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PalmPilot Software Development - Alternatives to C

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Table of Contents

What's New?
The List of SDKs
Acronym Glossary

Michael's PalmPilot Page
My Software
Music on the PalmPilot


One of my interests is in being able to develop software for the Pilot.

When it comes to developing software for the pilot (and for other platforms!) I don't have the time or the patience to learn a new API and to write complex event loops - I believe that the programming language should provide the basic infrastructure and should let me concentrate on the problem I'm trying to solve and not on getting the right parts of structures filled out, getting pointers to point to the right place and so on. In particular, I gave up using C a number of years ago and have never looked back. I consider Java to be a much superior language (and I'm glad I leapfrogged having to deal with C++!) and also give high marks to various declarative programming languages such as Prolog, Mercury, Haskell, etc. and to scripting languages such as Python, Ruby, Lua, etc.

Another advantage of programming at a higher level and not directly touching the Pilot APIs is portability - a number of the tools and languages described below allow software to run unchanged on both Pilot and WinCE devices. One language (Waba) also allows software developed to run under the standard Java runtime environment - you can run the same program on your Pilot and (as a preview perhaps?) on a webpage as an applet; this is really cool!

By using high level languages (higher than C at any rate) it can become possible to guarantee that programs don't crash the machine (for example by accessing random parts of memory). Debugging also becomes easier.

Finally, a big argument in favour of higher level languages and APIs is productivity:

We are very excited about Satellite Forms and view it as comparable to Visual Basic on Windows. If you can afford it, you should use it. Even if your final shipping application is based in C, this environment is great for rapid prototyping. It allows quick development of applications without forcing you to get involved in the low-level nuts and bolts of creating an application from scratch.

Let's put it this way--if we (veteran C/C++ programmers) were writing any application for the Palm OS, we'd first look to see whether we could use Satellite Forms. We give this strong a recommendation because of the experience we had with porting the sample application in this book to Satellite Forms. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the environment. You can create quite sophisticated applications very quickly with little or no custom code. For example, consider the Sales application that we are developing in this book. Using C, this application has more than 2,000 lines of code and took weeks to write. Using Satellite forms, we created an application with similar functionality in about three hours--this includes the time it took to learn how to use Satellite Forms.
(Palm Programming: The Developer's Guide, towards the end of section 2.4)

DISCLAIMER: This page reflects my opinion and assessment. It is intended to provide primarily facts and links, not opinions. How much I write about a product has no correlation with whether I consider the product to be good or not.

If you would like to suggest some tool I don't know about, correct me on some point, or give me any other feedback, please feel free to send me an email.

Back to the top of this page

What's New?

13th December 2005: Updated URL for Pocket VisualForms

24th November 2005: Update HSPascal (now non-commercial, thanks to John for updating me). Also fixed URL for PocketStudio.

1st September 2005: Fixed link to ppforth and updated Satellite Forms. (Thanks Andy!)

23rd June 2005: Removed some dead links and updated comment about Quartus being one of two platforms able to generate native code (which was true when I wrote it, but subsequently other platforms with this facility have appeared).

16th May 2005: Quartus update: new version.

2nd February 2005: Updated Dragon Forth (now GPL)
Also minor updates to Quartus and PP.

28th October 2004: Updated OnboardC listing.

4th September 2004: Added Palmphi.

14th August 2004: Added benchmarks for LaFac and iziBasic.

11th August 2004: (yikes, almost a year since the last update!)
Added LaFac and iziBasic

7th September 2003: Added PP benchmark.
Added HB++ (and benchmark)

16th July 2003: Added SHARK

8 April 2003: Added nano-false

9 March 2003:
Added cbasPad 5 and benchmark results (thanks to Ron Nicholson)
Added Pocket VisualForms

13 January 2003: (Happy new year!)
Added note about the Metrowerks CodeWarrior benchmark.
Added link to Bench2 - a better benchmark by Laurent Duveau.
Added PP (onboard pascal compiler).
Added link to TinyLogo.

16 December 2002: New version of OrbForms Designer.

23 November 2002:
Added C++ frameworks (brief)
Added Pendragon (thanks to Luu Duong)

9 November 2002: Added benchmark for NS Basic 2.1 and 3.0, updated file for Metrowerks benchmark, and fixed typo in table.

