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Steve's Scribbles...

Dancing in the Streets

Friday, May 30, 1997

My Newton MessagePad 2000 finally arrived (thank you, Small Dog Electronics!) and I'm going to write this entire Scribble on it. At the moment, we're just getting to know each other. As I guess I could have predicted, it's not completely happy with my handwriting as it is now. However, it's not doing abysmally, and if I write a bit more neatly than usual it doesn't do badly at all.

The saving grace is the pop-up on-screen keyboard. It lets you quickly go back and correct the mistakes in recognition. I haven't had to open the manual yet, but I look forward to finding out all the tricks they don't give you in the on-screen help.

Keyboard Feel

Testing, testing!

A-ha! I'm now trying out the Newton Keyboard that came with it. The keys do seem a bit smaller then normal, but of course they're nowhere near the puniness of a Windows CE device's keyboard.

I can see using this for actual work...

So far I'm writing all of this in Notes, the Notepad-like software. I haven't touched Newton Works yet (that's supposed to be the word-processor-type software included with it.)

I've been exploring the Newton OS for well over an hour now, and the battery indicator still shows that it's absolutely fully charged. Woo hoo! (I know, it's SUPPOSED to last three to six weeks, but it's still cool to see a full battery indicator after dealing with laptops' pathetic power consumption habits.)


I name things; it's a habit of mine. My first computer was named Fred; it was a Macintosh LC II which served me well for about three years. Then I bought Judah (my Power Macintosh 7500/100) and stopped using Fred. I sold Fred for a song ($100 INCLUDING b&w monitor [but not keyboard]) and now that I have this new toy I was inclined to reuse the name Fred. However, objections from my friends made me re-think it (how many people would reuse a pet's name without at least adding a "II" afterwards?), and instead this new MessagePad shall be christened Rover, as that name evokes two useful images: faithful companion and mobile unit (both of which I hope will apply).

Naming things has two effects which I find useful: it makes things quite easy to refer to in conversation (I'd rather refer to "Rover" than "my MessagePad" any day) and implies a personality. Some would argue that machines shouldn't be anthropomorphized like that, but I disagree; individual machines have individual quirks and characteristics and I can convey more about a machine by naming it than I can by using its technical name.

Newton Works

Okay, by this point I've wanted to copy & paste large blocks, and the Notes application doesn't make that easy. So now I've moved all this to Newton Works, which behaves much more like I want, i.e. if you start a selection and drag past the top or bottom of the visible area, it follows you; very important, that.

There are plenty of keyboard shortcuts in the Works word processor, but they're not listed in the manual; I stumbled on a listing by holding down the Apple key. You'd think they'd make them easier to find...

The spreadsheet hasn't proved to be that useful for me yet; it's a bit frustrating in how you select and move things with the pen. I can select a range of cells and drag them somewhere, but if I want to move a single cell, I have to cut & paste it; if I try to drag the cell, Rover thinks I'm trying to write a character instead of move the cell, so it puts a slash or something in a cell instead of moving the selected cell. Grr.

I'm sure if I stick to using the keyboard with the spreadsheet it'll be fine.

One last gripe

One last gripe about Newton Works: the inconsistency of the interface between the word processor and the spreadsheet. There aren't many menus in either app, but things you'd expect to find in the same place in both just aren't.

Specifically, in the word processor, under the 'Tools' menu there's a 'Show Keyboard' option so you can easily pull up the on-screen keyboard. However, in the spreadsheet there's no such option in any of the menus -- you have to double-tap in the cell-formula area to pull up the keyboard. That seems unnecessarily inconsistent and confusing to me.

Bottom Line

So far this is shaping up to be a very cool tool. I expect to be using the Newton daily for my calendar & contacts, and I hope to do more writing now that I don't have to be near a desktop machine to do it.

Is it worth the price? (I paid $1081 total.) To me it was, but it would be great if the Newton folks would come out with a less-stacked model for about half the price for the PalmPilot-buying market to use; maybe lose one of the PC card slots and some of the screen space? Or they could always just lower the price of this one...

As always, for more news, pointers & commentary, see Steve Bogart's home page.

Handy Official Disclaimer: Steve's Scribbles are my own personal work and not meant to be taken as official Olin School of Business pronouncements. They are, however, © Steve Bogart (original publication date is at the top of each Scribble).
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