From Pen Computing Magazine #23, August 1998

Newton Notes

Untapped Potential

©Copyright 1998 David MacNeill

My MessagePad 2100 has been in a drawer for two months, waiting for me to come to my senses.

While I am certainly guilty of anthropomorphizing my Newton devices, I make no apologies: I swear I heard the little guy calling out to me this morning. "How can you just let me sit in here? Something younger and slimmer comes along and you just dump me in here with old printer cables and floppies? After all we’ve been through?"

Scandalous! you are doubtless thinking. Apple kills off Newton just as it starts to succeed, then MacNeill stuffs his 2100 in a drawer. Talk about untapped potential!

Perhaps, but I had my reasons. Step inside my head for a moment:

Pretty lame, when you really think about it. A computing platform is not dead until nobody uses it anymore, and that is clearly not the case with Newton. Left behind? It doesn’t really apply to handheld computers. It’s not like I have to have the latest MMX processor instructions to run Doom or whatever else is trendy. Newton is what it is and it does what it does--better than any other device, at least for me.

Peer pressure? Nonsense. What better way to make a statement of platform independence than to carry a "dead" computer? This way, my friends at Palm Computing, Microsoft, and Psion can all be equally frustrated with me.Keeps ’em humble. Regular readers know that I have played the field. I get around, but eventually I come home to Newton. The first cut is the deepest.

Too big? I’ve been carrying Newtons with me everywhere for over five years. Is this MessagePad suddenly larger and heavier than it was, say, on February 26?

No support? Wrong again. Apple just sent Leslie and me upgrade kits for our old MessagePad 2000s. Took a little while, but here they are. A promise is a promise, and Apple has never broken one to me. A friend of mine recently had a cracked MessagePad display replaced, and Apple processed it quickly and inexpensively.

No software? Forget about it. New versions of classics like PelicanWare’s Notion 2.0 ( have been popping up lately, and several interesting new apps like NewtBrick’s MoviePlayer ( have been released. Besides, how much bloody software do you need, anyway? It’s darn close to perfect right out of the box. Yes, Newton developers have become an endangered species of late, moving on to the greener pastures of Palm OS and Windows CE. I don’t mind. Now I have one less batch of software to upgrade.

Second chance
What prompted this sudden clarity? A brand new PowerBook G3. 7.8 pounds of almost embarrassingly cool technology. A 292MHz reason to get up in the morning. I’m reviewing it for our other magazine Digital Camera, and since I took it out of the box I can’t get it out of my mind. The PowerBook G3 has renewed my faith in Apple--no small feat after the way Steve Jobs slaughtered Newton last February. The PB-G3 has the unmistakable Apple magic; a perfect example of what made me fall in love with personal computers in the first place. Any leader who can preside over the creation of something like this deserves a second chance. Steve, you just won back my business. I’ll be sending you a check instead of this PowerBook.

This morning I heard my Newton calling from the drawer, and this evening finds me writing this column, a MessagePad on the coffee table with my notes and a PowerBook on my lap. I haven’t felt this comfortable for a long time.

My editor and my publisher are pressuring me to cut back on the Newton coverage in this magazine. Look at this section--pretty thin. Fewer products means fewer advertisers, and that means less ink. Somebody has to pay for these pages. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t newsstand sales that pay the printer, it’s advertising dollars--by a huge percentage.

So I ask you, fellow Newton lovers: What do you want me to do now? Many of you have emailed me recently, telling me how much you want me to keep writing this column. It certainly isn’t hard work writing about something you love. Speak now or forever hold your peace.

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