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Palm Database Programming — The Electronic Version

Chapter 1: Introduction

This material was published in 1999. See the free Palm OS Programming online course I developed for CodeWarriorU for some updated material.

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Why Develop for the Palm Platform?

This book is focused exclusively on handheld devices running the Palm Computing platform. This includes Palm Computing's own connected organizers, such as the PalmPilot Professional and the Palm III, as well as other devices such as IBM's WorkPad and the QUALCOMM pdQ Smartphone digital phone. At the time of writing, the Palm platform had anywhere from a 45 to a 70 percent market share, among personal digital assistants (PDAs), depending on who was doing the surveying and how PDAs were defined. This places the platform ahead of its nearest competitor, Microsoft's Windows CE platform. These numbers are sure to change by the time you read this, but whether you're writing software to sell to others or for use in your own organization, the Palm platform is one of the platforms you should seriously consider targeting.

Eric's Comments: These are old devices, of course  remember, the book was published in late 1999. The company known as Palm, Inc. no longer exists, either, having split into two companies: PalmSource for the operating system and palmOne for the hardware. Because this is a book about programming, you can generally replace references to Palm, Inc. with PalmSource, except when talking about specific devices.

Why is the Palm platform the dominant player in the PDA market? It's successful because Palm Computing focused on the users of the device as opposed to the technology in the device. A Palm device isn't pretentious. It doesn't claim to understand your handwriting  in fact, it forces you to learn its own special character recognition system. Nor does it pretend it's a desktop computer  if you want serious number crunching, do it on a desktop computer and download the results to the handheld device. There are no lengthy boot cycles to worry about  press the power button and it's ready to work. Your valuable data is always safe  it gets backed up every time you synchronize with a desktop computer. Palm Computing made the devices useful right out of the box, and it's sold a lot of them because of that.

Not that the technology in the Palm devices is unimportant. The small form factor of a Palm device makes it possible to hold it with one hand and write on it with another. The low-power circuitry and a well-written operating system make it possible to use a Palm device for weeks without having to change batteries. But the technology is just a way to implement the vision behind the platform.

In fact, there's really nothing new in the operating system that manages the Palm platform. If you've had experience with any operating system that uses an event-driven graphical user interface (GUI)   such as Microsoft Windows, the Macintosh, or X Windows   the Palm platform will seem very familiar. It may also seem quite different. Most of you are probably Microsoft Windows programmers, and there's no denying that making the transition from Win32 programming (Windows 95/98/NT) to Windows CE programming is easier to make than the transition from Win32 programming to Palm programming. Win32 and Windows CE share most of the same concepts, terminology, and development tools. The transition from Win32 to Palm is more work  you must learn a new operating system and a new set of development tools. To some of you, Palm programming will be like returning to the days of Windows 3.1 programming, writing single-threaded, memory-limited, event-driven programs.

If anything can be considered revolutionary on the Palm platform, it's its synchronization capabilities. Synchronizing is more than just backing up data. It's about exchanging data between two applications, one on the device and one on the desktop. The desktop application, called a conduit, can process the data in ways that are not practical on the Palm device. This is why Palm Computing recommends offloading as much processing as possible onto the desktop computer  it keeps the applications on the Palm devices small and responsive. Complex synchronization is not required, however   a default conduit is always available to back up your data if that's all you need.

When it comes right down to it, you choose to develop applications for the Palm platform because Palm Computing's devices are popular. And because they're so cool.

A note about terminology: This book uses the term Palm Computing platform (or sometimes just platform) wherever possible when not dealing with a specific device. In some cases, however, the term Palm or Palm device is used when Palm Computing platform is just too awkward.

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Copyright ©1999 by Eric Giguere. All rights reserved. From Palm Database Programming: The Complete Developer's Guide. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher. Please see the copyright and disclaimer notices for more details.

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