Sign in with YouTube Sign in with Vimeo Post on Blogger

  • The author is a technical buff and had been fiddling with personal computers since 1978. He started with the Motorola-powered Commodore PET until he upgraded to the then, state-of-the-art and legendary Apple II in 1980.
  • From then on, he had been an avid fan and close watcher of the development and growth of the personal computer industry.
  • A self-confessed fan of the late Steve Jobs, he has attended many MacWorld Expos and had seen oodles of COMDEX (Las Vegas) shows as well during their heydays.
Stacks Image 405
Apple Newton MessagePad 120

The 3rd in a series of PDAs released by Apple in the 1990s, the Newton MessagePad 120 -released in 1995 -was probably the first PDA with a "natural handwriting" recognition software.

It was distinctively different from Palm's ‘Graffiti’ but Apple, nevertheless, abandoned the PDA market in 1998.

The Newton MessagePad 2100 was the last product release.

It's interesting to note that the initial code for the word-based handwriting recognition software for the Newton MessagePad were written by Soviet Russian programmers at Paragraph International, Inc.

Some notable features of the MessagePad 120 are: B&W, 320 x 240 screen resolution, support for fax/modems, memory cards and other devices via a single PC Card (Type II) slot, can also print using a variety of serial, parallel, and network printers via its LocalTalk and RS-232-compatible serial port, a low-power, half-duplex IRDA transceiver and an amazingly crisp and transparent display/ tablet that you can write on using the unique, telescopic stylus-pen!

The gizmo above includes a 2MB SDRAM PC Card (to supplement its core 2MB RAM - 687K used by the OS & the 1.36 MB is non-volatile user RAM), that I alternately use with the original Apple Newton PC Card fax/modem. Power is supplied by either four (4) AA batteries or an AC power cube (as seen here).

And lastly, since this 8"x 4" x1.25" model is powered by Newton OS 2.0, the unit can display the screen output in BOTH portrait and landscape modes -- a feature we see only in the latest and greatest PDAs of today, like the Palm Tungsten T3 !!!
thex Created with Sketch.
Stacks Image 409
TI Compact Computer 40

Texas Instruments’ first foray in the portable computer market in early 1983 was this sleek, 5.8" x 9.25" x 1", 1.4 lb (0.62 kg.) creation called the TI Compact Computer 40.

Part calculator, part computer, this gadget can run for an amazing 200 hours - while continuously powered on - using four (4) ordinary AA batteries!

TI's very own 2.5 MHz TMS70C20 CMOS 8-bit microprocessor powered the unit and came with 34K of ROM where the CC-40 ROM BASIC resided.

Although it lacked a built-in storage device or port - where an external storage device can be hooked up such as cassette tapes or memory cards - TI’s proprietary Constant Memory feature retained information stored in the paltry 6K of RAM even when the unit was turned off.

It also sported a 10-pin, peripheral port called the Hex-Bus for hooking up proprietary Hex-Bus printers or modems or a parallel/RS-232 connector widget - so that you can use standard printers and modems. Extra memory as well as other pre-programmed cartridges called Solid State Software- can be installed via the unit's cartridge port.

The clear LCD screen featured a 5x8 dot-matrix that scrolled to an 80-character line. It has a 65-key, "chiclet-style" QWERTY keyboard.

Due to very sluggish sales of the unit, it was discontinued in 1985.
thex Created with Sketch.
Stacks Image 413
Netpliance iOpener (stock version)

The tremendous popularity of the Internet can be attested by the fact that a gaggle of companies in the mid 1990s came up with an assortment of easy-to-use-specially-designed-for-Internet-surfing-and-email-only devices.

Most of these companies thought that the market was ripe for such devices they specially made for non-tech-savvy users who were willing to fork out from $500 and upwards for them.

Or, so they thought.

Hence, we had the 3Com Audrey, the CIDCO MailStation, NewCom WebPal as well as Microsoft's and AOL's WebTV, to name a few. Almost all of them had long been gone, or, if ever they are still made, they are surely bleeding their companies' coffers dry.

Interestingly, the company that made the iOpener was the very first to have the concept of practically giving the hardware away - it was very cheap at $99 - with the goal of becoming a dominant ISP -like AOL, MSN or even Earthlink-, by requiring buyers to pay a monthly subscription fee of $21.95 for its Internet services.

Along the way, however, hardware hacks saw the $99 hardware as a very, very cheap opportunity to have a full-blown PC (which then were selling for almost $500 and up for the very basic models). Inside the guts of a stock Netpliance iOpener is basically a ready-to-hack Windows or Linux-ready machine complete with an Intel-compatible IDC WinChip 200 Mhz CPU, a Trident CyberBlade video chip, a 56K modem, a 32MB (but upgradeable) SODIMM/SDRAM and a standard Award BIOS to boot!. So, just tweak the BIOS and add an IDE hard drive to the hacks-gleefully-discovered IDE port and, voila, you have a full scale PC by simply installing your OS of choice to the hard drive! (View the "hacked" version)

The iOpener also came with a USB port for other devices (shown here being used by a USB mouse), a PS/2 port for the bundled keyboard which has a built-in, scrolling button (mouse) and a unique ‘pizza ordering’ key, a parallel port (for a supported Canon printer) and a 10 inch, passive matrix 800 x 600 LCD.

Over the course of time, however, most people bought the iOpener, not to pay the monthly fee of $21.95 to Netpliance as their ISP, but to have a sleek and compact PC that can access the Internet -wired or wireless- via its USB port.

Netpliance, the company, became part of the dotcom bust by the early 2000.
thex Created with Sketch.