Many techs carry Palm Pilots or other personal digital assistants (PDAs) but use only the standard pre-installed programs (Date Book, Address Book, etc.).

Few realize a PDA can be used as a portable knowledge base or document repository. Mobile IT support professionals are often away from their desks and their manuals, books, the Internet, and other reference resources. Wouldn’t it be nice to have this information in the palm of your hand? This article will show you how to create your own mobile reference library on a PDA.

Memory considerations
Remember, not all PDAs are created equally, and various models have different amounts of memory and other factors that limit the size and number of documents you can store on your PDA. A single 360-page Adobe PDF file will take up 527 KB when converted to iSilo format.

Palm Pilot document formats
Memo Pad on the Palm Pilot can be useful for some documents. Unfortunately, it has a built-in limit of only 4,000 characters and lacks sophisticated formatting tools. A better alternative is to use document converters that can create large documents that retain complex formatting, indexing, and other functions. The use of such converters allows you to alter the format of existing documents (text, MS-Word, Excel, Adobe PDF, HTML Web page, and others) into a format that can be read on a PDA.

Download our UNIX AWK cheat sheets formatted for the Palm

We’ve taken our popular UNIX AWK cheat sheets and converted them to PDB format. You’ll need a reader to view the document on your Palm handheld and a PC file unzip utility to extract the document from the download ZIP. Click here to download this handy, and now mobile, UNIX resource.

A document reader is required to view Palm-formatted documents. While documents can be installed on a Palm without a reader, they cannot be viewed.

One of the more commonly used document formats is the DOC format, or AportisDoc File Format, with a .pdb extension to the file name. DOC is a compressed binary format supported by many document readers.

Creating and formatting Palm documents
When converting documents to the Palm Pilot format, remember the Palm’s small screen and pay special attention to the document’s formatting.Palm Pilots have only 160 x 160 pixels (6 cm, or just over 2 � inches square).

Some document converters work only on text files; others convert Word documents, Adobe PDF files, and HTML files. While many conversions will reproduce the original text, the resulting document may be difficult to use if not formatted properly. Simple paragraphs will usually convert nicely into Palm format, but more complex structures, such as tables and spreadsheets, require a little planning.

In general, Word tables should be removed and the various cells in the table placed on separate lines. It may be necessary to add headings or comments, using indentation with tabs or bullets to clearly distinguish between the various fields in a table. Images are not generally supported in DOC format but are supported in some of the proprietary formats, such as those provided by iSilo and Mobipocket.

Many document readers support indexing, while others only provide a facility to jump to a relative location in the document. If the reader you choose supports indexing, a common method is to choose a sequence of characters to indicate an index item. Each item to appear in the index is prefixed with that sequence of characters. The last line in the document is preceded by one or more blank lines separating it from the document with the delimiter enclosed in angle brackets.

Figure A shows the Word version of the AWK cheat sheets mentioned earlier, and Figure B shows the reformatted document.
Figure A

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Previo provides automated eSupport solutions that assist help desk and desktop services in quickly and easily resolving end-user computing problems.

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AWK cheat sheet Word document (borders turned on to show table layout)

Figure B
AWK cheat sheet reformatted prior to saving to Palm DOC format

Document readers and converters
A number of document converters and readers exist, including freeware, shareware, and commercial. Freeware programs are usually as good as their commercial counterparts, and many readers include free document conversion tools.

Many converters only create Palm documents, but others allow you to export Palm documents back into MS Word or other text format for further editing. Many converters feature a GUI environment, some are text based, and some attach themselves to MS Word providing save and read formats directly from within Word. Most of the converters are available for Windows, but some also support Linux and Apple Macintosh. Readers are generally easy to install and use.

Some good shareware converters I have found are PalmDocs (an MS Word plug-in shown in Figure C) and BigDOC (see Figure D).

Figure C
PalmDocsWord plug-in creating a DOC file

Figure D
BigDOCconverter creating a DOC file.

MakeDocW, a free text to DOC converter is also very good. ISiloWeb, shown in Figure E, converts Web pages into the proprietary iSilo format, and Mobipocket Personal Publisher creates Mobipocket proprietary format documents. Not many readers support images, but iSilo, Mobipocket, and TealDoc do.

Figure E
iSiloWeb converter about to download a Web page

Copyright issues

Always honor copyright issues when taking information from other sources. Ask permission to use copyrighted works, and with noncopyrighted works, give credit where due, as a courtesy to the document creator.

More information: E-Book libraries and download sites
Many organizations that produce document converters and/or readers also have libraries with thousands of already-converted novels, reference books, and other texts for download. Some books carry a small price tag, but most are available at no cost.

Palm readers and converters on the Web
The following is a list of Web sites for Palm document converters/readers. This list is by no means comprehensive, and the presence or absence of an application from this list should not be considered an endorsement.

  • AportisDoc—Reader, converter (uses MakeDocW and AportisPDF converter), large library
  • DataViz Documents To Go—Converter and viewer programs for both MS Word and Excel
  • Project Gutenberg—A large library
  • ISilo—Reader, HTML document converter
  • MakeDocW—Document converter
  • MemoWare—Another large document library
  • Mobipocket—Reader (allows images), converter, large library
  • TealDoc, TealAgent—DOC format reader, allows embedded images, converter
  • TomeRaider—Document reader
  • WordSmith—Palm based MS Word and Palm Memo Pad compatible word processor, syncs MS Word documents on both PC and Palm Pilot

Other readers, such as Smoothy, cSpotRun, and the PalmDoc reader can be found on many Web sites, including:

Freewarepalm, Tucows,, PalmPilotArchives, and ZDNet. For a review of several readers, see The Gadgeteer.

Share your PDA tips and tricks

Post a comment and share your handy PDA tips and tricks or write to Allan Marillier and let him know what you think of this article.