Palm Desktop – The simple solution?

Palm Desktop is, of course, the app that Palm produces to do desktop integration with its handhelds. All in all it’s not a bad little app suite, and you certainly can’t beat it for integration with the Palm. It supports all of the Palm’s features and synchronization (via the bundled HotSync manager) is flawless.

Palm Desktop is not server based, so all of your data lives on the machine where you have it installed (which, by extension, is the same place you synchronize the handheld). There doesn’t appear to be a way to share the calendar data on the internet. That means I’ll need either my laptop or my Palm handy to view my calendar. A drawback, but not a show stopper.

On the Mac, the Palm Desktop calendar data appears to live in a single file, $HOME/Documents/Palm/Users/Paul Riddle/User Data. This file contains binary data presumably in some database format that Palm Desktop can read. The ‘file’ utility reports it as a “DBase 3 data file”. If I run ‘strings’ on it I can see entries from both my calendar and my address book. This doesn’t look like something I want to muck with outside of the Palm Desktop app. So, we need to see if Palm Desktop can do bulk deletion of imported entries.

Looks like we’re out of luck with the bulk deletion. In an older version of Palm Desktop (on my Windows machine), it works. I can create a custom category, create some entries within that category, then delete the category. The software gives me the option to delete all entries within the category, or move them to the “Unfiled” category. However, this doesn’t work with the newer version of Palm Desktop on the Mac. It looks like they’ve added the ability to have multiple categories assigned to an event. If I delete a category, the events in that category stick around, even if no other categories are assigned to the event in question. Kind of sucks that they would cripple that functionality. But it pretty much means that I can’t use Palm Desktop for what I want to do. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to evaluate it a bit and see what I find.

Palm Desktop also seems to have problems with “day events” and “daily notes” under Oracle Calendar. These events are actually untimed, so they should be imported as “untimed” (or “all day”) events. However, Palm Desktop imports them as timed events and sets the start/end times to 12:00am and 12:01am. I’m not sure if this is the fault of Palm Desktop or the Oracle Calendar export.

OK, the “day event” handling appears to be a “feature” of the Oracle Calendar export. The 12:00am-12:01am time range is in the vCal import file, so Palm Desktop is just recording it as it sees it. The vCal file also includes Category information, and Palm Desktop is reading that and creating new categories as it sees them. The Oracle Calendar entries show up with categories of “APPOINTMENT”, “HOLIDAY”, “MISCELLANEOUS”, etc. If a bulk delete were possible, I’d need to delete all of these categories before re-importing; a bit of a pain. Alternatively, I could massage the vCal import file to put everything into a single category.

To summarize: Palm Desktop uses a (possibly proprietary) binary file format to store entries on the host computer. There’s no out-of-box way to share calendars among multiple computers (although apparently there are third-party products that will do this). Bulk deletion of entries does not appear to be easily possible. Even if it was possible, the import process would require multiple steps to recategorize imported entries into a single category.

Given all this, it looks like Palm Desktop is not going to be the answer for me. A shame, because I’m sure I won’t find anything else as tightly integrated with the Palm. Next up, I’ll check out iCal.