December 19, 2000, 2:58 PM — Attack of the 50-foot Palm Pilot! OK, so those cute little PDAs aren't that scary. But trying to manage them centrally can seem like facing down Mothra or Godzilla.
PDAs are moving into the enterprise as serious business tools. They can carry quotes, price lists, order forms, or even be a reference library, just to name a few applications. Keeping the data and programs current is your quest.
We tested two applications from TRG Products that try to meet these goals for Palm OS-compatible PDAs. ImagePro Deployment Manager allows central IT staff to create custom images of a PDA, either as a means of backup, or to easily roll out new releases of company software tools. The second application, InstallPro Application Guard, lets you deploy a single application to a range of devices.
It takes a little experience to build images that suit your organization. But once you get the hang of it, ImagePro can save you a lot of time, especially if you need to roll out many devices of the same type and configuration. For developers who don't want to worry if someone installs their application correctly, InstallPro can be just what the doctor ordered. The more complex your application, the more you may want to give InstallPro a good look.
Image is everything
Most large IT shops use some form of imaging software, such as Norton's Ghost or PowerQuest's Drive Image Pro, for desktop computers, especially on initial deployment. TRG has applied this same principle to Palm OS devices. An image can be created that contains all of the applications that users may need. Separate images can be created for sales and engineering departments based on their needs. In addition, if you don't want to include the Graffiti tutorial or other applications, you could exclude them as you build your custom images.
Each image is also specific to the hardware and memory size of the PDA. Even if the applications are the same, you'll need a separate image for a Palm IIIx, a TRGPro and an IBM WorkPad, for example.
Another interesting area is where you can store the applications on the PDA. Most Palm OS devices contain flash memory for the operating system to reside in. This is nonvolatile memory that can survive a hard reset and does not need battery power to remain in memory. Provided that there is room in flash, programs and read-only databases can be loaded into flash memory (data that is modified in flash memory can render the PDA unstable). So if someone lets the batteries go a little too long before replacing them, their programs are safe in flash.