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(In)compatibility

Perhaps the biggest limitation to replacing your laptop with a Palm device is that you can’t use common applications. If you want to transfer work at the office to your handheld while traveling, for example, there’s no guarantee that you can transfer it back to your computer when you return. There are some notable exceptions, however.

spreadsheetDataViz’s Documents To Go lets you read--but not edit--Microsoft Word and Excel files (plus a number of other formats) on a handheld. This is helpful for storing reference materials or reading reports on a long plane ride. Quicksheet, however, includes a plug-in for Excel (available for Windows, and currently in beta for the Mac) that lets you work with spreadsheets on both platforms.

If you’re looking to do word processing on the Palm, you can use the built-in Memo Pad application, but Memo Pad records are limited to 4,096 characters. You’re better off using a program like SmartDoc or QED, which are limited only by the amount of free memory on the organizer.

You can also work with databases, such as HanDBase or JFile, on the Palm. There are a number of desktop conduits available that will synchronize the data with your desktop databases.

If you’re a designer, well, forget about switching to a Palm device. Although there are drawing and painting programs for the Palm OS (such as TealPoint Software’s TealPaint), they’re much more akin to the venerable MacPaint than any desktop program on the market today. In other words, you won’t be adjusting Photoshop images any time soon. A minor exception, though, is the recent appearance of digital cameras for Palm devices, which let you take photos using the Palm and transfer them to your computer. I don’t yet have any hands-on experience with them, but if you need low- to medium-resolution color or grayscale images in a small package, check out the EyeModule for Visor or Kodak’s PalmPix cameras.

Portable Power

My solution so far for staying portable has been to carry both my PowerBook and my Palm organizer. Each has its strengths, and in some cases, such as word processing, I swap between them (especially when I’m flying, since most seats have barely enough room for me to sit comfortably, much less my laptop, too). However, it is possible to leave the ’Book behind and do all your computing on your Palm, provided you’re willing to work within its limitations.

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