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Palm and Linux: Making the Connection

Connecting with Pilot-Link

April 3, 2000

I can't be the only gadget freak who impulsively bought a Palm Pilot and ran home with it, only to find myself standing in front of a Linux machine that I suddenly realized might or might not talk to my new toy. I'm also sure there are lots of Windows users out there with years of information tucked away on their Palms who'd love to complete the jump to Linux and want to bring their beloved PDA with them.

With their open and elegant design, Linux and the Palm are nice complements. Even though Linux support for the wildly popular Palm platform isn't something 3Ccom has chosen to pursue, the Linux community has stepped forward to fill the gap in typical style.

In this article, I'll cover the installation and use of pilot-link, a collection of command line tools and libraries that connect Linux and Palms. Pilot-link also forms the foundation of several GUI-based tools. If you're a Linux user considering purchasing a Palm, or long-time Windows user who'd like to migrate your calendars, contacts and backups to Linux, there's a lot of support available for you.

Getting and Installing Pilot-Link
Pilot-link, included with most recent Linux distributions, has been around for some time. Even though pilot-link is primarily command-line based, several GUI-based packages depend on it to run. You won't get GNOME or KDE's Pilot tools to talk to your Palm without pilot-link, so the time you'll spend on the command line installing and configuring pilot-link is a good investment.

Before getting involved with installation and configuration, you should decide how you plan to use your Palm. Red Hat 6.1 users who chose to install KDE already have a working copy of pilot-link and KDE support for the Palm. If you don't plan to use your Palm with GNOME, you may want to skip down to the "Installation Tweaking" section and go from there.

Debian 2.1 (Slink) users are similarly supported "out of the box" with the PilotManager tool. Install the PilotManager and any dependencies it may have, and you can also skip down to "Installation Tweaking."

For those who wish to use their Palm with GNOME, or who want to sample everything available before deciding, it's best to obtain and install pilot-link before going any further.

If you don't already have pilot-link installed on your Linux system, check the CDs that came with your distribution for a copy. If you don't have the CDs for your distribution, or you'd like to have the very latest version, you can also download pilot-link from several locations.

The GNOME Pilot team has prepared RPMs of the latest release (0.9.3). You need this if you want to use the GNOME Pilot software. The GNOME Pilot ftp site is at

Advanced users can download the source and compile the package for themselves from the pilot-link archive at

Users of Debian 2.1 (Slink) or Corel Linux who plan to run the latest GNOME or KDE Pilot tools should consider compiling pilot-link for themselves. The version of pilot-link that shipped with Slink and Corel Linux is too old, and the versions available from the frozen and unstable versions of Debian (Potato and Woody) require other upgrades to meet pilot-link's dependencies. As with compile of a software package from source, make sure to remove any binary packages of pilot-link your distribution may have installed.

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