Mobility

Development in the palm of your hand, part 2

Can't find the Palm applications you need? Maybe building them yourself is the answer! James McPherson continues his look at Palm development tools in this week's TechCetera.


My last TechCetera served a jolt of Java to help jumpstart your Palm or handheld development efforts. I, for one, normally need small programs capable of performing a single task quickly and easily.

I’ve become quite fond of scripting languages for their flexibility and low programming overhead on Web servers and database systems. I’m happy to report that similarly effective scripting languages also abound for handheld device programming.

SmallBasic
At a price that’s hard to beat, SmallBasic is an excellent tool to begin programming with. It offers full support for color PalmOS devices, sound controls, and both pen and Graffiti input. A SmallBasic interpreter for both Windows and Linux is also available.

There are limits to SmallBasic. It’s difficult to save and import large scripts using SmallBasic, as the interpreter cannot access data directly in the Memo Pad, thereby requiring tedious cutting-and-pasting to get data into the basic editor. One workaround, if you have a file management program, is to rename a document file as a .bas file on your Palm and work with it that way.

HotPaw Basic
  • ·        Publisher: HotPaw
  • ·        License: Demo
  • ·        Expires: 30 days (after which it will only run four scripts)
  • ·        Price: $20.00
  • ·        URL: http://www.hotpaw.com/rhn/hotpaw/

HotPaw has essentially all the features of SmallBasic, along with several desirable extras for your money. First and foremost is its ability to interact with other PalmOS databases, such as JFile and HanDBase. Support for these other databases gives HotPaw a distinctive advantage, given the number of available databases and database users.

HotPaw supports color displays and serial and IR interfaces. It even works with some PalmOS barcode readers. Writing scripts is easy with HotPaw. It reads .doc files and can directly access the PalmOS Memo Pad to execute scripts.

NS Basic
  • ·        Publisher: NS Basic Corporation
  • ·        License: Commercial
  • ·        Price: $99.95
  • ·        URL: http://www.nsbasic.com

NS Basic is something of a “super” Basic. This commercial package is a Basic integrated development environment (IDE) that’s fully capable of creating saleable compiled products. The desktop application is a user-friendly visual environment that readily generates pull-down and scrolling menus, pop-up boxes, graphics, and data input fields. It is, by design, similar to Visual Basic.

Furthermore, rather than use an interpreter to execute Basic scripts, it includes a runtime utility that executes the Basic applet much like a Java Virtual Machine executes Java applets. The runtime is freely available, allowing you to distribute your Basic applets in a compiled state commercially.

The $99.95 cost also includes a printed 150-page reference manual, a rarity in the digital age.

LispMe
  • ·        Publisher: Fred Bayers
  • ·        License: Shareware
  • ·        Expires: Never
  • ·        Price: $10.00
  • ·        URL: http://www.lispme.de/lispme

LispMe is a Scheme compiler and runtime utility. Engineers and other longtime CAD users will be comfortable using Scheme to hash out complex math functions, but it also provides an impressively wide array of more traditional programming tools.

User interface utilities, including buttons, check boxes, pop ups, pushbuttons, lists, menus, scrollbars, and images, are available. External support includes the ability to access HanDBase files and import scripts from .doc-formatted files and from Memo Pad.

Pippy (Python for the Palm)
  • ·        Publisher: Endeavors Technology, Inc.
  • ·        License: Freeware
  • ·        Price: Free
  • ·        URL: http://www.endeavors.com/pippy

While Python has been a favorite language for many Web developers for some time, it is fairly new to the handheld world. Still in beta release, the capabilities of Python on Palm are still evolving. Math libraries are very limited, and you must be careful not to exceed the rather limited memory stack on the PalmOS.

Given the robust nature of Python, it would be surprising if there weren’t limitations. The Pippy application provides plenty of user-friendliness, despite the incomplete implementation. Drop-down windows in the script editor provide the ability to quickly insert functions or reserved words into your modules, making Pippy a stronger development tool.

That’s a wrap
I hope you enjoy being the director for your own Palm scripts. They are handy little tools for completing jobs quickly.

If you have a bigger job that requires squeezing every last iota of performance from the PalmOS, you’ll want to check out next week’s TechCetera. It will describe your options when it comes to that workhorse programming favorite of UNIX gurus everywhere: C.

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