Charles Moore's Mailbag

iPad Should Support a Stylus, CoolBook Quiets MacBooks, Puppy Linux for PowerPC Macs, and More

Charles Moore - 2010.02.03 - Tip Jar

Why the iPad Should Support a Stylus

From Christopher:

Greetings, Dan, Charles, and whoever else may read this message,

I've been reading some of the speculation on Low End Mac about the long-rumored-until-now Apple tablet (particularly from someone named Alvin from the latest mailbag), and it makes me think about some of the things I was expecting - and then found myself disappointed not seeing.

To be frank, I was expecting something more of a "MacPad", as in the full Mac OS X, but I could get over it somewhat, since Apple platforms inevitably have developer appeal, and anything found on Mac OS X would probably make it to the iPhone/iPad OS. Even more importantly, however, I wanted a detachable keyboard (a la the old Compaq Concerto and TC1000, HP/Compaq TC1100, Always Innovating TouchBook, and who knows what else) and a Wacom pen.

There is a keyboard dock - not exactly what I was looking for, but a third-party vendor could easily make a keyboard that docks onto the iPad itself and has a swivel hinge. But that Wacom pen is nowhere in sight.

That disappoints me in terms of making the iPad particularly useful as a tablet. Multitouch is nice and all, but the pen is still a must. Think about that Brushes app - and any other app designed for artwork. Now imagine if there was a pressure-sensitive pen that could give the user finer control over their strokes. Then there's the means of taking notes like with pen and paper, except for the clunky dead tree stuff. The Notes application would work well with a pen, and imagine being able to annotate all these new ebooks meant to be read on the iPad, among who knows what else.

Now this doesn't mean that the whole interface should be pen-centric. Not at all - the multitouch is there for a reason. But the way I look at it, the pen capability is there when you need it, to let the user do more when the situation calls for it. Think along the lines of the Microsoft Courier concept (which, going by Microsoft's track record, either won't see the light of day or will make it to market, but no one will know about it).

That philosophy of mine carries over in my choice of mobile computer, to the point where I can indeed say that my laptop is my tablet, and my tablet is my laptop. It's not like it has to be a "pure slate with no keyboard or a clamshell with a hard keyboard and no pen or touch support on the screen" affair. But Apple offers no such options . . . and nor does Axiotron, for that matter.

Also, what's with all the gaming talk? I still don't see the iPad (let alone the iPhone or iPod touch) as a serious gaming device, not until I see some sort of gamepad attachment, or maybe the ability to use a Bluetooth mouse in conjunction with the keyboard dock for FPSs, RTSs, and other such genres typically the domain of the PC. (Now that's an interesting thought - keyboard, mouse, and touchscreen to play a game . . . wouldn't sell well due to accessory requirements, but I'm all for innovation that could come out of new input methods.)

Who knows, though? It's a first-generation product. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised down the road for all I know, and finally see the iPad succeed where the Newton MessagePad didn't.

Besides, now that the Apple tablet is a reality, the pace of tablet computer development is bound to pick up a bit, and everything will improve as more people discover ways to use the tablet form factor that even I haven't thought of yet. The niche is about to go mainstream, more or less.


Hi Chris,

Thanks for the commentary and observations.

I don't think the iPad is intended to displace a real laptop, at least for folks who do serious work with their machines.

I was delighted that they did include that keyboard dock, but it won't be really fully useful until there's mouse driver support to go with it.

Good point about the pen/stylus matter. I'm doubtful that I would be likely to do much graphics work on an iPad - at least unless Adobe or Pixelmator or someone comes out with a real image editing program - although one of the several good online imaging sites could be a usable workaround for occasional jobs. (See my Web Worker Daily article, Images in the Cloud: Checking Out Online Image Editors.)

Like you, I'm hoping the iPad will expand and evolve into a more satisfactory work platform as well as an entertainment and information reading machine, but it's a long way from there yet.


iPad: Genie in a Bottle

From Alvin:

Hi. How're you? The iPad is going to be great platform.

I think it'll be the most successful product, once developers offer iPad-specific games and the things that are lacking, like a security app. The 3G version won't even be needed by most people, which is already the pro. Those who have a netbook and an e-reader will surely switch, because you just add a few more bucks and you get more. It's also for those who are planning to buy a netbook. With this it'll even save you from buying a computer chair or a computer table.

The killer app would be games made for multitouch that'll have better graphics than the PSP but with the fun of a DS, which is the number 1 gaming device today. It'll be big in Japan. It'll be big because this is what parents will buy their kids, coz they can do homework with it also. It's most definitely for everyone who does not need that much power.

