Linux and the PalmPilot

This article contains all the information you need to run Linux on the PalmPilot personal digital assistant.
Pilot Programs and Databases

Pilot programs have a .prc extension. Pilot databases have a .pdb extension. Much of the HOWTO documentation refers to all of the files (programs and data) as “databases”. Unless you're going to do development work the difference isn't important. When you upload a .prc file to the Pilot, you've loaded a program that it will run. The .pdb file is the data the programs will use.

There are no user programs or databases included in the pilot-link package that you can upload to your Pilot. You can find these at one of the many shareware sites on the Internet. The place to start your search for Pilot applications is 3Com's official PalmPilot site:, which includes links to a number of shareware and freeware sites. c|net also carries a collection of Pilot applications you can retrieve from their DOWNLOAD.COM site. This site also provides descriptions of the packages, which I find very helpful.

At the 3Com site, you will also find a collection of four games: Hardball, Minehunt, Subhunt and Puzzle. These are archived into a zip file. 3Com refers to this as a Windows file, but it can be used on Linux. Download it, taking care to specify a binary file transfer if you're using FTP. (Netscape and the other browsers should download it using a binary transfer automatically.) Once retrieved, use unzip to unpackage it. You should have four .prc files (file names are in uppercase) and a README.TXT. Be sure to read the text file. Now, let's take a look at how to upload these games to your Pilot using the pilot-xfer program.

Loading New Software and Databases

You've already made a backup, so you are now ready to try making changes to your Pilot. Change directories to wherever you unpacked the file and run:

pilot-xfer /dev/pilot -i *.PRC

The -i option is used to install new files into the Pilot. This command initiates the transfer of all four of the games in the package to the Pilot. The pilot-xfer program prompts you to press the HotSync button on the Pilot's cradle. Once you've pressed this button, the uploads will begin. Each of the applications uploaded will be listed by pilot-xfer. If you watch the Pilot's screen, you'll see the real name of the package as it is uploaded. This is the name the Pilot uses to reference the uploaded program.

When the upload is completed you should hear an audible signal, after which pilot-xfer exits. The programs are now ready to use. You can pull the Pilot out of its cradle to check that the new games are there. Try them to make sure they are working properly.

That's all there is to it! See how easy it is to use the pilot-link software? As well written and easy to use as so much of the software for Linux is, I am still amazed and impressed at the true simplicity of the Pilot software.


Now it's time to look around for some decent applications. Below is a list of some programs you may wish to look into:

  • HackMaster (shareware)

  • AppHack (shareware)

  • DinkyPad (shareware)

  • ClockHack (freeware)

  • LaunchPad (shareware)

  • SelectHack (shareware)

  • utilBas (freeware)

  • Pilot Stopwatch (shareware)

  • SketchPad (freeware)

All of these programs are available via links from the DOWNLOAD.COM site, as well as from a number of other Pilot shareware sites.

I highly recommend the HackMaster tool. It is needed in order to use the AppHack, MenuHack and a few others. The AppHack allows you to use the four real buttons (as opposed to the “silk screen” buttons) on the Pilot to launch applications. The MenuHack allows you to bring up the menu bars for applications by clicking on the top line of the window. Normally you need to click on the Menu silk screen button. LaunchPad is also a neat application. It provides a set of user-definable notebook tabs in which you can place the application icons. Consider it a file manager—not bad for a tiny device like the Pilot.


MakeDoc is a Linux-side tool for converting text files into a format that can be used by the AportisDoc reader. To use MakeDoc, run it with a command that looks similar to the following:

makedoc data.txt data.prc "Data to display"

where data.txt is the name of the text file you want to convert and data.prc is the name of the file you will create. The text enclosed in double quotes will be used as the document title in AportisDoc's list of documents. Again, once you've converted the text file to the proper Doc format, you can upload it with pilot-xfer as

pilot-xfer /dev/pilot -i data.txt