Access Garnet VM Review

by Reads (13,688)

Users of traditional Palm OS handhelds have had a hard go of things the past few years. Not only have Handspring and Sony folded up shop, Palm itself has switched its entire focus to making smartphones. For a long time it seemed that handheld users were destined to stick it out with their Palm TX or Zire; something that works, but is definitely behind the curve of technology trends.

Garnet VM

Garnet VM
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Some users wouldn’t stand for such things and moved on to different devices, either Palm OS smartphones or handhelds running another operating system.

But then Access came along and released a Palm OS Garnet emulator for Nokia’s Internet Tablet devices. Now, those who don’t want a smartphone have a device they can run their Palm OS software on.

In This Review

An Introduction to the Garnet VM

The Garnet VM is an emulator for Palm OS programs to run on the Maemo Linux platform used by Nokia’s Internet Tablets. It’s compatible with OS2007 and OS2008, which means it will run on the Nokia N810, N800, and N770.

The Garnet emulator is pretty much a plane-jane version of the Palm OS. Those expecting something as polished as Palm’s Centro and Treo variants will be a good bit disappointed. Palm’s version of the Garnet OS is massaged for these devices, while this isn’t. That being said, the Garnet VM is still quite usable.

Upon installing the Garnet VM, an icon to the emulator on your Internet Tablet is the only indication that something new lies under the hood.

Garnet VM

Garnet VM Launcher
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Opening the emulator shows the default applications: Address, Date Book, Memo Pad, Calc, and Prefs.

There are also buttons to launch, configure, install, and delete application, perform a HotSync, and change some Garnet VM settings.

It’s all pretty straight forward, as an emulator should be; just a screen to get you to the program that you are looking for.

So that no one gets confused, the initial launcher is there to make it easier to go straight into the application you want to use first. Once the emulator is running you can switch between applications on it, too.

Running the Default Palm OS Programs

The default PIM applications — Address, Date Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad — are bare-bone and pretty much do exactly as they say. Those who come from using older models from the Tungsten and Zire series will be more familiar with these than people with later Palms. These are not the enhanced applications, but basic ones. For example, the 4K limit on the Memo Pad applies once again.

Garnet VM

Date Book
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That being said, they are fast and suitable for the job.

You can HotSync the information stored in these PIM apps with the Palm Desktop, just like you would with any other Palm (more on this later).

A note about alarms: in order for the alarms to function, the Garnet VM needs to be running. After that, they will work just fine. You will even be greeted by the nice Palm 4.0 piezo sound when it goes off. You won’t see the alarm screen unless you have the Garnet VM as the top-most, on-screen application, however. No notification of alarms is passed to the Maemo OS.

The other two applications bundled in the Garnet VM — Calc and Prefs — are just as simple and to the point. Calc, unlike on some newer Palm models, does not have the various calculator types (scientific, tip, etc.). Prefs only allows you to change global functions, such as date/time formatting, Garnet system sounds, and the color (theme) of the Garnet screens (see here).

The Garnet VM On Screen

In the latest edition of the Garnet VM, the emulator gained the option of being stretched to the full screen size. This results in a good deal of pixelation with all programs, but makes this emulator significantly more useful, as text is easier to read.

The emulator also offers portrait mode, and you can easily switch between modes by pushing a button on your Internet Tablet.

Fans of the original version of Graffiti will be happy to hear that Garnet VM uses this for input. Putting the emulator in full-screen mode gives plenty of room for the Graffiti area. You can also switch to the on-screen QWERTY keyboard or, if you have a Nokia N810, you can use the hardware keyboard.

Third-Party Palm OS Programs

I used a few third-party programs in order to get an idea of how well the emulator performed. To do this, I made sure that Garnet would use the largest memory partition as possible (64 MB, found in the Settings dialog once you open the emulator).

The latest edition of the Garnet VM also includes the MathLib library. This enables programs on the Palm OS to perform more intensive functions across several types of databases. This addition makes it possible to use many third-party PIM applications.