I think it does not have a camera because it's for use with an iPhone gen4, which will have a great camera in April. I guess they're omitting stuff like the camera because they want you to buy the other Mac stuff and at the same time, since it's multitouch, other companies could fill in for what it lacks. They can't lose with the multitouch and iTunes distribution combo platform.

A second killer app for it would be an app that would be compatible for all kinds of pressure sensing pens (I hope it gets approved). If you have a Wacom pen or another pressure sensitive pen, it could make use of that; it's not that hard to implement. You can just buy the pen from Wacom if you like. It'll be an affordable Cintiq for art students without violating Wacom's pen patent (cordless).

For kids, a.k.a. students, gaming is number 1, but it's not as portable as the DS or PSP we say? The portability won't be a problem, because it's also their textbook and work stuff. Parents will buy it for sure, coz of the online textbooks. I think that is the killer app; it's not the app itself but Apple's bookstore - specifically the textbook store (which is I guess an app in itself) for med students, grade, middle school, etc. It's not even the paperback ebooks nor the comics, because those are meant to be the real thing as collector's item.

For the enterprise, it could be a controller for the military. It's really going to be big once it has the apps (doctors, nurses, med reps for the signature, photographers - not really, they have too many gears already and their cameras have LCDs already, engineers). It's, of course, a good controller for Macs themselves, including a virtual keyboard - and yeah for those house management controllers. The iPad is a genie in a bottle. A Pandora's box without the chaos (coz Apple makes sure there's no piracy nor accidentally renaming or deleting system folders and files)

It lacks what we all wanted because it's really just a platform to get us started; this is what people don't understand and what the competition cannot do, coz only Apple makes everything while still having control on contents getting pirated. It's always been the app, but because it's a multitouch, it's hardware is in a way changeable. Reviews of it will become positive once people understand that it's a very flexible and affordable platform.

So in short, the iPad is an anything device for everyone. It'll really be big. Touch typing on it won't even be a problem once people get used to it, much like when you get used to texting (hard at first) with your thumbs.

It's where the portables will switch to in the next year (I predict it'll have sales of all the netbooks, the other tablets, and MacBooks combined, which would be in the hundreds of millions). Bigger versions of it will be for those who want to replace their pro laptops next year. If they can carry 17" work laptops, they can carry 17" iPads, which would be more portable, coz there's no keyboard. I think multitasking would be reserved for the MacPad Pro as well as the MacDesk Pro (it can't be called a Pad if it needs a 60" to 90" multitouch monitor already).

The multitouch tablets should be called something else. If we have the desktop category and the portable category, the smartphone category. The iPad should be called I guess multitouch category or maybe how it'll be used - couchtop category, LOL :)

It'll sure replace the desktops as well later. iMacs will become multitouch (we will get used to the orientation, because the tablet orientation is actually more natural. It's like writing on a notebook or drawing on one). Mac Pros will need a multitouch monitor, much like what multitouch tables are now, only the icons are not as scattered. It's also a new way to look at the upcoming OS because of multitouch. We won't need to see icons scattered around, we just pinch and spread them like cards. There's no need to even see the system files as well (we're not seeing seeing the system files right now, we just do what needs to be done right now. This also makes it secure as malicious programs do look for those by finding its path).

Apple and Steve are truly a gift from the Higher Power.


Hi Alvin,

Thanks for sharing your impressions and comments. Not being a gamer, I can't comment knowledgeably on that aspect of the iPad.

IMHO, the iPad's killer feature from the marketing angle is the lowball price for the base unit. I wouldn't be in the slightest interested for my personal use in a machine like this at $800, let alone the $1,000 some had been predicting. At $500, however, it's a whole different ball game.

Make that $568 for me, because there's no way I could ever take a machine dependent on a virtual touchscreen keyboard seriously as a production tool, and I want mouse support as well before I take the plunge.

Indeed, the touchscreen is a relatively unappealing feature for me, the biggest appeal being the light and compact form factor - and the price! It could be a very attractive second computer with a lot of tweaking. We'll see as things unfold over the next couple of years.

That's just me, however. Different strokes...,

I don't anticipate seeing tablets displace conventional clamshell laptops for a very long time yet, though, if ever.


iPad Not Likely to Kill Off Laptops

From John:

"Gizmodo says:

"Only way to interpret the launch of the iPad? Apple has declared the PC dead. Well-crafted but closed devices are their future of consumer computing. And if no one else can match the iPad experience, they may be right."

Editor's note: Or not. I really like the iPad, but it doesn't come within a country mile of being even a halfway adequate substitute for a real laptop, at least for folks who use their computers as serious work tools. Laptops are going to be around for a long time to come yet. However, with the iPad's price of entry at $500, the netbook folks may have plenty to worry about. cm"

I couldn't agree with you more, Charles.

