July 10, 2006

Open source software for Palm OS

Author: Dmitri Popov

Although Palm no longer rules the PDA world, it doesn't mean that your old Palm OS device has to collect dust. You can still use it for some nifty open source applications.


Currency does exactly what its name says: it converts one currency to another. The utility supports no less than 170 currencies, which should cover you in most countries. Most currency conversion utilities act as a calculator: you enter an amount, choose the desired currency, then press the convert button. Currency uses another, more efficient technique, where the main windows already contain a user-defined list of currencies. You simply enter an amount next to the currency field you want, and the utility converts it into other currencies on the fly. The currency exchange rates for the utility are stored in a separate database that is updated daily. To get the most up-to-date exchange rates, download the cupdate.pdb file from the software's Web site. Better yet, the utility comes with its own conduit, which fetches the updated currency exchange rates every time you synchronise your Palm device.


Although you can find a full-featured database application for Palm OS, such as Pilot-DB, usually you want something more simple. List is simplicity itself. This database application allows you to create databases consisting of three fields. One field is reserved for notes, while two other fields are yours to modify. The Find function makes it possible to find records on the fly, and you can exchange databases with others using the Beam feature. From List's Web site you can download third-party desktop applications for designing List-based databases on Windows and Mac as well as a couple of Perl conversion scripts.


While a Palm device can't replace a laptop as a serious word processing tool, it can be used for some light text editing on the move. If you need a decent text editor for your Palm, look no further than SiEd, a simple text editor that includes a couple of clever features that make it an excellent tool for writers. SiEd includes a Split View feature that allows you to display two separate texts, or the same text in the two windows, and scroll them independently. The Stats feature shows the character and word count -- a useful feature for writers and anyone who is paid by the word. More impressively, SiEd allows you to record and play macros. For example, you can type some text with the macro recording activated, and then insert it in any SiEd text by replaying the macro. What makes SiEd even more useful is that it works fine with Palm .pdb text files. This means, for example, that you can save your Writer files in the PDB format, open and edit them in SiEd, and then send them back to Writer.


DiddleBug is a must-have application for your Palm device. On the face of it, DiddleBug looks like a drawing application, but besides a wide range of drawing tools (including different pens, shapes, and fill patterns), it offers a few nifty features. For example, you can attach an alarm to a sketch, effectively turning it into a reminder. DiddleBug also supports IntelliBooger extensions that allow you to transfer information from DiddleBug to other applications, such as the built-in ToDo and DateBook applications. DiddleBug comes with 47 plugins that you can use to import data to other Palm OS applications.

Alternative uses

Open source software also makes it possible to put your Palm to less conventional uses. PalmOrb, for example, turns your Palm device into an LCD status display for your computer. Although the project is not under active development, the software should work with any modern and older Palm devices. PalmOrb emulates a Matrix Orbital LK204-25 LCD, which means it can work with any LCD control software that supports Matrix Orbital displays. On Linux, you can use either LCDproc or LCD4Linux, while LCD Smartie is a good choice for Windows. Using PalmOrb and one of these programs, you can use your Palm device to display virtually any kind of information: CPU load, RAM status, RSS feeds, stock quotes, and so forth. If you have a headless server, you can use an old Palm device to keep tabs on its status as well as get fresh morning news on your way out.

Giant Disk is another project that makes use of Palm. Using Giant Disk software and the accompanying Palm utility, you can turn your Linux server into a jukebox and control it with a Palm device. The software is designed to handle huge music collections, and the Palm client contains a few clever features that allow you to easily control your music files. Using the Palm client, you can define several search criteria, such as Artist, Genre, Year, or Rating, and then find and play the matching tracks. The client also allows you to manage playlists, view album art, play random tracks, and much more.

Palm games

Of course, an overview of open source software for Palm won't be complete without mentioning a game or two. Indeed, there are quite a few Palm-based games for virtually any taste. Scrabble fans will be pleased to know that they can play their favourite game using Xibble. There is the Vexed game for those of us who prefer puzzles, and if you want to test your reaction skills, The Prison is what you are looking for.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

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