Lifedrivedoc.com began as a place to talk about the Lifedrive. It soon became apparent that it was much more than that. Since moving on from my Lifedrive, I am engaged in more avenues of technology. That technology has intersected with my professional life - Medicine as well as my social life.

As noted above, the blog is about a lot of things in relation to technology. If you are looking for Lifedrive related material, I am currently dividing the blog so that those searches will be easy for you to find. Most of them will be pre 2007, that should help. Additionally, if you are looking for the links that used to be on the left border. They will be back up in a different format soon. I do enjoy reading about new things to do with the Lifedrive, so you can feel free to let me know about those. I will also post those on the site.

If you are having trouble getting an RSS Feed, click on the feed link below or type this into your reader: http://feeds.feedburner.com/lifedrivedoccom


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The HTC and the promise of Palm Innovation.

Palm has stopped innovating. It is sad, but true. I saw a patient today who had an impressive device sitting on the countertop. It was the HTC S710 telephone. If you haven't seen it, you should! It reminded me of a thing called innovation that was once synonymous with Palm.

I must say that I was impressed with the form factor of the HTC S710 model. The sliding keyboard is spectacular. I am reminded of a time 5 years ago when Palm introduced the Palm Tungsten T. The slide is a gentle spacesaver that is both neat and practical.

If I did not already have a relatively decent telephone -nonsmartphone- I would definitely consider purchasing the HTC S710. However, there was a lot to learn from the product and I got to thinking about what Palm could do to get back on track. This is obviously a fanboy article, but what can I say, I love Palm and I really don't want to see them fail.

Although the HTC S710 model is a thing for sore eyes, I noted a few things about the device, as I was allowed to use it for a few minutes:

1. It is a SmartPhone with excellent features, including a microSD slot (something the iPhone lacks).

2. The keyboard slider is practical. First, I have stubby fingers. No, I'm not fat, cherubic or plump, but my fingers are a little longer and wider than the average Treo-user. Thus, I cannot hit the keyboards in a manner that is time saving on the Treo. On the HTC, the keyboard is near perfect. The keys are spaced appropriately and the tactile feedback is good. No, not as good as a regular keyboard, but not as "click-happy" as the Treo, which feels as though you're pressing a switch with each 'keystroke.' However, I did not like the 'space' button which was awkwardly placed at the side. I kept reaching for a nonexistent 'space' bar.

3. I viewed the picture viewer and the 2 megapixel camera and I must say I was very impressed with the quality. The sound quality was equally impressive.

4. The downsides are a little obvious. First it's running the clunky and slow Windows Mobile. Although it's updated from WindowsCE, it is not an intuitive ride at all. It does have 'bindings' to Office, but even so, it doesn't feel like an extension of Office. Nevertheless, being able to sync up to Office is a plus. I did not get the opportunity to port and open documents, so I cannot discuss this aspect of the phone.

5. The obvious problem again resides in software. I am still "hooked" on the Palm experience and most of my software is not portable to the Windows Mobile Platform, although 75% of the mission critical data is. That being said, I would have loved to have seen this thing running the Palm OS.

So what does this have to do with Palm Computing?

Well, notice that I have essentially steered away from the iPhone hysteria since January when the device was announced. There is nothing to add to the madness that has gone on since the speech and the release -- however, I have been floored recently by two incredible pieces of software for the iphone ----gOffice and Telekinesis (Google them and see). Obviously, with news out today that the iPhone may begin adding full OS X supported apps, this is obviously a work in progress that will see numerous software updates along the way. But I digress........

The future is touch screen, something that Palm has had cornered for years. The future is also design and efficacy. Something that Palm has now lost. The analyst meeting of two years ago reflected this, when the CEO stated that the company would concentrate on Smartphones. And of course, who can forget the term used for the $500.00 non rebate Lifedrive -- an Experiment!
Additionally, looking at the Treos, I have not really noticed any great leaps in even the hardware that sets this device apart from its earlier predecessors. The 600 looks eerily close to the 650 etc. Perhaps the 680, with its dab of color is a little different, but typing on the device feels the same.