After the big announcement had settled for a day or two, I told my wife, who's a high school Mac computer teacher btw, that I wasn't so sure about the iPad. Goofy name aside (think Depends and similar products), it's too big to fit in your pocket and too small to replace a laptop, and a virtual keyboard will never do for real work. Also, it's iPhone-ish operating system pegs it to a young audience. After an initial surge from the texting crowd, I suspect iPad won't have the meteoric takeoff that iPod and iPhone, two pocket-size devices, had. I'm guessing that the next generation of iPad might look more like a laptop, with a real keyboard.


Hi John,

Some sort of slide-out mechanical keyboard with a trackpad (have you ever used a Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard?) would be ideal IMHO, but the minimum I will accept is a mouse driver.

Other shortcomings: Neither memory nor data storage are upgradable - whatever amount of RAM Apple solders in (still unannounced ) and no more, and whichever SSD capacity option you pick out of the three available, but if you go for, say, the $500 entry-level price-leader, you're stuck with 16 GB of storage capacity (minus formatting) forevermore.

As for productivity, with no USB or FireWire ports, no ethernet, and optional-at-extra-cost additions needed even to download photos from a digital camera or for video out, and no SD card slot - all shortcomings that make the iPad definitely "not better" than what you get with any MacBook, save in some instances for the MacBook Air or even for that matter the humblest PC notebook.

These problems are not unifiable, but will Apple have the inclination to address them?


Quieting a Loud MacBook

From André:

Hi Charles,

I have some suggestions for our friend who has the "loud MacBook". Here they go:

1st: open, clean, and change thermal paste on your MacBook. You can find guides on iFixit on how to disassemble your MacBook and guides all over the Net on how to change thermal paste. Buy a good and nonconductive one like Arctic Ceramique. If you don't feel prepared to do it, any store will do it for cheap,and it makes a lot of difference. For example, it turned my hot and loud 17' HP DV9500 into a fresh and silent notebook.

2nd: Update Flash. A friend of mine, who runs an aluminium MacBook unibody, had the fans kicking when surfing on Flash websites. After updating Flash, it became better he said.

3rd: Undervolting. You can read all over the Web about this technique, and all you have to do is spend 10 bucks on CoolBook app.

4th: If the above steps don't turn your MacBook in a "usable" computer, go for the new white MacBook. I have one, and it is great! Solid, quiet, fresh, with sufficient power, and cheap!

Hope it helps!


Hi André,

Excellent tips. all.

I would just add: use sufficient thermal paste, but don't overdo it, and too much can paradoxically cause overheating.


CoolBook Makes for a Cooler, Quieter 'Book

From Richard:

Hi Charles -

Regarding noisy MacBooks, you may recall that I have written about similar dissatisfaction I had with my Nvidia WhiteBook. Like Mike, I run SETI on my machines and was unhappy about the amount of fan noise. My solution has been to undervolt the processor via Magnus Lundholm's CoolBook. I must confess that it worked better under OS X 10.5 than it does with OS X 10.6, but it does work. It's $10 (US) shareware, and it works for me.


Thanks Richard,

I used undervolting a lot with my 17" PowerBook to keep the fans quiet, since that option was built into the Energy Saver Preference panel on PowerPC machines. Incidentally, since my wife took over the 17-incher, the fan almost never cuts in, so it was associated with my having 15 to 25 applications open all the time and multitasking extensively that was causing it it heat up.

Not there with Intel versions, alas, but my Unibody MacBook is so quiet that I would never need the feature anyway. For those who do, CoolBook certainly can help.


Puppy Linux for Intel and PowerPC Macs

From André:

Let me just add a powerful distro that will happily run on Macs, the Puppy Linux. It will run on Intel Macs, and for PPC there is this port:

It is highly customizable and fast! In some things, it is not easy to use as Ubuntu/Mint, but it is much, much faster and has lots of variations (puplets).

This distro can turn any ancient machine (like my old gaming AMD K6-3 500 MHz based machine) on a usable and fast machine, and better, sometimes with the latest software!

Happy "Linuxing"

<center> - - - - </center>

Hi André,

I hadn't heard of that one. Looks promising! Thanks for the links.


Editor's note: You can download the latest PowerPup ISO from the current version is just under 14 MB in size. I burned the ISO to CD-R and attempted to boot my dual 1 GHz Mirrored Drive Doors Power Mac G4 from it, but after a lengthy startup process with several screens of text, no GUI. dk

Eudora Classic 6.2 for Mac

From David:

Dear Charles,

Greetings. I just read your article Test Driving Eudora 8 Beta 3: Better but Not Ready for Prime Time (2008.02.25).