28 October 2002:
New benchmark: C (Metrowerks CodeWarrior 8.3, courtesy of Scott Elliott)
Added Rexx

27 September 2002: New version of OrbForms Designer.

23 August 2002:
Updated Onboard C (now open-source)
Updated Plua (new version)
Updated Dragon Forth (now has web page)
Updated PocketStudio (version 1.1, added price information)
Added benchmark for Pocket Studio (courtesy of Scott Elliott - Thanks!)

8 July 2002: New version and price for CASL

14 June 2002: Minor clarification to benchmark table

13 June 2002:
Updated High Speed Pascal (now released)
Added picoBASIC

11 May 2002:
Added more benchmarks.
Added OrbForms Designer
Updated description of superwaba under Waba.

12 April 2002:
Added Palm TCL.

12 March 2002:
New version of HotPaw; also updated benchmark (thanks Ron!)

7 March 2002:
New version of LispMe.

12 February 2002:
Added to pdatoolbox.
Updated AppForge benchmark and URL for AppForge synopsis.

4 January 2002:
Fixed link to ppforth.

17 December 2001:
Added NS Basic Benchmark
Updated versions of PocketC and of LispMe.
Fixed SmallBASIC link.

10 November 2001:
Added Karel

15 August 2001:
Added mobileStudio C++

14 June 2001:
Added Kinectivity Studio

21 May 2001:
Added Lyme

11 May 2001:
Added additional benchmarks to the benchmark table.

10 May 2001:
Added Plua and benchmark.
Added ppforth.
Added New CASL benchmark courtesy of Frank O'Brien.
Added Poplet and updated Action Pad.
Added Poplet benchmark.

13 April 2001:
Added PalmLog and PalmTao.
Updated DB2 Everyplace description.
Added Dragon Forth

29 March 2001: Fixed description of High Speed Pascal

22 March 2001:
Added High Speed Pascal
Added PocketStudio
Added Kada VM

21 March 2001:
Added AppForge benchmark
Added PDA Toolbox
Added SmallBASIC
Added ScriptEase:Integration SDK
Fixed link to Scheme (under LispMe)

4 March 2001:
Added CASL vs NSBasic and AppForge to CASL.
Added links to WabaJump and SuperWaba to Waba.

27 February 2001: Added Pippy (Python for the Palm Pilot)

6 December 2000: Added AppForge

29 Sept 2000: Added benchmarking for HotPaw Basic and updated benchmark for version 3.8 of PocketC.

27 Sept 2000: Added link to NS Basic review.

24 Sept 2000: Restructured the page:

23 Sept 2000: New SDKs/products:

The List of Software Development Kits (SDKs)

(Note that all prices are in US dollars)

Quick Reference

Palm Hosted

PC Hosted

PC Hosted: GUI Builders

PC Hosted: Java

PC Hosted: Other

C Frameworks

Palmphi is a free windows-based integrated development environment that provides a graphical GUI builder, class browser and other assistance with programming. The language used is C. (thanks to Bill Cianfrani for pointing it out)

The following use C++, but are alternatives to Palm's standard APIs. (thanks to Scott Elliott for pointing them out)


Action Pad from Handwave.
The product is called Action Pad, the language is called HandScript. The language is a subset of Javascript (basically, Javascript without objects). The user interface is an extention of the memo pad with an additional "do it" button. This makes playing around and experimenting easy. There is also a nice interface for browsing a library of functions. I haven't used this enough to comment on reliability (seems reliable), or functionality and the APIs provided. Action Pad can be extended in C, but the documentation was a little sparse on how this works.
Size: 85K
Version examined: 0.90 beta
Cost: $19.95
Current version (10 May 2001): Action Pad is no longer available. It has been replaced by The Poplettm Kit

The AppForge Toolkit for Visual Basic allows developers to use Visual Basic to write applications for Palm OS. Requires Visual Basic. Currently beta, will be available for $299?

CAML light for PalmOS
This is still under development although an alpha version is available. CAML is a member of the ML family - an impure functional language which is strongly (and statically) typed. For more information on CAML (which is available for Unix, PC, and Mac) see the (beginner) FAQ. Although ML has a fairly ugly syntax (IMHO) it is an expressive and powerful language including such features as garbage collection, type inference, safety (no core dumps!), pattern matching, numerous data types, imperative features, modules, object-orientation support, exceptions, and polymorphic typing (phew!).
Cost: free
Development on this seems to have stalled.

CASL from CASLSoft
Update (8 July 2002): new version is 3.3, price is now $84.95.

