OmniGO 100 Preview (fwd)

Brian Smithson (
Sat, 21 Oct 95 21:48:36

Review of OmniGo 100 from PDA Developers mag...


From: (Steve Mann)
Newsgroups: comp.os.geos
Subject: OmniGO 100 Preview
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 1995 09:03:52 -0700
Organization: Creative Digital Inc.

Here's a reprint of an article that will be in the Nov/Dec issue of PDA
Developers. For those of you craving OmniGo 100 info. Basically, it's a
cool device, but could benefit from an IrDA port.


Steve Mann

# # #

The Hewlett Packard OmniGo 100

Copyright (c) 1995 by Creative Digital Inc. All rights reserved.

On October 16, 1995, Hewlett Packard announced a new personal organizer
called the OmniGo 100. It is a small keyboard-based device that, on the
surface, has more in common with the Sharp organizers, the Psion 3a, and the
HP LX-series devices than Newtons or Magic Cap devices. Regardless of what
you want to call it, it's fully programmable, it's inexpensive (street price
is estimated at $350), and it should be very successful. That means there are
opportunities for developers interesting in creating OmniGo applications.


The Hardware
At first glance, the OmniGo 100 looks a lot like the popular HP 100 and 200
LX-series devices: a clamshell case that open up to reveal a 240 x 240 pixel
LCD screen on one side and a keyboard on the other. It's actually a little
bit smaller and lighter than the LX devices: 6 X 3.7 X 1 inches (15.3 x 9.6 x
2.6 cm) and 11.6 oz (329 g) with batteries. The screen fills about two-thirds
of the lid. The keyboard also has fewer keys than the 100 and 200 (for
instance, there are only five function keys). The clamshell hinge supports
180-degree rotation: you can fold the screen back behind the keyboard and
hold the device in one hand. This lets you use the pen, on the screen, just
you would with a Newton.
HP has taken a few cues from other PDA manufacturers. First, there are
icons stenciled on the left and right sides of the LCD screen. Like the
current Apple MessagePads, you tap the icons to launch the most popular
ROM-based applications. The icons are stenciled on a 45-degree axis, an odd
choice, until you realize that the screen supports both portrait and
landscape modes. The stencils are quite readable in both orientations.
Because the screen is square, there is no delay when switching orientation -
the graphics don't require any remapping, just redrawing.
Second, like the Sharp Zaurus, the device supports both pen and keyboard
input (the pen slides into the front of the case). All text-based
applications can accept keyboard input, but you can also enter characters
using the pen and Graffiti, which is included in the OmniGo ROM. Many
applications support digital ink. You can use the pen for copy and paste
operations. The user interface also supports drag and drop operations.
The CPU is a 16-bit 80186-compatible chip. There is 3 MB of ROM that
contains all the GEOS OS code and the built-in applications. GEOS executes
primarily from ROM, minimizing execution times for OS functions. There is
also 1 MB RAM for application and file storage, with 640K available as user
application memory. The user interface does not support the concept of disk
volumes. Instead, data is integrated with its creator application to provide
a more seamless user experience that the traditional program/data dichotomy.
For connecting to the outside world, there is an S-wire serial port,
several built-in printer drivers, and a PC card Type II slot. Oddly, HP does
not include an IrDA-compatible infrared port. It would add very little to the
cost of the device, and would be a welcome addition.
The OmniGo runs off of two 1.5-volt AA batteries. We were unable to
confirm how much usage you can expect from two fully-charged batteries.

