Syncing your palm with Linux is easier than you think. On August 22nd Linux guru Jack Wallen explained how.If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Syncing your palm with Linux is easier than you think. On August 22nd Linux guru Jack Wallen explained how. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Tonight’s Guild Meeting on syncing your palm with Linux
MODERATOR: Good evening everyone! Welcome to tonight’s Guild Meeting! TechRepublic’s own Linux guru, Jack Wallen, Jr., is here to discuss everything you’ve ever wanted to know about syncing your palmtop with Linux.

JACK WALLEN: Hey everyone! I’m so glad to be here, especially after last week’s amazing LinuxWorld expo! I’m going to hit a couple of things that caught my attention relating to tonight’s topic and then later I’ll answer any questions about the expo and where Linux is going!

JIM-MCINTYRE: Sounds like you enjoyed the expo.

JACK WALLEN: Yes, what I thought was going to be a nightmare turned out to be a fairly painless and rewarding experience.

Obviously we have a topic for tonight, and it’s one that was recently very close to my heart. A month or so ago I finished drafting a three-part series on syncing your pilot with Linux. Before I begin talking about tonight’s topic, however, I’d like to find out if anyone has any questions about Linux and palmtop computing. Anyone? No one? Well then I suppose I can keep my big mouth flappin’. I’ll keep asking for questions as we go along though. Now where was I? Oh yes, palmtop computing and Linux. For the majority of this evening I’ll be speaking about the Palm Pilot. Once we are finished with that topic, we’ll then move on to something much more exciting–a palmtop device that runs LINUX!

Let’s get in sync
JACK WALLEN: Syncing the palm pilot with Linux is amazingly easy. There are three main methods–or schools of thought if you will–to do so: the GNOME way, the KDE way, and the console way. There are other tools like Jpilot that allow for syncing, but I’d rather stick with the main environments.

Has anyone ever tried to sync a pilot with Linux? If so, what kinds of problems did you have?

NICKCM97: I’ve never tried. Are there common problems one can expect?

TLSNC: I haven’t tried either.

JIM-MCINTYRE: I’ve never tried.

JACK WALLEN: OK, the first step is to create a link between the actual port the device (the cradle) is connected to and the virtual link within the system. Typically the cradles are connected via a serial port, which will usually be named in the range of ttyS*, where * is the number of the serial port. Let’s say the serial port you are using is the first port. This would be…anyone want to guess?


TLSNC: ttys1 or ttys01

JACK WALLEN: The answer is ttyS0. OK, another question: Does anyone know why it’s ttyS0 and not ttyS1?

JIM-MCINTYRE: The numbering system starts at zero, not one.

TLSNC: Well, everything in UNIX starts with zero, so I would expect the same for Linux.

JACK WALLEN: Yes, it’s basically because programmers, in their infinite wisdom, begin counting at zero and not one.

Anyway, you need to create this link between /dev/ttyS0 and /dev/pilot. You do that with this command: ln /dev/ttyS0 /dev/pilot. Now with some of the environments (GNOME for example) you can connect your pilot directly to /dev/ttyS0, but it’s best for continuity. So you have your link created, which you had to do as root. Now you have to make sure that users have read and write permissions to this link. You can do that with the following (as root): chmod u+wr /dev/pilot. At this point, your link is created and has the correct permissions. Once you have that link set up, you are good to go with any of the environments.

Syncing up with WinCE
MARTINCHURCH: I know everyone’s favorite PDA is the Palm but will this also hold true for those of us running WinCE?

JACK WALLEN: As far as Wince is concerned, there’s been very little support on the Linux platform. I think you can understand why. That’s not to say it’s not been done, and that it can’t be done. Do you know if the WinCE device reads and writes in the PDA format or if it can read/write in ASCII? If so, then it should work just fine.

MARTINCHURCH: I believe it will read ASCII. But will this same information hold true, such as connecting directly using /dev/ttyS0?

