Mixed Marriage

Gadget-loving couple attempt to reconcile their PDA differences

March 12, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

From the very beginning, we knew we had some differences to overcome.

He's a diehard New Yorker and a Giants fan. I'm a lifelong Baltimoron who roots for the Ravens. He's shy and introverted while I am outgoing and gregarious. He comparison shops and I impulse buy.

But when it comes to gadgets, my fiance, Terry, and I are both equally enamored.

We love to pore through copies of PC World magazine and often cruise Circuit City and Best Buy for the latest and greatest the technological world has to offer (though, true to form, he is much more frugal about purchases, often looking for months for just the right item at just the right price).

That's how we ended up where we are now, about to enter into a mixed marriage. Unless somebody gives, ours will be a household divided - split by a disagreement over operating systems.

Allow me to explain. We are both proud owners of PDAs, personal digital assistants. These pocket-sized computers can be used in place of traditional paper organizers and Rolodexes with some of the newer models boasting Internet access as well as other bells and whistles.

I own a Hewlett-Packard Jornada 545 (www.hp.com/jornada/), which has within a few short months become the PDA of my dreams. My Pocket PC with its color screen and wireless modem can do just about anything I want it to do - store my wedding plans, send e-mail and even download the complete works of Shakespeare.

Terry owns a Palm Pilot Professional (www.palm.com), the older model of a trademark brand that has come to be synonymous with PDAs. He uses his to store phone numbers and keep his schedule, occasionally dashing off notes to himself.

At first glance the two devices don't appear to be that different, though mine is slightly bulkier and costs several hundred dollars more. Both are compact and can be synchronized with our desktops to backup our vital information. But Terry's uses the Palm OS operating system while mine uses Windows CE.

Therein lies the rub.

For months now, Terry and I have gone back and forth about who has the better operating system. He insists that with it's two-year lead time over Windows CE - Palm Pilots debuted in 1996 while Microsoft first introduced the Windows CE in the Palm-sized PC in 1998 - Palms are better tested and more reliable.

Besides, he argues, who needs a color screen like my Jornada has when all it does is eat up valuable battery life. I countered that the screen makes it easier to read, especially if I download a book to occupy me on a subway ride or some such jaunt.

"Are you ever really going to read a book on that thing," Terry asked. "And does Smaltimore even have a subway?"

What did I expect from a man who jokes that the difference between Baltimore and yogurt is that yogurt has active culture?

I argue that while I am not a huge fan of Bill Gates, a Windows-based system is much easier to navigate and is more compatible with many e-mail and Internet servers. Plus, I can write on my machine using real handwriting, not the stylus shorthand the Palms use.

"Don't worry, honey," Terry said, patting my hand condescendingly. "One day you will see the light."

Unfortunately Terry has the numbers on his side. According to marketing research firm IDC, more than 5 million people in the United States own PDAs and that number is expected to grow.

And if program availability is any indicator, more folks own Palms than Pocket PCs (which are made by Compaq, Casio and HP). According to an article last year in Time Digital magazine, while there are more than 80,000 programs available for Palm users (who may own Palm devices or Visors made by Handspring), there are only slightly more than a 1,000 available for Pocket PCs.

So, after years of making fun of them, I know what it must feel like to be the owner of a Macintosh.

Terry and I aren't the only ones locked in this debate. Dave Grober and Mike Hurley, two online columnists known as the "Loudmouth Geeks," have posted their views on which is better. "Anything you can do on a Palm, I can do with a Pocket PC, and do it faster, and prettier, too," Hurley writes in his "Pocket PC Will Rule" piece at www.zdnet.com." Furthermore, there are several things my Pocket PC can do that your pathetic little Palm couldn't even approach on its best day. "

"Yessirree, Mike," Grober responded. "While Pocket PC goes after those half dozen road warriors and gizmo geeks who update their Web sites, play DOOM and groove to MP3s as they board the shuttle to New York, Palm will have to content itself with satisfying the zillion busy folks who need to stay organized and connected - and prefer doing it with a simple, elegant device that meets their needs."

Much to my dismay, www.zdnet.co.uk recently reported that Hewlett-Packard is considering switching the Pocket PC platform to the Palm OS or Linux system to increase Jornada's market share. The site reported that while some analysts doubt that Jornada will abandon Windows CE totally, Jornada does trail its competitors with less than 5 percent of the U.S. market.

So the battle rages on. I try to view it as my Jornada is the Ravens in the Super Bowl of the PDA world - underrated and underestimated. And we all know how that game played out.

Lisa Respers is an Arts and Entertainment reporter for The Sun based in Howard County. Her nuptials are scheduled for Sept. 1.

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