I've had a quick look through the documentation. CASL seems to be strongly oriented to IS vertical applications (surveys, forms, data collection, inventory). CASL provideds an IDE which runs on the PC and includes a drag 'n drop GUI builder. Functionality is specified using a scripting language.
Size: 41K
Version examined: 2.5
Cost: $64.95
Current version (24 sept 2000): 3.0

CASL and Satellite Forms are quite similar. The differences between them that are apparent include:

Frank O'Brien has an independant CASL page with examples of source code, tips, programs, tools and other stuff. Frank's CASL page also has a comparison between CASL, NSBasic and AppForge.

Update email from Mark, a CASL user:

I just have a few updates about CASL (since I've been using it for about 2 years).

There is a "Pro" version (+$40) that compiles directly to C which improves the speed. You can link in C code libraries. Current version is now 3.0

The PC development environment is great since it includes an emulator and debugger (breakpoints, monitor variables, etc) that has saved me from myself many times.

cbasPad by Ron Nicholson
BASIC. The programming language is fairly limited (as is the wont of BASIC's) but provides nice, simple access to some PalmPilot functionality such as graphics (as is the wont ...)
Size: 47K
Version examined: 0.92b
Current version: (24 sept 2000) 0.97b4
Cost: free

cbasPad 5 by Ron Nicholson
cbasPad is an experimental version of cbasPad that runs on the newer palm-pilots (such as the Palm Tungsten T) using the ARM CPU. It only runs on these machines (under OS5), but runs natively and is, according to Ron's website, "Blazingly Fast".

DB2 Everyplace from IBM
DB2 Everyplace isn't a programming language. Rather, it is a bridge to IBM's DB2 which integrates data and allows data transfer. Software can be developed using Satellite Forms or other SDKs.

This product is currently in beta and should be shipping in June. Versions exists for all three major platforms (PalmOS (PalmPilot), Windows CE, and EPOC (Psion)).
Note name change from Everywhere to Everyplace.

According to John Kovar DB2 now comes with Personal Application Builder - a GUI form design interface which compiles using the GNU compiler.

"DB2 Everywhere works in concert with IBM Mobile Connect, a pervasive computing technology that provides direct access to corporate networks from handheld devices. IBM Mobile Connect manages the automatic exchange of data between mobile devices and corporate networks. In addition to synchronizing DB2 applications and data, IBM Mobile Connect synchronizes email with Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, and personal information management applications such as calendars and address books. IBM Mobile Connect also synchronizes applications and software to the mobile device, providing a complete, integrated solution for the mobile worker.

For rapid application development, DB2 Everywhere will be available with rapid application development tools. Available with DB2 Everywhere is the DB2 Application Developer, a visual construction tool for Palm Computing Platform applications. Soon to be available with DB2 Everywhere support is Satellite Forms Enterprise Edition from Puma Technology. Satellite Forms is the leading visual development tool for devices based on the Palm Computing Platform including 3Com connected organizers, Symbol(R) Technologies' SPT family of devices, the IBM WorkPad PC Companion, and the IBM WorkPad c3. With Satellite Forms and DB2 Everywhere, developers can quickly create sophisticated handheld applications that seamlessly integrate with enterprise data from the DB2 family of databases and Lotus Notes.

Application developers who choose not to use Satellite Forms or the DB2 Everywhere Personal Application Builder will find it easy to develop applications for DB2 Everywhere. DB2 Everywhere's programming interface supports three industry-standard interfaces. DB2 Everywhere supports a subset of the DB2 Call Level Interface (CLI), a subset of the Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) interface, and a subset of the Java Database Connectivity(JDBC) interface(for EPOC only)."

Dragon Forth
Forth interpreter for the PalmPilot. Now has a website. Formerly cost $45 professional, $99 enterprise; now GPL on sourceforge.

... It is fast 32bit FORTH system having the following features:
  • Full ANS 94 compatibility
  • Fast 32bit and 64bit arithmetic
  • Multitasking kernel (!)
  • Supporting PalmOS from 2.0 to 4.0
  • Fast creating of prc and fast cloning the forth system
  • Supporting all of 1052 api functions of PalmOS 3.5 with color support
  • Automatic and efficient type cast for api calls (!)
  • Built in IEEE-754 Float package
  • Native interface to well-known library MathLib
  • Built in 500 PalmOS error messages
  • Clear using of callback functions
  • Compatibility with SP-FORTH 3.x/4.x, DS-FORTH 2.x
  • Ability to develop and compile your programs on PC
This system is ready for 100% palm development process, you can write your programs anywhere only with help of your palm device.Now you can think only about your task, we are making all the rest.

