March 1997

The Pilot Organizer

The Pilot is a small, 5.5 oz., handheld computer manufactured by U.S. Robotics. It features a calendar, address book, to-do list, memo pad, and calculator. A plastic stylus and a touch-sensitive screen, plus a few hardware buttons, control the software.

The calendar or "date book" offers day, week, and month views. The address book has the usual name and address fields, with room for several telephone numbers. You can also attach a note to an entry. The to-do list can accept a due date and a priority. Each entry in an application accepts a category so you can, for example, look only at date book entries that are categorized as "business."

Writing With Graffiti

You enter information with Graffiti, a form of handwriting recognition. Rather than tackle the very difficult task of recognizing normal handwriting, Graffiti simplifies the problem in two ways: you must write on a special area at the bottom of the screen, which accepts letters on the left and numbers on the right, and you must use a modified alphabet.

Most of the Graffiti letters look like normal upper-case letters. Some are simpler than normal letters, like A and K:

Graffiti A and K

The only unusual number is 4, which is written without the long vertical line.

Our experience has been that it doesn't take long to learn Graffiti, and recognition is reasonably accurate. However, if you prefer, moving the stylus from the bottom to the top of the screen summons an on-screen keyboard. Then you can tap the characters you want with the stylus and bypass Graffiti.

Integration With A PC

Along with the Pilot itself you get Pilot Desktop, a Windows-compatible program for your PC. The PC program has the same applications as the Pilot, but they take advantage of the bigger screen of the PC.

Keeping information consistent between the Pilot and the PC is easy. The Pilot fits into a cradle (included) which connects to a serial port on the PC. You run a special program on the PC, then press a button on the cradle. Data is transferred back and forth until the Pilot and the PC are synchronized.

If you have a lot of data to enter, just enter it on the PC and synchronize with the Pilot. The PC also acts as the backup device for the Pilot, since it has a copy of all the Pilot data.

New Pilot Models

The original Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000 have now been replaced with the PalmPilot Personal and PalmPilot Professional. The new models have a backlit screen, additional memory, and improved software. The Professional has a new e-mail application and both models have expense reporting. The original Pilot models can be upgraded, except for the backlit screen, by replacing their memory chip.

The e-mail application copies unanswered e-mail from your desktop e-mail program (if you use a Lotus or Microsoft e-mail product) to the Pilot. You can read and answer messages on the Pilot. When you synchronize with the desktop again, your e-mail messages are sent to the desktop e-mail program for delivery. The Pilot itself does not send or receive the messages.

The expense reporting application stores a date, category (which you can define), and amount. The desktop software prints an expense report from this information.

Who Needs It?

The Pilot is a good way to keep track of contacts and appointments. For example, a secretary can enter information into the desktop software, then synchronize with the Pilot, which can be used by an attorney while out of the office.

The Pilot would be less useful for someone who needs to take extensive notes outside the office. For that you really need a decent keyboard, so consider a notebook PC instead.

The Pilot is a step above the "pocket organizers" from companies such as Sharp and Casio, particularly because of its ability to synchronize data with a PC. It is less powerful than the new handheld PCs, though, which include both word processing and spreadsheet applications.

The list price of the PalmPilot Professional is $399.

Wireless Printing

Would you like to connect two PCs to one printer without running any wires? We recently connected a notebook computer in one room and a desktop computer in another room to a printer in a hallway, without having to run wires through the walls. We used the GoPrint/One from AeroComm, which uses radio to communicate between computers and a printer up to 100 feet away.

The connections are simple. A "computer adapter" connects to the parallel port on the computer. A "printer adapter" connects to the usual connector on the printer. Sixteen computer adapters can share one printer adapter. Each adapter also comes with a power supply.

That's all you do. There are no switches on the adapters and there is no software on the PCs. Each PC thinks it is connected to a printer. The printer thinks it is connected to one PC.

There is one pitfall to watch out for. Some printers, like the HP LaserJet 5L discussed in the January newsletter, communicate bidirectionally with the PC. In other words, data to be printed goes from the PC to the printer, but the printer also sends data back to the PC. That won't work with wireless printer adapters or with automatic switchboxes. Only one "bit" of information, the "printer ready" signal, can travel from the printer back to the PC.

The solution is to turn off bidirectional communications, if the printer driver offers that option, or to use a unidirectional printer driver. For the HP 5L printer, the "host mode" driver (installed by default) lets you turn off bidirectional communications, or you can install the unidirectional "PCL driver."

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