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Wireless Redux

Using a Palm or Handspring PDA is easy after all the requisite wires are in place.

When I wrote about wireless a couple of weeks ago, I was going from zero to 60 in a big hurry, and was anticipating the arrival of two PDAs–a Palm IIIc and a Handspring Platinum Visor–to play around with. The fact that I couldn’t get a modem (for the Handspring) soon enough for the story I’m writing didn’t phase me. I knew that without one I wouldn’t be experiencing the latest the technology had to offer, but I’d still be in good company with plenty of PDA users.

I wasn’t prepared, however, for just how “unwireless” these devices really are. The moment I received the Palm, I began to understand why so many people are downright hostile to wireless. Hype? That’s a gentle euphemism for the misnomer of the everyday “wireless” experience so far.

Getting these simple battery-powered devices to work, in fact, turned into a nightmare technology scenario, complete with tech-support phone calls. The Palm, you see, ships with a cradle that connects to a serial port instead of a USB port. So I called the Palm press contact back and she shipped me a PalmConnect USB Kit. If I’d been an “ordinary” customer, however–buying this thing with my own money–I would have had to wait six weeks for the kit to become available from Palm (it was on back order) for $40 plus $8 for shipping, plus $7 more for overnight delivery. Or I could have paid about the same to get one from Mac Warehouse, or paid significantly more to order one from anywhere else.

Once I got the USB kit, I figured my problems were solved. It was 4:00, and I decided to hook up the Palm and put some AvantGo content on it before I left work. Only, Palm hasn’t bothered to update the Mac version of its Palm OS software in a while–the CD-ROM is still configured for Mac OS 8. (I have 9.04.) Once I figured that out, I downloaded the fix from the Palm Web site. It didn’t work. All other help avenues exhausted, I called tech support and waited on hold for 10-15 minutes. According to the (lucky for me) very knowledgeable support guy, it turns out that the patch really doesn’t work very well. I needed to download the whole software upgrade from the site. As a bonus, I also needed to download and install a newer version of StuffIt Expander in order to open and install the software upgrade. At 6:45, on my hands and knees behind my desk and tangled in wires so that I might plug the Palm cradle into the X#%*! outlet, I had to laugh. I didn’t have technology–it had me, again.

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