The HP Palmtop as a Reference Tool

HP Palmtop users carry with them a world of information -- from movie guides to star guides.

By Hal Goldstein

One of the great boons of carrying the HP Palmtop is that we have instant access to reference information when and where we need it. Almost every HP Palmtop user accesses his Phone and Appointment Books for phone numbers, To-Do's, and appointments. Many of us also take advantage of the built-in Database and NoteTaker files to create and store information as varied as a list of local restaurants, the books in a personal library, or the collection of projects we manage.

Because the HP Palmtop is a DOS computer, Palmtop users can take advantage of commercial databases with information written for PC's. Doctors with Pepid software can access diagnostic and pharmacological information needed in emergency situations. Programmers can use ExpertHelp with hundreds of language-specific functions. And dieters can even monitor their caloric intake with Mirical's Personal Food Analyst.

There are a number of products as well that we can use whatever our profession. For example, later in this column I talk about several excellent dictionary/thesaurus combinations and language translation tools, and on page 18 of this issue you'll find a review of Bible software that works on the HP Palmtop. I personally have the American Heritage Dictionary/Thesaurus, Random House Webster's Electronic Dictionary/Thesaurus, Spanish Assistant, Banner Blue Movie Guide, and PC Study Bible on my Palmtop. In addition I have Gilles Kohl's Vertical Reader and some Guttenberg Electronic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, poems from Poe , stories of Sherlock Holmes, and the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. But before you run out and buy a particular product you might want to examine the possible problems/ challenges of installing relatively large reference databases on the HP Palmtop. If these products do not come customized for the HP Palmtop, you might need a little patience and experimentation, as well as enough disk space on a PCMCIA card. (See page 16 for installation suggestions.)

One nice thing about reference programs. Once on your Palmtop, they are usually easy to learn and use. Most have obvious user interfaces to conduct searches and a help system.

Webster's Electronic Dictionary & Thesaurus

 I really like having an electronic dictionary/thesaurus always available. I had been using the American Heritage Dictionary (reviewed Vol.3, No.4, Pg.24, 1994) for some months and was reasonably pleased with it until I started using the Random House Webster's Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus. The Webster's is much faster and more comprehensive. However, the speed and comprehensiveness come at a price. At 10MB, Webster's takes twice as much disk space as American Heritage, so you need a large Flashdisk. In addition, American Heritage can be configured to run from within the built-in applications provided 384K of RAM are free. Webster's must be run from DOS after exiting all applications (press (&...) (MENU) Applications... Terminate All...). To return to Application Manager type 100 on the 100LX or 200 on the 200LX.

You can run Webster's in stand-alone mode or as a memory resident (TSR) pop-up program. Suppose you are typing along in your word processing program. When you hit the hotkey in pop-up mode, it will look up the word that your cursor is on at that moment. You will want to use a DOS word processor if you use it in pop-up mode since it will not run with MEMO in System Manager. Personally, I use it in stand- alone mode. I terminate all applications and start it using a batch file (see batch file command listed at the end of this section).

Besides being useful, an electronic dictionary is fun, a good way to learn about word origins and increase your vocabulary. Webster's contains 180,000 words and 275,000 synonyms. Definitions may include hyphenation points, derivations, etymology, idioms, and usage notes. (If you want to save disk space, you don't have to install etymology or pronunciation).


For example, let's say I look up the word "ancestor". I would get the following screen:

Definition Display in Webster's : Graphic

 I see the word "progenitor" and I am not sure exactly what it means, so I move my cursor to "progenitor" and press (F2) (Dictionary) to get its definition.

Definition of Progenitor in Webster's : Graphic

 On the "progenitor" screen, if I put the cursor on "ancestor" and press (F3) (Thesaurus) I get this screen.

Thesaurus Shows Antonyms : Graphic

 A related feature allows you to type in a word and find all definitions containing that word. You can even enter Boolean expressions -- for example, you can search for each dictionary word that contains the word "element" and either "toxic" or "radioactive" in its definition, by searching on "element AND (toxic OR radioactive)". This feature requires some patience though since on the Palmtop, it is a bit slow.

Another feature lets you do "fuzzy" searches using "wild cards." So, for example, if you can't quite remember what DNA stands for, you could type "d*ribo*". Or if you remembered that the word for the denomination of Italian currency (Lira) was made up of four letters starting with "L" and ending with "a", you could enter "l??a".

Finally, if you misspell a word that you are trying to look up, Webster's will provide you with alternatives. If you give it "maen", it will let you select from "amen, mean, men, men-, main, and mane." For you Scrabble and word puzzle fans, Webster's also does anagrams -- it forms a word by rearranging the letters of another word.


To run Webster's I use the following command:

rhwd /p /dba:\dict\

The /p is optional. It tells the program to run in stand-alone mode rather than as a pop-up TSR. The /dba:\dict\ is required -- it tells the program that the files are on the A drive in a subdirectory (I arbitrarily named it \dict).

