Wouldn't it be great to go on a road trip and carry nothing more than a personal digital assistant, with perhaps a fold-out keyboard and wireless modem to complete the setup?
Three software packages show that this ideal is increasingly possible.
Tracking expenses on the fly and on the desktop is the promise of ExpensePlus for Palm OS, a $70 program from WalletWare Inc. in Irvine. After initial setup, a user-friendly, icon-rich Palm screen lets you categorize and enter expenses. Many of the details--such as payment method, whether the expense is reimbursable, who the client is--can be selected with the touch of a stylus.
The program comes with software for Windows and Apple desktops that creates an expense report in Microsoft Excel. It transfers expense information and adds up all the numbers. Many firms--including UPS and Michelin--have teamed with WalletWare to create a customized template for their employees.
ExpensePlus is simplicity itself: Punch in the numbers, do a Hot Sync between the Palm and the desktop and--presto--an expense report pops up and is filled in before the synchronization is complete. Documentation for the program is excellent, in clear English.
WalletWare President Gary Amstutz said ExpensePlus will run on the new Palm m500 series, something that rival ExpensAble won't do.
Something else you need on the road is a way to track times and convert currencies. Of two programs I tried, WorldMate from MobiMate software is better overall. This $20 package handles your time-changing chores, converts prices from other currencies and helps you figure out whether that shirt on sale in Madrid will fit, by converting European sizes to American ones.
WorldMate's main screen is less cluttered than Abroad, which can be downloaded from http://www.handango.com as shareware. A registered copy runs $20. Although Abroad offers a ton of information, I found its display screens a bit crowded and not as easy to negotiate in a pinch.
Getting language instruction onto the Palm proved more challenging. My search turned up mostly dictionaries. Berlitz hasn't put its phrase books on a PDA yet.
Of the dictionaries, a series from the British publisher Collins at $34.99 each from http://www.tomtom.com seemed best. It offers back-and-forth translations of words in Spanish, French, German and Italian. A palm-size dictionary, of course, is likely to be more helpful to those who have some high school or college language skills they need to refresh.
The Collins dictionaries offer a hint at what language software on the Palm could do. The good news is that a dictionary, copies of WorldMate and Abroad as well as ExpensePlus all fit on my Handspring Visor with room to spare.
Maybe I can ditch that notebook PC after all.
Mark A. Kellner is editor at large for Government Computer News and hosts "Mark Kellner on Computers" at http://www.adrenaline
radio.com from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursdays.