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My Pen Computing Experiences
by Rick Smith (July 1995)

As you might be aware, I have been "penning" in my articles, so I thought I would like to take this opportunity to describe some of my experiences with pen computing.

I have owned a pen computer for about a year ( NCR 3125 ), but I have only been exploiting the "power of pen" for the past 5 months. This is when I purchased my second pen computer ( NCR 3130 ). It is an 8 megabyte 386 based Monochrome pen tablet system with a 40 megabyte hard drive. Its only controls are the on/off/suspend button and hidden reset switch. It has a removable adapter which lets you attach a VGA monitor, keyboard, parallel port and serial port. It has a battery life of about 2 hours and no floppy drive. My first pen computer ran an older version of Pen DOS while this model runs under the more powerful Windows for Pen Computing.

I took it to trade shows, seminars and meetings. I found it to be quite useful to take notes. This machine doesn't replace any of my desktop systems or my Hewlett Packard 100LX palmtop computer, it was starting to replace my paper note pad. Its major limitation was its current hard disk capacity without upgrading and lack of a floppy drive.

My current pen system is a Compaq Concerto. It is a monochrome, 486 based system with a built in diskette drive, serial and parallel ports, VGA adapter, 4 hour battery life, 250 megabyte hard disk drive and 2 PCMCIA slots. It also has the unusual capability to be able to attach a keyboard and then look and feel just like a conventional laptop. At times, I do require a keyboard to run diagnostics, DOS programs or Windows programs that directly address the keyboard, but most of the time the keyboard stays in the case.

Since I am running in Windows for Pen Computing, all Windows programs are now "pen-enabled". This means instead of typing something into an entry box, I print it in this box and Windows "magically" transforms my printing into typed letters just as if I used the keyboard. If I want, I can use the on-screen popup keyboard and tap out the desired letters. When I need to click on a button, I tap the screen with the tip of my pen. Double click is simply 2 fast taps on the screen. There is a button on the side of the pen which functions as the right mouse button.

When people see this portable system they always ask about hand writing recognition. I tell them that when I take notes I rarely "recognize" the text into character format. Most people don't type in their notes after a seminar. I can always "handwriting process" my documents like a word processor - I move words and paragraphs around, delete and change margins. I can boldface, italicize, highlight and even search my hand writing without "recognizing" it. However, the system can recognize my writing and it works quite well. I can recognize a word, sentence, paragraph or even the entire document, when I want - if I want. You've seen the results - all my articles written in 1995 have been penned in.

I like the system best because it lets me use and carry high performance computing power in my hand. When I talk to people at computer related events and ask them where their computer is, they all tell me the same thing - it's back in the office or it's in the hotel room. Carrying a laptop around while attending a trade show is not very useful. If you want to take notes or look up information, you need to find a flat spot to use the laptop, open up the unit, wait for it to power up and then take your notes or get your information.

But my computer is in my hand and I can access its information right now. (Information at your fingertips?)

This is truly the power of pen computing.

Here are some short anecdotes about my personal pen system:

On the trip down to Comdex, along with AutoMap, I connected an Apple QuickTake camera to the system and was able to easily and comfortably download and view pictures, while we were driving. During the Comdex trade show, I used the pen computer for almost 8 hours a day. Using a pen became so natural that I didn't really want to use my desktop machine when I returned.

I also use the system to record seed germination and plant growth of a vegetable crop. I used a paper form and a clipboard before, but I now have all the data with me, only seconds away.

When I was in Louisiana, earlier this year, I used the pen computer at a pre-war plantation to draw a technical illustration of one of the plantation houses for the owner. This is something I never would have attempted with a desktop or laptop system. I haven't drawn any illustrations for years - but it was fun again!. (Unfortunately, the only software I had with me was Microsoft Paint, but that's another matter.) I was even able to even print the illustrations, without plugging in.

I even keep a business diary on the system. Sure I could use paper, but there's something magic about using a pen computer.

Looks like the adage about software expanding to fit available space is true. I now carry the complete road maps and along with route planning software for the entire United States ( Automap Pro ), a diskette file converter for Mac software ( Conversions Plus ), diagnostics and utilities ( Norton Utilities ), fax / communication software, flow charting / idea diagrammer, Maui golf guide, some games, QuickTake software and pictures, contact management/calendar, horse handicapping software along with good ole WordStar.

Using a pen-based interface is very natural as we have all had decades of experience with the technology. (By junior high you had a decade of experience with a pen or pencil). Pen computing helps make the user interface become invisible, transforming a computer into a magic piece of paper without losing the "ease of use" of paper and pen. My pen computer puts more personal into the term personal computer.

Copyright 1995 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

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