This article is a collection of information on the Psion Series 3(a) palmtop computers. It should be read by anyone intending to post to the comp.sys.psion.* newsgroups.
Version: $VER: Psion FAQ v2.6
See part 1 for complete table of contents of this FAQ (including this
7. THE EMULATOR
Psion, in their great generosity, have released their Psion emulator
for the Series 3 and later on for the Series 3a. This is a PC product.
Also please note that it is completely *unsupported* by Psion and do
not ask them for new versions, other platforms, etc... I think that it
was quite nice of them to offer their users (and potential users) such
a nice tool. We wouldn't want it to stop, would we? The files are
available as usual in the IC archive in the development directory.
7.1 Limitations & bugs
The following limitations & bugs were reported:
* The keyboard is only "British" and doesn't accept your regular
keyboard map (either use one of the techniques described in the
"Can I change the keyboard?" section or see below for a more
permanent way around this problem);
* No sound;
* The system screen "loses" your configuration each time you launch
* It only works in DOS with 4Mb RAM and at least a 386 processor;
* Caps lock works but doesn't show the symbol like on a real Psion;
* Shift diamond key doesn't work;
* It doesn't accept direct keyboard scan codes - this is mostly used
7.2 Tips & tricks
* Alt+Ctrl+shift+S makes a screen snapshot and automatically
increases the screen number in the file (unlike the real Psion);
* Alt+Ctrl+shift+C shows some memory parameters (useful for
* Ins key on the numeric keypad (0 key) switches between
applications like Shift-System button on the real Psion;
* If you replace the 480 by 160 in the HHSERV.PAR file by 640 by
480, you will get a complete screen on your PC.
7.3 Changing permanently the keyboard mapping (by Uwe Kallmeyer)
The keyboard map is held internally in the file EPOC.DLL. You must
thus patch this file to suit your own keyboard. It contains three
tables, one for Psion/Ctrl keys, one for shifted keys and one for
normal keys. These tables start at locations (for the file dated
4.12.94, size 94736):
8.1 Overview of development possibilities
There are a number of ways in which you can program the Psion. Choose
the one which fits your abilities, requirements, and budget.
8.2 OPL programming directly on the Psion
This is the most straightforward. If you can live with the cramped
keyboard and screen, you can pursue this option with no further
outlay, anywhere you can take your Psion.
If you haven't got the OPL Programming Manual, I suggest you order it.
It's really a great manual (unlike most others I've seen). If you are
impatient to receive it, it's also available online at:
1. A database of the OPL commands is available from the IC archive
(see section 5) which you can load into the built-in DATA
2. Switching off the clock in the OPL editor will give you more
active screen width. CONTROL/menu toggles this.
3. CONTROL/Word takes you straight to the OPL editor from the system
4. Get OPP from Andy Clarkson. This is really *the* programmer's tool
for programming directly on the Psion. It allows you to have
exactly the same functionnalities as with Psion's S3ATRAN and even
more directly on your Psion!
5. Get OPPDebug from Andy Clarkson. This is a fine debugger for OPL.
Psion haven't written one themselves, so this is a must for all
You can also make use of some of the data which follows in this
section, so read on.
8.3 OPL programming from a PC
You can compose your OPL text files on your PC and send them down to
the Psion with the link for translation, or you can obtain S3ATRAN
from the IC archive (Section 5). S3ATRAN will translate your OPL
source into .OPO format which you can then use the link to move to the
Psion. In addition to translating simple OPL, S3ATRAN understands a
number of C-like pre-processor commands, which make source preparation
easier. As well as this advantage, source preparation on a PC allows
use of the full-sized keyboard and screen, use of whatever text editor
you favour, convenient storage and archival of important source code,
and access to printers. It also allows you to make bigger programs
since you are not limited to a 64k source like on the Psion.
For those using windows, you can use Psion's Opl Development
Environment (ODE) which is a *very* nice programmer's tool for
developing OPL in windows. ODE is commercial.
There is a Psion 3 emulator for the Series 3 and another one for the
Series 3a, both available in the IC archive, which allows you to run
OPL programs on the PC. For more details, see elsewhere in this FAQ.
The "Psionics files" are a collection of information for the OPL
programmer who wants to know more than is in the programming manual,
but who doesn't want the expense and effort of getting the SDK. They
include general explanations of system concepts, descriptions of all
the system calls usable from OPL, information about some useful device
drivers, and random other useful items. Much of the information is
taken from the official Psion SDK manuals, with permission. Clive D.W.