Language Assistant Series

 I have tried a number of language translation tools on the Palmtop, and in my mind the clear winner when considering both Palmtop compatibility and features is the Assistant series. The Spanish, French, German, and Italian Assistant programs take between 2.5MB and 3MB each of storage space.

The main translation program must be run from DOS after exiting all applications. However, the gem for Palmtop users is an Assistant utility that can be run from within System Manager. The utility requires only 256K and can be run from Application Manager with other applications open.


When using this utility (SPANTOOL.EXE for Spanish Assistant) from Application Manager, the following screen appears:

Main Screen-Spanish Assistant: Graphic

 "Spanish" is a basic Spanish-to-English dictionary and "English" is a basic English-to-Spanish dictionary. Both versions "English" and "Spanish" are quite useful for looking up words quickly.

Say, for example, I selected "English" and typed walk. I would get the following screen:

English to Spanish Dictionary: Graphic

 "Verb" lets me see how a verb is conjugated. So, for example, to see how the Spanish verb "decir" is conjugated, I would select "Verb" and type decir.

Verb Conjugations in Webster's: Graphic

 As you can see, the present tense is listed and other tenses can be selected.

"Topics" is a great feature for coming up to speed in the language's grammar. For example, when I select "Topics" I get the screen below.

"Topics" Displays Various Subjects: Graphic

 If I select "Possessive Pronouns" from that screen, I get the following screen.

Information on Grammar: Graphic

 "Accents" and "Hotkeys" -- the remaining options -- are essentially help screens. "Unload" lets you unload the program if you ran it as a pop- up TSR from DOS.


The main Assistant program must be run by exiting the built-in applications. The program lets you translate a sentence or a document at a time. You can give it a file, and it will translate the whole file.

However... beware. The state of the art in language translation is not all that advanced from an uninitiated user's point of view. Language is ambiguous and idiomatic. When using any translation program, prepare to laugh at (or be disappointed with) a significant portion of the translation.

The nice thing about the Assistant programs is that, at your option, you can take part in the translation. If it encounters an ambiguous word, it will ask you if it is a noun, verb, etc., as well as the word translation you prefer. The end result may still be far from ideal, but the interaction helps.

I used Spanish Assistant to translate a 95LX help document I wrote for my brother-in-law in Uruguay. He seemed to understand what I wrote, and the process was faster and more accurate than if I had attempted it with my broken Spanish.


Here's how I installed Spanish Assistant. If you purchase French, German, or Italian Assistant, follow the same procedure, but with that program's appropriate files.

In Application Manager my Path contained the following:

a:\spanish5\spantool.exe /t /l|256

The /l is the LCD option and dramatically improves screen readability. The /t tells it to run in stand-alone mode, not as a TSR. |256 tells AppManager to allocate 256K of memory in DOS for SPANTOOL to run.

To run the main program from DOS -- exit System Manager by pressing (&...) (MENU) Application Terminate All... and run the whole program by typing: spanasst /l.

Banner Blue Movie Guide

I've written about this program in the past (see January/February 1993). For most of us who like movies it is a jewel. I am disappointed that it hasn't been updated for a year and a half because of lessening DOS sales. However, the current version still has movies introduced through 1993 such as The Fugitive, In the Line of Fire, and Jurassic Park.

This 850K program is great for video store browsers. When you're at the video store and you spot a possible video, look it up in your Palmtop for a detailed description and critic's ratings. Or start from the Palmtop and list a number of likely hits using one of many search options. For example, you can search for all four star movies from the 1980's, all academy award winning best pictures, or all Jimmy Stewart movies.

Gone With The Wind Screen: Graphic

Information Screen View in Banner Blue: Graphic

Banner Blue Search Screen: Graphic


Once you transfer the files to the Palmtop, the program runs fine and is readable. However, running MONO8025 from DOS and adjusting the contrast of the HP Palmtop display by pressing (ON)-(-) and (ON)-(+) can make DOS program displays even clearer.

Correct Quotes

 Browsing software bins in computer stores is a great way to discover inexpensive Palmtop products. Recently I came across Correct Quotes in one such bin which contains 5,000 quotes searchable by subject matter or author.

The example below shows a list of "F" topics.

Correct Quotes Topics Screen: Graphic

 Highlighting "Facts" on this display and pressing (Enter) reveals the following screen:

Facts Screen in Correct Quotes: Graphic

 The program takes 500K. Selecting LCD from the File Display Options menu maximizes readability.

