Back in 2004, I worked as a journalist in several periodicals at once. As part of my service, I often had to go on business trips and to press conferences, participate in various presentations, work at exhibitions, and take interviews. Often I had to write articles «on the go», working literally anywhere: on a bench at an airport or train station, on a windowsill in a press center, in a street cafe, on the steps of the Lenexpo pavilion.
Laptops back then were bulky, expensive, and very heavy. Carrying such a monster in a backpack is like going for a run with a load tied to your leg. Do you believe in love at first sight? One sunny morning, I experienced this wonderful feeling for myself when I saw a tiny pocket computer in the window of a computer store. *»I will take him!» * I decided.
Yes, I was well aware of the existence of Palm computers with their wonderful «graffiti» handwriting recognition system, but the determining factor for me was compatibility with Windows and the ease of switching PDAs from PCs. In the editorial office, all machines were running Windows, and sometimes it was necessary to «overtake» a freshly written note to the editorial computer very quickly, literally on the go, without bothering with compatibility and file formats. The Pocket PC ran Windows CE, Microsoft’s Pocket Word, and to communicate with «big machines» there was a docking station with a USB port and an SD card. In general, this is what a young modern correspondent needs in 2004. And here I am, sculpting another imperishable beer aboard a ship sailing on Lake Ladoga.
This portable computer from Rover has become my faithful companion for many years. It’s still working today, 17 years after this picture was taken with a film camera on the deck of a ship — but with age, a few areas of faded pixels have appeared on the display. My story today is about this wonderful and very pleasant device.
It should be noted here that today everyone is used to portable electronic gadgets, and at the beginning of the «zero» PDA made an indelible impression on the average man in the street. By that time, everyone had gradually become accustomed to traditional laptops, but the sight of a «handheld» with a sliding pocket keyboard caused a reaction among others, perhaps comparable to the culture shock experienced by the tribes of wild Africa after the colonialists first demonstrated to them the principle of operation of an automatic drain tank. And after they were convinced that it was possible to type text on this device, and in the «word», many generally fell into a cataleptic stupor.
If this happened, for example, in the lobby of the hotel, the trajectory of their leisurely walks gradually took the form of concentric circles, gradually narrowing to the conventional center-table with a «handheld». Some, emboldened, hastened to immediately ask a non-trivial question: «What are you doing?». «I’m working,» you reply, trying in vain to focus on the text. «Wow!» they say and begin to breathe noisily over your shoulder, ozonizing the atmosphere with the aroma of yesterday’s beer. This was usually followed by a flurry of various questions: «What is this, Windows? Zinka, look, Windows! Can I play on it? And watch a movie? Will Duke Nukem go for it? And how much does it cost? Can I attach a mouse to it? «. In general, the happy owner of a pocket PC twenty years ago was literally guaranteed everyone’s attention and widespread close interest, from which, frankly, sometimes I wanted to hide somewhere far away.
The heart of my «old man» RoverPC P3 is an ARM Intel XScale PXA250 processor with a frequency of 400 MHz. The computer is equipped with a 3.5-inch TFT touch screen display that supports a resolution of 240×320 pixels. For communication with external devices, the PDA has an infrared port, which I have never used, a USB-compatible connector for a docking station, and a slot for full-size SD cards. There is also a headphone output, a speaker and a microphone with a sound recording button — that is, the device can be used as a digital voice recorder, which is simply an indispensable thing for a journalist. The device is equipped with 36 MB of RAM and 32 MB of ROM.
But the best part is the size and weight. Without a cheap leatherette case, the device weighs 48 grams, which is exactly half as much as my modern iPhone XR. At the same time, the PDA is more compact: with the same width, the RoverPC P3 is a couple of centimeters smaller than the iPhone in height and only slightly thicker. That is, this pocket computer was in the most literal sense a pocket computer. The battery could hold a charge from eight to twelve hours with intensive work at the computer and up to several days in «sleep» mode.
In addition to the PDA, I bought myself a sliding keyboard of the same compact format: at 77 grams it was a little larger than a pack of cigarettes, and when unfolded it turned into a full-fledged laptop-sized keyboard with a standard size, pitch and key arrangement. Moreover, I have never seen such a convenient mechanism for folding the keyboard anywhere, neither before nor after. It is noteworthy that the device still works perfectly, having withstood almost two decades of operation and thousands of kilometers of crossings around the globe. The keyboard is connected to the dock connector of the PDA and does not require additional drivers, and it has a special connector for connecting memory, that is, if necessary, the user can recharge the PDA while typing on it. There were five function keys under the touch screen of my PDA. The largest of them in the center of the front panel is four-position, that is, it can be pressed in one of four diametrical directions. This key is used to switch between icons, menu items and lists, in other words, it can be used in the same way as the cursor keys on a regular personal computer, and in games it served as a joystick. The remaining four buttons are used to quickly launch applications, and their purpose can be arbitrarily changed in the operating system settings by «binding» to each of the keys of «your» program that you use most often.
The stylus on the Rover PC P3 had a telescoping design that made it convenient to use as a ~~in-ear picker~~ pointer. On the side wall of the device there is a button for turning on and off the sound recording of a digital voice recorder and a standard (3.5 mm) headphone jack. Even on my pocket PC, the designers have provided a special scroll wheel to scroll smoothly through menus and lists, as well as text documents and web pages that do not fit on the visible screen area. The function of this wheel is similar to the mouse wheel of a conventional personal computer, and, in particular, it is very convenient when browsing the content of websites while browsing the Internet and when reading large texts on the screen of a PDA. I confess, I really miss this on modern tablets!
The operating system on the RoverPC P3 is Russified Microsoft Pocket PC 2002, codenamed Merlin, whose interface clearly looks like the revolutionary Windows XP, just released at that time. Among the programs included in the package, there is an email client, Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, Pocket Word text editor, Pocket Excel spreadsheet editor and even, where without it, Solitaire solitaire. Even in standard applications, one could find file manager explorer, Media player, Calculator, MSN Messenger (has anyone used it at all?), Terminal client, Infrared reception (Infrared reception — with this program you can establish a connection with another device or computer, equipped with an infrared port) and the QBackup backup application. Why do you need a browser and email client, you ask? Technically, this device can be connected to a mobile phone via infrared and use the latter as a modem. In this combination, the PDA turned into a small pocket office with Internet access. If there is no external keyboard, you can also enter text using the on-screen keyboard. But the Pocket PC also has a built-in handwriting recognition system, which I already mentioned. It’s not as versatile as Palm’s «graffiti» but it works. Its advantage is that the user does not need to memorize special croquebras denoting a particular character — Pocket PC understands plain text written by hand in Russian or English. This is also the main disadvantage: everyone’s handwriting is different, and the program does not recognize some letters correctly or does not recognize them at all. I came to a simple conclusion for myself: handwriting on PPC is good for creating short notes on the go, in other cases a digital voice recorder or a sliding keyboard comes to the rescue.
The so-called input panel was used to enter text using a stylus. It was divided into three conditional areas: the left one is reserved for writing characters in uppercase, the middle one is for writing lowercase letters, and, finally, the right one is for writing numbers. The writing field was divided by three horizontal lines: the first line, dashed, indicates the center of the line. All lowercase characters are written below it so that their bottom touches the solid line below the dashed line. Letters with subscript elements, such as, for example, «u» p «or» sch «in the Russian alphabet, or «q» in English, are written so that the upper part of the letter rests on a solid line, and the «tail» is located below it Letters with accents (for example, «b» in the Russian alphabet or «b» in the English alphabet) are also written between dashed and solid lines, but their upper part should protrude slightly above the dashed line. Capital letters and numbers can be written throughout line height, so that the dotted line goes through the middle of the character.
However, keep in mind that even if you draw a lowercase character in the uppercase field, it will be recognized by the program and displayed as an uppercase letter, and vice versa, an uppercase character written in the lowercase field will be recognized as lowercase. With a little practice, you could learn to type by hand at a more or less satisfactory speed, but you are unlikely to achieve the speed of a professional typist — the quality of handwriting recognition remained poor. The system also had automatic completion of the entered words, but it worked. About the same way it works now: he guesses, but not always correctly.
Personally, when it was impossible to connect an external keyboard to the PDA, it was much more convenient for me to use the regular on-screen keyboard, pointing the stylus at the corresponding buttons on the display. Actually, this method has taken root in modern smartphones — some users manage to type text with their fingers in instant messengers at breakneck speed.
The Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 understood the mp3 format out of the box, so it could be used as an mp3 player, putting your favorite tracks on an SD card for listening to music on the plane. For me, it was much more important to work normally with .Doc and .Xls files, without bothering to distill documents from format to format. There were no problems with this: Pocket Word and Pocket Excel were fully compatible with Office 2003, which was on my home computer and on all editorial machines. You write an article, transfer it to an SD card, and open it on any computer with a USB port (an editorial digital camera has been successfully used as a universal card reader).
At home, I connected the baby to the computer via a docking station, but there was one catch. If the card reader or the digital «Konika» defined the SD card in Windows as a simple external drive, then when the PDA was connected directly via USB, such a trick did not work. First you had to install the drivers in Windows XP and then launch the dedicated ActiveSync program. I believe that the perverts who wrote this eventually left Microsoft and moved to Apple to invent iTunes there: the functionality of the two programs was very similar, as well as disgusting usability. I don’t know what prevented these guys from providing the ability to connect a PDA to a computer in card reader mode, but it was completely absent. In short, transferring files via SD was much easier.
In addition to the listed software, the Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 OS included the «Contacts» program, which implements the capabilities of an electronic notebook. In addition to storing entries entered by the user in alphabetical order, the program allowed searches by specified parameters and sorting of entries. The Notes program allowed you to save both text and handwritten, as well as voice recordings created using a digital voice recorder built into the PDA. The maximum recording time was determined by the amount of available memory.
