What's on your Newton?
©Copyright 1996 David MacNeill
When asked, as I frequently am, why someone should choose a Newton device over another PDA, I always tell them the same thing: The Newton environment feels like a three dimensional world that keeps unfolding before your eyes as you delve deeper. Text-based PDAs like the Pilot, though admirably speedy and efficient, are flat and two-dimensional. Theres no "there" there, just information. Though I like the Zaurus, I always feel a little lost on one. In contrast, Magic Cap devices have a very strong "there" about them, perhaps too much. Some have complained that devices based on the Magic Cap environment tend to cloy after a while, and I can see how a user coming from the generally humor-free WinTel side of the computing fence might feel this way. Macintosh users, of course, feel right at home with this playful stuff. I have long maintained that the most powerful computer in the world is the one that is actually used to get real work done, all the time. Fiddling with device drivers all afternoon is not real work, it is repair.
Give someone a few years with a computer and they will create a little world in there. Same thing goes for PDAs, particularly the Newton. A truly personal computing device will gradually take on the mental organization of its user, and even reflect his or her personality. This is a good thing, and a source of great pride for the creators of these environments. Ask Steve Capps.
This time I thought it would be fun to take you on a tour of my little Newton world, a work in progress begun before the official release of the Newton MessagePad and carried right through to today across every MessagePad and every system version.
My MessagePad 130 has surprisingly few applications on it considering that Pen Computing Magazine maintains what must be one of the largest libraries of Newton software in the world. As far as packages I use regularly, my Unfiled Icons drawer contains Pocket Quicken, Graffiti, Moon 1.0d3 (a moon phase calculator that has survived unchanged since 1993), and LandWares terrific new X-Port connection utility. I also have two communication packages, Update! to read long messages received on my PageCard pager from Socket Communications, and WyndMail (from the company of the same name) which allows me to read and send wireless email using the AllPoints Wireless Modem from MegaHertz.
As to system extensions and enhancements, I use four: I like KwikMenu from LandWare because it has all the features I need in an OS enhancement -- and none that I dont. My MP130 came with HidEworld installed. This is a tiny extension available free from Apple that hides the eWorld choice from your email option lists. I also use a font called Minico by Michael Peay, which mimics the monospaced text font called Monaco available on every Macintosh. Minico looks great at tiny sizes, which is handy when you have a lot of text to view. Minico is available at the Minico Home Page <http://www.gryphonsw.com/-~mpeay/newton-font.html>. To gain access to the hidden package freezing feature in Newton 2.0 I use PowerPrefs 1.0 from Jim Bailey. It is available free from your favorite Newton software archive.
I have created a folder called Tools in my Extras drawer to hold essential but infrequently used utilities, all of which I keep in a frozen state until I need them. Currently, I carry most of the Newt Tools 1.5 suite: MemTool, PackTool, SoupTool, and Soup Editor, as well as major portions of NewtCase 3.0. Habits formed in my days as a consultant compel me to carry NetNames Light, an AppleTalk network connection analyzer from Photonics which is available free at a Newton file archive near you. Down in the bottom of the drawer youll find the Pocket Quicken Soup Fixer utility which I havent had to use since I upgraded to Pocket Quicken 1.2. I keep it around, though, just in case. Until recently I also carried the NTK connection package which I used only to create screen shots for reviews. I now use X-Port for this purpose.
I created another folder in my Extras drawer to hold important but rarely used packages. I call it The Fridge because everything in it is frozen to save on heap memory. In here I keep NewtPaint and its accompanying help file, but I may promote these to my Unfiled Icons folder now that I use X-Port all the time. Notify!, the outgoing paging component of the PageCard software lives in here, as does US West, a directory to US national parks in the western states. Last but not least is my lonely copy of Solo Deluxe. Not being much of a Solitaire player, I keep this around mostly for other people to play. Besides, its a little sad to have a computer without at least one game, dont you think?
My MP130 has a 4MB memory card that is inserted almost all the time. This card contains all of the packages listed above except Pocket Quicken, Graffiti, KwikMenu, the system extensions, and both communication packages because they are needed when I use the PC Card slot for a wired or wireless modem. I always store all of my data on the internal store; the card carries no data at all except for my most recent backup. Aside from the two modems I carry the only other hardware I use is the Newton Keyboard for high-volume data entry and a mini-PhoneNet connector from Farallon.
Information that wont fit in my brain
Trying not to sound too much like those Apple PowerBook commercials, here is a sampler of the kind of stuff on my Newton that I carry with me everywhere:
So whats on your Newton?
Dont be shy; email me a description of your Newton world. Ill collect the most innovative, funny, or just plain strange ones and reprint them in a future column. Send your descriptions and screen shots to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and be sure to tell me if you want me to include your real name and email address.
After all, your Newton is your most personal computer.