Reading Palm Datebook files on Linux (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Mon, 31 Aug 2009

Reading Palm Datebook files on Linux

Over the years, I've kept a few sets of records in the Datebook app on my PalmOS PDA -- health records and such. I've been experimenting with a few python plotting packages (pycha, CairoPlot and a few others) and I wanted to try plotting one of my Datebook databases.

Not so fast. It seems that it's been a year or more since I last crunched any of this data -- and in the time since then, pilot-link has bumped its version numbers and is now shipping instead of .8.

So what? Well, the problem is that Linux hasn't offered any way to read Palm Datebook files for years. The pilot-link package offered on most distros used to include a program called pilot-datebook, but it was deleted from the source several years ago. Apparently it was hard to maintain.

Back when it first disappeared, I built the previous version of the source, stuck the pilot-datebook binary in ~/bin/linux and have been using it ever since. Which worked fine -- until was no longer there. (Linking .9 to .8 didn't work either.) This is all the more ironic because I don't need pilot-datebook to talk to the PDA with libpisock -- all I want to do is parse the format of a file I've already uploaded.

Off to hunt for an old version of the source. I started at, but gave up after a while -- they don't seem to have source there except for the latest couple of versions, nor do they have any documentation. Ironically, in their FAQ the very first question is "How can I read the databook entries from a Palm backup?" but the FAQ page is broken and the "answer" is actually another unrelated FAQ question.

Anyway, no help there. I tried googling for old tarballs but there doesn't seem to be anything like for source code. All I found was the original pilot-datebook page, with a tarball that you insert into a copy of pilot-link 0.9.5 then modify the Makefile. Might work but that's really old.

So I fell back on old distributions. I guessed that Ubuntu Dapper was old enough that it might still have pilot-datebook. So I went to the Dapper pilot-link source and downloaded the source tarball (curiously, they don't offer src debs -- you have to download the tarball and patches separately).

Of course, it doesn't build on Ubuntu Jaunty. It had various entertaining errors ranging from wanting a mysterious tcl.m4 file not present in the code ... to not being able to find <iostream.h< because all the C++ stdlib files have recently been renamed to remove the .h ... to a change in the open() system call where I needed to add permissions argument for O_CREAT.

But I did get it working! So now I have a pilot-datebook program that builds and runs on Ubuntu Jaunty, and parses my DatebookDB.pdb file.

Since I bet I'm not the only one in the world who occasionally wants to read a Palm Datebook file, I've put my working version of the source here: pilot-link_0.11.8.jaunty.tar.gz.

After the usual configure and make, if all you want is pilot-datebook, cd src/pilot-datebook then copy both pilot-datebook and the directory .libs to wherever you want to install them.

And yeah, it would be better to write a standalone program that just parsed the format. But it's hard to justify that for what's essentially a dead platform. The real solution is to quit using a Palm for this, import the data into some common format and keep it on my Linux workstation from now on.

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[ 12:39 Aug 31, 2009    More linux | permalink to this entry | ]

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