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Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

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Vol. 5 No. 51- December 16, 2000


The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy
Newsletter and is copyright 2000 by Richard W. Eastman and
Ancestry, Inc. It is re-published here with the permission of
the author.

Pocket Genealogist for Windows CE

A new computer revolution has arrived. Handheld computers are popping up everywhere. It seems as if everyone in my office has either a Palm Pilot or a Windows CE device of some sort. The Palm computers produced by 3COM were the first to achieve popularity, followed soon by several clones that use the same operating system as 3COM's device. 3COM later spun their Palm division off into a separate company.

Microsoft produces Windows CE, a competitive operating system designed just for handheld computers and other small devices. The Windows CE systems were a bit slower to gain popularity in the marketplace, but they came on strong in the year 2000. Windows CE should not be confused with Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows XP or Windows 2000. Although Microsoft produces all versions of Windows, the Windows CE operating system is a completely different product and cannot run programs written for the other versions of Windows. Several hardware manufacturers produce pocket-sized computers that use the Windows CE operating system, including Compaq, Hewlett- Packard, Fujitsu, IBM, Phillips, Casio, NEC and others. Windows CE systems are typically very small, usually pocket-sized. They normally have no disk drives at all, storing all programs and data in RAM memory.

Of course, as the hardware proliferated, the demand for application software has increased. Early handheld computers running the Windows CE operating system were simple PIMs (Personal Information Managers) that only kept your telephone directory, personal calendar and possibly a to-do list. However, as memory sizes increased, more and more applications became available. So why not a genealogy program? No problem! You can now carry your genealogy database around in your shirt pocket.

Genealogy applications for handheld computers were impossible to find until about a year ago. Just a bit more than one year ago I wrote about Palm Tree, a genealogy program written for Palm computers. Early this year I reviewed My Roots, another genealogy program for the same operating system. Only five weeks ago I reviewed Pocket Family Researcher, the first genealogy program that I found for Windows CE.

This week I had a chance to take another Windows CE genealogy program for a test drive. Kevin Phillips of Northern Hills Software just released Version 1.0 of The Pocket Genealogist a few days ago. I downloaded it and installed The Pocket Genealogist on my Compaq iPAQ PocketPC. The program also is also available for a wide variety of other Windows CE devices.

The Pocket Genealogist allows you to take your genealogy database with you. It reads GEDCOM format files that you create with almost any genealogy program on your desktop or laptop computer. All modern genealogy programs can export their database in GEDCOM format. The Pocket Genealogist then converts the GEDCOM file to a Windows CE database and transfers the data to the tiny computer. You can easily take your data with you on the handheld device.

The Pocket Genealogist Version 1.0 is used only for data "viewing." That is, you can send genealogy data from your desktop to the PocketPC, but not in the other direction. I consider this to be a minimal problem as the PocketPC isn't well suited for data input. However, Kevin Phillips says that later releases of The Pocket Genealogist may allow data entry on the CE device with the capability to later send the new data back to the desktop system. Of course, even today you can enter new data on your PocketPC into Pocket Word and then transfer that data back to your desktop. Once on your desktop, the new data can be "cut-and-pasted" into your regular genealogy program.

The Pocket Genealogist installs software on both the PocketPC and the desktop or laptop Windows system. I used my favorite genealogy program to create a 3,000-person GEDCOM file. I then exited my normal genealogy program and launched the desktop component of The Pocket Genealogist. The program read my GEDCOM file and converted it to a Windows CE database in the format required by The Pocket Genealogist. Once completed, the program transferred the new database to my tiny Compaq iPAQ that operates under Windows CE.

I expected the transfer to the Windows CE device to fail. After all, a file containing information about 3,000 people, including full source citations and text notes, is a very large file. My iPAQ has 32 megabytes of memory, half of which was already in use by other applications. I assumed that 3,000 people would overflow the available memory, but I wanted to try the big file just to see if it would work. To my surprise, the conversion worked quickly, and the transfer to the Windows CE iPAQ went without errors. Within a few minutes I was looking at my entire 3,000-person database on my iPAQ PocketPC. When I say "entire database," I mean all the names, dates, locations, source citations, repositories and even full text notes! Everything was there. I was amazed.