The Software
The OmniGo 100 includes quite a few built-in applications. There is basic PIM
software: an appointment book (with a to do list and alarms), a phone book
(with categories and subset viewing), a notepad (with modest formatting
capabilities), a database, world time (with user-definable cities), stop
watch, and a user setup utility. The database, which is the underlying engine
for data management for most of the built-in programs, is a simple flat-file
application. It supports text, number, date, time, category, choice list, and
check button fields. There doesn't appear to be any linking between
application data stores. For instance, you can't link a name in the phone
book with an appointment, or link a phone book item with a database record.
In addition to the basic PIM software, the OmniGo contains Geoworks' Book
Reader (which is the engine for the extensive on-line help system), a
spreadsheet (maximum 64 x 64 sheet size), an HP 12C (perhaps the most popular
financial calculator in the world) emulator, and a variety of financial
tools, including some basic statistics, with graphing, and a general-purpose,
multivariable equation solver. There is also a ROM-based version of Solitaire
for those long airplane flights.
In an effort to minimize the amount of time required to jot quick notes
and small bits of information on the fly, there is a program called the
Jotter, sort of a system-wide sticky note creator. The Jotter lets you enter
a quick bit of information anytime, anywhere, and attach it to a specific
application for formal data entry later on. This minimizes the amount of time
required to do a simple, interrupt-driven task like write down a phone number
on the fly. Most of the built-in applications support notes.
There are also a variety of third-party applications available at product
introduction which can be found in a 30-page catalog that comes in the box
with every device. The initial offerings are a bit sparse, but that should
change. The most notable consumer application is Pocket Quicken. Every OmniGo
100 buyer gets a free copy of the program just by contacting Intuit. Also,
Geoworks is offering a special $29.95 introductory offer on Bindery, the
content creation program that works with the Book Reader built into every
OmniGo 100.

Desktop Connectivity
There are two desktop connectivity solutions available. The first is Palm
Computing's HP OmniGo 100 Connectivity Pack with HotSync, which automatically
backs up and synchronizes the OmniGo data with a Windows PC. It also includes
Windows-based appointment, phone book, and notepad applications for entering
data using a Windows machine. This data is then automatically uploaded to the
OmniGo via HotSync. The Connectivity Pack, which is being sold by HP, also
supports import and export of standard comma-separated and tab-delimited
The second, innovative connectivity product is called Clip & Go. Developed
by Geoworks and sold by HP, Clip & Go is a cross-platform clipboard
application for transferring data between an OmniGo device and a Windows PC.
Clip & Go enhances the clipboards on both devices, allowing you to transfer
data from one machine to the other. It supports text, ink, and spreadsheet
data transfers in both directions. Full formatting is support for several
popular Windows applications.

Worldwide Connectivity
Although HP is marketing the OmniGo 100 as a personal organizer, they
recognize, in a limited fashion, that many people need communications
capabilities. Unfortunately, there's no built-in modem, and you can't get an
HP-branded modem for the OmniGo. Third-party PC card modems should work, but
there are no drivers or OmniGo client software to support the basic wired
e-mail services like the Internet, CompuServe, or American Online.
There are some wireless communications solutions available, however. First
of all, in December, you will be able to get the Septor Financial Information
service for the OmniGo. It's a customizable financial service that delivers
stock quotes, financial news, and stock alerts to a wireless paging card that
plugs into the PC-Card slot.
If you need limited two-way messaging, you can get Skytel 2-Way, the first
available PCS-based two-way paging service in early 1996. This inexpensive
service lets you receive paging messages on the OmniGo via a Skytel 2-Way
pager, and respond by selecting one of a limited number of responses
preprogrammed into the message. For a detailed look at this innovative,
nationwide service, read Andy Seybold's "Skytel Turns on 2-Way" on page 22.
(Skytel also has plans for a developer's SDK some time in the future. We're
hoping to have the talk about it at PDA Developers West in January.)
For those who need more robust connectivity, you can get WyndMAIL. It's a
wireless messaging service that provides Internet e-mail, fax sending, and
paging capabilities nationwide, with no roaming charges, long-distance fees,
or cellular phone expenses. Like Septor, it requires a special Type II PC


