with the volume all the way up I had to have my ear to the speaker. Playback was barely audible, at least to these aging ears on the bus. In a quiet environment, however, playback sound was acceptable. It's too bad they didn't include an ear phone jack for easier transcribing.

 The MobilePro uses a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. I was disappointed to learn that you can't substitute AA's or some standard off-the-shelf battery in an emergency. But the NEC and other color-screen Windows CE units would suck regular batteries dry very quickly. The trick is to buy a second battery pack and have it charged for long trips. Still, the Lithium Ion batteries last 2-3 times longer than standard laptop batteries.

 I also have been playing with a Windows CE Palm-size PC from Casio. It's about the same size and form factor as the 3COM Palm Pilot, and also includes pen and voice input and standard Windows CE Palm-sized PC applications (slightly different from those included with the Handheld PCs). It's a well-conceived machine with lots of features. For complete descriptions of both units see Rich Hall's review in our sister publication, Handheld PC Magazine for Users of Windows CE. I asked Rich, former editor of The HP Palmtop Paper, what he thought of the Palm-size PCs. He said that he was used to a keyboard and that it was tough getting used to pen entry. He added that you tend to use these pen-entry devices differently from handhelds with keyboards. You enter as little data as possible via pen input. Most data entry is done on a desktop PC and downloaded to the Palm-size PCs when you synchronize them with the desktop. You use the Palm-size PCs for accessing appointments and phone numbers, and taking short notes.

 One of the key features for all Windows CE PC Companions (the generic term for Handheld and Palm-size PC's) is Windows 95/98 desktop synchronicity. It is very easy to synchronize email, appointments, phonebooks, to-dos, and Microsoft Office documents between a desktop or notebook PC and a PC companion. Also, all PC companions support Internet browsing with Pocket Internet Explorer for the Handhelds and Mobile Channels for the Palm-size PC.

 Am I ready to give up my 64 MB double-speed 200LX with Super Software Carousel on it? Not likely! I may continue to use the NEC MobilePro for travel. Email and word processing are most of what I do on the road, and it does this very well. This is a much less expensive alternative to purchasing a laptop. If I didn't have free access to the NEC unit, I'd probably be content with my 200LX and Newton keyboard.

Files Sizes Using DIET

Commercial products mentioned in this article

iPhone Life magazine


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