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Keyspan USB PDA adapter

Adapter enables Apple iBook to work with serial PDAs

by Kenny Mann

We still have to jump through a few hoops when it comes to connectivity, interfaces, among all of our little machines. We'll look back and remember it being fun when it worked. Eventually I would like it to come down to simply selecting what you want people to have access to. They would pick you up automatically on THE NETWORK. That is, wirelessly, based on some kind of minimal proximity. Riding this week's leading edge can still mean priority choices have to be made. Once again it's, "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?" When I bought my iBook, I knew what the basic connectivity limitations would be. It's kind of hard to complain about the lack of FireWire on the high end or Serial on the low. "Goodbye SCSI. It's been nice." Could be that Apple left out the type II PC/MCIA slot to keep things open in the PowerBook market--there go all the high-speed cardbus adapters. The internal AirPort slot is similar, but that's all it does.

One day Shawn asked me if I would be continuing to use my Newton. There are some things I probably won't ever want to give up. Mostly the effective OS and good-sized screen for writing--more or less inconspicuously--at cafe tables. I'm not obstinate, I just like it. I like it a lot. We're pals. It had only just occurred to me that all I needed was a USB/Serial adapter to connect the Newton. Would it be a total kludge? Would it be stable? After we considered the IRDA possibilities, Shawn suggested that I try out the Keyspan Serial Port Adapter for Palm devices. We both knew that the iBook ships with Palm Desktop software.

When I plugged the Keyspan in (without anything attached to it) a window came up. OS 9 was saying that I needed a driver for a new USB device and asked me if I wanted to search for it on the internet. I clicked on "Search." Within seconds I was told that two had been found. I downloaded the Keyspan USB Serial Assistant as well as the driver, but I certainly didn't need the assistant. It all came to less than 100K. Since I wanted to see how far I could push the compatibility, I jacked my Newton into the Keyspan first, saving the Palm IIIe for later. I fired up X-port on the iBook, selected "Keyspan USB DB9" in the serial port choice menu (Under "Setup"), clicked on "Receive X-port," selected the desktop for the destination, did the X-port drill on my Newton and successfully transferred the file. So much for bridging the gap between the old and the new. So much for my kludge/stability worries.

So what about the Palm/Palm Desktop thing? Without having a bunch of third party apps and a lot of my own files on the IIIe or PIM stuff in Palm Desktop, I didn't have much to test it with. But I was just in time for AvantGo's new Mac client. So I set up URLs for some of the news-bots for the news page that I do, and a Pocket Album of photos at (which is where my daily news page is). AvantGo is a step by step automated setup on the web. Once I had set Serial>Keyspan USB DB9 in Palm Desktop and hit the HotSynch button on the Palm dock, windows popped open, read off what was networking and then closed.

All I can say is that it all worked without boring workarounds. The HotSynched AvantGo, "AvantWent" and picked up everything I had set up, right along with the rest of the HotSynch operation. But let's be honest: at 160 x 160 and minimal grayscale (or a few hundred colors on the IIIc), the image is just the cool first step for handy, networked pictures. Shortly thereafter, the Serial Port Monitor on my iBook unexpectedly quit but that may have been because I don't actually have a serial port, other than the fine one provided by the Keyspan. No big deal.

Conclusion? If you need it, get one. It works well on the iBook. It probably works fine on any serial-less Mac. For US$39.95 it gives you access to your Palm and surprise access to even an old serial standard like a Newton. -Kenny Mann

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