The Operating System
The OmniGo has an almost off-the-shelf version of GEOS 2.0 embedded in ROM.
Almost 100% of the code is execute-in-place, making the device quite
responsive. In addition, the overall architecture is multi-threaded. Once you
launch an application, it stays in memory, making switching between
applications even quicker.
Geoworks has added a few extensions to GEOS 2.0 specifically for the
OmniGo. The first is a new Table object type that lets programmers easily
create dynamic scrolling tables. Each column has the same data type, each row
has a different set of values for the column data types. Tables support
in-place editing, range selections, automatic scrolling, and drag and drop.
Tables don't store any data - the underlying application is responsible for
The biggest addition to standard GEOS is the HP database engine, adapted
from the HP LX-series devices. It is the heart of most of the OmniGo
data-centric applications. Geoworks has added a new API to GEOS to let you
work directly with the database engine, so that you can easily read and write
the standard OmniGo data stores, and also create custom databases.
The HP database engine has the following characteristics:

* 32 maximum record types, 16 are predefined, 16 may be programmer defined;
* 32 maximum field types, 16 are predefined, you can define up to 16 custom
field types; and
* 16 maximum viewpoints (a viewpoint provides a custom lookup into a
database, selectively displaying matching records based on a search

A database definition consists of a sequence of records stored in the
database. Some define the database structure, the rest contain actual data.
Because of this design, a database may have no user-visible data, but still
have a large number of records.
The HP engine is relatively complex. We expect to have detailed articles
about it in the future. For a brief introduction, see "The HP Database
Structure" by Ron Crain on page 25.

In the recent past, there have been some critics that have lambasted HP for
providing shoddy developer support for the LX-series devices. All that's
about to change. HP is working on a variety of fronts to provide developers
with tools, support, and distribution.

Developer Tools and Services
First, Geoworks is going to be providing tools and support programs to OmniGo
developers. GEOS development will not change much in the near future - you
will still need tethered host and target PCs, and an OmniGo as your final
target. The GEOS SDK is being reworked to include OmniGo-specific Docs,
header files, and sample code. It should be available before the end of the
year. It will still be a $99 CD-ROM with electronic docs, with a $299 printed
documentation option. When you purchase the SDK, you also get free electronic
support via CompuServe and e-mail.
Geoworks will also be offering a partners program for an annual fee.
Although the details are still being worked out, it will probably include
guaranteed-response electronic support, a newsletter, discounts on hardware,
training, and reviews by Geoworks engineers, and free SDK updates. Geoworks
is also updating their training classes to include OmniGo content, and
lowering the price from $1995 to $1495 for their basic one-week training

Marketing and Distribution Opportunities
HP has also tried to put into place, at product introduction, two printed
vehicles to help third-party developers promote their products. The first is
an in-box catalog of OmniGo products. Qualified third parties can buy
full-page space in the catalog. The second is a consumer magazine called HP
OmniGo World, a subscription-based publication that will sell advertising
space to developers. Both publications are published by Thaddeus Computing,
publishers of the HP Palmtop papers, an LX-series consumer magazine.

Third-party Tools
In addition to the Geoworks SDK, there is a low-cost, alternate development
environment for the OmniGo - John Feras' IZL. Priced at $56, IZL is an
easy-to-use programming environment that works directly on the OmniGo. It
supports straightforward, object-oriented programming concepts that make it
simple for even end users to build fairly sophisticated applications. IZL
programs can support communications, file I/O, and graphics. Look for a
review of the latest version of IZL in the next issue of PDA Developers.

Even with the lack of serious wired communications capabilities, and an
IrDA-compatible port, the OmniGo 100 should be a winner. It's got a good mix
of basic PIM features, keyboard and pen input, a very reasonable price, an
open, robust system architecture, and marketing and distribution by a company
that understands consumer channels. Although HP is calling it a personal
organizer, it's got most of the features I need in a hand-held device. Future
issues of PDA Developers will include a complete review of the OmniGo 100,
plus articles on developing applications for this new HP PDA.


Creative Digital, Inc., 293 Corbett Ave, San Francisco, CA 94114
415.621.4252 415.621.4922 (fax)

Creative Digital Inc.
293 Corbett Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94114
415.621.4252          415.621.4922 (fax)