Acrobat Reader killed my Palm

You can tell that my Palm m105 is not exactly bleeding edge. Both by its rather bland dark ugly look (completely out of fashion compared with today’s shiny brigh colored semi-transparent PDAs) and its feature list which does not include webcam, MP3 player, Internet browsing and Office compatibility. However, back to 2001 when I received it as a gift it was a pretty decent machine.

Nevertheless, this little piece of silicone and glass is playing an important role in my life. I keep my agenda and calendar on it, I use it as an alarm clock and especially for evening reading. Instead of printing articles and waste trees, I use Pyrite publisher to easily convert between major formats and store files on Palm for subsequent reading.

PDF is a major format, but haven’t really felt the need to convert it to Palm-readable until recently. As a IEEE Computer subscriber, I have access to the Digital Library, where articles are first published in PDF format, then – only after a few weeks – in HTML. My first thought was to save files as TXT from Acrobat Reader (6), but it’s a no-no (although, I vaguely remember being able to save in a different format from Acrobat 5). OK then, let’s just use the text tool, select everything and copy/paste into an editor. Well – stupid design flaw or feature crippled on purpose – the text selection can be done only INSIDE a single page. So – 20 pages mean 20 copy/paste operations. Ctrl-A does select only text from the current page. Then, I tried to bypass the “functionality” by using automation and the ActiveX Acrobat control. More or less expected, the control does not allow usage of text tool and selection is not possible (yes you can display documents, walk through them page by page, but that’s the most you can do). Grrr.

My hope that GhostScript and GhostView could perform a text extraction proved utopic. Yes it probably works on some simple test files, but on Computer’s documents with different layouts and formats and their inserted textboxes it either produce a completely unreadable textfile or it simply fails with a cryptic error.

All this left me with only two choices : buy a conversion product (huh, is there a market for such a thing ?) or use Adobe Acrobat for Palm, latest (3.05) version. My hardware is in the supported list, I have a hefty 8MB of RAM on my Palm so I decided to go with the latter. It was a mistake.

First, PDF “conversion” of files does almost nothing to reduce file size. If you start with a 3MB PDF, you’ll end up loading a 3MB PDF into your Palm (that is, if you have the available memory). Go on, check graphic resize in preferences – it’s NOT helping. Second, it’s slow as hell. A few seconds to pass from a page to another. But what the heck, I could read PDF documents and this was my initial purpose. Alas, it was too early to declare victory.

My reading pattern in bed is quite simple : I read until I’m too asleep to continue, then put my Palm next to the bed and turn off the light. Don’t even bother turning off the Palm, since it automatically turns off after 30 seconds of inactivity. That is, until I had installed Adobe Acrobat.

Next morning, instead of the familiar tut-tut-tut of my Palm alarm clock, there is someone knocking energically at the door. And surprise-surprise, it’s not 7 o’clock but almost 9 ! It was another day when I was supposed to be the driver and give a lift to the office to other 3 co-workers, usually leaving around 8:20. No wonder they were at my door wondering if I was sick or something. No, I was perfectly well and my Palm was alive and kicking, still on and displaying happily the now familiar Acrobat screen with the last page from the previous night. The Palm was FREEZED, unresponsive to any button and only the hidden reset switch from the back had managed to provoke some faint reaction. I left in a big hurry.

After a long day back in the evening, almost forgotten the incident, watched a movie, read some blogs and back to bed. No reading this time. But it seems that, after a whole night turned on, the AAA batteries are low so I can’t turn on the alarm clock (what sort of idiosincracy is this, forbidding an action because the batteries are low). It was too late to call anybody, so I ended up WARMING the Palm to trick it into thinking that the batteries are a tad more active and allow me to activate the alarm clock. So much for the useful things learned in the electronics classes.

Anyway, the next synch crashed on me, and the synch after, and the few subsequent retries. It calmed down only after uninstalling Acrobat. So I guess it was not a victory after all. From now on, I’ll stick with reading simple plain text files on my Palm. Anyway, Reader is a free product after all so I’ll stop the rant here – but I was expecting something more from a company such as Adobe.