About PalmOS PDAs



PDAs ( Personal Digital Assistants ) are small, handheld computers that have become quite popular. They are especially useful for people who require highly mobile, small and lightweight computers, such as salesmen and doctors. They are also very economical, especially when compared to IBM laptop computers… Brand new PDAs can be purchased starting at about US$120, and run up to about $500 for "deluxe" models. Used PDAs can be found even cheaper, from a variety of sources.

PDAs are not as powerful as regular IBM PCs, but they are impressive devices, especially when their economical cost is considered. For mobile computing applications, and especially for portable applications, they are almost ideal devices.


The Palm Operating System

The term PDA generally refers to a device that uses the Palm Operating System. ( PalmOS ) This is a software platform which is similar in function to the MicroSoft Windows operating system for IBM computers, and which serves the same general purpose… it allows programs to migrate from one type of PDA to another, without any difficulties. The PalmOS was created by Palm Corporation, but several PDA companies use it… Palm adopted an "open architecture" philosophy for the PalmOS, ( unlike MicroSoft Windows ) which allows other companies to use it, and to manufacture PDAs that are compatible with it… Sony, HandSpring, etc.

There are other types of portable computers that look very similar to Palm PDAs, and which serve the same purpose, but which do not use the PalmOS. The original Palm PDA used a Motorola microprocessor, so it is fundamentally incompatible with Windows, which uses an Intel micro. Even so, PalmOS PDAs have become the most popular variety of PDA, and will likely continue to hold this title for some years. The "open architecture" philosophy of Palm appeals to many people, and has ( no doubt ) contributed to their success. Customer support from Palm is also VERY good, and it is obviously a very important matter to them.


PalmOS Hardware

The PalmOS is designed to support a common set of hardware features in the PDA, and these features can be reasonably expected in any PDA that uses the PalmOS. They Include :

  • A 160 x 160 pixel graphical display screen (usually LCD, and usually with backlighting )
  • A transparent, touch-sensitive stylus pad, installed over the display screen, for user input
  • A serial RS232 or USB port
  • An infrared port, using the IrDA communications standard
  • Six "hard" buttons, installed in the PDA case ( at the bottom of the screen area )
  • A piezo speaker element, for sounds
  • An additional touch-sensitive area below the main display screen, for specific PalmOS purposes

    These are the "basic" features of all PalmOS PDAs. Many models have additional features such as full color LCD displays, integral microphones, and accessory inputs for GPS units, cell phone / wireless internet services, etc.


    PalmOS Software

    Independent software developers can write their own programs for PalmOS PDAs, for modest costs. The PicoDopp display program was written using NSBasic for Palm, ( US$ 150 ) which is similar to VisualBasic, but with far fewer features.

    NSBasic for Palm

    Other software development "tools" are also available from perhaps a half dozen companies. The premier tool is CodeWarrier, ( a C compiler ) which was used to create the original version of PalmOS.

    MetroWerks CodeWarrier

    The Palm Corporation ( and website ) addresses Palm software developers as well as Palm owners and users. The website has a download area where developers can post copies of their programs, for use by others. Some downloads involve charges, but most are free… They cover a wide variety of purposes, and are written by a wide variety of people… for example, there are programs for handling hazardous materials written by senior firemen, and physiological diagnostic programs, written by physical therapists, etc.

    Palm Corporation