Not long ago, Palms and other handheld computers were seen as little more than fancy day-planners for geeks and executives, with very little to offer in the way of business communications. Even today, the real power of these devices often remains untapped. Many companies don't have the resources to create custom business applications that would offer real-time connectivity to corporate networks and allow mobile workers to access and manipulate data from the road.
With the right software in these devices, your mobile workforce can check inventory, receive e-mail and generally stay on top of things while away from the office. Such is the promise behind Pendragon Internet Forms 1.0, which enables even your most junior-level developers to write powerful business applications for the Palm OS. Pendragon requires no code-level programming; instead, programmers use a simple, Web-based interface to quickly design forms and synchronise data to Palm devices securely via TCP/IP.
Rival technologies, such as C++ and AppForge, produce applications of equal quality, but they require high-level developers and are therefore much more costly in the long run.
But as impressed as we were by Pendragon's power and ease of use, we were disappointed by its failure to support any handheld platforms other than the Palm OS. It was this significant drawback that prevented us from giving the product an overall recommendation of Deploy. As it stands, we recommend Pendragon only to companies committed to the Palm OS.
Scalable, brainy and secure
Pendragon Software offers Internet Forms as either a server software package or as a hosted service. The server software supports Windows NT and Windows 2000 and costs $US4995 for 100 users. For companies that may not have the staff to support this additional hardware, the hosted service is available at a flat rate of $50 per month plus $10 per month per person.
Pendragon uses a SQL Server as its back-end database. The product's Web front end is built with Active Server Pages. Each server has a built-in Enterprise SyncServer that allows users to upload or download applications. Web users can also create data filters and export data to desktops in ASCII format.
For ensuring overall security, Pendragon supports SSL (secure sockets layer) on its Web interface and uses DES (data encryption standard) to encrypt synchronised data. In addition, companies with Web Clipping devices can use elliptic-curve cryptography from Certicom. But the real security booster of Pendragon is MD5 authentication, a sophisticated encryption technique that uses algorithmic technology to protect data. MD5 makes it nearly impossible for hackers to retrieve critical information because nothing is sent across the Internet before first passing through the MD5 algorithm.
Top-notch but Palm-centric
Our testing began with the development module, where we created an expense report application that prompts users to enter information into a series of fields. Defining our form was remarkably easy, requiring only selecting field types, entering captions, and choosing associated attributes. After this, all that remained to do was change advanced options, freeze the design and initiate a HotSync operation to load the form onto our Palm device.
Once loaded, the application ran well and transferred real-time data without a hitch. We especially liked how the product gave us four options for storing records: users can remove records from the handheld immediately after synchronisation; keep them on hand indefinitely; keep them for a specified number of days; or even store incomplete records, which would be especially handy for applications that periodically track updated information such as work orders.
Some other nifty Pendragon features include wireless access support, which permits real-time access to XML data on Web servers; a barcode feature that triggers scripts when barcodes are scanned with Symbol Technology's readers; and scripting-command support that allows users to print reports directly from their handheld device.
We recommend the product to companies that plan to remain committed to Palm devices.
The bottom line - Pendragon Internet Forms 1.0Business Case: This application development tool allows even the greenest of developers to build business-ready applications for Palm OS devices.
Technology Case: Pendragon applications give users of Palm handhelds real-time access to corporate databases.
+ Allows non-developers to write apps.
+ Supports most ODBC-compliant data sources, including IBM DB2, Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server.
+ Secures data transfers with SSL, DES and MD5 encryption technologies.
- Supports only Palm OS devices.
Cost: $US4995 for as many as 100 users; $50 per month hosted service available.
Platform(s): Windows NT/2000.
Pendragon is distributed in Australia by Wizware.
Wizware: (03) 9859 9866, www.wizware.com.au, www.pendragonsoftware.com.