From Pen Computing Magazine #16, June 1997

Newton Notes


©Copyright 1997 David MacNeill

It was the vague sense of guilt that surprised me most, that first night I carried home my MessagePad 2000 instead of my notebook computer. I had come to associate that boat anchor on my shoulder with carrying a tool of substance and worth; you know, pro gear. The term big iron comes to mind, though the iron content of your average notebook computer is probably less than a pound.

My bike messenger bag practically flew when I slung it like a bandoleer over my head. For it to weigh so little I must be forgetting something important.

But I was ready for a break, having just spent a frustratingly unproductive day locking horns with Windows 95 on a pen tablet computer. Having just sold my conventional Pentium clamshell notebook, I was simply trying to move a few months of collected email, some personal documents, and my office network and Internet dial-up settings over to this new machine. From the steady stream of difficulties I encountered you would think I was attempting to change my genetic code from man to dolphin.

It was approaching 8:00PM when I finally gave up on the whole project. After my twelfth attempt at a work-around that would allow me to duplicate all the information from a failing Type III PC Card hard disk to another identical unit, I asked myself: Why am I doing this? Do I really require Windows 95 and a color screen to work at home? I write, I email, I schedule and prioritize, I look up phone numbers, I calculate. It would still be work if I did it on a 1.2 pound pen-based handheld with a grand total of 9MB of memory/storage, right?

It’s 10:00PM now, I’ve been home for almost two hours. Sitting on the couch next to my wife, my dog snoozing at my feet, and my MessagePad 2000 and its comfortable keyboard perched on my lap, I am writing this column. The occasional domestic interruptions don’t vex me much; I sleep the Newton with a flick of my finger and toss it aside until I’m ready to resume working. Simple, natural, and life-proof.

Is this work? You bet. I got more accomplished in one hour on my couch than I did in an entire day spent trying to get a Windows 95 machine prepared to work. Somehow, I have managed to actually get something done on a small, inexpensive device without on-the-fly spell and grammar checking, a CPU that could reheat coffee, gigabytes of disk storage, or an animated Einstein-in-a-box offering help.

The MessagePad 2000 is like an original Macintosh and the legendary Radio Shack Model 100, blended together with a peerless pen interface to form a powerfully simple, reliable, and compact creature that is perfectly adapted to its environment. Like a race car, only the stuff that works remains part of the system. In nature, simple solutions always win over time. Massively complex systems tend to collapse under their own weight, though they may rule the world for a time with their mighty roar and intimidating bulk.

But that will all take care of itself, with a little help from a few million enlightened buyers who are ready to move up the ladder. Even though Apple graciously provides me with a long-term loaner, I just bought two MessagePad 2000s with personal funds. The US$2000 I got from selling my Pentium notebook just about covered it.

This really isn’t about money, it’s about evolution.

Screen test
I find that using a Newton with any kind of screen barrier is like taking a bath with my socks on. I don’t like skylight filters on my cameras, either; putting a US$10 piece of glass in front of a US$300 optically perfect lens makes no sense to me. I personally find that it is better to just keep the Newton’s screen clean with an occasional wipe on a cotton shirt and to keep the cover closed. Get a good leather case for the thing and get on with your life, I say.

However, there are people who work in Newton-hostile environments. Dust, liquids, grease, and so on will trash a screen. For these users I recommend The Barrier from RoadRunner Tracks (760-431-5483 or email <>. I tested their new MP2000 product and was impressed by the excellent fit and feel.

Stand in the place where you work
Mar Software, developers of Bills To Pay, has released the Executive Newton Stand for the MessagePad 2000. Developer Ed Martin <> has created a design as elegant and solid as the device it supports. See it at <>.

Finger tip
Occasionally you will find it expedient to simply use your fingernail to do something on your Newton, such as tap the close box. This is fine if you do it right. Turn your hand palm-up and gently tap upside-down with the nail of your index finger. In my experience this has never scratched a screen. You can’t help but do it lightly because your finger is bending backwards. Most importantly, if you do it accurately and with just the right amount of nonchalance, this move can really impress the locals.

- David MacNeill <> is executive editor of Pen Computing Magazine. Newton Notes™ has been in continuous publication since the release of the Newton in 1993.