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Palm Pilot Computing Under Unix

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I use my Handspring Visor Prism primarily for keeping my calendar and todo list but I also keep ideas and notes on the memo pad, download websites, mail, news, etc. I purchased the Prism in Feb of 2002, and my first PDA was a Palm IIIx, which I got in June of 1999.

My working environment at home is NetBSD 1.5.2 and at work it's SGI Irix 6.5. On both Operating Systems I run within the KDE windowing environment.

I've gotten the pilot-link unix software installed in both locations.

Under Unix, I'm currently using the Visor mostly with Jpilot. Plugins available with jpilot include avantgo, backup, synctime, and GNU keyring. I've found each of these very useful. Jpilot also understands the palm application Manana (a duplicate todo database and application for things you'll do "tomorrow").

In the past I had installed and run KPilot. I then used KPilot to sync the Calendar and ToDo lists on the palm with KOrganizer. I've also patched the 1.1.1 version of KOrganizer to provide some basic support for dated todos (before this patch, korganizer would ignore dated information).

I also supplied some patches for KPilot which aid sync'ing several databases. In particular, Handbase and Arranger do not get along with Kpilot's mechanism for syncing files. Get Kpilot 3.2.1 to make use of these patches.

I'm also working with the pilot-link applications, and have in the works a program which uses the pine and/or imap c-client library to fetch and upload several different mailbox and news formats to the pilot: it's called pilot-imap. You can pick it up now as a beta release, but hopefully it will eventually be part of the pilot-link distribution.


After a few years of owning a PalmOS based PDA I've collected a handful of applications that I find useful.

Launcher III Launcher III 3.0.5 is a applications shell/launcher.
AvantGo One of my favorite apps. I'm using Moblie Applications Link (MAL) and malsync to syncronize with the AvantGo website. See below for the details of obtaining the source code.
DateBk4 One of the most useful applications I found for my PDA. I use the integrated todo/calendar view.
Project A personal management tool, this application groups todos in lists which represent projects. Todos can be exported as datebook, todo or memo entries.
Keyring Keyring keeps data encrypted on your PDA with a master password. There is a corresponding plugin to the Jpilot Unix Desktop application.
An Applications and database interrogation program. Allows one to view and edit most application and database properties.
RiseSet Determine the time of rise and set for the Sun and Moon.
Tide Tool Just what it says - tool for determining tides.
Handbase A Database management system. I keep several databases with handbase.
Arranger Arranger is an outliner: though not as polished as BrainForest, I find it more useful for my own outlining tasks.
X-Master a HackMaster like application for managing hacks.
FindHack What does this do? I forgot.
MiddleCaps Hack Section the Graffiti pad for one stroke creation of capital characters.
Shift Hack Turn off auto shift in the PalmOS (for use with MiddleCaps Hack).
Switch Hack One stroke generation of a list of recent applications. Jump directly to one of these apps rather than going through the finder.
Astraware Ltd.
Remove jewels from the playing field to score points.
Casino and Solitaire
Stand Alone Software
Groups of casino and solitare games.
Hearts The classic game of hearts.
PocketChess One of the better computerized chess opponents I've played.

I also have collected three springboard modules for the Handspring:

  • A GPS,
  • Xircom WiFi card ,
  • and Memplug CF card reader.

Obtaining the MAL and malsync source code:

The MAL source was a little difficult to get - I had to use

lwp-rget http://corp.avantgo.com/mal/source/mal-0_7_tar.gz
(lwp-rget is a perl script which yanks URLs and places the contents in local files.)

Malsync 1.6, the client code for managing the syncronization with AvantGo, is located at the same site as pilot-link... ftp://ryeham.ee.ryerson.ca/pub/PalmOS

I've gotten malsync 1.6 to compile under NetBSD 1.4 and Irix 6.5. It works through the firewall http proxy (tis) at work and it's no problem through my port blocking firewall at home. AvantGo has also provided a UsersGuide to getting the Moble Link sofware up and running.

Setting up a PPP connection between your network and the Palm IIIx:

This took a little experimentation.

On your unix box, enable IP fowarding: Under Linux that would be

echo "1" > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_forward
Under NetBSD (as root)
sysctl -w net.inet.ip.forwarding=1

Set up a pppd (version 2.3.5) daemon to camp on the serial line:

/usr/sbin/pppd /dev/pilot 19200 nodetach crtscts local passive <hostIP>:<pilotIP> proxyarp ms-dns w.x.y.z

Here, ms-dns is used to pass the IP number of a DNS server to the pilot, and proxyarp is used to get the PPP host to advertise connectivity to the pilot.

Now to configure your Palm:

  • Open the Network category of the Preferences application.
    • Service: Unix
    • User Name: <my login id on the ppp host>
    • Password: <my password ppp host>
    • Phone: 00

  • Under "Details...",
    • Connection type: PPP
    • Idle timeout: Power Off
    • Query DNS: (checked) (or unchecked, then you have setup the DNS addresses)
    • IP Address: (checked) Automatic

  • Remove any text that might be in the "Script..." fields.

When you supply a phone number of "00", the palm knows to skip contacting the modem, and connects directly to the serial port.

Tap "connect", and you should be on your way...

Counter visits since November 1, 1999

Scott Presnell
Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 15:57 PDT