Feather is widely appreciated for having taken the time to bring this
information to the Psion community. You can get the latest set of
files (which change quite frequently), from the WWW site. See that
section in the FAQ for the address.
Psion offer Software Development Kits - "SDKs". The lowest level is
the documentation-only level. This currently includes two large
ring-binders which document vast amounts of detail about the Psion.
Though much is of prime relevance to C programmers, a lot of essential
information can be gleened by the astute OPL programmer. System calls,
file formats, transmission protocols, OS structure etc. are all to be
had. The SDK costs 75 UKP. See the contacts section if you want to
8.4 C Development on PC
The second level of SDK (see above) is called the "Standard SDK". It
includes the documentation mentioned above, and some software on
floppies. The software comprises the TopSpeed C language system, an
interactive Psion debugger, some customisation files, and some
examples. This costs 155 UKP.
"TopSpeed C" is a general purpose development environment and C
compiler. You can use it to write C programs for your PC, and the
development environment allows you to add other language compilers.
Psion's customisation files taylor TopSpeed C so that it can generate
image files which will run on the Psion.
The Psion debugger allows C programs to be debugged. Debugging can be
done at the C source code level, or at assembly language level, or in
a mixture of the two. The debugger also allows programs to be run
locally on the PC in a form of Psion emulator, or run on the Psion
itself through the serial link. A slew of very useful features are
included in the debugger.
Psion also provide some example programs which are referenced in the
manuals. Going through these with the manual is a good way to learn
about the Psion and the best way to program on it. The SPY application
is amoung the examples included.
It is theoretically possible to write C programs for the Psion using
other compilers, but extensive expertise would be needed to avoid the
pitfalls. For example, Topspeed C implements parameter passing in a
way which is compatible with the Epoc operating system.
Object-oriented programming is possible in this C environment.
8.4.1 Can I use another compiler than Topspeed? (by Dan Ramage)
"It is impossible to write sibo applications with anything but the
sibo sdk for several reasons.
Topspeed can output small memory model code staying within the 64k
code and data segment. In addition, Topspeeds calling conventions
don't use the segment registers (which can really mess up your
psion). Another reason is that topspeed code is compact and
executes quickly on sibo machines."
8.5 Advanced C Development on a PC
The highest level of SDK is the "Professional SDK". This adds the
source code of various device drivers to the Standard SDK. It costs
8.6 Available books (by John A Watson)
In order of complexity, the following books are available.
1. First Steps in Programming the Psion Series 3 by Mike Shaw, 14.95
GB ISBN 0-7457-0145-0 An introduction to the basic principles of
2. Graphic Programming on the Psion Series 3 by Bill Aitken, 14.95
GBP ISBN 0-7457-0156-6 As the title suggests this is for those
interested in graphics.
3. Serious Programming on the Psion 3a by Bill Aitken, 16.95 GBP ISBN
0-7457-0035-7 (Series 3) ISBN 0-7457-0282-1 (Series 3a) A complete
OPL programming tutorial from basics to advanced especially
graphics including sprite design.
4. Machine Code Programming on the Psion Series 3a & 3 by John
Farrant, 16.95 GBP As the title suggests this book tells you how
to program in 8086 machine code and assembly language. The
price/package includes a fully functional two-pass assembler with
text editor and debugger.
5. Introduction to Using the Psion Series 3 by Ros Lawton & Isaac
Davis, 14.95 GBP ISBN 0-7457-0146-9 14.95.
6. The 100 Most Frequently Asked Questions for You and Your Psion
Series 3a & 3 by Richard Bloss & Adam Taylor, 9.95 GBP ISBN
8.7 How to do various things: tips & tricks
(Thanks to Andrew Baldwin for material)
1. First - reading the programming manual which came with your Psion
more than once is thoroughly recommended !
2. REVTRAN - is a reverse translator available at the archive. It
turns OPO modules back into OPL - though variable names may be
lost. This program allows developers to see how others have
implemented their programs, and this may give valuable insights
into useful programming techniques. Please note that you should
not use REVTRAN to circumvent protection mechanisms, to avoid
paying shareware fees, to steal programs or fragments thereof, or
to do anything else illegal or anti-social. Some OPL programs are
protected against reverse translation (with the help of OPP for
3. SPRITES - the manual doesn't make it clear. You can have only one
sprite. You must emulate any further sprite functionality in OPL.
