One major use I've found for PDAs is storing information for later use, particularly as electronic books (eBooks). The best eBooks are often reference books or books you can read a page or two at a time while you're waiting for something. An 8 mebibyte PDA can store a lot of text. For example, if you use 7 of those 8 mebibytes for text and compress the text by 43%, and, on average, the text is 60 characters per line and 60 lines per page, you could store 3,577 pages of text (7MiB/(60*60*.57)). This would be a typical result when using PDOC (described below); if you use better compression algorithms (such as zlib) you can store even more text. One developer using a zlib-based approach claims that 56.5% compression is typical. If that's so, that approach would let the same PDA store 4,687 pages of text.
To use a PalmOS PDA to read documents, you have to install at least one document reader; PalmOS systems don't come with any built-in programs to read documents. There are many different data formats used for storing documents, and you need a reader that can read the format of the document you're trying to use. Many PalmOS users end up installing several document reading programs.
There are basically three good OSS/FS programs for reading typical eBooks: CSpotRun (which reads the PDOC format), Weasel Reader (formerly named GutenPalm, which reads the PDOC and zTXT formats), and Plucker (which reads the Plucker format, a compressed HTML format). If you're using a Palm-based system, you should definitely install Plucker. Most people should also install either CSpotRun or Weasel Reader; I personally have all three installed. Here's a little information about each one:
However, the PDOC format is basically just ASCII text, so it has no support for bolding, fonts, hypertext links, images, etc. For many documents, these limitations are not a problem at all. Note: PDOC is completely incompatible with Microsoft Word's DOC format. (This becomes especially confusing when dealing with Web sites that use the term DOC to mean PDOC.)
There are fewer pre-created zTXT documents than PDOC ones, so this isn't as useful as you'd think. If you want to create your own documents, you'll often find the "Plucker" format a better format to generate instead.
One minor weakness of the current Plucker format (as implemented by version 1.1.14 of the reader) is that large HTML pages (larger than 32k) get broken into multiple pages, which are then linked using hypertext. In practice, this often isn't too bad, since many HTML documents are broken into smaller sizes anyway, and clicking on a hypertext link goes immediately to the correct location on the page. For some large documents, though, it's unfortunate -- you can't scroll through the text using the PDA scroll buttons, and you can't simultaneously see the text on both sides of a break. I hope they get rid of this weakness soon; there's already discussion on the Plucker mailing list on how to remove it.
Plucker includes tools that let you extract Web pages (using rules you define) and sync the results to your PDA. The current tools require that users be comfortable with the commandline or with using a text editor to edit a special HTML file. GUI tools and a Web-based extraction tool are in development.
Again, if you're using eBooks on a Palm, I believe you must get Plucker. If you want an PDOC reader, deciding between CSpotRun and Weasel Reader is trickier. After all, they both have the same basic functionality; both display PDOC, and they both support adding and jumping to bookmarks, rotated text, auto-scrolling, and searching (case-sensitive and caseless). I've compared CSpotRun 1.1.2 against Weasel Reader 1.56, and in my opinion, CSpotRun is better for reading while Weasel Reader has more "extra" features and is better for "maintaining" PDOC documents. Feel free to install both -- I do! Here's how they compare:
Important: If you install multiple readers of the same format, beware. Palms like to associate data with only one program, and if you delete the program, all of the associated data gets deleted too. If you install both CSpotRun and Weasel Reader, don't just "delete" one later without taking special precautions, or all your PDOC documents may be deleted, too. Basic synchronization won't help here; synchronization will automatically remove the PDOC backup files in your PC, too.
Once you get the eBook readers, you'll need eBooks to read. The plucker Web site includes interesting sample documents. Large collections of older classic documents (over a thousand) in Plucker format can be found at Pluckerbooks, which also has links to other sources of Plucker documents. The Linux Documentation Project (LDP) generates its HOWTOs, mini-HOWTOs, and FAQs in Plucker format, so it's a good source for Linux-related documents. Bandersnatch Unpress includes various freely-available documents in several formats (including PDOC and Plucker), including The U.S. Constitution. Memoware is a commercial eBook company; they include a lot of documents in different incompatible proprietary formats that you must pay for, but they also make many free documents available. You might consider documents such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Script to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
You can also create documents in these data formats if you have the text in electronic form. You can use http://pilot.screwdriver.net/, which will automatically convert arbitrary Web pages into PDOC format. As I noted earlier, Plucker comes with tools to create readable documents in Plucker format.
Some material is made easier to use by running specialized readers.
For example, I wanted the Bible on my PDA. If you do, too, try Bible Reader for Palm, a good reader which offers various translations you can install in it. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer more modern translations, due to copyright issues. It does let you see two translations simultaneously, and offers searching and jumping to specific verses.
