Last updated at 1:29 am UTC on 17 January 2006
The idea occurred to me that it would be a pretty cool thing to have a really portable PC to run Squeak on. It would have to be wireless, probably using the current 802.11b equipment, as this is getting cheaper now that 802.11g equipment is coming out. The most portable platforms that Squeak will run on are probably PDAs, but I don't like the small screens. I want a full 800x600 screen resolution, with color of course. A notebook computer would be okay, but lately the idea of a tablet computer pushed itself into my mind.
But I have no money to spend on cool new toys, so the cost of a new tablet or even a notebook is out of the question. I buy a lot of computer things through online auctions. This seems to be a pretty good way to get used equipment at a reasonable price.
I started out small and bought a Toshiba T200CS, which is a 486-based tablet PC that was loaded with Windows 95 for about $35. This machine is slow, but playing Spider Solitaire on it for a while convinced me that using a pen to point directly at things on the screen is far superior to using other pointing devices. It has no keyboard, but allows a standard PC keyboard to be plugged in. Using the included Pen Services for Windows, I found I very rarely needed to use a real keyboard. Pen Services for Windows includes a pretty good handwriting recognizer and an on-screen keyboard.
The T200CS works pretty well, but with only 12 MB of RAM, it was just too small and slow to really run Squeak. I did load Squeak 2.2 on it just to play, but didn't get very far with it. This machine also convinced me of the usefullness of a PCMCIA hard drive, because this machine has only a non-standard size 70 MB hard drive - barely enough for Windows 95 and one or two other small things. I got lucky and the auction for this tablet included a 350 MB PCMCIA card.
Oh yes, the wireless stuff! My home is wired for several Ethernet jacks already, and we have a cable modem for broadband access to the Internet. Now the old home brewed firewall/router has been replaced with a brand new wireless router/firewall. I just saw one in a major electronics chain's ad for $29 after rebates.
Originally, the intent was to use wireless for the T200CS machine, so I went on a quest for a 16-bit PCMCIA wireless card that had drivers for Windows 95. And of course low cost. Most of the cards available are for CardBus (32-bit) and only have drivers for Windows 98 or newer. Through an auction, I finally acquired a pair of brand new 16-bit PCMCIA 802.11b wireless cards that said they supported Windows 95 for about $60.
On the outside of the package, it says they support Windows 95. On the inside of the package, and on the manufacturer's web site, it says they only support Windows 98 or newer, just like everybody else. So, I haven't been able to get them to work on the T200CS, but I was still able to use them later on.
I wanted more power, so I bought a used Fujitsu Stylistic 2300 tablet PC with a 233 MHZ Pentium with MMX, 96 MB of RAM and a 4 GB hard drive for under $200. I also found out something I didn't know before. The Windows 95/98 handwriting recognition software commonly used on these things, Pen Services for Windows, was always preloaded by the manufacturer on these tablets and is not available to be installed any other way.
It happens that on this particular tablet, the hard drive was wiped before the sale, as a reasonable precaution. So now there was no handwriting recognition unless I wanted to pay the manufacturer the licensing fee for the software again (which I didn't). The pen does work, but strictly as a mouse pointer. This particular tablet came with a docking station and a separate keyboard too, but that detracts somewhat from the "cool, very mobile" idea.
Getting this tablet running at all was a bit of fun, but not too bad. The tablet has only a hard drive, no floppy disk drive or CDROM. It will not boot from any PCMCIA-attached devices. So, I popped out the hard drive and put it into a different notebook computer in order to load Windows 98 and drivers for the 802.11b PCMCIA card. I also copied the Windows 98 ".cab" files onto the hard drive so that I could reconfigure Windows later without needing any CDROM. Then the hard drive was put back into the tablet and Windows reconfigured everything for the new hardware it found itself on. As long as the ".cab" files were there, this was no problem.
I am led to believe that it is also very possible to run Linux on this tablet and have similar function. I may try that some day, but Windows 98 is working well for now.
After some consideration and consultation through the Squeak mailing list, I decided that the best way to go cool and very mobile without lugging around a keyboard was to use an on-screen keyboard. I found this to be easier and more reliable than the handwriting recognition on the older Toshiba anyway. There are a few on-screen keyboards available freely, so I am trying them out. So far the winner for the free category is called Click-N-Type, while the non-free category is being led by PenOffice at $50. Squeak's Genie handwriting recognition came into play here, but for my own personal preference, the on-screen keyboard works better than handwriting recognition. I am still using Genie for "control" gestures in the Squeak environment.
It was my intent all along to use Squeak as the main application on this tablet. For me, the one big lack in living in a Squeak environment is a full-featured web browser. So at the moment, those are the main applications loaded on this tablet, Squeak and Internet Explorer.
The idea of an on-screen notebook for jotting down whatever happens to come up is also a requirement. MS Paint is there and works okay, but something with indexed pages would be much better. After a question about the usability of the Dynabook idea came up on the Squeak mailing list, I played with the virtual paper thing in Squeak. A first attempt led me to try a BookMorph. This seems to do a fair job, although there is no intelligence behind it, as there might be with something like Jacaranda. The next thing I need to do is add a Genie gesture to bring up a new PaintInvokingMorph to fill the pages of the BookMorph a bit quicker.
So far, this is working pretty well. I can email, browse the Internet, and use the full Squeak environment including collaboration tools from anywhere in reach of the wireless access point radio (about 100 feet, but not outside my aluminum sided house) on a handheld device, although it's a handfull at just under 4 pounds.
Don't get me wrong - newer, faster, bigger, lighter is definitely better, but also many times more expensive!!
Here is the Fujitsu Stylistic 2300 in the dock on a foldable wire stand with the keyboard. In this picture the display is 640x480 and there is a big black border, but the 800x600 display fills the whole screen. The display measures just over 8" diagonally. The wireless card sticks out the top (not shown here).
After playing with this system for a while, it now sits in a corner, rarely used. While it is still cool and mobile, it has the unfortunate quality that the pen operation gets erratic and mistriggers frequenty after the system warms up a bit. There is a suggested mod (or used to be) on the bulletin board listed below to fix this, but I haven't worked up the courage to destroy the case in order to do it. I ended up buying PenOffice for the on-screen keyboard because some of the freebie stuff wouldn't work for certain requestor windows. Also, this thing is not really usable in my lap with the keyboard attached. Someday I will probably sell it and get an old notebook again. I still like the tablet idea, but in practice, for me at least, it just doesn't pan out.
Dude thanks for the input i just got a 2300 in the same boat and this rocks to help me with it with 98SE, I feel I can use it now. Drop me an email anytime you want firstname.lastname@example.org
check out http://www.linux-hacker.net/cgi-bin/UltraBoard/UltraBoard.pl?Action=ShowBoard&Board=FujitsuStylistic1200&Idle=&Sort=&Order=&Session= for alittle more help with using the 2300. there is even new info on getting the pen to work under W2K and XP! Big news!