Ghostmachine by Sean McDirmid
An implementation of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) for the Pilot.
This project is officially inactive.

A visual basic-like development environment that runs under windows. It seems to have a fairly rich libraries (including database access, networking, GUI elements, etc.). HB++ generates a single executable (no runtime needed). A free trial version is available. Prices vary depending on the number of licenses, a single (discounted) license is a little under 1300 US$.

High Speed Pascal by Christen Fihl
"HSPascal is a Pascal compiler which generates compact standalone PRCs. It is a one program environment with integrated IDE. It has most of TurboPascal's features and ease of use, except for objects and a debugger. " (from Christen Fihl)

High Speed Pascal costs US$75 or 75 euros (except for EEC companies outside of Denmark that have an EEC VAT number; they pay $60)
Update (24 November 2005): HSPascal is now non-commercial (by donation).

High speed Pascal shares its name (but not much code!) with an earlier commercial product which was available for Amiga and Atari machines in the 90s.

iziBasic by Laurent Duveau
iziBasic is an implementation of BASIC. Its distinguishing feature is that it can generate stand-alone applications. Shareware costing US$15.

HotPaw by Ron Nicholson
HotPaw BASIC is the successor to cbasPad.
Cost: $20
Current version (24 sept 2000): 1.2.0
Current version (12 March 2002): 1.3.2

J9 from IBM
IBM has an embedded Java development environment which targets (among others) the PalmPilot. More details at I'll be providing more information once my CD arrives :-)
Cost: free or $99 for a collaborative version.

JUMP By Greg Hewgill
JUMP compiles Java to assembler code which is then compiled using Pila. From memory, it requires that you write a pilotmain (not sure if this is the right name) routine which implements an event loop.
Cost: free.
Current version (24 sept 2000): 1.0 beta 4

Karel by Michael Winikoff
Karel the robot is an educational tool for teaching programming. Karel is a robot with a simple vocabulary of actions it can perform and conditions it can sense. Karel was introduced by Richard Pattis in the book Karel The Robot: A Gentle Introduction to the Art of Programming (second edition 1994, first edition 1981). This implementation takes the form of a collection of library procedures for PocketC. You write PocketC programs using these procedures and the library provides the display (as well as a world editor). Since programs are compiled with PocketC you'll need the full version of PocketC, not the runtime only version. The example below is shown running in the animated GIF on the right.
// KarelExample
include "karel"
main() {
    turnOn(); setPause(370);
    while (!blocked()) {
        if (beeper()) pickup();
    turnLeft(); move();
    while (wallLeft()) move();
    turnLeft();  move();
    while (holdingBeeper()) {
        drop(); move();
    move(); move();

Kada VM from Kada Systems
Yet another Java VM. This one claims a number of features (code minimizer, ahead-of-time compilation, installer, debugging facilities) as well as small memory footprint, complete personal Java API support, and support for threads.

Kinectivity Studio from Pencel
Focuses on developing and deploying enterprise applications. Provides both environment for developing palm-side apps (using GUI builder and a language based on Javascript) and server-side integration. I haven't had the time to look at this in detail but from reading their review guide it seems quite comprehensive. Expensive (starts at $695) but it's aimed at organisations wanting to develop solutions integrating handhelds with their data infrastructure, not at individual developers.

KVM from Sun
The KVM is a Java VM (Virtual Machine) implementation from Sun. The name comes from the fact that memory usage is measured in Kilobytes, not Megabytes. Unfortunately I haven't had the time to have a good look at this. My first impressions was that performance was a little slow. KVM is an outgrowth of Spotless (below). This page has various example applets and a number of links including the FAQ, a tutorial etc.
Size: 118K
Cost: Free
Version Examined: EA 0.2

LaFac by Laurent Duveau
LaFac (which stands for "LAnguage FACtory") is a language implementation that uses a common byte-code ("p-code") to provide an implementation platform for four different programming languages: micro-pascal, micro-c, micro-basic, and a weird language called HELP that's similar in some ways to FALSE. LaFac is free and can generate stand-alone applications.