I am a Mac enthusiast, but I still love my Eudora Classic 6.2. I was tempted to go to Thunderbird's Eudora 8, but like you I hesitate. My wife and I love the classic over every other email program around for Mac or Windows XP - ever since the early 90s, when we did dialup 200 miles from our server at 18 kbps in Borneo.

Can't the open source people at Mozilla just add some features like find duplicates, compress files, and archive mailboxes, to our beloved classic?

If it's not broken, don't fix it - except maybe update the code.

Like I said, in a fast paced world, I like Eudora Classic as is. It is refreshing to have something that works without lots of bells and whistles. I guess it's a monks dream.

Thank you,

Hi David,

Like you, my favorite all-time email client is Eudora Classic, and I still use it in OS X 10.4 on my Pismos.

However, I've gotten used to Thunderbird/Eudora 8 on the MacBook and am quite comfortable with it as well.

As I understand it, Qualcomm handed off the Eudora name and appearance elements rights to, but not the application code, and the latter would have to be rewritten more or less from scratch anyway (sort of what the Infinity Data Systems folks are doing with MailForge) to make it work satisfactorily on Intel Leopard, Snow Leopard, and beyond.

Eudora 8 is and will remain a Thunderbird clone.

I was never really happy with version 6.2.4's performance under OS X 10.5 on the 17" PowerBook, but it was tolerable enough that I didn't switch until I went Intel.


Notebook Battery Life

From Amy following up on Lombard G3 Power Adapter:

Hi Charles,

Thank you so much for your help. I'll check the condition of the battery and install Coconut Battery so that I can keep better track of what's going on with the battery.

18 months . . . what if it's more than 10 years old? May be time for a new battery : )


Hi Amy,

Glad I was able to help.

Yes, I think it may be time to replace your battery. ;-)

After 10 years, it would be surprising if there was any life left in one of those batteries, although I find the "official" estimate of 18 months pessimistic.


'Obsolete' Technologies: Cell Phones and Ladas

From André:

Hi again Charles,

I read with interest your article [In Defense of 'Obsolete' Technologies] on using obsolete technologies. I am "obsolete tech" user too, from old mobile phones (like my beloved Siemens Sl45 or the tiny Nokia 6510 that were found in a closet and only needed new batteries (original and cheap)) that I used as secondary phones, to the USB-to-Com adapters (which I use to connect the SL45 dock to transfer contacts and send SMS via Mac) to USB Floppy Disk (which saved my life a couple times, repairing corrupted BIOS in laptops).

Using obsolete can mean that you are "greener", like using an old printer instead of buying a new one (that will "cost" to the earth materials and pollution), and also it can save you some money (for example, a new battery for one these mobiles cost 10 Euros; the one for my brand new Nokia E52 costs about 40, both original, and in the end of the day they last almost the same).

Lada Niva 4x4Of course being "obsolete" in every tech is not possible for everyone. My example: I am a mechanical engineering student, so I can't run as primary notebook a PowerPC 'Book, because I need Windows to run CAD software, but if I was a writer or something, I'd be very happy with a PPC 'Book :)

About cars, I guess I win in the "obsolete tech" user. I am an happy owner of a Soviet Lada Niva 4x4, it is from 95, but it is more or less equal to the ones made in 1978/79 - and to the ones made in 2010. Few changes were made! Although it is not very "greener", it was cheap to buy and cheap to maintain, and it can take me to beautiful places that others can't go. And in the end of the day, it's our smile that counts, and I'm happy running all this obsolete tech :)

Hi André,

Good for you! I spend 3 to 4 hours a day working on a Pismo PowerBook from 2000. I fully agree that a PowerPC machine can make a very adequate writing tool. And, of course, there are a lot more powerful PowerPC options than my ancient 550 MHz G4-upgraded laptop.

Mazda B-4000 pickupNice shot of the Niva. Ladas were fairly popular here in Canada 20+ years ago, and there used to be quite a few Nivas around, but Lada dropped out of the Canadian market in the early '90s, and I haven't seen one on the road (or anywhere) for years. I expect that parts are very hard to get.

I drive an old 4x4 too - actually a year older than your Niva, a 1994 Mazda B-4000 pickup, which is a "badge-engineered" clone of the American Ford Ranger. It was built in Edison, New Jersey. It's fairly obsolete technology as well, although Ford still builds the Ranger and will continue to do so until 2012, when it will be replaced with a new compact pickup - probably a bit smaller.


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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