Tasks was a versatile organizer that allowed you to schedule meetings, talks, and other events, as well as set automatic reminders for scheduled events at specific times or intervals. And finally, the program — the Calendar was somewhat reminiscent of an organizer from Outlook and worked in conjunction with Notes and Contacts — it was possible to mark the date of interest in the calendar, «attach» an arbitrary note to it and set up a reminder of an upcoming solemn event, for example, a birthday person from your contact list.
In addition to all of the above, the developers have generously added the Microsoft Reader program to the operating system, which allows you to read e-books saved in a special format of this application on the PDA screen. Personally, I never used it, because I preferred the traditional FB2 format, for which there were readers for Pocket PC 2002/Windows CE. That is, a portable device could well be used as a compact e-book.
By the way, about third-party software. Contrary to expectations, in 2004 its range was not as wide as I initially expected. For PDAs, you can find some simple games such as Tetris, Chess, Fool or Lines. There were even «cool» strategies — over time, such classics of the genre as UFO and Heroes were ported to the PDA (more precisely, compatible analogues were developed), there was also a version of Wolfenstein 3D, which appeared for this platform in 2005. However, the quality of the gameplay was affected by the fact that, unlike modern tablets, Pocket PC did not have a gyroscopic sensor and an automatic screen rotation function, and the touch screen was not distinguished by high accuracy and good response to stylus touches. There were also mobile maps of cities and roads, but it was not possible to use a pocket computer as a full-fledged navigator, again, due to the lack of a built-in GPS module.
There were several versions of the office and messengers that supported the IRC, Jabber and ICQ protocols. The latter was extremely important for me — I often and very actively used ICQ. There were graphics editors that allowed me to draw on the screen with a stylus, but they all, in one way or another, did not exceed the capabilities of the Paint built into Windows (or I simply did not come across a decent product). Dictionaries and translators were a huge help in the work, which worked noticeably worse on the PDA than the modern Google Translate, but they stored the database locally and did not require a constant Internet connection. Programs such as ActivePrint existed to switch PDAs with printing devices, but they did not work very stable — it was easier to print documents through a desktop computer.
The interface of the operating system was simple and intuitive for anyone who has used Windows at least once in their life, which for me personally was another indisputable advantage of the Pocket PC compared to the Palm. When you first turned on your PDA, you had to do the initial Windows setup, calibrate the touchscreen, select the interface language, and the current time and date. Subsequently, every time the power was turned on, the Windows interface was immediately displayed on the screen. But only if you have charged your Pocket PC in time. When the battery was completely discharged, all Windows settings were automatically reset, after which it was necessary to repeat the OS setup procedure in the same way as when turning on the PDA for the first time.
Otherwise, the appearance of the OS seemed familiar only at first glance. First of all, the complete absence of the desktop in its usual form drew attention to itself. Instead, the user was shown a so-called «today screen» where the system showed a summary of the current time and date, upcoming appointments and pending tasks, and the number of unread e-mail messages. Something similar is the lock screen on modern smartphones.
At the top of the screen was an «information panel» with a «Start» button, clicking on which led to the opening of the Main Menu, containing a list of installed applications. The right side of the top information panel contains the system clock and the volume indicator for the built-in Pocket PC speaker, and additional icons, such as a low battery icon or some other system notification, can also be displayed here. Today the New button has been located at the bottom left of the window. Clicking on it opens a menu that allows you to quickly create a new Word document, Excel spreadsheet, enter a new note, or prepare an email message.
Despite the somewhat non-standard layout of the interface elements, I personally got used to the «pocket windows» very quickly and used them with a certain comfort. For example, I wrote my book on setting up and working with a pocket computer, published in 2005, entirely on this very pocket computer.
But the operating system had certain flaws. For example, in Pocket PC 2002 there is no mechanism for scaling and minimizing windows to the taskbar, so any window of a running program can only work in full screen mode, and when you press the button located on the right side of the title bar, it closes and simultaneously unloads the application from the PDA memory. It is not possible to minimize the application window, as well as quickly switch between simultaneously running programs. It is not possible to run multiple instances of the same program at the same time. Therefore, in particular, it will be impossible to work with several Pocket Word documents or Pocket Excel spreadsheets at the same time: in order to open an editor window containing a new document, you must first close the previous one. This, of course, caused some inconvenience when working with PDAs, but we veterans, hardened by MS-DOS single-tasking, were not used to this.
In general, at the beginning of the zero years, the PDA was just a unique device with a bunch of functions, which had an innumerable number of possible uses. Personally, I did not part with this device literally for a minute, constantly carrying it in my pocket, because of which, over time, the PDA acquired a rather shabby appearance. Over time, mobile phones ceased to be mere «callers», absorbing most of the functions of the PDA, then portable netbooks with full-fledged Windows appeared on the market, and my Pocket PC safely moved to live on the pantry shelf, where he still lives in the company other old electronics. However, from time to time I take it out of there — if only just to remember my youth :).