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Hal's candid opinion of Windows CE; the future of The HP Palmtop Paper; Thaddeus Computing to sell upgraded 8 Mg double-speed 200LXs; plus three classic games.

By Hal Goldstein

I really want to like the new Windows CE platform and the new HP 320LX Palmtop PC. Frankly, the future of our company, Thaddeus Computing, largely depends on the success of our new Handheld PC Magazine which focuses exclusively on Windows CE-based Handheld PCs such as the HP 320LX.

I am convinced the platform (and our new magazine) will be successful. Microsoft, by working with HP, Philips, Casio, Compaq, LG Electronics, Hitachi, and NEC to create Windows CE-based Handheld PCs has selected powerful teammates. Factor in hundreds of third-party companies developing for the platform. That is a lot of engineering and marketing muscle working to make Windows CE handhelds successful. Microsoft is famous for keeping at projects until it gets them right. Examples such as Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and even Windows itself demonstrate how Microsoft ends up dominating a market and doing a pretty good job on the product itself. In other words, for those of us not yet satisfied with Windows CE handhelds, eventually we will probably switch, if for no other reason that almost all the new and useful applications and hardware developed for Handhelds will be developed for Windows CE machines. Whether that takes one year, or five, is the question.

Still, every time I think I want to switch, or at least try to run the HP 320LX in parallel with the HP 200LX, I stop. Just check out James Robertson's article on his experience switching from the HP 200LX to the HP 320LX to understand why. I don't have the patience of the author, and besides, I've got lots of NoteTaker files, Database files, HP Solver equations, and 1-2-3 spreadsheets with macros that wont translate directly.

Stand-alone Palmtop vs. PC Companion

The thing I really don't like about the HP 320LX is its dependency on a PC one that must run Windows 95 or Windows NT. I cant use my 200LX flash card to directly transfer Lotus files or Comma Delimited Files created from 200LX NoteTaker and Database files directly to HP 320LX Pocket Excel. I have to first send the files to Excel on a PC. Similarly, I cant directly transfer my 200LX Phone or Appointment files. I have to first copy the files to the PC and run the translation program there.

I am used to just sticking my 200LX Palmtops flash card into my PC or notebooks flash card slot when wanting to transfer data. Not with the HP 320LX. The only 200LX files on a flash card readable on a 320LX are MEMO and other ASCII files, importable in Pocket Word.

Right now everyone at Thaddeus Computing uses a 200LX. To give everyone a Windows CE machine would require upgrading all desktop PC hardware and software to run Windows 95. In addition, one really has to give up a PC serial port, since transferring data between an HP/C Palmtop and a PC using a PC Card is not well supported.

Even now I am not a big fan of Windows and I am not a big fan of serial connections. The reason is simple. Their costs in terms of time and money have far outweighed the benefits. The Windows user interface and serial transfer are supposed to just work. The gory details are hidden from the user. When all works, great. The problem is that when things don't work, trouble-shooting often is difficult and time-consuming.

To Microsoft's credit, Windows CE works pretty well for the first version. However, in truth I don't want a handheld PC Companion. I want a stand-alone, self-sufficient PC in my pocket that can interface with other PCs as needed. That said, it seems I (and many others) will be using an HP 200LX for some time. In this context, I want to discuss the future of The HP Palmtop Paper with you.

The Future of The HP Palmtop Paper

During the past six years many of you have shared your knowledge in the form of tips, profiles, reviews, and as freeware, shareware and commercial products. In fact most of the material these past years have come from you, the reader. Even if you haven't contributed, you have been very loyal in terms of your comments, renewals, and patronizing our advertisers. Therefore, I want to be as open with you as possible in discussing the future of this publication.

Many of you have e-mailed me that the last issue contained less advertisements and less pages. This reflected an abysmal summer both for our advertisers and ourselves. HP grossly underestimated the demand for HP 200LXs as the HP 320LX was introduced. The result: those users wanting to purchase HP 200LXs couldn't find them, and even the most knowledgeable dealers thought the HP 200LX was being discontinued. To put it mildly, new subscriptions and even renewals dropped dramatically.

If you have done business with our advertisers, you know most have knowledge, a genuine interest, and appreciation for the HP 200LX. Many of these businesses depend on HP 200LX sales for a significant portion of their business. Even those like ourselves who will support Windows CE handhelds are caught in a tricky position. Sales of the HP 200LX have decreased dramatically (at least in Summer 1997) while we all must incur significant startup costs preparing for the new Windows CE market. The good news is that now that HP 200LXs are back in the dealer channel, sales have increased as reflected by new Palmtop Paper subscribers. However, even with the HP 200LX available, we expect new subscriber and Palmtop Paper renewals to stabilize at much lower levels than we have been used to in the past. In the meantime the paper costs have almost tripled since we began publishing The HP Palmtop Paper six years ago.

In other words, the bad news is that even assuming that subscriber, renewal, and advertiser rates stabilize at current levels, we would lose money each issue we publish.

