IrDA HotSyncing for Older Palms and Visors

by Derrick Story


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I love how developers have removed the clutter of wires from our homes and offices thanks to 802.11 networking. Yet, those same wireless magicians roll their eyes and sigh at me when I ask them how to HotSync my Palm device via IrDA.

"I hear you can do it, but it's a real pain in the butt," was the general response. Thing is, I wanted to do it. Seemed crazy not to. If my laptop can retrieve e-mail and pull up web pages without wires, then why am I forced to fool around with expensive, cumbersome syncing cables for my Visor?

After a little research, my conclusion was: I don't have to. I can toss the cradle and sync wirelessly. And I'm not just talking about IrDA for those lucky sods who have Palm OS 3.5 with necessary libraries built-in. Fortunately, even if you have an older Palm or Visor with OS 3.1, you too can impress your friends and coworkers by HotSyncing via the IrDA port. Here's how.

Palm OS 3.1 vs. OS 3.5

The latest version of the Palm OS, 3.5.2, includes IrDA libraries that enable users to wirelessly synchronize their data with IrDA-compliant laptops and desktops. (Although, they don't really tell you how to do it.) Palms that feature OS 3.5 include IIIx, Vx, VIIx, and M100, and two Visor models -- Prisms and Platinums -- also come pre-installed with OS 3.5. But if you have an older device with OS 3.1, you may be thinking that it's time to shell out $19.95 to upgrade your Palm to version 3.5. (Don't write that check yet.)

IrDA HotSyncing a HandSpring Visor.

Side by side -- Are you missing out on IrDA HotSyncing just because you have a pre-OS 3.5 device? You don't have to, thanks to a nifty system patch that's available.

Visor users have even a more difficult row to hoe. Since Visors don't have the 2-MB flash memory reserved for system enhancements, they don't even have the option of upgrading to the newer Palm OS.

Does this mean that Visor owners won't be able to sync via IrDA, and that Palm owners will have to upgrade their entire system to do so? No, it doesn't, because there's a free IrDA patch you can download from the Palm site that provides you with the necessary system software.

Later in the article, I'll describe the patch in detail, along with the middleware required to make the connection. But first, I want to discuss what kind of computers you can sync to. After all, it takes two to HotSync.

What can I sync to?

IrDA HotSyncing works with most modern laptops.

If you have a Windows laptop running Win 95 or Win 98 and an Ir port, you're probably in business. Win 95 units may require a separate IrDA driver update. Win 98 machines, however, come with all the system software needed. I've learned from reader feedback that Windows 2000 OS doesn't allow you to IrDA HotSync.

You should also check to make sure you have version 3.0 of HotSync Manager installed on your laptop.

Macintosh PowerBooks also get to sync wirelessly as long as they are the newer models that comply to the IrCOMM 1.0 standard. These include the PowerBook 3400, 2400, and G3 series laptops. Older PowerBooks such as the 190, 5300, and 1400 used a non-compliant protocol called "IRTalk" that enabled Macs to communicate with each other, but not much else. (Glad those days are over!)

The "Bronze keyboard" G3 PowerBooks are IrDA compliant, but they can't communicate with the older IRTalk PowerBooks. The 2400, 3400, and early G3s incorporate both IrDA and IRTalk. So they can Ir file share with both older and newer PowerBooks. If you have questions about Ir capabilities of your Mac, refer to the Apple tech article, Macintosh Infrared: Is It IrDA Compatible? The main thing to remember is that you need IrDA capability to HotSync with PDAs. IRTalk is only good for Mac-to-Mac file sharing.

As for iMacs, you may recall that the early models had an Ir port. The first two versions of the iMac (Bondi Blue) are referred to as revision A and revision B models, and they support IrDA, but not IRTalk. Subsequent iMacs don't support infrared communication of any type.

Finally, I've read that some cell phones have IrDA-compliant ports and can exchange data with other devices. I haven't tested this functionality specifically, but am interested in hearing about any success stories using this technology.

Configuring your Palm device

Now that you've found something to sync your Palm to, it's time to configure your trusty PDA for Ir communication. (Visor users should skip this section and jump to Configuring Your Handspring Visor, because the installation for these devices is much different.)

If you have a Palm, begin by downloading the Palm OS patch for IrDA. This archive consists of four files. Install three of them on your Palm: AMX.prc, IrLib.prc, and SerlrCommLib.prc. You can, if you want, install the fourth file, SerlrPanel.prc, but I haven't needed it for anything.

Now you're ready to install the middleware that enables the two devices to sync. I've successfully tested the demo version of IrLink 1.5. This application has a number of handy features such as enabling IrDA HotSyncing, IrDA device detection, and AutoSyncing.

There are a few things you should know about IrLink however. First, version 1.5 doesn't work with Palm OS 3.3. So if you're using OS 3.3, you'll need to wait for the forthcoming version 1.6. Also, the download is a 30-day demo that's fully functional but requires a $19.95 payment after the demo has expired. The good news is that IrLink works equally well with Palms and Visors, Macs and PCs.

At this point you've installed the Palm IrDA patch and IrLink middleware. Open IrLink and check the box marked "Redirect Cradle." Now all you have to do is configure your laptop, and you'll soon be performing your first wireless HotSync.

By the way, I recommend that you turn off "Beam Receive"; it's located in Preferences > General (dropdown menu) > Beam Receive. I like it off because I've had instances when the "Waiting for Sender" message appeared during IrDA operations. It doesn't hurt anything, but it's annoying.

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