I also use PocketBabylon, a nice French/English word translation tool. The author hopes to add other languages -- please help him! (There seems to be a lack of good public domain word translation dictionaries; help with this general problem would be appreciated.)
I can't possibly review "all OSS/FS Palm games". Instead, here are a few good ones to consider:
The normal rules say that on your first move, you must make at least 35 points, or you get no points. I suggest lowering the starting minimum (e.g., to 15 points). Otherwise, it's easy to have games in which the player who was lucky enough to get 35 points first (not due to any skill) is the one who wins the game.
There are many other games, but game preferences definitely vary by individuals. See the section below on locating other software.
Some useful programs I'd recommend are:
There are three weaknesses in Astro Info version 2.5 (the current version as of this writing):
The Astro Info developers are aware of these weaknesses (I get the impression that they're working on fixing them) and they don't detract from what's overall a great program.
If you like to fiddle with Python, you can install Pippy, a Python implementation for Palms. I've been trying version 0.7, and, unfortunately, it's not very useful yet. As of this version, it doesn't support floating point nor complex numbers (I wish they'd support MathLib!), many important Python libraries have been removed (such as the regular expression libraries), and, as far as I can tell, you can't write and store files on the PDA itself. Still, this is a work in progress; I hope that the final version will be more feature-rich so developers can write and run many kinds of useful programs.
As a tool for editing text, I find PDAs awful without a full-sized keyboard. Anything less is just too painful to use when entering lots of text. Styluses and micro-keyboards just don't do the job. If you're doing a lot of text entry, you might want a laptop instead, since the small screen of a PDA isn't as nice as a laptop's screen. If you need both tiny size and the ability to enter lots of text, get a folded-up full-size keyboard for your PDA. I took notes at the FOSDEM 2002 conference using my PDA, and it worked out well. Once I was done, I could put both the keyboard and the PDA in my pockets, something you just can't do with a laptop. However, the built-in Memo Pad application limits each memo to 4096 characters (about one page), so it's a poor approach to entering or editing real documents.
The OSS/FS programs for editing text aren't very capable, unfortunately. You could also use Zurk's ZDoc, but it's really no better; you still have to break documents into 4096 character chucks.
One of the more promising approaches to an OSS/FS text editor is to use SmallBASIC. SmallBASIC implements a variant of the BASIC programming language, and includes a surprisingly capable integrated development environment. Its IDE includes the ability to import and export PDOC format, and it can edit large files (each line must be 4095 characters or less, which is far less restrictive than Memo Pad). Unfortunately, while SmallBASIC is a really friendly IDE for program development, it's unpleasant as a general text editor. For example, you have to retype filenames (instead of choosing from a list) when importing or exporting PDOC files. Also, SmallBASIC is still in an alpha stage of development and isn't really intended as a general-purpose text editor for large documents. When testing it with large files, I managed to crash it twice (and one crash required a data-losing reset). Currently, if you must edit large documents on PalmOS, you need one of the many proprietary programs. However, in a little while, I believe that SmallBASIC (or some derivative of it) will be ready as a general-purpose text editor. I don't see an OSS/FS word processor in the short-term horizon, though once a text editor is available, it might be expanded to that as well.
How can you find other software? In addition to the freshmeat PalmOS category, one good, organized location for OSS/FS software is palmopensource.com. If you just want free (beer) software and don't care if it's OSS/FS, another source is freewarepalm.com (but note that you have to pay to really use much of the so-called "free" stuff). If you're also using Linux, you can find useful information in the Linux Documentation Project's Palm OS Desktop HOWTO (available in many formats, including HTML, PDF, and Plucker).
Given current technology, there's a lot to like about Palms. They cost much less than Wince- or Linux-based PDAs, simply because Palms are designed specifically for the limited memory, display, input bandwidth, CPU performance, and electrical power of today's PDAs. Linux and Wince systems weren't designed from the ground-up for that circumstance, so they require more hardware (e.g., memory and CPU speed) than PalmOS simply to run, and much of their extra hardware is is consumed by the operating system instead of being actually useful. That extra hardware costs more, and (even worse) drains the batteries. Palms tend to work much longer on the same batteries.
However, it's quite likely that things will change over the next few years. I expect that hardware for PDAs will continue to get better, just as it has for laptops, and then the advantages of PalmOS will be worthless. PalmOS's underlying software design and implementation are awful in many ways; there are many arbitrary and unnecessary limits (especially size limits) that make PalmOS unnecessarily difficult to program. Also, PalmOS's fundamental incompatibility with larger desktop and server operating systems is probably insurmountable (e.g., PalmOS poorly supports large text files, making it unnecessarily difficult to interoperate with other systems). And note that PalmOS is not OSS/FS, unlike Linux.
None of this is a disaster if you're using OSS/FS applications. The OSS/FS software can be ported to other architectures, and the Linux PDAs in particular will probably attract those ports.