One of my favorite uses of my early laptop computers was as an offline browser. I had a program that would download a page and everything linked on that page. By pointing it to the table of contents of that month’s Business Week, Atlantic Monthly, or Scientific American, I was able to download all of the articles. Then I could read them on the go and they would come up instantly without any sort of wired or wireless connection. It was great for the train.
When I ditched the laptops and got a Palm, there was a similar piece of software called AvantGo. It was designed to download sites of its partners, but you could also tell it to download custom sites. I used it for a while to download US News and World Report and still use it to download my blog and movie reviews. Since I am reading on the train and it goes underground, even wireless networks can’t provide this kind of service (if I wanted to pay for them, which I don’t). I use it to get most of the New York Times, movie times, movie reviews, space.com, and Tidbits (a Mac-oriented newsletter).
In the latest AvantGo download they announced they would no longer be providing mobile service as of June 30. Apparently they have become obsolete in an age of smartphones and data plans.
This was one of those programs that really made the Palm useful and unique. I don’t think offline browsing was ever really embraced by the general public, but I love it. And as far as I know there isn’t anything to replace it. They mentioned a program that is available, but it doesn’t run on Palms. There are RSS feeders, but I’m not sure what exists for Palm and if I can get the entire articles at once so that I can read them later without being connected. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle, the content was all free. And unlike smartphones, there was no data plan I had to buy. I could still carry around my dumb phone.
I know eventually I will replace the Palm TX I have now with an iPod Touch, but the Touch still lacks some key functionality that the Palm has like synching with an Access database, Word and Excel documents, and my Outlook calendar. AvantGo (or some kind of offline browser) was one of those things I wanted for the Touch to have too.
Lately I have been watching movies on the Palm on the way home from work so I haven’t used AvantGo as much, but I definitely use it every week. And with my newspaper subscription running out soon and the price doubling, I was thinking I would be synching every morning to AvantGo so I could still read the news on the way in. Oh well. A great idea, now thrown on the heap of obsolescence.