Outlook On Your Palm

While the Palm Desktop application is a capable PIM (Personal Information Manager), many people already have their personal information stored in Microsoft Outlook.

Outlook is a much more powerful PIM, with more fields for storing information (such as multiple addresses for each contact), and recurring tasks.

Software is available that will allow you to sync your Palm to Outlook - some Palm-OS handhelds include PocketMirror, from Chapura. Back when I did sync my Palm with Outlook, I preferred Desktop To Go, from DataViz. However, Desktop To Go is no longer listed on the DataViz web site - probably because DataViz has released a much more powerful program called Beyond Contacts.

The problem with synching Outlook to the Palm has been that Outlook stores a lot of information that the Palm applications don't know how to handle. One of my biggest ongoing complaints with Palm, which continues on with their OS 5, is that tasks cannot be recurring. This causes a problem if you have a recurring task in Outlook that will be synched to the Palm To Do List. For another example, if a contact in Outlook has two addresses, only one can be synched to the Palm. And which one will that be? There are a lot of potential headaches in this process.

DataViz has taken a big step forward, by creating Palm software that has the data structure and functionality of Outlook. If a task is recurring in Outlook, it will be recurring on the Palm. If a contact has two (or three) addresses, all of the addresses will be synched to the Palm.

This is one of the best ideas I've seen in Palm software. The potential complications of synching between desktop and handheld can be the cause of much weeping and gnashing of teeth for Palm users - even if you're not trying to sync with Outlook. For example, there are third-party Palm programs that beef up the capabilities of the built-in applications, such as DateBk5 and ToDo Plus. But these applications have no equivalent desktop software, so it's best to avoid editing appointment or task items on your desktop if you're using any of these programs.

With Beyond Contacts, you don't have to stop and think about whether it's safe to edit your information. The process becomes completely transparent, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Another complaint I have about Palm software is that we are limited to 15 categories. By using the Outlook database, BC allows you to have any number of categories. Also, you can attach more than one category to an item.

Beyond Contacts does not use the built-in databases for calendar, phone book, to do list or memos. BC creates its own databases, to match the data structure used in Outlook. Once your data syncs over from Outlook to your Palm, you can delete the information from the built-in applications. (Make a backup first by hotsynching, of course. And then I suggest that you back up that backup. Just in case.)

I downloaded the trial version and tried it out, and it works as advertised. The Palm interface is surprisingly well-designed - I was concerned that cramming all of Outlook's fields onto a Palm screen would be cluttered and nasty, but it's actually very easy to use.

If you're accustomed to a Palm program like DateBk5, the Outlook calendar can be a bit of a disappointment. But I think it may be worth it, to get the other advantages offered by BC.

If your data is not already in Outlook - if you've been using the Palm Desktop software - you'll have to get your information into Outlook. BC offers no help there, though Palm Desktop can export information and Outlook can import it, so it shouldn't be too difficult. I would like to see Beyond Contacts include a utility that could read everything from the Palm Desktop and convert it to Outlook, but maybe I'm just lazy.

Before you download the trial, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of. Beyond Contacts is expensive - $50 is almost unheard of for Palm software. However, this kind of power is worth a lot, especially since you no longer need to worry about whether or not you can edit your data on the desktop. I would pay $50 for this software, if it weren't for one huge flaw.

You can only sync to one PC. For as long as I've been using a Palm, I've needed to sync to two PCs: home and work. I simply cannot use software that can only sync to one PC - especially software that stores my calendar, tasks and contacts. When I finish this article, I will be deleting Beyond Contacts from my Palm.

However, I will be checking back at the DataViz web site. If they ever add the capability to sync to more than one PC, I will immediately switch over.

If you're using Outlook on the desktop - or if you want to use Outlook on the desktop - and you only need to sync to one PC, I think this is a great program. If you meet these requirements, it's definitely worth a trial run.

Chapura, Inc.
(included with some Palm-OS handhelds)

Beyond Contacts
DataViz, Inc.
Shareware, $49.95 registration

Pimlico Software Inc.
Shareware, $24.95 registration

Hands High Software
Shareware, $19.95 registration

© 2003 by Charles M. Olse