4. MULTI-DIMENSIONAL ARRAYS - are not provided in OPL, but they can
be emulated. For example, a two dimensional array: ARRAY%(X%,Y%)
may be implemented by declaring ARRAY%(Z%) (where Z%=X%*Y%). You
can now access element (a%,b%) as ARRAY((b%-1)*X% + a%). Each
access requires arithmetic so this will incurr a speed penalty.
OPP, the OPL preprocessor, implements this (exactly like
described) but with complete transparency to the programmer.
5. SPEED - OPL can get slow. Here are some ideas for speeding them
+ Where does your program spend the most time ? Find out, and
concentrate on those sections. It's pointless speeding up
code segments which will not impact overall speed
+ The use of floating point numbers is very slow; the Series 3
calls code which emulates a floating point processing chip.
Major gains can be had if you avoid floating point numbers.
Often integers can be used with a mental shift of the decimal
+ BUILT-IN FUNCTIONS like SIN can also be very slow. Sometimes
it is preferable to build a table of answers and use a
+ On the Series 3a, make use of the procedure cache, which can
keep often-used procedures in memory - thereby avoiding a
heavy time penalty for loading them in. On the Series 3 there
is no cache to use, but you can place the procedure code
inline to avoid the overhead. There will be a
readability/complexity overhead to trade off.
+ Use gUPDATE to restrict screen updates, as detailed in the
+ OPL allows the programmer to call machine code routines,
which can be highly optimized for speed. These can be built
from C programs using the SDK, or with an assembler
(available in the archive). Programming at low levels
requires extensive knowledge of the Series 3 Operating
System. During development crashes are common, and data loss
may well occur. Also note that re-implementing a code segment
at a lower level will not necessarily give significant speed
improvements; it depends on what the code is doing.
+ The manual states that you can only load up to 3 modules with
LOADM, whereas it is 7 really.
A. SHAREWARE/FREEWARE SOFTWARE
Please note that the software described here is just a small part of
available software and that it would be impossible to track down every
single share/freeware Psion program. If there is a program which you
would like to see added to the list, please write a mini review in the
same style as these here and mail it me. I'll gladly add it and give
Just some guidelines if you wish to submit a mini-review: mention the
author (and Email address if possible), the exact filename and the
type of program (free/share/cripple) as from the list below. Do not
write more than 2-3 sentences and do not mention any "this is great"
or "this is bad" comments, thanks!
If you want to know more about these programs, you may want to check
out my Psion programmer's on the web list at:
alternatively, check out Steve Litchfield's review section at:
I've used the following definitions below. These may not accord with
their standard meanings as used elsewhere.
a fully functional program is provided, but the user is asked
to pay for it.
as shareware, but the functionality of the program is
restricted in some way to encourage registration. (This may not
make it unusable - ANY restriction puts a program in this
the fully functional program is given away free. It is probably
still copyright to the author and conditions may be imposed on
the program is distributed under the GNU General Public
Licence: among other things, this means it will include source
Note that when ``*'' appears, this means the version number. New
version come out very often, so I can't track down each program.
The following people have contributed their reviews (see the first
part of this FAQ for their Email addresses):
Roger Burton-West (RBW)
Andy Clarkson (AC)
Steve Litchfield (SL)
Neil Masson (NM)
Daniel Pfund (DP)
* APPMAN: Jeremy Wakefield email@example.com: freeware (RBW)
For the advanced OPL programmer only, how to use those cascading
dialogues and other flashy features of the built-in apps.
Challenging but very useful.
* BATCHK: Pelican software: freeware (SL)
Shows you the state of your batteries in a one-screened pretty
display. Even shows the state of the battery in RAM SSDs!
* CALC3A*: Richard Schmidt firstname.lastname@example.org: nagware (RBW)
Not to be confused with all the other calculators out there! Solid
and stable scientific calculator, including editable preset
equations. A little bulky, but very impressive.
* CMDP: Psion, Inc.: freeware (RBW)
DOS-style command line interface for the 3a and Workabout. Handy
if you like command lines (I do). Slightly quirky.
* CON3A: Tim Bentinck: shareware (SL)
A comprehensive units conversion utiility. Allows every conversion
under the sun, and a few more.
* DUMP3A: Wolfgang Schirmer email@example.com: freeware
Elderly but still useful hexadecimal/ASCII file editor. Perfect
for inspecting and modifying binaries, finding resources, etc.
