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I wish I may, I wish I might

By SoupIsGood Food, (, June 20, 2002

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I mentioned in the last installment that I was contemplating a platform swap when it comes time to retire my trusty Pismo (whose name’s Boomshaclackclack. Admit it. You’ve named yours, too.)

It’s not that the new PowerBook G4 isn’t a kick-ass system. Apart from the grievous lack of a bay system to accommodate dual batteries, it’s got everything I want in a bleeding edge notebook: advanced graphics, DVI to hook up a Studio Display, 5400rpm ATA/100 drive, gigabit ethernet, Airport, hi-rez wide-aspect display, all in a thin and light package. Only one problem. Too big!

For everyday use, which is Web browsing, email, and occasional text-editing, a full-bore PowerBook is overqualified, and given my mobile nature, it’s also oversized. The iBook is a step in the right direction sizewise, but as things are, it does not offer a clear reason to upgrade apart from a modest speed bump. Get back to me when it has a G4 and DVI out.

No, I’ve got my eye on a Sharp Zaurus, and it’s almost tempted me away from personal computers for day-to-day use. This thing is as powerful as a fully fledged desktop from five years ago, with plenty of muscle to play MP3s, MPEGs and display JPEGs and PNGs. It comes with a productivity suite, the Opera Web browser, and you can compile a version of Konqueror for it, as well as any number of command line and GUI applications for it. This is because it’s OS is based on a version of Linux – perfect for a Unix geek on the go.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not turning my back on the Mac. I need a box I can crank out graphics and art on, and play Starcraft and Escape Velocity Nova with, and use to finish and format proposals and prose, and to burn CDs and store MP3s on. The Mac is an indispensable tool in my arsenal for modern living, and great fun to fool around with. Freed from the requirements of mobility, I can opt for an Xserve with dual processors and four 7200rpm ATA/100 disks, or an economical and speedy iMac.

I will not bother with synchronization games. Outfit the Zaurus with 802.11, and I’ll handle all of my mail and scheduling direct on the PDA. If I need to backup, I’ll scp the files to my Mac, and scp MP3s from the Mac to a 1GB IBM Microdrive CF card for listenin’ on the go.

A few things stand in my way. The lack of built-in 802.11 is the largest one. I’d really rather not be forced to choose between the Microdrive and the network card, and they don’t yet make 802.11 SD cards. It’s also severely under-endowed in the memory department, with a mere 64MB, half that permanent storage. Fine for Palm systems with lightweight, elegant Palm Apps, less so for big, beefy Unix applications. The battery life also leaves a lot to be desired (actually, it sucks. One hour with everything at full tilt), and you can’t swap batteries, so you gotta stick it in the cradle until it’s recharged.

Most importantly, it has no phone option. I’d really rather not have to lug around a phone and a PDA, and I’m not too terribly thrilled with the other phone/PDA combos out there. What I really want is a phone/PDA that looks just like a regular PDA, but has a wireless pen-sized phone handset running Bluetooth you can keep clipped to it, or in a handy pocket.

So, without further ado, here’s my criterion for personal computing without a personal computer:

  1. Gotta have a real OS with real apps: word processors, full-feature Web browsers, IMAP mail clients, a scripting language or two, ssh and the whole deal.

  2. Enough muscle to handle JPEG2000 and MPEG4.

  3. 10 hours battery life at full tilt – backlight at full while playing MP3s off the Microdrive CF.

  4. 256MB of RAM, and a compact flash slot for a 1GB Microdrive.

  5. GSM Cell phone with detachable handset.

  6. Built-in 802.11 and Bluetooth connectivity.

  7. Thumb-board built in.

  8. USB port for a keyboard and mouse, and a FireWire port for a “FireWire mode” to sync with desktops at random, without the need for sync software.

There ya go. Grab a few mil in startup capital, and get crankin’. I’ll just keep on keepin’ on with my battered, tattered and bruised Pismo until then.

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