Mobile Tech - Working With Documents on Handhelds

Welcome to Mobile Tech, a new monthly column written by Tyler Regas.

Tyler Regas began his career in computer hardware maintenance and repair and
soon added Mac and Windows networking to his professional interests.
Then came *nix, graphic design, web design, and multimedia. When PDAs
and wireless came about, Tyler learned all about PDAs and their usage
for both consumers and corporate users. The PDA HandyMan site is the result.
Tyler started writing and tech editing in 1997 and, with his wife, has
worked on over 100 books. In addition to writing full time, Tyler also
consults for businesses, large and small.


If there is a raison d’etre for libraries it is to collect and make available the written word. The library represents more noble aspects of human knowledge, but none of that matters when you or your charges are out and about needing immediate access to those written words. Going mobile with these written words can be an adventure, but it does not have to. In this edition of Mobile Tech you will learn about documents and the idea of mobility.

Ubiquitous Word

The most common word processing format in the world is, and there is no question here, Word. Word, in case you aren’t much for word processing, is a Microsoft product and represents one of the most used applications in the entire world. The vast majority of documents stored in a computer are in Word format. The only format more common than Word is the plain text file, but we’ll get to that. Now, the goal is to get Word files to and from a handheld device and be able to view and/or edit them.

Pocket Word

Most people’s first stop is with Microsoft itself and the devices that its hardware partners build, the Pocket PC. One would think that the Pocket PC and its resident Pocket Word application would be the most complete implementation of a mobile solution for Word files. Sadly, this thought would be incorrect. Pocket Word is a simplified, stripped down version of the desktop megalith, and does not contain anything more than the most basic formatting tools. It does, however, make a great Word file reader.

One of the great aspects of Pocket Word is that when a desktop Word file is opened by Pocket Word, the original file retains all of its original formatting, regardless of changes to the mobile version. When the device is dropped into its cradle and synchronized, the changes are added to the desktop version. Pocket Word just doesn’t make a good Word editor if you need a significant number of the desktop editions advanced features such as outlining and revision marks. Pocket Excel, is a better example of mobile data control, but its still not perfect.

Casio BE-300

If you have a Casio BE-300, it comes with Jasc Software’s QuickView Plus for Windows CE on the CD-ROM. It installs quickly and can view a wide range of filetypes, such as GIF, TIFF, JPG, BMP, Word documents, PDF files, and others. The interface also works well with the limited amount of space.

WordSmith

Palm devices, on the other hand, have a huge selection to choose from, depending on your needs, of course. My personal favorite word processor for Palm OS is WordSmith from BlueNomad. WordSmith rivals Word on the desktop for integrated features. While it does not support revision marks, it does support colored fonts and I’m told that revision marks support is coming soon.

If you need more than just Word compatibility, take a look at DataViz’s Documents-To-Go 4.0 for the Palm. Not only can it handle Word files, but also Excel and PowerPoint files. There is also an available add-on that gives you access to email, PDFs, graphics file viewing, and even charting.
A competitor to DataViz’s offering is Cutting Edge Software’s QuickOffice 6.0, which incorporates the same kind of features as its rival. Another option is pEdit from Paul Nevai’s PaulComputing. This is the oldest of the word processors for the Palm platform. It’s not altogether friendly, but it is certainly powerful and is more flexible if you can take the time to learn how to use it.
Finally, if you’re lucky enough to own a Sharp Zaurus SL-5500, you’ll be using Hancom Office which does an excellent job of viewing and editing Word and Excel documents. It can also view PowerPoint documents, but cannot edit them.

A Few Document Handling Tips

I’d like to add a few notes here that are good to keep in mind, regardless of which platform you use.

  • Make copies of the documents you plan on taking mobile. In case something happens, you won’t be stuck with a bad or lost file. Make copies on your handheld as well.

  • If you are using Pocket Word, keep your formatting simple. When the document is complete, you can then add the more complex formatting in the desktop version.

  • Get a spellchecker. For the Pocket PC, look look at HPC Spell. For the Palm look at SpellMan, which has become my favorite of late. For the Zaurus SL-5500 there are no spell checkers just yet, but look at zbedic and eDict for dictionary services.

  • Learn how to use the character recognition or pen-based input system native to your device. There are alternative solutions, but you will always have access to the system defaults. Besides, being good at Graffiti on the Palm translates pretty well to the Pocket PC.

Handhelds are not at the level of a laptop, yet. The Sharp Zaurus seems the closest with Hancom Office, but there’s still a ways to go. Until that time comes, make use of the tools at hand that best suit your needs and make copies of everything. There is no greater advice I can offer.

I hope you have found the ideas and concepts in this column both intriguing and stimulating. Please send me your comments, suggestions, and questions or simply drop me a line at tyler@pdahandyman.com.