Hack your Pilot legally

Out of the box, the Palm Pilot is a handy device. But the operating system lacks several niceties. Fortunately, HackMaster lets you extend the Palm OS with the help of tiny apps that are called Hacks.

There’s no such thing as perfection; as nice as the Palm OS is, it’s still no different from Windows, Linux, or any other OS in that regard. Fortunately, in 1996, Edward Keyes took the Palm OS a huge step closer to perfection by making his shareware HackMaster program available.

What is HackMaster?
HackMaster manages system patches, which are tiny third-party applications that enhance your Pilot’s abilities. It’s a testament to Keyes’ programming ability that so many patches (also known as Hacks) have been written with his open-source solution. Today, the HackMaster program remains the same as when it was released—version 0.9 (though I’ve read that version 2.0 is in beta testing). It doesn’t matter that the three-and-a-half-year-old program is ancient in computing years. Just get it as soon as you can from Daggerware. It will be the best $5.00 you ever spend.

Easy installation
HackMaster installs like any other Pilot program. Download the .prc file and use Palm’s Install tool to load it during the next HotSync. Once it’s installed, you can tap the HackMaster icon to start the program. You’ll need some Hacks before your Pilot is ready to break the sound barrier, though. HackMaster is like a jet engine; it will make your Palm Pilot fly, but it needs some jet fuel first.

Make your Pilot go supersonic
Your biggest problem will involve choosing from among the hundreds of Hacks that have been written. PalmGear H.Q. is one good place to start. It lists 181 Hacks in its HackMaster category. Like many Pilot diehards, I’ve developed my own list of must-haves. Figure A shows the Hacks that I’m currently using. And here’s a list of my top five favorite Hacks (in ascending order):

5. MenuHack: This Hack lets me open an application’s menu by tapping on its title bar.

4. CaseToggleHack: This Hack lets me tap the word in order to capitalize the first letter or to make all of its letters lower case or upper case.

3. ClipHack: This Hack allows me to copy and paste chunks of text that are larger than the clipboard’s usual size limit of about 150 words.

2. ClearHack: It removes the underlines that you see in multiline fields, such as those in MemoPad.

All of these Hacks are great, but my all-time favorite Hack—one that truly demonstrates how HackMaster has improved the OS—is the following:

1. FindHack: For some inexplicable reason, the Pilot’s native Find feature can’t search for part of a word. Thus, searching for Mik won’t find Mike. FindHack fixes this oversight. It also provides the ability to use wildcards.

Figure A
Here are the Hacks that Mike’s currently using.

Using Hacks
Hacks are installed just like any other Pilot program. Once installed, however, they don’t appear in your list of applications. Instead, Hacks are listed when you run the HackMaster program. Activate a Hack by tapping the checkbox that appears to the left of its name. Deactivate it by tapping the box and removing the checkmark. To read about a Hack, tap the question mark to the right of its name. For more information, tap the lower-case i (if there is one) on the right-hand side of the About dialog box. Finally, to set a Hack’s options, tap the plus sign. (Of course, not all Hacks have options that can be set.)

One nice feature about HackMaster is that, after a soft reset of your Pilot, it asks if you want to reinstall all of your current Hacks, as shown in Figure B. Choosing Cancel will leave them uninstalled. This feature aids in troubleshooting the conflicts that might have caused the need for a soft reset in the first place.

Figure B
After a soft reset, you can reinstall or disable all of your application extensions.

Fly safely
Why would you want to deactivate a Hack? Since more than five versions of the Palm OS currently exist on various Pilot flavors (including new machines from Handspring and TRGpro) and since many applications use custom programming to tweak the OS, conflicts will occur. For example, I recently moved SwitchHack from my old Palm Pilot Professional to a Pilot III device from TRGpro, which I’m evaluating. When I first used SwitchHack, it crashed the Pilot III and messed up the video. Downloading an update that was compatible with OS version 3.3 solved the problem.

If you have to reset your Pilot, if the screen graphics don’t look right, or if you get a fatal error, then you should disable your application extensions and reactivate them individually until you find the conflict. Then, visit that Hack’s Web site to see if there’s a new version that’s available. As with any other program, updates come online constantly, and a newer version often will fix the bug. By the way, it’s always a good idea to HotSync all of your data before you try a new Hack. To make sure that you’ve backed up everything, install a program like Backup Bitster.

Mike Jackman is an editor in chief of TechProGuild and an editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional. He also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. In his spare time (when he can find some), he’s an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, a parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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