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The Linux-capable organizer

Every PDA leans towards Windows. While the vendors may feel that this situation makes for a better user experience, it leaves users of desktop Linux or Mac OS X systems out in the cold.

Buy a PDA or handheld device, any PDA. It will come with a CD-ROM designed for Windows. All the desktop software, drivers, and other applications are designed to install on and run on Windows. Even files that are meant to get transferred to the PDA will come in a format that requires you to first place the files on a Windows system. The simplest driver seems to come with a Windows installation wizard, but you can’t just use it to access the file you need. Instead, you need to run the setup program, and you can only run the setup program on a Windows system. While the vendors may feel that this situation makes for a better user experience, it leaves users of desktop Linux or Mac OS X systems out in the cold.

In this situation, Palm OS devices appear to be the most Linux-friendly. While Palm OS devices such as the palmOne Zire or Tungsten families also suffer from Windows-only desktop software, Linux supports Palm OS better than other PDAs. If you’re willing to perform a little extra setup work, you can make Palm OS devices work with a Linux desktop system.

That’s because out of the box, most Linux distributions include a number of applications that can synchronize with Palm OS devices. For example, Evolution, the GNOME desktop e-mail and personal information manager (PIM) client, supports synchronization with Palm OS devices. Evolution acts a lot like a Linux version of Microsoft’s Outlook. With very little setup, you can configure the GNOME desktop to communicate with your Palm OS device. You need to tell the GNOME desktop your username on the device, and how you connect to it, such as via a serial port for older Palms or over a USB connection for newer devices. While you can configure more detailed settings, that’s about it for the default case.

The KDE desktop provides similar support. Once configured, you can use the KDE PIM applications that will synchronize with your Palm OS device.

In addition, if you like the normal Palm desktop software, there are a number of alternatives that run on Linux. The Palm desktop software is an all-in-one application for managing your schedule, contacts, to-do list, and other data stored on the device. I happen to like this better than Outlook, as it collects the PIM data into one unified screen. The Palm desktop software also avoids a number of security issues that afflict Outlook. On Linux, K-Pilot provides a KDE desktop replacement for the normal Windows-only Palm desktop application.

JPilot is probably the most popular Palm desktop replacement. It includes a set of windows that mimic the Windows-based Palm desktop application.

Most of these applications are built on top of the low-level pilot-link suite, which manages low-level connections to Palm OS devices. Another alternative to pilot-link is JSyncManager, which allows developers to write conduits in Java. A conduit allows another application to synchronize its data. The Palm desktop only includes conduits for the software built in on the device. If you use third-party applications on your Palm OS device, you need conduits for those applications in order to backup and synchronize your data.

Ironically, Palm OS devices work better with Linux desktops than the available Linux PDAs such as the Yopy and Zaurus. Furthermore, the Linux situation for Palm OS devices remains better than that of the Macintosh, where you have to purchase a third-party application, the Missing Sync, to synchronize with Palms.

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