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Palm OS Programming - 2nd Edition Neil Rhodes and Julie McKeehan
Published by O'Reilly
683 pages
£ 28.50
Published: 2nd November 2001
reviewed by Richard Ibbotson
   in the May 2002 issue (pdf), (html)

Why would someone who normally only deals in GPL'd software suddenly show an interest in Palm OS and write a review of a book about its programming methods ? The truth is that there's more GPL'd software out there for the Palm OS than you might think. There are many thousands of people out there using the ubiquitous pocket Palm computers and day by day the number grows and grows. You can do just about anything with them. This includes the production of MS Word or Open Office documents which can be used on cross platform environment desktops or you can send and receive e-mail and if you like to travel you can even use them as GPS electronic compasses complete with street maps or a guide to your local sub tropical forest food supply for survival purposes. I like to read classical literature on my own Handspring and I can do that at 30 000 feet on a 747 or on top of a hill in Derbyshire or the Lake District.

The first part of the book goes into how the Palm platform came about and why it became a success in spite of the fact that it's based on slow processors in a day and age when speed and large amounts of memory are seen more as a way of doing things rather than the political statement that Intel and AMD represent. The words ``Works great and is simple to use'' are used at page twelve and this admirably sums up the Palm design philosophy . Part two or the second chapter goes into a technical overview and explains some simple ideas about conduits. This is probably very helpful to someone like myself who knows nothing about Palm programming methods or ideals. Designing a solution at page forty-one goes into Palm GUI design at the most basic level. Black and White text based GUIs of the sort that command line system administrators find to be the most useful. In fact, you can run your Solaris or GNU/Linux or BSD system remotely using a Palm machine. It can save a lot of travel. At page 103 the meat of the book begins with how to design a Palm application. Chapter four is quite simply called ``Tutorial'' and it's not really much more than that. The Palm OS Emulator is discussed and how to get hold of it and install it into your GNU/Linux workstation or notebook. Code Warrior is introduced which is essential because most Palm OS development takes place with Code Warrior. Maybe someone out there should start something with Emacs for Palm OS ? Chapter five comes around and the structure of an application is introduced and explained so that even I can understand it. PilotMain would seem to the the function that we have to begin to understand before we start with anything else. Other basic routines of the main event loop are explained and then some more advanced examples are given so that the reader can try them out for themselves. The memory manager is discussed at some length at chapter six. Debugging applications is at chapter seven. This is where you begin to get that all too familiar feeling that perhaps the programming language that you have decided to learn isn't as good as you at first thought it was. Resources and forms are discussed at chapter eight. Form objects at chapter nine gives some more useful programming examples that are not otherwise available unless you pay for them. Remember, this isn't GNU/Linux that we are talking about here and so you do have to pay for everything. Chapter nine drags on quite a bit and so you do get some helpful info. Databases are an important part of the world of information technology and the discussion of how these are a part of Palm OS begins at page 320. Plenty of help for someone who wants to program Palm. That all important part of the present day operating system - the menu interface - is introduced at chapter eleven. Some nice graphics and a pleasant change from all those opened and closed braces and event handlers. How to program the extras is explained at chapter twelve. Things like the find application for example. Communications are discussed at chapter thirteen. Such as GPS and TCP/IP which are more or less essential rather than a luxury. Getting started with conduits is at chapter fourteen. This is a mix of graphical help and more examples of where to put your braces. Moving data to and from your handheld with a conduit is the subject of the next to last chapter and the final chapter explains two way syncing. Appendix A gives you sources of info on the net which are not always as easy to find with a search engine as some people might try to suggest. The other appendices are just as useful. If you are someone who knows nothing about programming Palm and you would like a simple introduction then this book is probably for you.

To finish off I'll quote the colophon which can be found at the back of every O'Reilly book.

``The bird on the cover of Palm OS Programming is a rock dove. There are 14 sub species of rock dove, including the domestic pigeon. These birds are widely distributed throughout the world. In their native environment, rock doves live on rocky cliffs, building their nests in crevices and caves.'' O'Reilly like to produce distinctive covers for their books which complement their distinctive approach to technical subjects thus breathing new life and and personality into potentially dry subjects.

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