Garnet VM

Astraware BoardGames Splash Screen
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In addition to Google Maps, I also tried the following programs:

  • Palm Bible+: As this was a program that was very important on my previous Palm OS devices, it was the first that I loaded. Because of how the emulator is set up, I had to first install the application, and then install the associated Bible afterward.
  • Astraware BoardGames: as stated earlier, graphic intensive applications get stretched in the emulator and this is a case where excellent gameplay almost beats out the graphic nasties. Despite not having the use of the usual four hardware application buttons, Astraware Boardgames remains quite playable and ends up being one of the better gameplay titles on both the Palm OS and Internet Tablet platforms.
  • Google Maps: The program was able to downloaded maps and driving directions using the Internet Tablet’s network connection.
  • Documents to Go 10: Installing this at first seemed to be a simple process. Just as with other programs, I downloaded the installer and then proceeded to HotSync the program onto the Tablet. This looked as if it were going well, but the sync finished with an error message. On the Internet Tablet, the Launch screen for Garnet VM did not show that DocsToGo was installed. Thinking that it might have just been an issue of not refreshing, I clicked on one of my other applications to launch into the VM; I then got an error message stating that initialization failed. After that all of my other programs were removed. I had more success with the other method of installing DocsToGo: adding the application files to my memory card and then installing them.
    Because the Garnet VM is not able to see the memory cards of Internet Tablets, it is not able to open native Microsoft Office documents, because files in these formats can’t be stored in the virtual Palm’s memory either. These files have to be brought over to the device when HotSyncing. When doing this, I was able to open up sample documents in the various DocsToGo formats.

There are other Palm OS applications that users have tested by other people as being compatible with the Garnet VM, including Snappermail, DateBk5, Bejeweled, Sudoku, and many more.

HotSyncing and Networking

One of the hallmarks of Palm OS use is HotSyncing. Besides being a means to synchronize information, it’s also the way software is installed.

Garnet VM

Google Maps
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HotSyncing can only be done over a Wi-Fi connection. Syncing via Bluetooth (Serial) or USB cannot be done with the emulator. Also, if you have previously synced a Palm (or palmOne) device, you will have to create a new user name for the Internet Tablet for it to sync with.

HotSyncing over the network means that things will be plenty fast, though. I installed a few games and a large Bible and both synced very fast using Palm’s HotSync Manager version 7.0.2. Unlike with previous versions of the Garnet VM software, you don’t have to do a lot of manual configuring of the host computer.

Before I was successful with HotSync, I had to do the old-school method of just dragging programs (.prc files) and associated files (.pdb files) to the memory card in my Internet Tablet from my PC and Windows Explorer. After doing so, it was just a matter of clicking the "Install" command on the opening Garnet VM screen in order to register the application with the emulator.

Internet connectivity is a breeze. The Garnet VM takes advantage of whatever live Internet connections are being used — Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Dial-Up Networking. As I mentioned earlier, I installed the Google Maps Palm OS application and was able to use it on both BT DUN and Wi-Fi connectivity situations. Connections were quite speedy when on Wi-Fi, and minimal slowdowns over BT DUN.

I had less luck with other forms of networking. Internet Tablet devices do not have an infrared (IR) port, so they are unable to pass information in this fashion. Bluetooth is also not a reliable means to send information back and forth from the emulation environment to another device.

Conclusion

Before the latest version of the Palm OS Garnet Emulator, it would have been hard to recommend it as a suitable upgrade path for those who are looking at an Internet Tablet as a replacement for their Palm OS PDA. This is not the case now.

The much-improved performance, ability to use applications in portrait and landscape mode, and the ease in getting new applications to the device makes having to go through this decision a bit less the challenge.

Some notable negatives are:

  • You have to keep the emulator running to hear your alarms 
  • You have to tap the Palm OS program and then click Launch to get into the program
  • The pixel stretching is not bad on text-based applications, but on graphically intensive ones it is distraction
  • You have to use the Palm OS virtual keyboard/Graffiti area instead of the more finger-friendly Maemo-native one when typing on an N800 or N770

I would warn that the Garnet VM is more of a stop-gap solution than a full one. The constant development of Maemo Linux applications means that applications that were once prominent on the Palm OS should eventually have equivalents available for the Internet Tablet.

The emulator does make it easier to make the transition, though. For many people, that should be enough to say that there is a solution for a new device if nothing new were to come from Palm, Access, or any other Palm OS licensees.

The Garnet VM is available now on Access’ website free of charge.

A Final Thought 

One thing that this emulator shows is that there has been some measure of work done by Access to enable the Palm OS to run on a Linux-based device. This company’s next operating system, the Access Linux Platform (ALP), will show Garnet performing similarly to how it is in the Garnet VM. The differences will be in look/feel, wireless ability, and other areas. The key thing will be that most programs will be able to work, and therefore continue to be supported by users and developers alike.

For the Palm OS economy, this is probably the best news for the platform — that those who have invested years and time into making it work for them will be able to progress to future devices with peace of mind.

 


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