Some Installation Tricks

There are several potential impediments to running a piece of DOS software on your Palmtop. Here are some suggestions:

  1. 1. Check requirements -- First look at the program's requirements (usually on the packaging) and see whether the program can run on the Palmtop. The program must be able to run on an 8086 (XT) processor using DOS version 5.0 or less, under monochrome or CGA graphics. First the bad news -- many newer programs require Windows or an 80386 class machine. The good news is that many DOS programs written for older machines don't take up much disk space and they are often available in close-out bins at computer stores for under $30. Be sure to see how much disk space the program requires and compare that with the disk space available on your Palmtop. If the package requirements say that the software requires a hard disk, usually a Palmtop Flashcard will do the trick.
  2. 2. You need a PC -- You must have access to a PC compatible computer with some empty space on its hard drive or the program will be virtually impossible to install.
  3. 3. Transfer the software directly -- The easiest method is to install the software directly onto a PCMCIA card. You can do this by using a PCMCIA card drive installed into or attached to your PC such as those advertised in this issue (see Product Index, page 55). Or you can run HP Connectivity Pack software such as the 200LX's LapLink Remote, the 100LX's Redirector, or DOS InterLink. Doing so "fools" your desktop system into thinking the PCMCIA drive from your Palmtop is simply another drive on your desktop. That way you can install directly onto the Palmtop.



Although installing directly onto the PCMCIA card is the simplest method, there are several problems. First, some installation software won't let you install onto any drive but the C drive, or won't let you install the program on any "removable" media such as a PCMCIA drive (see #5).

Secondly, sometimes the software will configure the system for the desktop's capabilities (e.g.. VGA graphics) rather than the Palmtop's. Many users prefer to test the program and configure it properly from the desktop before transferring it to the Palmtop.

  1. 4. Install it on a desktop first -- The most common method is to install the software onto the desktop's C drive. Then copy only the needed files to the Palmtop using the HP Connectivity Pack, ZIP.ZIP , ACELink, or InterLink. If possible, configure the program to run on the Palmtop from the desktop. Then be sure to copy any of the configuration files that were created by the program when it was installed. These will be the files that have the system date for the day and time you installed the program.
  2. 5. Configure it so it recognizes the flashcard drive -- The most annoying and frustrating configuration problem has to do with programs which insist that the files be found on the C drive. Remember, your Palmtop PCMCIA drive is the A drive. Here are some suggestions to fix the problem:
  3. a. Check the manual or the README files from the distribution disk for a software "switch" that you can use when you start the program. That switch, usually a parameter like /DOA, tells the program you are running it from the A drive (Flashdisk). Alternatively, you may be able to configure the system from within the program using a configuration options command. Often this information is deeply buried in the manual or README file, but can be found with a little effort.
  4. b. Call Tech Support. Sometimes there are undocumented switches hidden in the program.
  5. c. Use the DOS ASSIGN command built-in to the HP 100/200LX. The assign c:=a: command fools the Palmtop into thinking your A drive is your C drive. Typing assign from DOS or a batch file resets the system. Or better yet, if you have DOS 5.0, find the SUBST.EXE utility and copy it to your Palmtop.



These DOS commands are somewhat clumsy, but they can also be used to fool the Palmtop into thinking the A drive is the C drive. You will need to experiment. [Note: The HP 100/200LX's built-in DOS ASSIGN command conflicts with Stacker and ACE DoubleFlash compression software. If your disk is compressed, you'll probably have to find a copy of the SUBST.EXE utility.] d. For the brave and knowledgeable: Use a hex editor such as the built-in Debug program or Norton Utilities to edit the configuration file or the actual file itself. As mentioned earlier, often you can tell the configuration file from other files because it will have a recent date.

If you're lucky, the configuration file may be a simple text file, in which case you can edit it in MEMO -- you can search for C: and replace with A:. If you make a mistake you could damage the file, so be sure you have a backup. Also, in many cases, technically altering a file may void your license agreement.

  1. 6. Make sure you can read the screen -- Whether you configure the software on your Palmtop or a desktop, the most important configuration option besides drive information is screen type -- you want to be able to see the software. Here are some things to remember:
  2. a. If there is an option for LCD or Monochrome Monitor, it is almost always best to choose it. Otherwise, choose CGA.
  3. b. Try running MONO8025.COM on your Palmtop before starting the program. In many cases this will make the display more readable. Just type mono8025 from DOS. If that fails, type:




cd \bin


  1. c. Many programs have configuration options within the program, or switches from which you can control and experiment with screen options.
  2. d. Press (ON)-(+) or (ON)-(-) to adjust screen contrast.
  3. 7. Running from within System Manager -- When defining the application in AppManager, you can specify the amount of memory required. For example, if you want to specify 384K, place |384 at the end of the path line in the Path field. To specify all remaining memory, just put a | at the end of the path, without a number. Otherwise, you will only be allotted the amount of memory you have defined in System Advanced in SETUP (press (&...) Setup (MENU) Options System... Advanced...). You can pick up 58K of System RAM by closing FILER (run CLOSEFLR.COM found in CLSFLR .ZIP). You can make even more System RAM available by eliminating TSR programs and keeping open only those built-in applications you really need.
  4. 8. Exiting System Manager and running a program from DOS -- Often you must terminate all applications by pressing (&...) (MENU) Applications Terminate all... and run the software straight from DOS. This is especially true if you are running BUDDY , Magnify, or other TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) applications.