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Pick any channel you like
To get started with AvantGo, simply download its installation utility. Once you've answered an annoying string of personal questions, including name, e-mail address, gender, marital status, salary, and marketing preferences, AvantGo walks you through your account setup and selection of channels, the sites that provide customized content for AvantGo subscribers. High-profile channels include the online Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Car and Driver, and the Weather Channel, but you can also sign up for channels that deliver personalized content. Stock Smart, for instance, provides stock quotes based on the symbols you supply, while Hollywood.com brings you show times for local movie theaters. Do you like MapQuest? A few clicks turns the site's driving directions into your very own AvantGo channel.
Right off the bat, AvantGo solves the two main problems associated with viewing Web pages on a handheld PC: connectivity and formatting. Most AvantGo channels are designed specifically for handheld viewing, so they're uncluttered and easy to navigate. AvantGo also cleverly taps into your desktop computer's modem, downloading pages to your Palm device when you synchronize, so there's no need for Web access from your handheld.
Unfortunately, the see-when-you-sync approach has minor downsides. Although you can subscribe to as many channels as you like, each one eats a chunk of your handheld's memory, usually anywhere from 1 to 100K, depending on how much information it contains, and adds to the time it takes to sync. AvantGo's servers often drag, too. We clocked three or four minutes syncing just seven channels.
Slow to update; easily limits channel size
In its early days, AvantGo's special PC-based utility managed your channels, but now you'll need to add and remove channels via a Web-based interface. You can determine how often to refresh each channel, specify whether to include graphics, and set the maximum amount of data the channel should download, so you don't wind up with channels that eat, say, 500K of your handheld's memory. The interface is simple to use, but we found AvantGo's site almost unbearably slow.
Add your own site
AvantGo's capabilities extend far beyond mobile versions of the New York Times and the Onion, however. You can turn just about any Web site into an AvantGo channel, either by entering its URL manually or using AvantGo's AutoChannels option, found under your account preferences. AutoChannels adds a link to your browser toolbar that, when clicked, automatically adds the Web site you're visiting to your AvantGo channels. Nifty. If you're fluent in HTML, you can even build custom AvantGo channels to disseminate your own content. This tool can prove invaluable for businesses who want to, for example, make sales data available to field reps or provide a newsletter to customers. AvantGo also offers a wealth of enterprise-oriented tools; see the company's Web site for information and pricing.
We like AvantGo's extensive online user guides, which help with everything from installation to troubleshooting. If you need person-to-person assistance, you can send your question via e-mail and expect an answer in three to five days. Or you can purchase a "trouble ticket" for $19.95, which entitles you to 30 minutes of same-day phone support. We found the support offerings to be above average for a free app.
If you're looking for an easy and effective way to carry the best of the Web, don't leave home without AvantGo. It's a gem and a freebie to boot.