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LifeDrive survival tips

The Palm LifeDrive is a very nice thing indeed. Wi-fi, Bluetooth, 4GB hard drive, large colour screen and a swish-looking case.
Edd's LifeDrive

I got one a few weeks ago and can now offer some handy tips for potential owners. What is a very nice device is let down by the quality of the bundled software, so here's how I overcame that.

Speed

Most of the online reviews are written from the perspective of people who own some other Palm device already, so they tend to bitch about the increase load time due to the LifeDrive being hard disk based. For somebody who's not had a PDA for a while, or is used to the glacial speed of Symbian phones, it's not a big deal.

If speed is an issue for you, then install SharkCache ($10).

Email

Do not even think about using the built-in email application, Versamail, unless your needs are utterly trivial. It's a very crashy piece of software, and within a few days rapidly made my life miserable. Also, don't be tempted to delete it either. Just move it somewhere you won't see it (I deleted Versamail after setting it up to do hourly mail fetches: henceforth the LifeDrive woke up every hour to crash because it couldn't find Versamail. Doh...)

Snappermail is an infinitely superior mail client, and will even suit Linux paranoids like me who have self-signed SSL certs and want to be able to suppress warning dialogs with each mail fetch. It ranges from $25 to $60, and comes with a bunch of bundled apps, some of which are very handy.

Media

Ah, the promise of the built-in media viewer. Just remove the SD card from your camera (or Nokia 7610 in my case) and browse, sort and copy the pictures onto your LifeDrive. Bad idea. About one in twenty pics taken on my 7610 caused the media viewer software to crash the LifeDrive.

Forget the built in media viewer, and use SplashPhoto instead. $30 standalone, but buy the higher end versions of SnapperMail and you get it bundled.

VPN

Frustratingly, the Prefs dialogs have a VPN entry everywhere, but no VPN client is on the OS. For those with PPTP VPNs, MergicVPN is the answer. It's configurable enough to support multiple VPNs, and can be enabled selectively for certain applications. I use it to VPN into my home network for hotsyncing, of which more below. $30.

File management

The built-in file manager is rather poor at letting you see any files that are in danger of being important. Get the free FileZ instead.

Synchronizing with Linux

Although the USB connection appears to be recognized correctly under Linux, I found that it was a little unstable. The only reliable way I've found for Linux synchronization is to use network syncing over Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth PPP connection if you don't have Wi-Fi). Under the GNOME desktop this requires applying a patch to gnome-pilot, available from the Gentoo bug database. It works fine. Just don't enable the Backup conduit, or boom. Sigh. The state of Linux synching is lamentable, but I'll save that for another day.

Conclusion

So, on top of the price of the LifeDrive, add $90 to get VPN and a decent email client and image viewing software. With that money spent, it's a very nice device indeed and is quite reliable. I'm not going to review the rest of the hardware, you can find such reviews elsewhere.

A pal from O'Reilly, Derrick Story, has been living with his LifeDrive for a while now, and has various things to say about it from his Mac-owning, photo-taking point of view. Check out his LifeDrive Chronicles: Part I, Part II and Part III.

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