Lyme by Calerga
Lyme is a PalmOS port of the Lightweight Math Engine used in SysQuake. Although it is ostensibly a tool for scientific visualisation and simulation with extensive graphing capabilities, there is a full blown programming language under the hood with extensive support for graphing and mathematical functions.

The online documentation gives a good feel for using Lyme and the list of functions gives a feel for its capabilities.

Lyme is free and requires PalmOS 3.1 (or better?) and at least a megabyte of free memory.

LispMe by Fred Bayer
The name is a misnomer - LispMe is actually a Scheme interpreter. It provides a reasonably complete Scheme implementation with graphics functions, user interface support (palmOS forms), and access to HanDBase databases.
Size: 43K
Versions examined: 1.52, 2.7
Current version (7 March 2002): 3.1
Cost: free

mobileStudio C++ from M.Labs
This is a C++ based IDE (using GCC) with various editors (forms, alerts, images, etc.), and various wizards (e.g. AppWizard, ClassWizard). It also provides an OOP application framework. Current cost is $19.95.

NS Basic/palm from NS Basic
NS Basic has been around for a while, starting life as a development tool for Apple's Newton. The company has recently released a PalmPilot product. This runs on the PC and can be best thought of "Visual Basic for the PalmPilot".
Cost: $99.95
Current version (24 sept 2000): 1.06

This is a C compiler which runs on the Pilot. It takes input either from memos or from doc files (which can be edited using qed). Since OnboardC is a C compiler using the Pilot API it doesn't really belong on this page - I mention it since it is unusual in that the compilation is done on the Pilot.

Update (28 October 2004): OnboardC now includes an integrated document editor called SrcEdit.
Update (22 August 02): OnboardC is now available for free from a Yahoo group. Also, development of it is continuing (as open-source) on SourceForge.
Update (8 February 2005): There is a framework called Rapid Palm GUI by Juergen Bermann which assists with developing GUIs with OnboardC.
Current version (24 sept 2000): 1.004
Cost: free (used to be $15)

OrbForms Designer from OrbWorks
A windows-based graphical user interface builder that uses a C-like language for coding event handlers. The language is similar, but not identical to PocketC (also from OrbWorks). OrbWorks can generate either a single PRC that includes the runtime system, or a (smaller) PRC that relies on the OrbForms runtime being distributed separately. Performance (see below) is significantly better than PocketC (and other interpreted implementations).

Version 1.0 was released 25 April 2002, followed by 1.0.1 on the 8th of May (2002). OrbForms is shareware with the restriction that applications built with the non-registered version will only run on the Palm emulator. OrbForms costs $95.

27 September: version 1.2.0 released. New features (from the email from Jeremy) include:

NEW Version 2.0.1 released 12th December. New features include code-completion and calltip (displays information on functions and their arguments as you type). Also, the price has been reduced to $85 and there is a personal license for $55 (for non-commercial use and freeware).

Palm Tcl
An implementation of TCL (based on version 7.6). The implementation uses the tools pilrc and par and is portable to any platform where these will run (e.g. Windows, Unix). The TCL implementation is packaged with the TCL scripts and Palm resources (e.g. forms) into a single .prc file.

Palm Tcl is a open source programming language and development environment for creating applications for handheld devices running the Palm OS operating system. Its primary goal is to simplify and accelerate the process of application development for Palm OS. Palm Tcl allows programmers to write applications without requiring them to know the intricacies of the Palm OS runtime environment. Programs written in Palm Tcl are generally an order of magnitude shorter than their C equivalents and can be written in a fraction of the time.

PDA Toolbox
A user interface builder which is unusual in that no programming language is used - actions are selected from a fixed list which operates on an underlying database. This makes PDA Toolbox quite easy to use but limits its application scope.

Jared Norton runs the support site for PDA Toolbox.

"Build data collection applications for Palm OS handheld devices in minutes. Point-and-click design interface makes forms creation, distribution and synchronization easy for non-programmers. "

picoBASIC by Picodoc
An implementation of old-style BASIC (similar to GW-Basic according to S. Hall) that runs on the palmpilot. Appears to be free, requires OS v3.1.

Pippy: Python for the Palm
Pippy is a port of Python for PalmOS. It is a continuation of earlier work.

Nano-False by Willow Fung
This is an interpreter for False. False is a language that was designed to be "challenging" to use and to allow for a compact implementation - the original False compiler by Wouter van Oortmerssen for the Amiga was 1024 bytes long! (yes, bytes, not kilo-bytes). False is forth-like but uses single characters for commands rather than names; for example forth's dup is $ in False.

