The Mobile Mac

How and Why a 1998 Windows CE Device Found a Place in One 'Book User's Bag

- 2006.06.26 -Tip Jar

A funny thing happened while cleaning out the garage.

Like all stories, this one started out with a daunting task(cleaning the garage), involved personal struggle and obstacles toovercome, and ended in an exciting climax of action and discovery.

You see, I have boxes full of junk, and as I went through some ofthem, I found one of the many answers to long-forgotten technologicalneeds.

1998 Technology

What I am talking about is an HP Jornada 680 from around 1998. Thisis a "Jupiter" Handheld PC Pro, which is another way of saying WindowsCE 2.11 with some pocket versions of Microsoft Office applicationsadded on.

This nifty device is about the size of a MacBook battery and weighsabout the same as well. In this tiny form factor is a half-height VGAscreen (640 x 240) that has 256 colors (I remember there being a 16-bitcolor hack), both Compact Flash (CF) and PC Card slots, infrared, and akeyboard about half as wide of one in a laptop.

HP Jornada 680Sticking slightlyout the back of mine is the extended capacity battery; I can't find thestandard capacity one that is slimmer and lighter. This trim and fairlylightweight device will run for a full 8 hours on a charge, and itturns on and off instantly.

Not Obsolete

Looking at this thing in the context of 2006, there are some areaswhere this piece of technology was completely left behind. In otherways, however, it's remarkably current. In fact, I'll be bringing itwith me to a legal conference in Texas for the single reason that I'llget into below.

I recently wrote an article about laptop power issues, Power Strategies for Using Your 'Book in the Field:Batteries and AC Adapters, and how with three batteries and anexternal charger I'm ready to go almost anywhere. This is true, but onthe off chance that I can't get all of my batteries charged or that Iuse my laptop more than planned and run my batteries dry, the8-year-old Jornada makes an excellent backup machine.

While it won't sync with OS X, as its too old to be supported byprograms like TheMissing Sync, it does have that magic CF card slot. With that I cansave any writing I do on the Jornada to a CF card, then using a cheapCF reader I can download the documents to my Mac.

Another option is to email my writings to myself using the Jornada'sbuilt-in 56K modem, or even over WiFi through my Airport Express, whichwill function as a router while I'm in the hotel. (WiFi doesn't work onthe Jornada at home, because the primitive CE driver and wirelessclient cannot handle 128-Bit WEP encryption, and that's what I haveboth at home and the office. I suppose if I reduced my security to40-Bit WEP I could get the old Jornada online at home, but it honestlyjust isn't important enough.)

Taking Notes

Wait a minute, did I just say that I would take notes on theJornada? While nowhere near as comfortable to work on a laptop, theJornada is actually a lot better than something this small should be.The keys are small, and rapid typing takes some serious concentration,a light touch, and decent coordination, but with handwriting as bad asmine, it's the only option when the juice runs out - and it's asurprising decent option.

The trick to using a tiny keyboard like the Jornada's is notcorrecting your own typos, but just powering through. It's hard for meto keep typing when I notice the number 4 in the middle of a word, butthe small keyboard and touchscreen navigation both are strong argumentsin favor of editing the notes later on the Mac.

With prodigious typos, I'm up to about 35 words per minute on theJornada, or 10 slower than I am on my PowerBook. That's not bad for atiny device that runs for 8 hours on a charged 8-year-old battery.

A Worthless Toy?

I remember buying this thing thinking it was the answer to mywishes. My 1998 laptop weighed about 9 lb. and was a monstrous brick(Micron Transport Trek2), while the Jornada was about the same size andweight as one of its 90-minute batteries. My love affair lasted all ofa month, when finally the reality of a crippled email client that onlysupported one account, extremely poor browsing, and a user interfacewith all of the ugliness of Windows 95 (and none of the convenience)sank in.

As a "worthless toy" in 2006, the Jornada can serve a niche as adecent emergency backup tool for taking notes and getting them to myMac. But as the laptop substitute I hoped for in 1998, it's evenfurther from the mark today.

In its favor, Windows Solitaire remains the greatest computer gameever, and the Word and Excel documents created on the Jornada openwithout any issues on the latest and greatest Office 2004 for Mac. Asan added bonus, they open in AppleWorks as well.

I hope that I don't need to use my Jornada in Texas. It would belovely if my batteries last the entire conference, but for thosemoments when the juice is dry and there's 30 minutes to go, I won't bemissing out. LEM

Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

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