* DPBANK*: Daniel Pfund Pfund3@uni2a.unige.ch: shareware (DP)
A small and very easy to learn and set up bank accounts tracker.
Lacks all the bells and whistles of the "big shots" but uses much
* DRAW: Rick Andrews: shareware (SL)
Painting and drawing application. Its basic function is to let you
create PIC files for use as icons or in slide-shows or in your own
programs etc. Allows PCX import/export.
* EIKON: Roger Burton West firstname.lastname@example.org: freeware (RBW)
One of a great many icon editors available - essential for anyone
writing applications, or just customising the look of the system
shell. Yes, this one is my own; it has more features than the
competition, it's faster than most, and it's free.
* FE830: Psion, Inc.: freeware (RBW)
Hex/ASCII file editor for the PC, optimised for TLV files. Needs
some technical knowledge, but invaluable for data recovery from
corrupted files. (An internal tool used by Psion themselves, I
* FIREPIC: Andrew Baldwin email@example.com: freeware
Picture viewer. Nothing special there, but this one will read and
write PCX files as well as PICs; further DYLs may be written for
other formats; and it's being used by an increasing number of art
* FONT*: Steve Godfrey firstname.lastname@example.org: crippleware
Edits Psion fonts. You can use them in your own programs, but not
in the built-in apps or for printing.
* JBDAT*: John Boyce email@example.com: freeware (RBW)
Replacement for Data, with much better functionality. Needs lots
of memory, but much more useful than the standard app.
* JBFND*: John Boyce firstname.lastname@example.org: freeware (RBW)
Searches files (even open files) for a text or hex string, and can
auto-launch files that match.
* JBLAUNCH: John Boyce email@example.com: freeware (NM)
Provides a single icon under which you can launch any program.
* JBSTOPGO: John Boyce firstname.lastname@example.org: freeware (NM)
Stops all your programs before a backup and restarts them
* JBTREE: John Boyce email@example.com: freeware (SL)
Allows you to browse round a Psion disk, tagging and deleting,
viewing or moving files. Lots of extra features too, such as
viewing the space that could be reclaimed on a flash SSD.
* INSTALL: Psion GmbH: freeware (NM)
Provides configuration for your Psion, so that your system layout
can be restored after a reset. (DP:Only works correctly with
english type Psions!)
* LOTTERY3: freeware (SL)
This application will run a complete simulation of thousands of
years playing, just for you, showing how often you would have won
(or, more probably, lost) during that time.
* MACSYS: Tom Dolbilin firstname.lastname@example.org: freeware (RBW)
The Macro System allows automation of most common Psion tasks. It
can record and play back a sequence of keystrokes: but macros are
actually full OPL programs, and can use all the power available to
the system. A little tricky to master, but very rewarding. Several
macros are available on the Net as separate files.
* MAP*: Steve Litchfield email@example.com: shareware
Huge geographical information system with multiple overlays. Maps
of the UK, Ireland and London are available (separate
registration). NOT a route finder, but handy for general
information and basic town plans.
* MEMOVOC: David Joyce firstname.lastname@example.org: shareware (DP)
Instead of typing memos into your Psion, you can now speak them!
Allows for hands-free recording triggered by a loud sustained
* NOTEPAD: Pelican Software: shareware (NM)
A useful note-taking utility with links to other Psion
* OPP*: Andy Clarkson email@example.com: shareware (NM)
This is an OPL pre-processor with various C-like features, such as
#defines, includes, 2D arrays. Makes OPL much more readable. See
also section "Programming" for more info.
* OPPDBG: Andy Clarkson firstname.lastname@example.org: shareware (AC)
For OPL programmers. This is a run-time source level OPL debugger.
Shows which lines of OPL code are being executed. Examine and set
values of local variables in the running program. Requires the
separate OPL preprocessor utility (OPP 1.4F).
* PASON (NM)
Switches password protection on overnight. I use my Psion far too
often to put up with entering a password every time I switch it
* PICPRINT & PRINTPIC (SL)
Two small utilities which allow printing from a PIC graphics file
(for example, a screen-dump of a spreadsheet) to an Epson or Canon
* PIEDIR (NM)
Gives a graphical representation of where your precious memory has
gone. Can do files only or can sum all the space under
directories. Also shows space recoverable on a flash by formatting
it. (DP:still quite buggy, but a new version should come out
* PLAN: Andy Clarkson email@example.com: crippleware
A project planning application. You enter task and resource
details and dependencies between tasks. Plan will then work out
the schedule for each task and the project as a whole (includes
Gantt and Pert charts, interface to Microsoft Project,...).