This implementation by Willow Fung is written in Java and can be run on Palm Pilots as well as on certain models of Mobile Phones!

PalmLog by Willow Fung
This is an interpreter for a Prolog-like language. It's still an early version (0.2 from memory) which is missing documentation and needs some improvement to the user interface.
Important: The web site provides a file MemoDB.pdb which contains examples. My understanding is that installing this file will overwrite all of your existing memos. Don't do it.

PalmTao by Willow Fung
This is an interpreter for the lambda calculus. It's still an early version (0.2 from memory) which is missing documentation and needs some improvement to the user interface.
Important: The web site provides a file MemoDB.pdb which contains examples. My understanding is that installing this file will overwrite all of your existing memos. Don't do it.

Plua is a port of Lua to the Palm by Márcio Migueletto de Andrade. It has access to graphics, events, etc and is free.
New version out (August 2002)

PocketC from Orbworks
Produced by Orbworks, this uses a C syntax but is safe due to the lack of pointers. Development is done on the Palm (or WinCE) and the code (written as a Memo) is compiled to an intermediate form which is executed. The intermediate form can be distributed if you don't want to give out your source code.

The language is fairly weak - it doesn't have facilities for dynamic memory allocation (actually it does now - see below); but it has quite a rich set of functions for accessing Palm system functionality (graphics, text I/O, timers, pen input and events, memo pad and database access). Although it doesn't have GUI elements, there is a toolkit available which implements them. PocketC allows recursion.

PocketC seems fairly reliable although it does crash sometimes. The developers are aware of this and I'd expect this problem to be fixed soon.

A new version of PocketC (for Palm) has been released. New goodies include a pointer data type, memory allocation routines, and the ability to capture the hardware buttons and the menu button. Execution speed hasn't changed significantly as far as I can tell.
Size: 47K (this is the full development environment, runtime only is smaller)
Versions examined: 2.1, 3.7
Current version (17 December 2001): 4.1.1
Cost: $18.50

Pocket VisualForms by Diego Calp
Pocket VisualForms is a windows-based tool for designing forms. It generates PocketC code.

The Poplettm Kit from Handwave
The Poplet kit (which replaces Action Pad) allows applications to be extended with "poplets" - little applications that can be brought up using the command bar (introduced in OS 3.5). These poplets take as input the selected text and can be brought up in any application (whereas Action Pad only allowed programs to be run taking input from selected text in a memo). The language used is HandScript (same as ActionPad) and the user interface is similar. The Poplet kit requires OS 3.5. Runtime is free but the development version (which is available for trial for a week) costs $19.95.

PP by Philippe Guillot NEW
An freeware onboard Pascal compiler. According to Laurent Duveau's benchmark PP is one of the faster development platforms.
"PP is a freeware standard Pascal compiler for PalmOS. PP generates true native 68000 executable code (.PRC) from standard Pascal source code. You can use your favorite Palm DOC editor to write your code, and either run PP from the VFSdos console or PP Shell to compile and run your program."

Update (2/2/2005): New website, and there is a resource editor called Bird

ppforth by Jih-tung Pai
A Palm port of Pai's Linux forth (lpforth).

Pocket Smalltalk by Andrew Brault
This is an implementation of Smalltalk which generates PalmPilot executables. It has been used to write the game Dungeoneers. Development involves compiling on the PC then downloading to the PalmPilot for testing. There are plans to add PC side execution to Pocket Smalltalk. It is also possible to use a PC smalltalk (such as Dolphin Smalltalk).

The new version (2.0) is based on Squeak and runs on a number of platforms. It also targets a number of platforms.
Size: 44K (pocket smalltalk generates a single PRC, the size is 44K plus the user's code)
Version examined: 1.5 beta
Current version (24 sept 2000): 2.0 alpha
Cost: free

PocketStudio 1.1 from Pocket Technologies
A compiler (for Pascal) and IDE described as "Delphi-like". Pricing is $60 (well, $59.99) for standard version, and $200 for professional edition ($199.99). They also offer training.

