Do you have an older Palm and heave a deep sigh when you hear about all the wonderful things that people do with their wireless Palm VIIs? Well, your dreams of glory are about to come true. It's not only possible to take your Palm wireless without spending an arm and a leg on new hardware, but you might even be able to do it free, or close to it.
Secret #1: The MIK
Palm made this all possible last year when they released their Mobile Internet Kit, also known as the MIK. The MIK is a complete software package that does several things. It upgrades your PalmOS to the 3.5 version; installs the software libraries necessary to support Palm's low-data-throughput wireless Web Clipping Applications; and includes some other software without which your wireless life wouldn't be complete, such as email and WAP browser programs. How much does all this cost? Just US$40.
Secret #2: Use Your Cell Phone
The whole trick to "cheap wireless" is simply using your digital cellular phone as a way of hooking to the Internet. I did this years ago with a classic Motorola "flip phone," but that was analog, so I needed a modem, the phone, and an interface box to fool the modem into thinking it was on a regular phone line. It was portable, but it took quite a while to find all the bits and plug them together.
These days, generally all you need is the right cable, because most digital cell phones can send and receive data on their own (you'll have to find out whether yours can). You don't even need a phone with a browser: trust me, after trying a 4-line WAP browser, even an older Palm screen will look like a 19 inch flat screen monitor by compaison! And I don't suggest you run out and get a new model phone just because you heard it can "beam" data to a Palm via the infrared link, because then you'll have to keep them aimed at each other while you're working.
Aside from the phone's special data cable (generally intended for laptop use), all the hardware you need is a spare HotSync cable, plus a 9-pin null modem adapter to fool the two cables into talking with each other. I got the adapter and data cable in a kit for my Qualcomm 860 from Verizon Wireless for US$29.95.
There are also special cables available that go directly between the Palm and the cell phone, but the advantage of getting the normal data cable is that you can then use it to hook your notebook computer to your cell phone as well.
The economics of the cell method are extremely compelling. With many cellular service plans, you get a huge or even unlimited number of evening and weekend minutes. Those are often the times when many people are away from their homes or offices without their computers, and when the ability to hook in to the Net can be extremely useful. And how many people, unless they really need it for business, can afford the US$45 per month unlimited fee for wireless access on a Palm VII on top of their cell phone monthly plan?
Naturally, this is all based on finding a carrier that doesn't charge extra for using data. The ones that do that are clearly out to pick your pocket, since voice is already carried as data and takes up more bandwidth besides!
How To Do It
First, go to Preferences and set up a new Connection, which you can call Wireless. Your cellular company may have its own instructions for this, but generally you want a serial connection to PC, 19200 bps and automatic flow control.
Then go back to the Preferences menu and set up a new Network, which you can also call Wireless, again following the instructions of your cellular carrier for login, TCP/IP, and script entries. The tip here is to make sure that the Wireless Network entry always uses the Wireless Connection that you set up previously.
Setting Up the MIK
If you have an older Palm, use the upgrade tool in the MIK to reflash it to Palm OS 3.5. Then, go to the Palm.com site and install the latest update past that (at this writing, it's 3.5.3). Your Palm will reset itself again.
Once those are done, you're ready for the "full monty." At a minimum, install the MIK itself, which consists of eight files, and a couple of Web Clipping Applications (which are more commonly called PQAs-standing for Palm Query Applications). Your Palm will reset itself one last time, and then you're ready to go.
You may be wondering where all your new PQAs are, though. They automatically get loaded into a new category in your launcher, called Palm.Net. Open that up, pick an application, and click on it.
When you hit the little "transmit" icon, the Palm will automatically dial into your ISP (or perhaps to the cellular carrier itself) and open up a network connection. The PQA will send data back and forth, and soon you'll be having a great time. You can switch from one PQA to another, like any other application, except that PQAs always restart themselves at the beginning.
The network connection will stay up until you either close it manually ("Disconnect" from the menu of any PQA or the Prefs/Network screen), or the cell connection drops, which happens less often than you might think. But disconnecting the network connection will likely not hang up your cell phone, so don't forget to press the "End" key on your cell phone when you're done. And even though this will work well from a moving vehicle, please don't try any of this while you're driving!
You Don't Even Need the MIK
If you insist on doing this as cheaply as possible, you can skip Web Clipping and the MIK and simply use the Wireless network you set up in "How To Do It" above. Surprise: any Palm with an OS of 3.0 version or over already supports this, and then you can use "normal" Palm-based Internet applications like Eudora Internet Suite (a free email program and web browser), Blazer, or PalmScape wirelessly.
David Fiedler has been covering high technology for more than 20 years and currently uses NetManiac.com as his virtual base of operations.
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