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The Agenda VR3: Real Linux in a PDA
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The Software

Agenda's Launchpad
The LaunchPad is a familiar gateway to the Agenda's applications.

Graphical view of available programs
The To-Do application has a different look from the Palm version.

The list of included applications on the VR3 is impressive, and covers most of the functionality provided by a Palm. In short form, the applications included (as of 2001.05.15) are:

  • Calculator -- Basic, Scientific or Programmer modes.
  • Contacts Management.
  • Expense Tracking.
  • Notes.
  • Schedule.
  • To-Do Lists.
  • World-Clock -- Graphical viewer of current time around the globe.

E-Mail, Faxing and IR-Remote applications are all planned for free download after June 2001.

In addition, there are several games included with the VR3. The Ace of Penguins suite of games by D.J. Delorie is installed, providing Solitaire, Freecell, Golf, Merlin, and several others. There is also a Tetris clone, a Mines clone, Checkers, and a pretty impressive Space Invaders type marching game called Aliens.

Under the System menu are the usual control interfaces for Contrast, setting the Date and Time, adjusting power-usage functions (when to power off, battery state). The Network application lets you establish connections to other devices, covered further below.

One entry under the System menu of particular interest is the StatusBar application. When launched, it opens a thin window at the top of the display and shows current time, battery condition and the name of the currently focused application. The StatusBar can also display the list of opened windows (or at least, most of them), and let you switch between them easily.

The other entry in the System menu of particular interest to geeks is the Terminal. When selected, a shell will pop up. A real, honest to Unix /bin/sh shell! With a $ prompt and everything. Type in bash, and you're greeted with bash-2.00$


A fairly complete set of command-line tools are included, many provided by Busybox 0.48. This package emulates several common commands, but as of version 0.48 vi was not one of them. And in fact, an editor is not provided on the default installation, although cat and sed are always an option for those seriously determined.

Most, but not all of the GUI programs run in full screen mode. Checkers, for example, opens a window only big enough for itself. This reveals an exciting property -- X Windows decorations and widgets! Drag bar, Window close and minimizing -- it's all there. Folks, we're really running X Windows!

Character Input

As with most PDA devices, there are two ways of inputting data into the VR3 -- a virtual, on-screen keyboard, or handwriting recognition (HWR). When the Keyboard soft-button is pressed, a 50 pixel high by full width window will appear at the bottom section of the screen which is where all input actions are performed.

The window will contain one of two virtual keyboards (one for letters and the other numbers/symbols), or four small square writing areas, the first for upper case characters, the next for lower case, the third for numbers, and the last for symbols. Any already open windows will move or resize themselves to make room for the keyboard window.

To switch between the three input modes, there is a small button in the lower right hand corner to toggle between them. Starting with Letters, the button is labeled "123" and takes you to the number and symbol's input display. There the button is labeled "hwr", and leads to the handwriting section, where the button is labeled "abc".

How good is the handwriting input functionality? Not too bad, but not perfect. There are still some letters that I cannot reliably input, such as B and D, it always thinks are H. Also, there are some Graffiti strokes which I like to use, but which it doesn't recognize at all (like the backwards F and V.)

The good news is that work is under way to improve the HWR, and the results seen only in the last few weeks have been quite impressive. Don't even bother trying to use the HWR included with the original developer versions. Also, since the HWR engine is itself open source and takes classifier data in known (and modifiable) formats, I know I can add the missing strokes myself -- I just haven't been frustrated enough to do so yet.

Those interested in researching this topic further should look at the RecdInvestigation and HWRProjectPage on the site.

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