2006/05/10

Weasel Reader Palm Killer

Last month I decided to try Weasel Reader (WR) 1.59.3 in my new Palm Tungsten E2 handheld. I could never have imagined that this would lead directly to the spontaneous death of my cute PDA.

The Tungsten E2 supports hi-res fonts but I soon discovered that WR does not display hi-res fonts correctly until the "toggle copy mode" option (Edit menu) is selected and copy mode is actually on. Unfortunately, in this version of WR there is no way to enable the copy mode by default, so I had to toggle this on everytime I open a new document if I want to display hi-res fonts.

The nightmare began while I was reading a document copied by WR from the installed Multimedia card to the internal memory; while copy mode was enabled, I tap the home silkscreen button which was followed by a prompt reporting a memory error, with a reset buton below. I tap the reset button on the screen and my handheld has since then being locked in the (now I know) infamous palm logo screen with a flashing bar at the top.

I tried every possible reset procedure to unlock the device; neither worked. The power button was useless, too; so I could only leave the PDA alone depleting its battery untill the screen turned black. I knew that even draining the battery would not clear the bug from the memory, thanks to the non volatile memory modules that sport these new Palm models.

Next, I emailed Palm support for Latin America and in a couple days a helpdesk person telephoned me to help me reset the device with a couple procedures I had not tried before. These didn't work either, so he promised to telephone the next day. Then,he gave me instructions on how to send the device for service to Miami. If applicable, I would be receiving a new device in about thirty days.

Effectively, before a month had pass, I received an envelope from Fedex, containing the papers I needed to release my new Tungsten E2 from customs.

I had some hope that my new handheld would not be retained in customs if it was clearly stated that it was a serviced item; unfortunatelly, customs wanted me to pay for it as it were a commercial import, including VAT charges and customs officer's fees, so I decided to forget about it and save that money to purchase a new and better model.

If I am not so upset, it is because I prefer to see the positive outcomes from this issue:

* I have learnt to be more cautious when trying new palm software. If you see some "Done" option in your application File menu, use it to close the app before switching to other task. I guess that this was what I faild to do in case of Weasel Reader. Hell, if that application were properly coded, a "Done" option wouldn't be necessary!
* Now I know that eventually, I can safely try palm software using a palm simulator for Windows, available from PalmSource.
* I have put on sale at MercadoLibre the palm accessories I still have and already sold the detachable cover for $12.
* I have learnt that many palm user of various handheld models have reported been let down by the same lock screen of death, caused by buggy software other than Weasel Reader.
* I have learnt about the yet to be released update to Palm OS 5 known as Cobalt. May be this is more stable and safer and is better to wait and see which actual devices are upgradable or not before buying a new one.
* Since my new palm was retained in the customs office at Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo, I had the opportunity to do some 3 hours trekking from Tres Cruces bus terminal. Tip: to save the soil of my TL3 Nike shoes from the intensive wear that produce the sand and gravel sidewalk present in the last third of the distance to the airport, I prefered to walk on grass when available.
* Customs won't be able to easily sell on auction a Tungsten E2 that lacks all peripherals, including the pen.

I have mailed Weasel Reader developper about the lock and in his reply he obviously says WR is unlikely to be blame for this. Let me quote some of his reply:

"Well, first the good news, I suppose. There is a new version of Weasel available in the forum.  It is a test version of 1.59.5 and it performs much better on newer devices and has rewritten display code.

"The bad news... at least for your case... I do not know what could have caused your Palm to become unusable.  There is almost no way for Weasel to have caused this because Weasel is, on the whole, a very well behaved Palm program and does not mess with the hardware directly.  The only case where this rule is not followed is with the rotation code, however even in the worst case this will only case a crash.  It cannot "brick" your device because it does not touch the ROM areas or application data areas.

"While it is unlikely that Weasel caused such a drastic crash, perhaps it was Weasel in conjunction with another program?  Do you have any "hack" like programs installed.  Hacks are not supported under OS5, of course, but there are similar utilities with similar functions."

At the time of the accident, I had no "hacks" installed in my device. I have never installed any hack, because I already knew that Palm OS version 5 didn't support that kind of extensions.

Anyway, no matter what he says, I am still convinced that bad coding in Weasel Reader is to blame for the death of my Tunsgten E2.

Finally, let me suggest TiBR as a much better and safer alternative to Weasel Reader.