Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Windows Mobile: It started with an iPAQ in the back row of the movies

Ipaq3700Author: Michael Evans

I'm grateful to Engadget and Michael Gartenberg for reminding me that we've just passed the tenth anniversary of Windows Mobile. Microsoft introduced the new OS on 19 April 2000 in New York and set the scene for the PDA (personal digital assistant) for at least the next seven years, until the iPhone changed the world. Since then it's been a downward slippery path for WM, although Microsoft is now putting its efforts into Windows Phone 7 and early reports look promising.

I remember all this distinctly because I was front of the queue for one of the original Compaq iPAQs. It was a great device, I thought at the time, and the answer to my dreams of portable computing. It had a very nifty dock for the desk and it could be equipped with a variety of plastic sleeves--a bit like today's iPhone battery cases--that offered expansion facilities such as PCMCIA and Compact Flash cards.

Later models of the iPAQ including phone capabilities and was wedded to one of these for a whole year. It wasn't the most wieldy of phones, of course, but it made a good stab at doing the sort of PIM and communications tasks we now take for granted in the iPhone. But I remember it mostly for a very expensive incident when I had stowed the phone in the pannier of my motorcycle for a 200-mile trip. For some unfathomable reason vibration caused the phone repeatedly to dial the last number called. This number, unfortunately, was on the other side of Europe and I subsequently received an eye-watering phone bill. They say we live and learn....

I was loyal to Windows Mobile until two years ago when I finally gave in to pressure from the iPhone. Later PDA/phones such as the Treo 750 were a great improvement on the earlier devices, had a good keyboard and were pretty svelte. But synchronisation, particularly with Mac, was never super smooth. 

The original Windows Mobile and the iPAQ, HP Jornado and Casio, represented a huge step forward in 2000. For the first time it was possible to have your office in your pocket. Now we have the whole world in our pocket.

Read Michael Gartenberg's full article here

CPT, the Cassette-Powered Tinosaur

by Paul W. Evans


CPT 8500 The piece on the TRS-80 (April 19) prompted me to recall the now-extinct dinosaur, the CPT word processor. In the early eighties the CPT Corporation (it originally stood for "Cassette Powered Typewriting") held an impressive share of the dedicated word-processor market with its trademark portrait screen and amazingly complicated operation. I ran a public relations company at the time and was asked by CPT to promote their very expensive machines. Even then, personal computers were taking over and the idea of a dedicated word processor was becoming history.

The all-female staff of the CPT London headquarters were fanatics. They believed implicitly in the future of their system and any mention of PCs or "personal" word processors was accompanied by brays of utter scorn. I swear they had a regular happy-clappy collective experience every morning, including singing the CPT company anthem. I entered the fray as an experienced user of WordStar, then the leading PC-based word-processor, so I had a clear benchmark. The massive and massively expensive new CPT on my desk left a lot to be desired as I soon found out.

It did have some attractive features, mainly the paper-white on-end portrait screen that faithfully mimicked a sheet of paper. At the time, most PC displays had blurry white-on-black or green-on-back displays and were usually square and no bigger than 12 inches. The CPT screen was magnificent in comparison, and the on-screen copy was as near WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) as could be in pre-Windows or Apple Lisa days. But there the good experience ended.

The massive 8-in floppy disks stored very little, as I remember, and the method of constructing documents relied on a strange, already archaic one-page-per-file system. It was just about acceptable for a single-page letter, but any multi-page documents required endless fiddling, especially if large amounts of text were inserted or deleted. I did hear that experienced users found it all very easy and Government departments and many large companies relied exclusively on CPT. I suspect, though, that the enthusiasts had come straight from typewriter to CPT and had not experienced the relative freedom of a good PC-based word processor. 

I never once managed to produce a reasonable report on the CPT and soon lost whatever enthusiasm I had gained on first acquaintance. I realised that WordStar, primitive as it was, was years ahead of the CPT in all but on-screen display.

Nevertheless, the ladies of CPT saw no writing on the wall and continued promoting their square-earth philosophy for more than another decade.

My relationship with CPT ended fairly abruptly and I cannot now remember whether I was given the boot or the other way round. I suppose my lack of enthusiasm must have been obvious.  It was a great relief to have the CPT equipment collected and to continue with my tried-and-trusted WordStar. 

Saving the world with the TRS-80

280px-Trs80_2 Thirty years ago today MacOldie Corporation acquired its very first computer. The Tandy (Radio Shack) TRS80 had 8KB of RAM and a cassette input device. Hopes were cherished that this rather neat little box would handle all the MacOldie Corp. accounts, compose and print letters and reports and even make the tea. 

Such hopes were very soon dashed, not surprisingly with 20:20 hindsight, and the little computer proved utterly useless for business purposes, although it was well regarded by the hobbyist and still has a strong following. It languished in the cupboard and an electronic single-line display typewriter was purchased from Olivetti. This had a fiendlishly difficult method of viewing and correcting documents and proved to be short lived.

Then along came the Superbrain, a one-piece terminal-style unit in a cowl that would not have been out of place on the Starship Enterprise. This, with it's twin 5.25in floppy disks and a tad more memory, proved an altogether more useful asset. The introduction to Superbrain came from a small north-London company peddling accounting software and MacOldie, who always had a penchant for mechanisation of the bean counting, soon had a reliable and serviceable business system. Letters and reports were rattled off on WordStar and clients began receiving personally-addressed mail-merged letters, the wonder of the age.

