It’s difficult predicting the future. Take the Internet, for example. Who would have thought, back in its early days, that eventually we’d all be connecting to it from small handheld computers? And therein lies the problem; Internet content, specifically pages on the World Wide Web, was designed for desktop PCs, with their large screens, fast processors, big pipes, and complex operating systems.
So where does that leave PDAs, with their small screens and skinny pipes?
Microsoft, developers of the Pocket PC platform, have been pushing full web browsing on handheld computers. Its Pocket Internet Explorer browser, a scaled-down version of its desktop big brother, Internet Explorer, attempts to render existing web pages on 240 pixels wide by 320 pixels tall screens.
It’s certainly not a perfect solution.
While PIE leverages existing web pages, it is typically one major step behind Internet Explorer and the latest HTML standard. Therefore, it cannot display some aspects of web pages that utilize the latest web technologies. Also, it’s intrinsically slow, since it must render the entire page, which was likely developed for a faster connection. You can turn off the downloading of images to reduce the download time but that just proves the point that full web browsing from a handheld is sketchy, at best.
Palm, on the other hand, has been a proponent of its Web Clipping technology, which requires that website owners develop special Palm Query Applications, or PQAs, that contain snippets of only the most important information, tailored to fit in a 160 pixels by 160 pixels screen. Opponents to Web Clipping claim that it simply doesn’t offer the rich experience found in desktop web access.
Obviously both methodologies have their strengths and weaknesses, so maybe it all comes down to the difference between two little words: browse and query.
Browse comes from the French word brouz, which means a bud or shoot. Animals searching for buds and shoots were said to be browsing. Today, browsing means looking around for something of interest.
Querying, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word quaere, which means to ask or inquire.
So when you want to look around and hope to hit upon something that interests you, you browse. But when you’re looking for an answer to a specific question, you query.
Is browsing better than querying, or is querying better than browsing? Ridiculous question, you say. Maybe. But that may be just the question you should ask yourself: do you want to look around for information from your PDA or do you tend to need answers to specific questions?
When you’ve got your answer it’ll help you select the device that’s best for you. As PalmSource’s Chief Competitive Officer Michael Mace says, "One size fits one," and that’s no more apparent than when it comes choosing a handheld computer.
Bottom line, accessing the web from a handheld device is one of the most debated and controversial topics in modern computing, and not everyone agrees on the solution…or even the problem. And while most agree that the concept behind a variation of HTML, the markup language used to code web pages, is nice, the practicality of changing millions of existing pages is daunting.
So for a while, at least, we’re stuck with the nagging dilemma: clip or browse?