Tech Tuesday-Personal Data Assistants

There are more palm readers today than ever before. It's true, but we're not talking about predicting your love life or how long you're going to live. We're talking about those handy palm-sized computers.

One particular brand is actually called a "Palm." The generic name is "P.D.A." -- personal data assistant. And chances are, you, or someone you know has one.

Throw out that thick organizer book. A P.D.A. Is all you need.

"Most people are using them getting them for addresses phone numbers, keeping track of appointments," said Jason May of Tyler's Best Buy store. "Any of them also have a to-do list that you can check off during the course of the day or course of the week--put multiple items in there and just check them off as you do them, kind of like a grocery list, except for you don't have to erase anything. You just check it off and it's off your list."

But they do so much more. These palm-sized computers literally can help you get your personal life and professional life working in synch. Simply drop your P.D.A. in its cradle, and all the information you've gathered during your work-day is entered on your home computer.

And it works in reverse too. Start adding software to your P.D.A.and your life starts getting even easier to manage. For instance, there's no better way to track business expenses.

"You can categorize it just like you can if you have an expense software at home--Money or Quicken of whatever the case is," said Mays. "You can categorize it by lunch, dinner. You can categorize it as what will be reimbursed versus not being reimbursed. You can customize the categories so it fits and when you get back to the office. Matter of a couple of buttons, and you're ready to go."

Just synch up with your work computer when you get back, and your expense report is done. Do you frequently work with Word documents or spread sheets?

"You get a piece of software like Documents to Go," said May. "It will support Word documents, Excel. And the professional version will also support your Power Point presentations so you can take them with you and work with them while you're on the go."

If you've ever used a P.D.A., you know entering large amounts of text can be a challenge.

"There are keyboards you can get and add to them," said May. "You have an option of a full-sized keyboard that folds up into a compact size that's not much bigger than the P.D.A. itself. There's also another one that's probably 4 inches wide that just plugs into the bottom, and you just use your thumbs as the keyboard on it."

When it comes to the P.D.A., what you get out of it is only limited by what you put into it. Some come equipped with slots that allow you to connect wired or wireless modems for Internet and e-mail access.

A G.P.S. attachment insures you'll always know where you are on the map. And most allow you to add limitless memory. And there are even attachments now that turn your P.D.A. into a digital camera.

You'll learn very quickly there are two basic families in the P.D.A. world...those that use the Palm Operating System, and those that run on a compact version of Microsoft Windows called Windows CE. Play around with both types when you're shopping.

If you want a scaled down version of your home p.c., you'll probably be more comfortable with the Windows version. The primary makers are Hewlett Packard, Casio and Compaq. The Palm Operating System is primarily used in systems made by Palm, Handspring and Sony.

One other thing, don't forget to get some kind of case. The protection that comes with most of these models is not enough to withstand even minimum wear and tear.