I would have to say that Palm's insistence on just doing Smartphones created a rift within the Palm user community. Those of us who did not want a smartphone were left in the dark. I was squarely based on the side of those not wanting an all-in-one device. I have since come around, since the battery life issues are now slowly going away. But one reason for my not purchasing a Treo was simple: Screensize !!! How could I give up the incredible visual real estate of the Lifedrive to go back to a small screen on a Treo? And then there was the memory problem. Up to the Treo 650, the company insisted on giving just 32mb onboard Ram. This has since increased with the introduction of NVFS. But it is still too small for what we want our Smartphones to do today. In my case, textbooks and memory intensive Data programs such as Mobisystems Database or Spreadsheet programs. Load a picture or video and look for a soft reset in your future endeavours.

What the iPhone and the HTC products show, is that there is further room for tweaking. Palm is already ahead of the game. If they can just put it all together with their new lineup - including a killer OS - this could be innovation at its best.

Perhaps something has been overlooked in this entire discussion. It is not just about innovation. It is about competition. I believe that the Tungsten T was designed as a direct result of Sony's incredible innovation. Who can forget the Clie's? These were works of art. Palm's OS continued to pose problems for the device at times, but I was always stunned when I saw one. Built in software management, music players etc. One physician that I know kept his entire life on one of these things. Let's not forget about Handspring. It was the competition that produced the Tungsten T. With no appreciable competition in the handheld space, innovation died!

Now, with the advent of new players, perhaps Palm could team up with Apple and Google and make a product that would introduce standards. For example, let's face it, PDF documents are here to stay. No matter how many new "standards" try to come and take its place (ie. Repligo). Apple has recognized this and supports PDF NATIVELY. Even the iPhone can read PDF documents. So why has it taken so long for Palm to do this natively? They have depended upon third party developers to do this. This should be something already embeded in the OS. The same holds true for .doc files. This should be inherent in hardware. Yes, I know, there are different types of .doc files, commensurate with each iteration of Microsoft's Office, but it would be a start. We would save battery life.

Innovation! That has been Palm's credo from its inception. Even if the Foleo doesn't deliver upon its promise, we are still looking at a company trying to innovate. Even if I became angry at the $500 experiment, they were still trying. However, the company has apparently stopped innovating. It is now time for this company to step forward and create a truly brilliant device.

Give us a sliding keyboard and I will purchase a smartphone (with a new OS of course).
Give us a stable operating system; an elegant and attractive formfactor (something small is better) and I will shout from the hills.

I have not lost hope, even though I have grown impatient. I am happy to see a few of Apple's people joining Palm. This could spell a period of true innovation. We will have to wait and see.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Updating and trying new software and celebrating Timothy Allen.

Over the next few weeks, I will be updating my software catalog. I am salivating at the prospect of using a fully functional Native PDF program. I am going to try Dataviz's Documents (DTG) v. 10. I am still using version 7 at the moment. Or I should say that I have it stored on my Lifedrive, because I really don't use it at all, in favor of Mobisystems OfficeSuite, which I still believe is one of the best suites ever written for the Palm Operating System. So why change? Well, I could never really delete Dataviz's DTG without causing significant instability on the Lifedrive. Despite my complete hatred of the program (v 7.0), I always had to leave it on the device, taking up valuable memory.

I was unimpressed by Mobisystems' last offering of OfficeSuite. Not much had changed from the previous version and worse, they left the native PDF app to an outside company, Metaviewsoft. The product was buggy and never failed in causing a soft reset on the Lifedrive. Not to mention the product was originally a beta product to begin with. I really began to lose my admiration for Mobisystems after that, so I did not upgrade. But because of my dire need for native PDF files, I am going to give Dataviz another try. I have not read any reviews on the product from Lifedrive owners. And since Palm will not be releasing a solo handheld machine, ie. Lifedrive 2, I will have to make do with this one for now and see if it will not be temperamental with the upgrade.

As I write this, I am tempted to also update Mobisystems OfficeSuite. The usual upgrade cycle for this product is in July and I popped over to see that they are now releasing an upgrade to OfficeSuite for $9.00 which will include native Powerpoint presentations. They have also improved the GUI of the Excel program. It looks quite pretty. So, over the next few weeks, I may try both products out. By the way, I also noticed only a small mention of the PDF program, which is still being run by Metaviewsoft. de. It is a far cry from last years rave about the product. Anyway, I will see what Dataviz has to offer and see if they have finally solved the PDF dilemma on the PalmOS.

