Writing and drawing
The PocketPC's Character Recognizer is based on Jot, developed by Communications Intelligence Corporation. How this compares to the Palm character recognition system, known as Graffiti, is a little complicated. The default input mode for the PocketPC is lowercase, which is Jot-compatible. In lowercase mode, you can select options to allow single-stroke character input. You can change to uppercase mode, which is Graffiti-compatible. Remember, these modes refer to how you draw the letters, not the resulting output. I found uppercase mode easier to use, perhaps because I've used a Palm. Even so, I found that the PocketPC character recognizer was more adept at handling certain characters such as U and V; the Palm requires a U to have a tail to distinguish it from V. On the PocketPC, in uppercase mode, you can write a U with or without a tail.
To output uppercase, lowercase, or numerical characters, you draw the character in a specific region on the screen. Writing a character in the uppercase region, regardless of which input mode you are in, will output an uppercase letter.
The most distinctive difference in PocketPC's character recognition system is how characters are traced on the screen as you draw them; this allows you to see what you've written and makes it easier to draw more complex characters and punctuation symbols.
In some applications, such as Notes, you can draw on the full screen or write in longhand. If you choose "Recognize" from the Tools menu, your handwriting will be converted into type. Obviously, results vary, but I was pleasantly surprised. I found writing meeting notes in longhand to be much easier than input via the Character Recognizer. I liked that I could use Tap and Hold to bring up a menu of alternate choices for a word that had been recognized incorrectly. (What I wrote was recognized as Tava, but it did propose Java as an alternate, which was correct.)
You can also save your handwriting as a drawing, if you choose not to convert it in Notes. You can also mix drawings, character input, and handwriting.
In addition to character recognition, you can tap away at an on-screen keyboard.
Pocket Internet Explorer
The PocketPC offers Pocket Internet Explorer and works with AvantGo to provide mobile channels from a variety of sources. This section assumes that I'm using Pocket Internet Explorer without a direct connection to the Internet, and thus I'm using the synchronization process to download information to the iPAQ that I can read using Pocket Internet Explorer.
Using Internet Explorer on the desktop, the Favorites folder has a new subfolder named "Mobile Favorites." Adding a URL to Mobile Favorites will add that URL to the Favorites folder on the PocketPC. It doesn't, however, push the content to the handheld; it's really only synchronizing the list of URLs that exist on the desktop and the PocketPC. This is appropriate if you are using Pocket Internet Explorer over a direct Internet connection, but it's fairly useless if you expect to read the content offline.
To transfer the page itself, choose "Tools/Create Mobile Favorite" in Internet Explorer and specify the update schedule for the content.
If you save a document as an HTML file in Internet Explorer on the PC and drag it to the Mobile Device folder, you'll have to use File Explorer on the PocketPC to open it. I don't see a way to open a local file from Pocket Internet Explorer.
If you want to create Mobile Channels and grab content that is often intended for use on PDAs, you will use AvantGo. You'll need to set up an AvantGo account and select which channels you want. Once you set this up to synchronize, ActiveSync will talk to the AvantGo site and update content from these channels on your iPAQ. I set it up initially to fetch the daily New York Times headlines, Boston Globe sports, Salon, and The Economist. These channels are listed on the home page of the Pocket Internet Explorer. You can also add your own channels in the AvantGo service, but this content will not be specially formatted for a handheld.
In general, AvantGo works the same way on the Palm. The Pocket Internet Explorer is able to display richer content (color, frames, tables), but you are still dealing with a 240 x 320 screen region, which most pages are not designed for.
As a publisher, I've had a personal interest in the development of the Microsoft Reader, software designed to make it easier to read books online. I was curious about how Microsoft Reader worked on this platform, and how it compared to the special reading devices such as the Rocketbook, which have not done so well in the market.
What I like most about the Microsoft Reader is its simplicity. Its interface is satisfyingly book-like, and it is not cluttered with menus and buttons the way that the Acrobat Reader is. There are a few "classic" texts available free for download or on the ActiveSync CD that allow you to test out the reader. There is also a "Pocket" version of the Encarta Dictionary. When it's installed, you can easily look up a word in any ebook, by selecting the word and using Tap and Hold to bring up a menu with the Lookup option.
When you find a ebook that you want to read on the iPAQ, you can simply drag and drop it into the Mobile Device folder or one of its subfolders.
I have spent several hours reading "Great Expectations" with Microsoft Reader and using Internet Explorer to read New York Times headlines. The difference between the two is the use of ClearType font technology in the Reader, which I'm not too clear about. In some ways, it improves readability. But the type is also a little fuzzy. The Reader does provide a fairly consistent interface for turning pages, and there are no ads! I have enjoyed the time I've spent reading on the iPAQ. I am familiar with arguments that people don't like to read on such devices. However, it may not be fair to compare ebooks straight up to print books. What I've found valuable is that if I have my iPAQ, I have some reading material always with me. Once recently, I had to wait ten minutes or so in the car for my son's football practice to finish. I wouldn't have thought to bring a book or magazine with me, but I had the iPAQ and I was grateful to be able to occupy myself by reading
Download The Jargon File by Eric S. Raymond and Guy L. Steele.
The 1.0 version of Microsoft Reader shipped with the PocketPC. Since then, Microsoft has made the reader available for desktop PCs. I downloaded it recently and bought an ebook at Barnes and Nobles. Unfortunately, the PC Reader is version 1.5, which supports Digital Rights Management. Since this is missing in the 1.0 version, you won't be able to read ebooks on the iPAQ that have been encrypted for sale. Microsoft is working on an update for the Reader, which is due later this year. Amazon recently announced that they will also begin selling ebooks that support the Microsoft Reader format.
I experimented with some tools for producing ebooks. Overdrive's Readerworks (www.readerworks.com) provides both free and professional versions of tools that will read HTML files and generate a Microsoft Reader-compatible book. The Microsoft Reader supports the Open-ebook standard, which is based on XHTML and CSS, although those files must be processed into an internal proprietary format (.lit) for distribution.