02 May 2007

An old era begins, and a butterfly lands

This post is really to test a new arrangement of things at my end. If new is the word, that is. It will probably be of interest only to myself.

For some time I've been planning to dig out my old Psion pocket computers (for those amongst you who care about such details, a 3mx and a 5mx). Clamshell design, like a glasses case. opening up to reveal a full moving keyboard with a wide, letterbox shaped screen above it. Yesterday I did so.

For someone like me, who lives by words, the full keyboard with proper pressable keys is the main attraction. It's still faster and more accurate than the best handwriting recognition, and far better than the tiny soft keyboards on Smartphones, Palm or Pocket Windows tablet machines. The screen, bigger than anything on any of those machines, is also a definite plus.

It's a great pity that this clamshell format lost out to the Palm style hand tablet and pen. Not that there is anything wrong with the tablet and pen model; it's a wonderful invention. I love my Palm T3, and wouldn't be without it. But life would be even better with both - the tablet as a versatile life companion, the clamshell as a dedicated word processing machine and for other tasks which require more keyboard and screen area. Typing this at about 75 error free words per minute, after nearly a decade on tablet style handhelds, is bliss.

There are, of course, attachable folding keyboards for tablet machines. They are very good, and I have one. So long as there is a flat surface to put it on, it works a treat. But if I am sitting on grass under a tree (as I am at the moment) or dangling by one hand from the strap in an underground railway carriage, they don't fare so well; they tend to fold up unexpectedly.

My friend Clarissa Vincent, who lives on the sea, never followed me down the tablet path; she stuck to the Psion 5, uses the inboard database for many things including journals, and has written at least one book on it. So, why did I abandon mine?

It's really about connectivity. To be useful, my handheld machines must talk to my desktop - either by wire or remotely. The Palm T3 will synchronise with my laptop through cradle, a cable, BlueTooth, infrared, or by email via cellphone. The Psions used to synchronise through a cable, which is fine, but the cable had an RS232 connector and most laptops, these days, don't. The software at the PC end doesn't run well under current versions of Windows, either.

What I've finally settled on (assuming it works; if you are reading this, then it did) is a bit of a kludge, but never mind. As well as the Psions, I have exhumed another obsolete machine - a small (same size as a VHS cassette) Toshiba Libretto subnotebook. The Libretto has a 75MHz processor, and only 256Mbytes of RAM, which is low spec by modern standards. On the other hand, it's more than enough for Windows Me (which runs the Psion link software nicely) plus Microsoft Office 2000. And it has an RS232 port.

(A red admiral butterfly has landed on my knee, and is flexing its wings as it pauses before moving on. Oh, the joys of working with small devices which allow the whole world to be your office...)

So the new regime will involve synchronising the Psion first with the Libretto. Psion Word files will become RTF files on an IBM Microdrive in one of the Libretto's PCMCIA slots. The Microdrive will then be moved to my main laptop and transferred to its own hard disk. It may seem cumbersome, but I think it will be worth it.

Post script: well, here it is, you're reading it and it works. And, following up a half remembered conversation with Clarissa, I've found a short cut for text only (that is, unformatted) material written on the Series 5 Psion: it can be saved straight to a compact flash card in the Psion, then opened from the PCMCIA slot in my normal laptop, without having to go through the Libretto and Microdrive. Who knows - perhaps this will lead to more frequent Growlery postings...

No comments: