From Pen Computing Magazine #20, February 1998

Newton Notes

The Big Test

©Copyright 1998 David MacNeill

Those of you who love to send me hate mail every time I say something nice about any device except the Newton, go ahead and fire up your email program and open up a new document and prepare to vituperate: I just spent two weeks carrying a 3Com PalmPilot Professional, followed by two weeks with a new Windows CE 2.0 device, Casio’s Cassiopeia A-20, and I found many things to like about both.

In order to understand how the rest of the handheld users are faring, I decided it was necessary to transfer all my accumulated data from my beloved MessagePad 2100, then put the MessagePad in a drawer and attempt to use and depend on a few completely different machines for awhile. I wanted to live a Newton-free lifestyle, just to see if I’ve been missing anything. Would the PalmPilot, the most popular pen-based computer of all time, or the Cassiopeia A-20, the fastest of all the second-generation handheld PCs, work as well for me, day in and day out, as the MessagePad? The only way I would really know was to live it.

Extreme? Perhaps, but I felt that to do any less would produce a column that was nothing more than shallow first impressions filtered through my heavy Newton platform bias. I was confident the MessagePad 2100 would be a hard act to follow, but I wanted proof.

Newton to Pilot
The experiment got off to a rough start when I tried to move my Newton data to the Pilot. I had around 300 names, a considerable pile of datebook entries stretching back about six months, and a couple hundred notes accumulated over five years, first on an HP 95LX and followed by a succession of Newton devices, from beta versions of the original MessagePad in early ’93 right through to my current MP 2100.

All of the data had to be exported using tab-delimited files via Apple’s anemic and flaky Newton Connection Utilities (NCU) running on an IBM ThinkPad. Why not use a PowerBook? Because the Pilot has extremely wimpy Mac connectivity, and since I knew I was going to use a Windows CE-based device after the Pilot I had no alternative but to rely on the ThinkPad and Windows 95.

The exported Newton data files had their fields completely out of order in relation to what the Pilot Desktop software was expecting to import. Rather than futz around with it all night, my wife Leslie suggested that we use good old FileMaker Pro to reorder the fields to be Pilot-friendly, which was easy and almost fun. FileMaker quickly spit out a set of tab-delimited text files which sucked right into the Pilot Desktop. After a quick HotSync with the Pilot everything was right there in my hand, with the unfortunate exception of all my notes which contained graphics, since there is no Pilot equivalent for them.

Thereafter, I relied on the little Pilot for everything. I even found a shareware program called PilotMoney that could substitute for Pocket Quicken. I also loaded QuickSheet 2.0, an Excel-compatible spreadsheet. I added a slim CoPilot leather case from E&B Company and carried it everywhere, including a week at Comdex.
I ended up liking the Pilot for several reasons. Even more important to me than its convenient size is the fact that it does exactly what it claims it can do, and then some. I was delighted with the crisp performance and excellent desktop connectivity software. Everything just worked correctly and efficiently.

After about ten days, however, I began to want more from the Pilot than it could be reasonably expected to give me. I missed the depth of the Newton interface and the wealth of great software available for it. The Spartan nature of the Pilot, which is perhaps its greatest strength, is also what eventually bored me into wanting to move on.

Pilot to Windows CE
As luck would have it, a shiny new Casio Cassiopeia A-20 arrived the next day, the first Windows CE 2.0 handheld to make it to the PCM editorial office after Comdex. The blue anodized metal top of the Cassiopeia instantly ignited my techno-lust, and the solid feel, fit, and finish of the device said "serious business tool."

Getting all my information from the Pilot into Microsoft Outlook was easy. I downloaded a trial copy of Desktop to Go for PalmPilot, a conduit to synchronize desktop-based Outlook data with the Pilot. It worked perfectly. I then installed the Microsoft Windows CE 2.0 Services from CD and synchronized the Cassiopeia with Outlook, which also worked as advertised. However, I was surprised to find that my notes, which we had so carefully transferred from Newton to Pilot, simply had no equivalent in Pocket Outlook on the HPC. It’s the design of Windows CE 2.0, which no doubt eliminated support for Outlook notes to save precious space. To make matters worse, I couldn’t even convert the Outlook notes into Word files, since no translator exists for them. My only alternative was to tediously cut and paste the contents of each note into a Word file, then let CE Services convert and transfer them to Pocket Word on the Casio. Of course, I would sooner wash my face in a muddy puddle than spend all day doing that, so there would be no notes for me on this machine. As my hippie sisters used to say, bummer.

In the next issue, I’ll continue my little cross-platform journey.

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