Sunday, May 18, 2008

Newton on the Road


I attended WEA's Representative Assembly in beautiful Spokane, Washington and decided to take the MessagePad 2100 along instead of my PowerBook for two reasons: weight and the fact that the PowerBook's battery is shot. (It seems that the replacement batteries for the PowerBook recall are all failing now: see this Apple thread).

Over on the NewtonTalk list some people have been venting their frustration about abandoned locked software and the limitations of what the Newton MessagePad can do 10 years after its cancelation. Others, like myself, feel that the MessagePad is particularly well suited to a small group of tasks that include limited use on the Internet.

I personally use my MessagePad as an NPDS web server which you can find online at a NPDS Tracker most of the time. I used to carry it with me everywhere I went. I used it as an organizer, to take Notes, and for email.

On my trip to Spokane I wanted to be able to use the wireless network available to us at the Spokane Convention Center, keep track of my email on my .Mac account via IMAP, and read some RSS feeds. Here's how I made it all work on my MessagePad 2100.

Wireless driver: Hiroshi opened the source to the driver to coincide with the 2007 Worldwide Newton Conference where Paul Guyot made his second Einstein presentation explaining his intention to migrate the Newton OS off the Newton hardware onto a more modern computing platform. With the unlocked Newton wifi package you are able to use WEP with your wireless card and take advantage of roaming and power saving preferences. There was a free wifi network but I had to ask somebody with a MacBook what the SSID was for the free network as there were several different networks available. She also clued me into the fact that you had to validate on a web page before you were granted access to the network.

NetHopper 3.2: So I needed a web browser to make this all happen. And I needed to be able to submit a form, which meant I could not use Courier. I have NewtScape registered and installed on my Newton, but NetHopper is faster for what I am using it for, important when you don't want the wifi sucking down the batteries. By the way, I used Duracell PowerPix batteries here and before and they work very well in the battery sled. With NetHopper, all I had to do was request a URL (but I did need to request a new one every time I wanted to check my mail because I was too lazy to turn off caching; it didn't really matter which page I was requesting because all I was after was the proxy validation page). NetHopper handled the redirect to the proxy page just fine and I could enter the username in the form and submit it.

Mail V: The email client for the MessagePad. This wonder handles both POP and IMAP. I chose to browse my messages because I was receiving documents, evites, and other items that I did not want downloaded onto my Newton. After validating through NetHopper (which I had to keep open to prevent disconnecting the wireless card because it was the application that initiated the TCP/IP session) I opened In/Out and Received my email. Mail V would synchronize with my .Mac inbox and display the new messages. I could then tap on the message and it would download it from the server so I could read it. Brilliant. I could respond to email messages and choose to send them out later. I tended to download the messages I wanted to read then reply offline to important messages. I would then open NetHopper, load a page and validate to the proxy then open In/Out to send the group of messages in a single burst rather than individually replying and using the wifi card and batteries.

Raissa: RSS reader for the Newton built on the NewtApp Framework. Each feed is treated like a document, so you can save them on your Newton and refresh them for newer content. Lightweight and fast on the 2100; acceptable on the eMate with the memory upgrade. I checked the NYTimes, BoingBoing, CSMonitor and NPR to stay up on events.

So there you have it. Relevant and capable in 2008. The batteries held up well (they are at 80% after using the MessagePad for the above activities for 2 days straight, from 9 until 22:00 each day, checking email every hour or so and updating the feeds a couple of times). I also spent time reading old Notes on the MessagePad and playing a couple rounds of Daleks, checking out where the Moon was in its cycle, and consulting Mr. Advisador, Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, and the iChing (a neat little package by J. Brad Hicks). Unfortunately, after I posted this entry he took down his entire Newton directory. I have a copy of of iChing, but J. Brad doesn't seem keen on distributing it, so I won't.

I also took a trip down memory lane by reading old email I had filed away into the Notes application back in 2001.

For lightweight Internet usage the Newton MessagePad still works wonderfully and suits a low-weight wifi conventioneering excursion.


D. said...

Excellent, Josh, just excellent. From one Newton user to another..."keep the green".


Josh Burker said...

Thanks Doug! It was great to see the Newton live up to my needs: what an awesome platform!

EmiratesMac said...

You inspired me to try Newton again. I was a user when it was originally sold then sold it. Now I just got one 2100 again and will try to get wifi, bluetooth and more to work. We'll see how it goes, thanks for the inspiration.

cs said...

Great stuff!

The iChing link is dead, however. Where can it be found today?