JACK WALLEN: Yes. You make that link, and it will “see” that device. Creating that link only tells the system that “there is something now connected on the first serial port and is linked to /dev/pilot.” It has nothing to do with what type of device you are using. That’s not to say that every device will, in fact, be detected, but it can now at least try. Make sense?


TLSNC: So far so good.

JECASSERLY: Yes, no problem.

Evaluating the different applications
JACK WALLEN: I’ll say right off the bat that the GNOME application, Gpilot, is by far the best. Although the KDE has a nice interface, it’s not nearly as flexible.

TLSNC: So what is the distinction between them?


JACK WALLEN: The biggest distinction between the Kpilot, Gpilot, and console pilot is flexibility.


JACK WALLEN: I’m sure you’re all aware of the various utilities the Pilot has to offer. Well, with KDE you are pretty much limited to syncing your address book, your calendar, and your memos. That’s it. With Gpilot (the GNOME version), you can sync every one of them.

MARTINCHURCH: Tell me; I am still learning about the utilities.

JACK WALLEN: With the Pilot you have the following tools: address book, date book, memo pad, to-do list, expense, e-mail, and various other utilities you can download, but those are the basics. With Gpilot, all of them are sync’d and backed up.

JECASSERLY: The to-do list is very important, as is e-mail.

JACK WALLEN: With Kpilot, you lose all but the three I mentioned earlier. The only plus you get with Kpilot is that it syncs with the Korganizer, which is a major application.

If you have a distribution that has both installed you can use gpilot while using KDE.

JIM-MCINTYRE: KDE is good, but GNOME is getting a lot more attention from developers.

JACK WALLEN: In fact, I’d say that GNOME is the best desktop I’ve ever used. Not only that but GNOME is far more flexible.

JECASSERLY: Is the Gnome perfected or is it beta?

JACK WALLEN: Gnome is far from beta.

JIM-MCINTYRE: Feature-for-feature, I think you’ll find that GNOME is far more mature than KDE.

TLSNC: So am I understanding correctly that Gpilot is an interface for the pilot? Is it used with other PDAs also?

JACK WALLEN: Yes, Gpilot is the best Linux environment for the pilot.

Evolutionary support
JACK WALLEN: With the GNOME environment, you will have the benefit of Evolution supporting the Pilot. Evolution is Linux’s equivalent to Outlook.

TLSNC: Heavens, I hope it doesn’t follow Outlook too closely.

JACK WALLEN: Not too closely, because it runs well.

JECASSERLY: I’m still learning what is Evolution?

JACK WALLEN: Evolution is a software suite developed by helix-code found at that is a groupware suite of applications.

TLSNC: What else is in the group?

JACK WALLEN: It will have e-mail, calendaring, contacts, pilot support, and I’m not sure what else. The main features are those I just listed. It’s really amazing, and it looks a lot like Outlook so people will be familiar.

JIM-MCINTYRE: Jack, how long does a typical sync take to complete?

JACK WALLEN: The time required for a typical sync will depend on how much data you have to sync, naturally. The last time I sync’d my pilot (with Gpilot) I was not only sync’ing my data but backing up expenses, four utilities, and the first chapter of Dracula, and it took about 30 seconds. So it’s pretty swift.

Transferring documents
MARTINCHURCH: Can you use it to also transfer spreadsheets and word processing?

JACK WALLEN: If you have the apps installed on your pilot, then, yes, you can transfer spreadsheets and word processing. With Gpilot everything backs up to the MyPilot directory in your user directory, so the explicit path is /home/USER/MyPilot, where USER is your username.

JACK WALLEN: Gpilot has a small “dockable” app called gpilotd. This is the daemon that runs in the background that picks up the signal from the cradle. As long as you have gpilotd in your panel when you hit the hot sync button, the syncing will commence! When you do launch the sync, a new window will appear showing your progress. Eventually the GNOME calendar will appear, and you’ll be finished.

To get the gpilotd docked into your panel, all you have to do is right-click the panel, go to panel|applets|utilities, and then choose PilotSync. A small yin-yang will show up in your pilot. This will start out red but will eventually turn white. When you are syncing, the yin-yang is green. You can also choose a number of options if you right-click the yin-yang.