Python to Palm Port
Alpha software but potentially promising.
Cost: free

Rexx by Jaxo Inc.
An interpreter for the Rexx language that runs on the Palm. Also includes "rexxlets" - a hack that allows you to use Rexx scripts as popups from within other applications.
REXX is a programming language designed by Michael Cowlishaw of IBM UK Laboratories. Rexx is an acronym which stands for "Restructured Extended Executor Language". In Mike's own words: "REXX is a procedural language that allows programs and algorithms to be written in a clear and structured way."
What makes REXX different from most other languages is that it is also designed to be used as a macro language by arbitrary application programs. The idea is that application developers don't have to design their own macro languages and interpreters. Instead they use REXX as the macro language and support the REXX programming interface.
What is Rexx? from the Rexx FAQ.

Quartus by Neal Bridges
Quartus is an outgrowth of PilotForth. It compiles to native code and is one of two development environment running on the Pilot capable of doing this (the other being OnboardC). [Update (23/6/05): this was true back in 2000 when I wrote this, but is no longer the case: for example, PP can also generate native code.] It is intended to be compatible with the ANS Forth standard. I consider Forth to be a low-level language at the same level as C. (Whoops, I think I've just mortally offended both C and Forth programmers here ... seriously, I've heard from other people who disagree with my assessment of Forth. As always, if in doubt, go to the sources and make up your own opinion). There are two versions of Quartus: a free version which doesn't allow generation of standalone .PRC files and a for sale version which does have that facility.
Size: 75K
Version examined: 0.7.4 beta
Current version (24 sept 2000): 1.2.1e
Current version (2 Feb 2005): 1.5.3
Current version (16th May 2005): 2.0.0
Cost: free / $99.95

Satellite Forms from Puma
Looks fairly similar to CASL: PC based IDE with GUI builder (don'tcha love all these acronyms?) and a fairly limited programming language.
Cost: $795 (standard edition) or $995 (enterprise edition)
Current version (24 sept 2000): Standard and Enterprise editions (version 3.5)
Size: 78K

update: (1 September 2005) it appears that Satellite forms has moved to and that Puma are no longer involved?

ScriptEase:Integration SDK from Nombas
An implementation of JavaScript (aka ECMAscript)
This page discusses scripting on embedded devices.

Free (GPL) BASIC. Versions exist for Linux, Windows, DOS, and PalmOS. Screen shots can be found here.
Current version (17 December 2001): 0.7.1

Spotless from Sun Labs.
Spotless is a Java Virtual Machine for the PalmPilot. It was developed by a research team at Sun Labs. The research team was looking at how to produce a JVM which required tens of kilobytes of memory, rather than megabytes of memory.

Spotless differs from waba in that it supports the full Java language including threads (!) and exceptions. On the other hand waba provides a richer and more comprehensive library for user interface development and for accessing palm pilot functionality such as databases, graphics, serial IO etc. Spotlet only provides basic graphics and events (keys and pen up/down/move). Finally, waba is significantly faster.
Size: 43K
Cost: free

StylusWareBasic from StylusWare, Inc.
This product is inspired by Visual Basic and provides an integrated development environment (IDE) running under Windows which allows GUIs to be easily constructed. Behavior is specified using a scripting language (Basic). This is currently in beta testing and a demo can be downloaded. Final pricing (or release date) is not yet available.

TinyLogo by Timothy Lipetz
TinyLogo is (as the name suggests) a version of Logo. It is written in PocketC which, unfortunately, means that execution speed is fairly limited.
Size: 29K
Current version (24 sept 2000): 1.1
Cost: free

"TinyLogo is a programming language and program execution environment for the Palm handheld computer. It is especially friendly to beginning programmers or people who just want to get a simple idea of what programming is all about. Once TinyLogo is installed, programs can be written and run entirely on the Palm computer. Also, since TinyLogo programs can be saved and loaded from memos, they can be exchanged with anyone else running TinyLogo. TinyLogo has over 75 built-in procedures and most importantly, allows you to extend the language by writing your own procedures. Within a very short time, new programmers can write their own procedures to create computer graphics, play music, manipulate words and sentences, and calculate numbers."

Waba from Wabasoft
Waba is perhaps the most exciting development language. The language used is a subset of Java (missing threads and exceptions) but uses the Waba standard library instead of Sun's (much richer) libraries. Applications are compiled using a standard Java compiler and can be executed on a PalmPilot, Windows CE Palm-sized PC, or under a standard Java runtime environment - including netscape! You can put a program on your web page for people to try out before they download it to their PDA ... David Linker has done this with Conway's game of Life. Also, Takechi Masashi has produced a simple game using Waba and presented it using a nice Palm border.

