Handheld computers have been perennial underachievers for federal departments and agencies interested in mobile data collection.
Handheld computers have been perennial underachievers for federal departments
and agencies interested in mobile data collection. Even now that the devices
themselves are becoming more usable, the industry has been slow to deliver
customizable software to make data collection easier.
Enter Pendragon Forms 3.1 from Pendragon Software Corp. Because it
was designed with a nontechnical audience in mind, users of Palm computing
devices will quickly and easily find they can create powerful forms-based
applications with zero programming.
Whether the purpose is collecting census information, assisting with
inventory control or dealing with data collection in the field, Pendragon
Forms offers an ideal solution for those who are either unable or unwilling
to wait for custom-developed applications.
Although it is not as full-featured or flexible as other handheld development
solutions such as Metro-werks' CodeWarrior, I found Pendragon to be a real
asset for its sheer simplicity and easy-to-use environment for designing,
deploying and managing data collected via forms. Although the tool is designed
for end users, developers may find it an ideal way to leverage current database
applications to the new platform, thanks to its ability to work with Microsoft
Corp.'s Access as well as other ODBC-compliant data sources such as Oracle
or IBM Corp.'s DB2.
The latest version of Pendragon Forms is replete with new features such
as wireless support via Hypertext Transport Protocol, which allows real-time
access to Extensible Markup Language data on World Wide Web servers. And
by coupling the enhanced bar code support with new scripting commands, the
software now allows users to trigger scripts to run when bar codes are scanned
with Symbol Technologies' equipment.
For this review, I chose to use Pendragon Forms on a 3Com Corp. Palm
III device running Palm OS 3.0. Installing the solution was extremely easy
and straight-forward, with relatively few choices to select. The application
is based almost entirely on Micro-soft Access — at least at the desktop
level — and Pendragon even included a runtime version for users who do not
have the software available at the time of installation.
Pendragon Forms has three main components: a Forms Manager, a conduit
for exchanging information and a client that resides on the handheld device.
The Forms Manager, or desktop client, is a Microsoft Access database that
the application uses not only to track configuration information but also
to facilitate design and creation of the forms themselves.
The conduit — a Microsoft Windows Dynamic Link Library — is the application
that runs during the HotSync data transfer. In addition to sending form
design, data and look-up lists from a PC to the handheld desktop, the conduit
can be used to collect and send information from the handheld to the PC.
I began my test by defining a form, which required nothing more than
naming it, entering a caption for each field I would be adding and finally
choosing the field types. If I wanted to create subforms or look-up lists — or even specify advanced field properties such as hidden, required or
read-only — a mouse click is all that would be required. To complete the
form, all I had to do was specify that I wanted my design frozen then initiate
a HotSync operation to load the new form on my Palm III.
You can also create multiuser forms for enterprisewide data collection,
but this will require using the full version of Access and writing scripts
to integrate with your back-end relational database.
Although limited to the Windows platform at the desktop and devices
capable of running the Palm OS 3.0 — including the Palm III, Palm IIIc,
Palm V, Palm VII and Symbol Technologies' SPT-1500 — I found Pendragon Forms
to perform well. Moreover, with its list price of $149 per user, additional
licenses available at $45 each and volume discounts for more than 10 users,
the solution is priced to please.
—Fielden is a senior analyst with the InfoWorld Test Center. He can be reached
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