Also within the GNOME configuration tool, there are all the settings for the Pilot, so you can see how well GNOME is in support of the palmtop computing.

Ease of use
MARTINCHURCH: Is it easy enough for sixth graders to learn or is there a large learning curve?

JACK WALLEN: Is Gpilot easy enough? Or are you referring to Evolution? I’d say both could easily be picked up by sixth graders. I’m not joking either. They are both very well done.

JECASSERLY: I believe you’re correct. Six graders could handle this.

The pros and cons of the console method
TLSNC: You mentioned the console method earlier. What do we lose or gain using it?

JACK WALLEN: The main thing you lose with console is the ease of use. With console, you’re typing commands instead of pointing and clicking. You can back up pretty much everything from console, but you do have to download and install the application. The application is called pilot-link.

JECASSERLY: Is that difficult?

JACK WALLEN: You can get pilot-link from I believe you can get it in either source or rpm binary – so it’s really easy to install.

Now with the console syncing, you actually get more flexibility. There is so much you can do with console. Unfortunately most people would rather open up the GNOME file manager and drag a new application’s icon into the gpilotd icon to install instead of having to type out pilot-sync -i /path/to/app

JIM-MCINTYRE: This command will install helix-gnome over the Net for you. As root, run lynx -source | sh.

The benefits of GNOME
TLSNC: Is GNOME only for Palmtops?

JECASSERLY: Isn’t that for desktops too?

JACK WALLEN: No, GNOME is a desktop environment. GNOME is one of the most flexible desktop environments ever created for the PC (in my humble opinion that is).

You don’t have GNOME on your pilot actually. That’s the beauty of it. You have to have GNOME only on your desktop. The pilot works well with any of the Linux environments, because there are so many solutions to this one problem. As far as I’m concerned, the new user would be best to go with GNOME because it offers: 1) ease of use and 2) all the functionality offered in the Windows environment. You don’t lose anything with GNOME.

New Linux products
JIM-MCINTYRE: Jack, I’m very interested in how Linux runs on PDA’s. What can you tell us?

JACK WALLEN: I was just getting ready for that Jim-mcintyre! While I was at the LinuxWorld Expo in San Jose, I had the privilege of seeing the press announcement of the Agenda VR3. This is a palm top device, much like the Pilot or the WinCE, that runs–you guessed it–Linux. Now if you’ve not grasped the depth of that statement, think about this: With the Agenda VR3 you don’t just have a PDA, you have a tiny computer running the 2.4 kernel, XFree86 4.0, Bash (and all its commands), the entire TCP/IP stack, and a 66 Mhz MIPS processor.

TLSNC: Now, there is something new and exciting to think about.

JACK WALLEN: You can use this baby as s server or you can telnet into it.

TLSNC: When do you get to evaluate it?

JACK WALLEN: It is to be released in October! You can go to and reserve one.

JIM-MCINTYRE: What does it cost?

JACK WALLEN: You won’t believe it…$149.00! And it can be used as a server! It will come with keyboards and all the normal accessories. It will also do handwriting recognition, and it will have commercial-grade infrared, so you’ll be able to use it as a remote!

JECASSERLY: It can be like a remote cluster.

JIM-MCINTYRE: How big is it?

JACK WALLEN: It’s the same size as a pilot, but actually much prettier. It’s got the iMac style colors and a cover that swings over to keep the screen protected.

TLSNC: What utilities come with it?

JACK WALLEN: It will have all the standard utilities and will come with software to sync with both Linux and Windows. Oh, one tiny detail: the entire software will be GPL’d! You’ll be able to get the new LinuxVR OS and do with it what you want.

JIM-MCINTYRE: I like the idea of having the kernel available in hand-held units. It adds a lot of stability.

JACK WALLEN: Yes, it does.

JECASSERLY: Yes, it would be great for realtors, salesmen, contractors, etc.

JACK WALLEN: By the way, the kernel will run on ROM. They benchmarked it, and it runs faster.

JIM-MCINTYRE: Are they loading the new kernel-based Web server?

JACK WALLEN: I don’t believe so. They want to keep the kernel pretty trim.

Simply because, as is, it will eat up a bit over a meg of your disk space.

They also plan a VR3+ and a VR5. The + adds more memory and the 5 is simply sharp! You can get the specs from their site.

JIM-MCINTYRE: How much disk space is available with the first units?

JACK WALLEN: The first units will come with 8MB of disk space I believe.

JECASSERLY: So my college student will be able to communicate with ease.


JIM-MCINTYRE: Did you see any of the new microdrives at LinuxWorld?

JACK WALLEN: No one was showing the micro drives, but I did get to hear, first hand, the announcement of the IBM-SuSE partnership! I also had the opportunity to met Linus himself and spoke with those great guys at MandrakeSoft.

JIM-MCINTYRE: Too bad. This kind of technology is making the PC look like a dinosaur.

TLSNC: What other goodies did you like at LinuxWorld?

JACK WALLEN: The VR3 was the highlight for me, but if you could have seen all the clusters!

JECASSERLY: That is the key, the simple answer, clusters.

JACK WALLEN: The major focus was the Enterprise level, so you can imagine how hard they were hitting groupware (Lotus was there) and clustering (Compaq, IBM, HP)

JIM-MCINTYRE: I think it is just a matter of time before Linux is the primary networking OS.

JACK WALLEN: A new company had Linux routers. Eazel was a major player. There was talk about helix-code. Of course, RedHat was there.

Michael Dell even gave the keynote address! He really stressed how Dell was now supporting Linux. In fact, all the major manufacturers are supporting Linux.

IBM is now offering Linux on every single one of their devices in the European market! That means from the ThinkPads to the AS6000!

JECASSERLY: This is exciting.

Dominant Linux vendors
JIM-MCINTYRE: Any hunch as to who will be the dominant Linux vendors?

JECASSERLY: Corel, Dell, or IBM.

JACK WALLEN: I’m afraid Corel has made too many mistakes to even be considered.


JACK WALLEN: I think it’s pretty obvious that RedHat will be the major player, followed by SuSE, Mandrake, and then Caldera.

JECASSERLY: That is so good for North Carolina.

JIM-MCINTYRE: Apparently, Mandrake has a slight lead over RedHat for market share. Everyone coming out with a new distro is basing it on RedHat.

JACK WALLEN: Mandrake is blowing everyone away in the downloads. The big issue with Mandrake is the LSB (Linux Standard Base); they have a habit of not following it.

JECASSERLY: Isn’t it the same language?

JACK WALLEN: All the distros are trying to come to a “standard.” It’s the same language, but you have to understand that putting all that together are many things, one of which is the installation package. If you’ve ever tried to install a Mandrake RPM on another system, you know that it won’t work. If you see mdk in the filename it’s a Mandrake RPM.

TLSNC: Talks to standardize have been going on forever though haven’t they?

JACK WALLEN: Yes, it’s been going on for a while, but most of the distros have started drawing conclusions. They just need everyone to follow.

Wrapping it up
MODERATOR: Great chat tonight, everyone!

JACK WALLEN: If anyone has any questions for me, please feel free to send them to Please don’t hesitate! I love to help with Linux.

I hope someone learned something tonight. Look for my three-part series on syncing your pilot with Linux coming up soon!

JECASSERLY: By the way, I tried to install penguin on my Compac, and it would not accept it.

JACK WALLEN: Jecasserly, can you e-mail me about this? We’ll see what we can do to get you up and running. Remember, it’s

JECASSERLY: Thank you. I really believe in Linux.

JACK WALLEN: You’re welcome. I do too. I’ve been using it for about five years now, and I’ve seen such tremendous growth!

Anyway, I hope you all had a good time tonight.

Please check your schedules and come back to chat again. Take care everyone. Remember Linux is here to stay!

MODERATOR: Good night everyone! Thanks for stopping by!
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