Dana Plaintext Suite: Streamlining the AlphaSmart Dana’s plain-text workflow on Windows

Created on Thursday, July 4, 2013.
Filed under Software, Productivity.

In this article I outline my improvements to plaintext workflow with the AlphaSmart Dana. Previously, importing .TXT files to the Dana and exporting Dana’s .PDB files as .TXTs was a slow process requiring several manual operations. I have produced a software suite that a) reduces it to a single drag-and-drop operation, and b) allows batch processing of many files at once.


Advantages of the AlphaSmart Dana in the laptop age

I am an avid user of two AlphaSmart word processor devices, the Neo and the Dana. The advantages of using such an old-timey platform over a laptop include huge battery life from standard AA batteries, a lack of distractions while writing, and the devices being lighter and less fragile than a normal laptop.

In particular, the Dana allows you to load Palm OS software onto it, meaning that it can fill other roles besides merely text input. For example, I use an applet called Interrupt Me! to maintain a Pomodoro Technique timer on the Dana itself.

Disadvantages of the Dana in modern workflows

Working on the Dana has one huge disadvantage, however, and that’s the fact that it only saves documents in the ancient .PDB format. Converting it to something usable in current software like .RTF is an extra step, and goodness help you if you like working in plain text like me. Conversion of a .PDB document to a .TXT text file is a process that is involves several manual operations. Importing a .TXT file is just as circuitous, involving manual operations on both the PC and Dana.

Automation leads to streamlining

In producing a solution, I focused on four requirements for data conversion:

  1. It should be one-step,
  2. Bi-directional,
  3. Batch-capable, and
  4. All done via the SD card, which is the big draw of the Dana in the first place. The Plaintext Suite delivers all of these. It uses WSCONV.exe, which is a utility that was distributed with WordSmith to convert its PDBs into RTFs for computer editing. To handle the conversion from TXT to RTF and back again, I wrote two utilities in Autohotkey. The “user interface” is just two batch files.

Download the software suite

Dana Plaintext Suite (Windows only)

Using this software

  1. Put the folders into the root directory of your Dana’s SD card. The directories will merge.
  2. When you have a document you want to export, go to SD:\PALM\Programs\AlphaWord and drag-and-drop the .PDB document onto the _Export PDB to TXT.bat batch file. You’ll see the .TXT file appear in the same directory as the original file.
  3. If you want to import a text file for editing in your Dana, drag and drop it onto the _Import TXT to Dana.bat batch file. A .PDB will appear in the SD:\PALM\Programs\AlphaWord directory.


  • I have not tested this against WordSmith’s .PDB output.
  • It’s possible that my RTF→TXT conversion program won’t convert some special characters properly when exporting from the Dana. Just shoot me an email via the contact form and tell me what it was supposed to be, and what it came out as in the .TXT output.
  • Similarly, it’s possible that some characters won’t convert properly when importing a TXT file. Let me know.
  • Dana appears to be very sensitive to linebreak style in its conversion input. It always wants Windows linebreaks (CRLF). However, the software should automatically produce Windows linebreaks regardless of input. Hopefully.


v2 (05 July 2013)

  • The filenames and titles of imported files are now automatically truncated to 30 characters. Previously, importing a file with a filename longer than that would produce a .PDB that was unreadable by the Dana.

v1 (04 July 2013)

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