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Web-Based Organizers

Wed Feb 21, 2001 - 9:16 AM EST - By Alan Graham

The Review

I compared three free services and one fee based service. I found that the MyPalm, Yahoo! and Excite services were all about the same. The surprise here (not really - you get what you pay for) was that the fee based service, Portico from General Magic, was so far ahead of the other three services in technology, function, access and ease, that I will give it its own section at the end of the review. Also, instead of comparing each individual feature of the first three (and boring you to tears), I thought I would instead focus on what they were missing or what was a compelling feature. I could have done an in-depth review with comparison charts and benchmark tests, but I actually wanted you to read this.

While I found the Yahoo! and Excite services quite capable and pretty evenly matched, I thought the MyPalm service was poor and in need of some serious work before it is ready for use. I want to establish a little journalistic objectivity by saying that I love the Palm OS, which is why I found the execution of this site a poor reflection of it. Maybe they never saw those wine commercials, but I think that the motto "We will release no service, until it is time," should be Palm's mantra. I mean, don't open the doors until you can make your competition shudder with envy. This seems more of a strategic release to pull users from the competition and show the industry that they aren't behind, but the service just isn't compelling enough to do it. It may have the reverse effect and actually drive users back to the competition. Come on Palm, say it with me. We will release no service...


Similar to the Palm OS, you will find separate sections for Address Book, Notes, To Do List and Calendar. Almost all of the services allow you to add data to these sections through your browser. You can later sync this data to your handheld at a later time.


All these services get poor marks for design elements. For the amount of money these firms have, they could at least make their sites look halfway decent. I understand the Yahoo! design philosophy of limited graphics to keep load-times speedy, but if I am going to store important data up there, I want it to look as good as Palm Desktop software. I come from the "old school" of software design where people cared what their User Interface (UI) looked like.


Although all of these services support synching with your Visor, none of them have Mac support. If you are a Mac user, there is a work around through import/exporting, but I found it so cumbersome compared to synching that I would skip these services altogether. Excite, Yahoo! and Portico use TrueSync from Starfish Software. Starfish has an excellent product that allows you to sync not only with the online service, but it will simultaneously sync Microsoft Outlook 97/98/2000, Symantec ACT! 3.0x/4.0, Lotus Notes and Organizer, Motorola pagers, starTAC Clipon Organizer, REX TM, Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson wireless phones and much more. I have used it extensively with the Portico service and it works extremely well. One note, you must have Palm Desktop and HotSync versions 3.0 or higher.


If you have a speedy Internet connection, the services respond quickly, when they respond. I had several instances with each of the services where there was no response from their servers (your normal Internet experience). Hardly as convenient as turning on your Visor and writing. I found that I was able to "power on" and write my appointment much faster than if I loaded the Address Book and typed it into my browser. Plus I had to add the extra time to sync with the web service in order to get it into my Visor. It seems counter productive. Also, if you have the Palm Desktop software, there is no reason (other than being on the road) to use a web connection to enter data.

MyPalm has a SSL (Secure Socket Layer) option for establishing a secure connection. There is no setting in preferences for an automatic SSL connection, however. If you request that MyPalm automatically log you in (using a cookie) it will give you the standard connection. You must logout to enter with an SSL. I thought that having an SSL connection was an excellent feature, but I still don't trust keeping personal data on another company's server.


Since no one would pay for it, the Excite, Yahoo! and MyPalm services are free. Unfortunately that means we have those annoying, flashing banner advertisements. This alone is enough of a detraction to not use the service. I hate those things on the sites I love to visit. Plus, browsing my own information while making someone else money is against my delicate monetary sensibilities.

Strategically Placed Mini Commentary:

By the way, have you noticed the latest fad of adding a super-strobe effect to banner ads? It makes me feel like that Halloween movie, where if I were wearing a mask I'd be lying in a pool of snakes (rent Halloween 3). I am asking, no begging, online advertisers to please, please, please layoff the disco effect. You are giving me a headache and freaking out my cats. The dog kinda likes it though.

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