Obviously, the success of that kind of transfer depends upon two things: (1.) how big your database is and (2.) how much memory is in your Windows CE handheld computer. Many of the Windows CE devices have only 8 or 16 megabytes of RAM memory, even though the newer ones seem to have 32 megabytes. In addition, some of these units have optional memory expansion capabilities, so the possible RAM memory capacity could be much larger. The iPAQ can even have an IBM MicroDrive 1 gigabyte hard disk drive installed, something I haven't done yet. Will The Pocket Genealogist transfer all of your data to your Windows CE device? The answer is "Yes, if you have enough RAM memory installed." In my case, a 3,000-person GEDCOM file created a 3-megabyte Windows CE file, which easily fits into the 32-megabyte iPAQ.

The other feature that impressed me was the speed. Other Windows CE and Palm Computing genealogy applications I have used seem to run slower and slower as the size of the database increases. Even with 3,000 people in its database, The Pocket Genealogist responded almost instantly as I maneuvered around the database. As I clicked (or "tapped") on father, grandfather, great-grandfather and beyond, the new screens of data appeared almost instantly. I should point out that the Compaq iPAQ has a 206-MHz processor, which is considerably faster than the typical Windows CE handheld. Even so, I suspect that performance would be quite acceptable even on slower machines.

The data screens themselves were all text-based and very simple. On small screens used in handheld computers, you don't want to clutter things up with fancy graphics. The Pocket Genealogist doesn't even display a true pedigree chart in the traditional format. However, it does have a text-only equivalent. I found all the screens easy to read and always intuitive. Each individual in the database has his or her information displayed in eight different screens of data that you access by clicking on the desired tab:

* An overview showing the person, along with parents, spouse and children along with a pulldown option for multiple spouses * "Name" tab which indicates the Gender of the individual and any alternate "AKA" names for the person. * "Vitals" tab which is a synopsis of Birth, Death, Cause of Death, and Burial information. * The "Events" tab shows all data in a list that is event-oriented (has or potentially could have a date). The Events screen typically displays occupation, military service or whatever events you include in the originating GEDCOM file * Notes tab contains all the text notes entered. I have written several pages of notes about a few of my ancestors, and everything I have written was available on The Pocket Genealogist * Facts tab shows the various references, such as source citations * Address tab which displays mailing addresses of living individuals * The Sources tab displays a list of all source information by type at the bottom of the screen.

In addition to the data screens for each individual, there are five screens of similar data for each family:

* The Name screen displays the two individuals associated with the current family. * The Events, Notes, Address and Sources tabs are exactly the same as the "Individual" screens but display data associated with the union (marriage).

You can see examples of these screens at: http://www.pocketgenealogist.com 

The Pocket Genealogist also contains a brief but apparently complete electronic user's manual. The manual is included when you download the program.

The Pocket Genealogist is a shareware program; you are encouraged to download it and to use the program for a period of 30 days. The version available for download is "non-crippled." That is, it has all the functionality with nothing limited. If you continue to use the software, please register the program by sending $15.00 (US Funds) to the author. Full registration details are included with the program.

I was very impressed with The Pocket Genealogist for Windows CE. It is fast, simple to use and very good at displaying data. Kevin Phillips of Northern Hills Software has a winner here. If you have a Windows CE handheld computer, I strongly encourage you to try The Pocket Genealogist. I suspect you will be pleased. If you do not yet have a Windows CE PocketPC, this may be the excuse to ask Santa for one!

For more information about The Pocket Genealogist, or to download it online, go to: http://www.PocketGenealogist.com.

Last minute update: Just as I was about to send this newsletter, I received an e-mail from Kevin Phillips, author of The Pocket Genealogist. He reports that version 1.01 is now available on the Web site mentioned above. I haven't yet seen the newest version, but I would imagine that it is very similar to what I have just reported.


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