Pendragon shows good Forms

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

at tim_fielden@infoworld.com.

REPORT CARD

Pendragon Forms 3.1

Score: B+

Pendragon Software Corp.

(847) 816-9660

www.pendragonsoftware.com

Price and Availability: Pendragon Forms Version 3.1 is available for $149 per named user with additional licenses available for $45 each. Volume discounts are available startingat 10 units.

Remarks: With Pendragon Forms' ease of use, low cost and instant productivity atall technical levels, giving your mobile users what they need or want hasnever been easier.

BY Tim Fielden
July 17, 2000

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