Additionally, it has been a long time since I have seen an update to HandBase. A lot has changed since version 3.00 and I am looking forward to using this product again. I am steering towards this product for the encryption capabilities. Additionally, they have some nice Form features that are lagging in Smartlistogo. I still have a few Handbase files that I use religiously, but I have not really tapped into the encryption capabilities and the forms. I am still in love with Smartlistogo. I love the desktop application and the simplicity in writing database apps. However, Handbase seems to offer a lot more, including the ability to write an app and run it natively from the launcher. Mobisystems Database has similar functionality, but it is not as useful. However, I still find a few cumbersome minutiae in Handbase that originally compelled me to go somewhere else. The nickle and diming of features is still going on. If you want to do custom wireless printing, you have to buy another applet for 19.99. If you want to do ODBC, you have to buy it - 99.00 for the Enterprise edition. Plugins ie. Treo camera plugin 9.99.

However, it is becoming clear that Handbase continues to be the Medical Standard for databases. Hence, I will be going back to it for a little while, porting all of my apps written in Smartlist and placing them in Handbase. I will (eventually) put them on the web site. I've "beta tested" the smartlist apps for over 3 years, so I know that they work. So I will eventually share them.

Additionally, per my last article, the need for portability is high. Both Smartlist and Handbase have data that is portable to a WindowsMobile or Symbian device or translated into Access data, should the need ever arise. Yes, after 10 years of being with Palm, it saddens me to say that this is something that I have to even think about. It's just not right, but success in anything is based upon having a Plan B. Stay tuned......



And finally, on another note, I want to go out on a limb and put to the test a few old programs from a time gone by. In particular, I would like to highlight one developer who has offered free software since 2003 on Palmgear. His name is Timothy Allen. He has a few wonderful OB programs out there but I have not placed them on my Lifedrive, due to the NVFS platform. However, I will be trying out some of his programs in the next few weeks. Several updates have been made recently and I think that this should provide some stability to the device. If you're interested in seeing Tim's work then go to PalmGear.Com or go here .

You can also directly access Tim's website at http://www.fppda.com/ This is really quite good and you won't be disappointed.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Thoughts on Legacy Programs

Tonight we are learning of a further delay in the Palm survival machine. There are many out there acting like vultures as Palm circumvents shutting down. News reports opine on the injection of millions of dollars from an outside company, mainly to thwart a takeover of the company. Surprisingly, much of this is to be used to fund a special dividend. I guess I am in healthcare for a reason! I totally do not understand why any company that is having problems, would use VC money to fund stockholders or to just give a white knight more shares. Somehow, I imagined that this money could be used for R&D. But again, that's why I do what I do and the guys in suits do what they do.

So, while all of this is going on around us, I am left to think about the obvious. Whether or not Palm is acquired, becomes bankrupt and disappears, continues on this lukewarm pattern or excels beyond everyone's wildest dreams, there is something that will definitely happen within the next 24 months: We will have a new operating system!

Given this fact, it becomes a daunting task to imagine what will happen to mission critical software that presides on the Palm device. I ran an inventory check this weekend on just such a scenario and concluded that I was in good shape for any revision. I calculated that I had only 25% of my programs containing mission critical or non-mission critical data in formats that were unrecognizable by any other software out on the market now (...and yes, I had to include Microsoft's Windows CE/Mobile, just in case....).

However, one of the programs, SplashID is one that will need to have me purchasing the desktop version, just in case there is no operating system to use it on with the Palm. Naturally, a company such as SplashData is conscientious about its customers and I believe that it would only be a short period of time before they came out with a solution to this scenario.

Other programs, including several pregnancy programs, would require me to obtain other alternatives. However, most of my data is included in programs that already have SQL type properties and their data is easily converted into .csv or .txt files for entry into Excel or Access or Filemaker (Mac) or other database formats. Thankfully, these are my mission critical apps, where encryption for patient safety and ease of use come together. Without the possibility of portability, I would be in serious trouble.

Programs to seriously think about purchasing if you require Mission Critical databases and small programs are listed below. These programs save data in such a way that it can be ported over to another system, should the need arise:

1. HandBase.
2. Smartlistogo.
3. Database by Mobisystems.
4. Office Suite by Dataviz.
5. Office Suite by Mobisystems.

Software that may be tricky in this department:

1. SplashID. Although there are several ports of this program, I am uncertain whether they are all interchangeable ie. Is the key file useable on Mac, Windows, Palm, WinCE/Mobile?

Software to be really concerned about:

1. Proprietary formats for database files. There are a few pregnancy and inpatient programs that save patient files in a proprietary format. This will not port very well to another system and could become a major issue down the road as Palm upgrades its operating system.

2. Old Software. My old favorite, PregCalc would probably be obsolete. It was written during Palm OS 3.0 and it still works. But any migration to Linux without emulation, would probably see it vanish. Nevertheless, Nagel's rule is so pervasive and mathematical equations don't really change, it would only be a matter of time before the program was recreated. Same holds true for the truly tested MedCalc.

Bottom Line: Look out for Proprietary Formats as Palm begins its upcoming upgrade cycle. If at all possible, when thinking about database files, consider compatibility with Microsoft's Access and Excel standards. That way, no matter what operating system or Office Suite rolls around, you will be ready. Additionally, ensure that any backups of database files that you make, include two additional versions, particularly for spreadsheets ---- .CSV (Comma delimited), .TXT (plain text) and if possible, .XML. The latter provides some nice layout functionality, but is not as critical as the first two.

Additionally, in database files, always look out for relational fields when backing up the files to the above formats (What's that? Well, they are fields that are often calculated fields or fields that will only show up if something else in another field is present). These fields have a tendency of not always showing up when transferred to .csv, .txt and .xml and sometimes will only work if the database or excel file is very similar to the handheld version.

These are strange times and we must be prepared. I think it is only reasonable to think about the best and worse case scenarios. Whether or not this company survives, I have become dependent upon their hardware and software. Should Palm fail in its endeavours, there will be hundreds of thousands of health care workers walking around with Palm OS devices with mission critical data. This data will need to be ported to alternative systems. In addition, all data will need to be recovered, at least for the lagging 12 months. Conversely, should Palm succeed with a new Linux device, the same would hold true for porting the data to the new and improved 'next best thing.'

If you want proof of this, ask me why I'm not buying Apple's latest little machine?


*** Addendum:

PalmDoc who runs a really wonderful blog Palmdoc Chronicles (palmdoc.net)
has informed me that Splashdata's SpashID main file is transferable to the Windows CE/Windows Mobile platform. A few others have stated that with the desktop version, this is also transferable to other platforms as well. This is very good to know. I really like this company. At first, I thought their products were a little expensive, but overall, the quality and consistency has been there for all of their products, not to mention support (However, I was at a loss when I did not get a reply in regards to the original question). But we can all rest assured that SplashID is transferable.

Thanks again PalmDoc.


Linux Delayed.

Engadget is reporting tonight that Palm has again delayed its Linux launch. Citing sources close to Ed Colligan and Brighthand, the report claims that new devices containing the now eagerly anticipated Linux Mobile operating system will not be made available until 2008. Additionally, any new devices, such as the suspected update to the Treo possibly in November, will contain Garnet OS 5.x.

There are no words left to describe the let down that this is causing. Personally, I feel left in a state of undescribable pain. I have a Lifedrive that has seriously outrun its course. It is painstakingly slow and I have given up on using it as an entertainment device - leaving that to an iPod. However, as a mission critical device, I have no choice but to use it and it is lacking - Mainly on account of speed, but also on account of reliability. I cannot really add new software to the device without wondering if it will upset the memory and crash. I was hoping for some sort of emulation in Linux to resolve some of these issues. However, it looks as though Palm is going in a totally different direction now. Perhaps the days of the single function handheld are gone.

I wouldn't mind using a dual functioning convergence device now (I have slowly gotten used to this concept), but it would have to have a larger screen and possibly a pull out keyboard - Not to mention something better than OS 5.x as its operating system. Additionally, it would absolutely have to have at least 2-4 gigs of memory and of course be solid state. Legacy programs may be a problem going forward, as they were with the Lifedrive, but I think adaptation is the key to this.

So, a not so happy day for us in Palm Land. We will have to wait for further developments.