* READER* and TCREADER: Barry Childress firstname.lastname@example.org:
Probably the best text file viewer for the Psion, with many
display options and good buffering. TCReader is a PC program to
compress text files that Reader can view on the fly; it usually
manages about 50% reduction in size.
* RFM110: Psion, Inc.: freeware (RBW)
TSR to mount Psion drives over serial link to a PC, allowing
normal PC software to access them. Old and sometimes unstable, but
still my favoured serial comms package (even over RCom/PsiWin).
* RVTRN*: Mike Rudin email@example.com: freeware (RBW)
Extremely useful package to convert translated OPL programs back
to source code, in case you've lost the source or want to see how
someone else did something. Controversial, and some programs have
* SAIKAN: Jamie Packer firstname.lastname@example.org: freeware (author)
A Japanese character (kanji) dictionary. Supports searching by
reading, meaning, stroke count, radicals, JIS code, etc. Displays
comprehensive information on 6,355 (JIS X0208-1990) characters.
(NB: requires about 1MB of disk space.)
* S3ABANK*: Alan Richey email@example.com: crippleware (RBW)
An excellent general personal finance handler, with optional
modules for inventories, expenses, petrol, etc. Shareware version
is severely limited (only 3 accounts). Needs lots of memory.
Alternatives are available; easier to use and less power/memory
hungry, but not as complete: BankPlus, DPBank, SCBank.
* S3AEM1: Psion, Inc.: freeware (RBW)
Series 3a emulator for the PC. Try before you buy a Psion, test
new software, or run programs at greater speed. See also
"Emulator" section in part I of this FAQ.
* S3AFRAME (NM)
Supplies an event-driven interface to OPL. Menu selections and key
presses are supplied as events to your OPL code.
* S3UZIP*: David Palmer firstname.lastname@example.org:freeware
Port to SIBO machines of Info-Zip team's Unzip. Runs on
MC400/HC/S3/S3a/Workabout. Unzips any version 2.xx zip files,
including across a remote link (the fastest way to move files to a
Psion). Versions >= 1.4 include notes for developers on how to
call Unzip from C/C++ or OPL.
* SHELL3A (NM)
Gives a UNIX-like command line interface. This is particularly
useful for creating directories and removing files, where the
Psion menu interface is rather clumsy. Not the least of its
virtues is the fact that it understands filenames using forward
(/) slashes as well as back (\) slashes.
* TOPIX: Uwe Kallmeyer email@example.com: crippleware (RBW)
Multi-level outline editor, with links to files from other apps
(such as Word or Sheet). Perfect for large project management and
keeping track of long lists.
* TUBEFINDER: Steve Litchfield firstname.lastname@example.org:
A simple routefinder for the London Tube system. It's not the most
accurate and thorough program in the world, but then hey, it's
A.2 Games (by Dan Ko)
Name Stars Zip Exp Mem Type FMT Collection Description
------------ ----- ---- ---- ---- ---- --- ---------- ------------------
pipe3a.zip ***** 9k 10k 12k F F ? exciting puzzle
stigma.zip **** 63k 87k 39k D+C F ? rolling ball
fair22.zip **** 115k 197k 46k S+C F+S GamesPck3a THE golf game
tetris_2.zip ***** 9k 16k 6k S F ? Tetris nuff said
Patience *** - - 8k C R 1Mb/2MbS3a zzzzzzzz
bunnies.zip ** 15k 42k ? F F slow platform
lander3.zip **** 33k 62k ? S F+S GamesPck3a cool space game
risk101a.zip ***+ 31k 81k 14k S F ? strategy
willy11.zip ** 40k 68k ? S F doubt it 2slow2big platform
Tanka.zip ** 9k 12k? ? S F S3 was much better
Stars: Arbitary rating units, overall personal impression includes
adjustment for size.
* waste of space
** avoid; boring, limited appeal
*** OK, if you've nothing better to fill your flash with
**** excellent, recommended
***** can't live without it
Zip: The zip file size
Exp: How much space the installed components will take up
Mem: Free system memory required to run in
Type: S Shareware
Format: F floppy (ZIP file)
R built into ROM
Collection: Name of collection which contains this game
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