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Satellite Forms

Very powerful forms software

by Kermit Woodall

Satellite Forms is a visual application development tool for the PalmOS. More than just a data collection system, Satellite Forms is an ideal development tool when you are creating applications that require integration with desktop databases such as Microsoft Access, FoxPro, Filemaker, Dbase and others, or creating standalone applications for Palm devices.

Satellite Forms is good for just about everything. You can create data collection forms of unparalleled depth and detail. You can create an RPN calculator--although since there is one included in the samples, you won't need to do this. You can create just about anything--even games. Since Satellite Forms can generate standalone applications it's really more of a visual development environment than the Forms generator its name suggests.

Installation is straightforward. When you're done, you'll have your Windows desktop environment ready to go with a staggering number of samples provided to get you started.

The program's features are strongly oriented towards providing you with solutions that will have the look and feel that you want--not just some default layout. You will be able to adjust everything down to the gadget and icon.

Orbital Maneuvers

The one thing you'll quickly realize is that learning Satellite Forms is much like learning a programming language or a database language. While Puma has gone a long way toward making this task easier with a wealth of visual controls, it's not a walk in the park. The benefits of being able to generate exactly what you want can easily outweigh this little drawback.

Fortunately, as I mentioned, there is truly an enormous range of examples provided to make learning Satellite Forms far more pleasant.

Satellite Forms offers additional flexibility in the area of application deployment. The Satellite Forms Standard Edition App Designer now creates .pdb files for simpler application distribution.

Previous versions of Satellite Forms required developers to package an application using the RTKINST utility and a custom setup program before the application could be distributed. Users ran the custom setup program to install the application. In Satellite Forms, the App Designer produces a set of .pdb files for each application.

In conjunction with .pdb file creation, the App Designer provides a way to specify a Creator ID for the application. This setting is located in the Application Properties dialog box. It is important that the Creator ID for your application be unique, so it does not conflict with other applications running on the device. You can obtain a unique Creator ID from 3Com's web site.

The install utility RDKINST is still used to simplify the deployment and distribution of your applications. The utility is backward compatible with version 2.0. However, with the new version, a single HotSync will install your complete application.

Satellite Forms applications can further be extended with additional plug-ins and controls. The Satellite Forms development kit comes with a dozen Extensions like a serial port, square root, slider control, but there are many 3rd party developers who have created their own Extensions which have made available for free or at a nominal cost via the web. A complete list of these is maintained on Puma's own web site, here is a small sampling:

TcpIpConnection is a plug-in by Martin Gummersbach that allows basic TCP/IP socket communication and simple string based queries. It offers all necessary capabilities to open, close, read and write a connection. Useful for SPT1740 devices, which usually need to communicate with a more straightforward protocol than the standard syncing.

SFSysAppLaunch by PocketScience allows Satellite Forms applications to launch the App Launcher on Palm devices running versions of the OS up to 2.0.

SFBeamer allows you to beam records from one Satellite Forms application to another. You can beam single records, multiple records or entire tables around. On the receiving end you can have it automatically accept the incoming data, requiring no interaction from the user.

PDBcruncher compresses PDB database files for Satellite Forms. Tests show that a PDB database of approximately 15,000 records usually takes about two and a half hours to install. With PDBcruncher the same database installs in 40 seconds!

The Standard Edition is free of runtime licenses, and is intended as an entry-level solution for developers who need to quickly create Palm-based applications and for developers wishing to produce prototypes of more advanced applications. The Standard Edition includes everything you need to create a complete application either on the Palm Computing device alone, or with HotSync connectivity to desktop databases like Microsoft Access.

The Enterprise Edition supports all the features of the Standard Edition but includes several important enterprise features such as server support, OLE, enhanced TCP/IP and Internet support, and Oracle Lite support. The Enterprise Edition is designed for developers with large-scale, Fortune 1000-type projects with the need for connectivity to back end servers or enterprise databases like Oracle and Lotus Notes.

Final Thoughts

For simple data collections, Satellite Forms might be considered overkill. It just does so much that it can overwhelm more modest needs. A program like Pendragon Forms is more suited to rapid deployment of a data collection system. Additionally, Pendragon Forms connects automatically to more common databases such as Microsoft Access and Excel, whereas Satellite Forms requires a bit of work to do this.

However, Satellite Forms is so much more than a data collections program that it begs for comparison to a complete developer's environment such as the Metrowerks or GNU C compilers for the PalmOS. In this light, Satellite Forms really shines. It is so much easier to develop database applications since so many tools are provided to you specifically for these tasks. The visual interface and its much-heralded drag and drop functionality make the job much easier and the third party plug-ins will be welcome as well.

There is also a new book available on using Satellite Forms from SAMS. The book includes a copy of Satellite Forms Trial Edition and contributions from the inventor of Satellite Forms. The book is available for US$24.99 from most booksellers who stock SAMS titles.

Satellite Forms is available from Puma Technology in the Standard Edition for US$795 and in the Enterprise Edition for US$995. 408-321-7650.

-Kermit Woodall

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