|UHN Palm Newsletter (May 2000) |
Last month I described a few text readers you could use to present reference material. This month I'd like to describe a different approach to presenting text.
Probably you are all familiar with the World Wide Web and using an internet browser. You may even be involved in development of web pages for students, colleagues or the public. Wouldn't it be nice if you could leverage the time you spent developing a web page by converting it into a Palm-readable file? Would it be helpful to save an interesting web page you found to your Palm for future use? Fortunately, you can do these things with either of the two products I am going to describe.
The best known conversion system is AvantGo (http://www.avantgo.com/). The first version of this software permits you to create web pages and convert them for your Palm device. It will even update the Palm each time you modify the original version on your desktop PC. Many of you may be familiar with this as it was used to develop a portable version of the UHN Antimicrobial Handbook.
Also available is iSilo (http://www.isilo.com/). This program will also convert existing web pages into a format suitable for the Palm PDA.
What are the differences between the two programs? First of all, AvantGo has made changes in the newest version of its system making it impossible to load your own, in-house developed material without a "server" costing US$300 per user (that's "reader or student user" not "developer" user - ouch!).
AvantGo is free to run on users' Palm devices. iSilo will set back each user about US$30 (there is a free version but it is less capable) but it costs nothing to distribute the material afterwards. One could continue to use the older version of AvantGo in-house, but this would be an "orphan" program and the company might become annoyed about copyright issues. Furthermore, our housestaff and colleagues who use AvantGo's Internet servers for news, sports, financial and other services would not be able to install or run reference works developed with the older version as they would have to be using the newer one for connecting to the Internet.
In terms of content, iSilo will present multiple formats including text files as well as web pages. This means iSilo can perform double duty, replacing a text viewer, as well as viewing web pages. On the other hand, AvantGo handles some formatting tasks better than iSilo, which makes tables, for example, pretty difficult to interpret.
Neither program really lets you modify material once it is on the Palm. This requires you to update the copy on your desktop PC, then HotSync whenever you want to make changes.
Bottom line: if you anticipate multiple readers logging on frequently for updates of particular texts, then AvantGo has some advantages but is quite expensive. If you want to convert web pages for personal use, or don't mind asking your readers to fork over the user fee, iSilo may be a better bet.
For either of these programs, content development for the Palm will require giving some thought to formatting of text for readability on that itty-bitty screen. We'll return to this subject in a future issue.
One more idea for presenting material for reference or review. I am constantly accumulating little scraps of paper with miscellaneous info on them: procedures, treatment protocols, clinic phone number changes. Most of this stuff languishes in a manila folder (OK, TEN manila folders) on my desk. It doesn't do me much good there when I am on duty in the Emergency Department. Some of it could go into little memos in the Memo area on my Palm but that would rapidly get pretty disorganized.
That's why software that can make lists is very useful. Either BrainForest (http://www.aportis.com/) or ListMaker, which can be found at (http://www.synsolutions.com/software/listmaker) will enable you to create lists with nested sub-lists and notes attached to individual items and many other useful features. You can even choose to have tick-off boxes or numbering for your lists (or neither). Lists can be expanded to view all the notes and subheadings, or collapsed to view only the "chapter" headings as it were. See the attached screen snapshots for a bit of the flavour.
Either of these programs can be useful but developing the material from scratch is, as I have noted before, tedious on the Palm itself. For this reason alone BrainForest gets a higher rating. For about US$20 more than the cost of ListMaker, the BrainForest Professional version includes a program that will run on your PC or Mac to create the lists. After all the typing and rearranging, you can then install the completed material onto your Palm.
Is this useful for developing material for students, as opposed to private use? That is for you to judge. If you hate "cookbook" medicine then distributing material in this format may seem inappropriate. However, listmakers also permit you to collect multiple short topics into one convenient bundle which is easy to browse through when looking for something specific. This might be handy for a handbook of procedures and policies for new housestaff (for example).
Both of these programs are cheap: Listmaker is US$20 per user; BrainForest Pro is US$40.
Here's a web site for you all to check out:
HealthyPalmPilot has a wealth of small files to be downloaded. They come in a wide range of formats for different types of programs. You may find some of them useful or think they are all hopeless. You won't know until you look. The main values of such a repository are:
1) you may find what you need there and
2) 2) clearly lots of folks are busy creating tools for
the Palm handheld PC. Even if you don't find what you want off-the-rack you may find someone to collaborate with on your own pet project and help you make what you need.
Next month we will look at some of the issues around making reference materials fit well on the Palm screen. There are also programs for converting text files on your desktop PC to DOC or PDB files on your Palm Pilot and we will have a look at a few of them. We will also discuss the business of making backups that I never got around to this month.
Say, why don't you tell me whether you'd like me to make these newsletters longer and pack more in, or leave them the same, to give you time to explore the material between issues? Would you like more illustrations or screen shots? Should I use a better grade of paper for making gliders? I will report the results of this survey next month
This is one of a continuing series of newsletters on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals and video game afficionados at the UHN. Feel free to pass copies around electronically or on paper. To subscribe, or complain, contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org