Unfortunately, the standard library which Waba provides is fairly limited - it has graphics, but no text output (as in a scrolling console; however, see my tty library for waba), there are no GUI elements (although code implementing buttons is given in the example programs), and there is no way to access memos.
Version originally examined: 1.0 beta 3
Size: 39K
Current version (24 sept 2000): 1.0
Cost: free (open source)

"Just in time for the Year 2000, Yorick Systems is proud to introduce YS Cobol, the first COBOL development tool for the Palm Computing Platform!"

What more can be said ... except that the announcement was posted on the 1st of April.

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In order to get a feel for how easy it is to use the various languages I decided to write a very simple program under each SDK. An obvious program to try was the following simple benchmark:

x=1000; y=0; while (x>0) {x=x-1; y=y+2;}

Below I give comments on my experience with each of the SDKs used and then give the resulting numbers. The usual caveats for benchmarks apply and then some additional caveats: this is a trivial benchmark and only gives a very very very rough idea of the expected performance.

NEW: A better benchmark has been developed by Laurent Duveau.

Click on the name of the SDK to view the relevant source code.


Additional benchmarks. These we run (or re-run) on my Palm m515. I've reported them below on their own, and also inserted the extrapolated times (according to Neal Bridges' benchmark program) in the main table (in red). Note that the performance ratios vary: whereas normalised CASLPro on the m515 is faster than on a palm IIIxe, PocketC (normalised) is slower.

Palm m515 results (1000 iterations)
Platform Time Time bar
(shorter is better)
Metrowerks CodeWarrior 8.3 see above
HB++ 0.00295
PP 0.00331
High Speed Pascal 0.0054
OnboardC 0.0065
PocketStudio 1.1
Quartus 0.0175
CASLPro 0.18
OrbForms 0.50
LispMe 3.11 April 2002 0.79
PLua 1.0b12 approx. 0.8
LaFac: HELP 1.04
iziBasic 1.17
PDE Standalone 1.28
SmallBasic 1.41
PDE PRC only 1.45
HotPaw Basic 1.2.2b1 1.59
LaFac: Micro-Basic 1.70
PocketC 4.3 1.85
CASL 1.92
NS Basic 3.0 2-3
LaFac: Micro-C and Micro-Pascal 2.85
NS Basic 2.1 5-6
Notes on new benchmarks:


Platform Iterations Approximate
Run Time
in Seconds
(shorter is better)
OnboardC (normalised palm m515) 100000 1.21
PocketStudio 1.1 (normalised palm m515) 1,000,000 13.8
OnboardC (original palm III benchmark) 100000 1.61
Quartus 32000 1
Quartus 1.2.1U (99.03.06) 32000 1.04
Action Pad 100000 4.42
The Poplet kit 100000 4.53
Waba (beta 6) 32000 5
AppForge 2.1 10000 1.62
CASLPro 1000
Spotless 1000
CASLPro (Frank O'Brien, Palm V) 1000
CASLPro (me, Palm IIIxe) 10000 4.8
AppForge (Rene van der Meer, IIIc) 1000 0.8
OrbForms (beta) 1000 0.93
Pocket Smalltalk 1000 1
Waba (beta 4) 1000 1
LispMe 3.11 (April 2002) 1000 1.47
PLua 1.0b12 10000 approx 14.8
Hotpaw Basic 1.3.2
(Ron, 1.43s on Vx)
1000 1.9
LispMe 1000 2
cbasPad 1000 2
PDE (Standalone) 1000 2.38
PocketC 3.8 1000 2.47
PocketC 3.8 (me, IIIxe) 1000 2.54
PocketC 3.7 (Albert J. Franklin, IIIx) 10000 26
SmallBasic 0.8.2 1000 2.62
PDE PRC only 1000 2.69
Plua 10000 28
HotPaw Basic 1.2.2b1 1000 2.95
Satellite Forms 1000 3
Hotpaw Basic 1000 3.34
Hotpaw Basic (Rene van der Meer, IIIc) 1000 3.37
PocketC 4.3 1000 3.43
CASL 1000
PocketC 1000 4
CASL (Frank O'Brien, Palm V) 1000
CASL (me, IIIxe) 1000 4.44
CASL (Rene van der Meer, IIIc) 1000 4.84
CASL 1000 5
NS Basic 1.06 (Albert J. Franklin, IIIx) 10000 80.17


Additional/Contributed Benchmarks

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Acronym Glossary

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