Palmtop computers used to be something of a status symbol on building sites. Now they are becoming standard issue for many construction companies. What made the change? First, the arrival of software designed specifically for construction. This makes the palmtop a real tool, rather than a posh calculator. Data collection is the killer application for palmtops. Wandering the site, an engineer or foreman can tick off jobs completed, make notes of errors or omissions and check progress. Back in the office, the palmtop can be plugged into its cradle and all the information downloaded to headquarters or to the rest of the project team in seconds. Add to that the ability to carry huge amounts of technical information and the individual's own contact list and diary in a form that can be slipped in a shirt pocket, and it's no wonder the palmtop is coming into its own.
A wave of new hardware using the vastly popular Palm system has just been released, bringing more power and versatility than ever to your pocket.
Software for palmtops
Site list program
For the manager who likes to go around a site nitpicking, this is a killer application. Etails allows you to build up lists of things that need doing, from pouring foundations to mending broken window panes. When you synchronise your Palm with your PC, all the jobs are uploaded and compared with the central database. Then the machine sends out orders to everyone responsible, either by adding tasks to the Etails menu on their Palm, or by emailing or faxing them.
As a system, it is complex to set up but easy to use, and should be well worthwhile if it helps get the details right. Etails is still under development by Kim Medlin, a builder and computer consultant in Atlanta, Georgia, and Ennio Murroni, a software developer based in Florida. It should be on the market soon - see www.etailsweb.com for details.
At present, scheduling software gets as far as the site office and from there on in you rely on pencil and paper. With Punch List, tasks are downloaded from a central scheduler, such as Microsoft Project or Primavera Suretrack, onto a Palm so that the site manager can note down the actual start and stop times for each activity directly on screen. At the end of the day, the user just places the Palm in its cradle and presses the synch button, and the central schedule is updated.
A schedule that is updated daily is invaluable for the team, the client and, increasingly importantly, for evidence as to who is to blame when delays begin to cost money. Punch List is downloadable from www.punchlist.com at a cost of £140 per handheld.
Marathon uses Palm computers as in-the-field extensions of its project management and estimating tools, as well as powerful inventory trackers. Marathon Construction Management and Advanced Estimating Tools for Windows can both be enhanced with field systems based on the Palm. See www.marasys.com for more.
Natara Software has launched Project@Hand, yet another system for taking Microsoft Project with you on site. A nice touch is the graphical representation of the percentage complete for each task. See www.natara.com to download a 30-day trial version. It costs £35 to register.
Obsessive note-taking, recording everything from inspection visits to the showers of rain, can make the difference between success and failure, and if you fail anyway, it helps with the legal fallout. Prolog Pocket is a new add-on for Prolog Manager, Meridian Project Systems' project management application.
But why not just use pencil and paper? For one thing, downloading information from Prolog Manager saves a great deal of time. And uploading the notes back into Prolog Manager ensures accuracy.
Prolog Pocket for Palm costs £210. For further information, visit www.mps.com.
Web watch Handheld resources at your fingertips www.palm.com/software/
The official Palm site has everything imaginable: games, music and navigational aids including Lonely Planet city guides and language directories. Share price movements and news can be monitored with the right program and a wireless link. For the health-conscious, a program called Alcopal will monitor your alcohol consumption.
This site is full of information for the handheld user. Handango publishes business and entertainment software for Palm, Pocket PC, Windows CE, RIM Handhelds and Symbian platforms. It also markets the hardware complete with accessories. There is a comprehensive glossary of handheld terminology for the uninitiated and tutorials for new users.
ZedNet has plenty of software titles covering everything from utilities to herbal remedies. This site reviews the software available and gives it a star rating plus the number of downloads to date. Each category can be arranged according to its star rating or popularity. It also reviews and lists the top 10 software titles, making the whole business of buying software over the internet less of a hit-and-miss affair.
MobileDB for the PalmOS is a database application for viewing and editing table or spreadsheet-like information. Handmark has more than 500 MobileDB databases that can be downloaded free of charge. Another handy program is MobileSafe Account Manager. Access is gained via a single password; it remembers all account numbers and PIN numbers and keeps them in one place.
Tony Jest's PalmPilot Freeware Recommendations. A site for the parsimonious as the software is either very cheap or free. Jest makes personal recommendations, including a list of "must-have" software, and also indicates how much memory is needed for each application. There are links to other sites where free software can be found.