Pretty soon MacOldie got to worrying about data security (as he was to do on and off for the next thirty years) and a decision was made to acquire a hard disk. This came in a substantial metal enclosure and stored a massive five megabytes of data. It cost a fortune and, today, it would just about hold one medium-size photo from Aunt Flora MacOldie's digital camera.

Intl206t No looking back from then for an increasingly digitised MacOldie. Soon the Superbrains were replaced with Apricots, still running the CPM operating system, then came the first Dells with MSDOS. WordStar, the early-80's word processor of choice was ditched in favour of Microsoft Word, pre Windows of course. Windows provided a real breakthrough in useability and served MacOldie Enterprises well for many a year.

So it was a very experienced Windows user who finally converted to Macdom in 2005, 25 years after the first byte was bitten. The speed of development has continued to accelerate throughout the past 30 years of the personal computer and these days we take a massive leap forward every year, particularly in terms of memory and storage. In those early days 5MB was an inconceivably large amount of spare disk; now we are on the verge of ditching the gigabyte in favour of the terabyte and the fabled petabyte is on the horizon. Of course, everything we use--operating systems, programs, data--get bigger in line with the increased memory and storage so we are still sometimes scrambling for RAM or disk storage. 

Blogging 1940s-style now gone with the wind

DSC_0360.JPG My grandfather, Harry MacOldie, was a great blogger. He wouldn't have recognised the term of course, but he couldn't resist putting pen to paper. Which is strange, considering he was a grocer with a relatively limited education. He had a good turn of phrase and I would consider him to be a good writer. Maybe this is where I get my writing enthusiasm from. I was a journalist, so I suppose that helps. Grandpa was a fanatical cyclist, stalwart of the Wigan CTC (Cyclists' Touring Club) and an inveterate jotter. I suppose his Sturmey Archer was akin to my Drobo; and he certainly lost no time in telling the world about his exploits, mostly in north Lancashire, the Lake District or north Cheshire. Unfortunately his world was a bit circumscribed. How he would have loved to have had an internet blog. 

Right: Blogging gear, 1943     


I have a collection of beautifully preserved accounts of wartime cycle rides, presumably on deserted roads. Paper was at a premium, probably almost unavailable, and the stories are typed laboriously on stained quarto sheets. They are bound in brown paper and stapled precisely for posterity. He was quite ingenious and obviously had a collection of typewriters to allow different styles. He had one with a smaller, italic font and he would swop his pages from machine to machine to add an emphasis. Some stories have been laboriously typed several times, each version with small improvements.

How far we have come in the last 60 years. Many of these stories were published in the CTC magazine and they convey the scent of the time and illustrate the privations of warfare on the civilian front. They also provide an insight into the life of a grocer who closed early on Wednesdays and thought nothing of riding 60 miles to the Lake District for the afternoon. He had a good sense of humour and one article tells the story of his obsession and love for Lucy who eventually turns out to be a full-size adult tricycle of wayward habits. One of his last contributions was the poignant account of a run to Cheshire on the Sunday after VE day.

Currently I am transcribing these old articles which, if nothing else, have historic and curiosity value. I will get round to posting them and will provide links from here in case anyone is interested. In these days of Twitter, Facebook and unlimited blogging--everyone can now become a publisher--we have lost sight of how primitive things were even 20 years ago. I am old enough to remember the days before computers, before cellphones; the days of carbon paper (remember that? It now exists only in bureaucracies like Greece where the introduction of more computing power would put the paper-form-obsessed Luddite public sector out of work) and mechanical typewriters with black and red fabric ribbons. Now the opportunities are so much greater but, sometimes, we take them for granted.

Getting Things Done (Chapter 1)

I'm an inveterate list maker and I am never happy until I have all my tasks filed away and categorised. As I get older I realise I begin to rely more and more on my reminders and task lists. For new Mac users there's an easy and simple way of keeping track of your tasks built right into iCal. These tasks can be synchronised between computers (for instance by MobileMe) and you can view the lists in Mail. Also, working in Mail, you can create Smart Folders to provide views such as all tasks in a particular calendar or all tasks due today.

If you are a bit more ambitious I would recomment Filemaker Pro's Bento as a way of adding to the rather basic task management capabilities of iCal. The beauty of Bento (apart from the fact that it is a powerful and easy-to-use database in its own right; it's the database for the rest of us) is that it works directly on your iCal tasks data without any need for synchronisation. You can even add fields to your iCal tasks for greater analysis and reporting capabilities. Yet these fields remain in Bento and are not added to the simple items in iCal. Whenever you open Bento they are there.

Bento allows for Smart Groups but with greater customisation of parameters. All in all, it provides a great enhancement and adds great power to the standard iCal offering. I also use Bento for customised databases which are easy to set up--such as an exercise log, a list of books, a packing list. It's really easy to use.

The major drawback of Bento is that there is no iPhone version available. And that's where OmniFocus comes in. It's a very powerful task management system based on the GTD principles of David Allen. GTD is a fascinating concept and needs an item of its own, so watch out for Chapter 2.