At the same time, new possibilities for HP Palmtop use continue. New hardware, new software, new imaginative uses of the palmtop keep surfacing and will continue to surface as long as there is a market and user enthusiasm. Just glance through this issue as evidence. I feel that six years of HP Palmtop Paper issues have played a central role in the palmtops success and in expanding palmtop possibilities. If The HP Palmtop Paper dies, many HP Palmtop innovations, much user enthusiasm, and new HP Palmtop sales will die with it.

Personally, as an avid HP 200LX user I don't want to see that happen. The HP Palmtop Paper helps me, like thousands of other readers, be more productive and effective. Glance through this issue and you will see plenty of new and useful ways of taking advantage of the HP Palmtop.

So what's the solution? From your side you can help us by renewing early, getting other users to subscribe, and supporting our advertisers. From our side, in order to justify the expense of The HP Palmtop Paper we plan to offer additional Palmtop products and services.

A new Palmtop Business for Thaddeus Computing

Some of our loyal, long-term 10-year customers will remember a similar situation. In 1985 we began Thaddeus Computing (then called Personalized Software) supporting the Hewlett-Packard 110 Portable and later the HP Portable Plus. These portable computers, like the HP Palmtop, were years ahead of their time, and were created by some of the same HP Corvallis engineers that created the HP Palmtop. Unfortunately, HP was unable to market these machines at the time the laptop market was like the palmtop market is now. The public had yet to appreciate the benefits of portable computing.

Consequently a select group of loyal users loved their machines and supported The Portable Paper for six years the last two years of which, HP Portables were no longer sold by HP. With a relatively small subscriber base (about 2,000) we had 20 employees servicing HP Portable users as well as users of the orphaned HP 150 Touchscreen desktop. We did this primarily by buying and selling used HP equipment, adding unique value such as speed upgrades. As other companies were unable to survive selling HP Portable and HP150 products, we purchased their inventory and rights to their software. That meant even after we stopped publishing The Portable Paper, we were the central location to support HP Portable and HP 150 users.

We feel we can continue to serve HP Palmtop users with The HP Palmtop Paper if we resurrect that side of our business. Starting August 1, we began an aggressive campaign to purchase used Palmtops which we will test, clean, tighten hinges and otherwise refurbish for resale. In addition, thanks to the work of HP Palmtop hardware expert Mack Baggette, we will not only be selling used palmtops, but our centerpiece product will be a refurbished, upgraded 8 Megabyte double speed HP 200LX that we will warranty for up to two years! In addition, we will upgrade existing machines and offer both extended warranties and a relatively inexpensive repair service.

If there is interest, we may also offer a 200LX to 320LX file transfer service. That will save users the time and hassle of converting files when moving to the HP 320LX. Users send us a disk, flash card, or an HP Palmtop, and we will return a disk and simple instructions for transferring files to a Windows CE machine from a Windows 95 or NT desktop.

Making the plan work business-wise will be a little tricky. We will have to engage in two marketing efforts one for buying palmtops and another for selling them. At least for a while, unless we can make a large buy, we wont have much control as to how much inventory of Palmtops we can build up. Furthermore, for this activity to be profitable enough to make it worth the effort (given the many expenses, the dollar amount involved, and relatively low volume) we will need to buy Palmtop equipment at 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of resale. We hope that customers understand this when they see that we might offer $100 for a 200LX that we advertise at $285.

In order for everyone to feel that they are treated fairly, we will need to add value on both the buying and selling end. For example, when we buy a used Palmtop we will include, free, a $35 Handheld PC Magazine subscription and offer our HP 95LX/100LX/200LX to HP 320LX file transfer service at half price. On the other end, when we sell a refurbished or upgraded Palmtop, we will offer our HP Palmtop Paper CD InfoBase as well as other products and services at greatly reduced prices.

We hope you will view our entering the used Palmtop arena as an opportunity to get your spouse, children or colleagues Palmtops at reduced prices. Alternatively, you can take advantage of our rates to purchase a backup palmtop or an 8 megabyte double speed machine.

You, The HP Palmtop Paper reader, know the value of HP Palmtops more than anyone. We will really appreciate your patronage in this new enterprise and your recommending our company to colleagues as a reputable, knowledgeable source of inexpensive HP Palmtop equipment. In return, we should be able to continue publishing The HP Palmtop Paper at least to the millennium.

Three Classic Games

I recently discovered three classic games of logic that run nicely on the HP Palmtop. Battleship (SEAHUNT.EXE n) comes with sound effects and taunts you as you try to guess the location of the computers battleships before the computer guesses yours (see Screen 1).But don't trust the computer! On the average level the computer seems to play fair and you can win. (For example, I won one round when I bunched all my ships together. The computer calls you a wimp for playing at that level). However, at the most advanced level the computer has either an incredible algorithm that reads your mind, or peeks and knows exactly where your ships are.

 Screen 1: Battleship running on the LX.

 Mastermind (MasterHP n) was written for the Palmtop and is a simple, straightforward implementation of MasterMindTM (see Screen 2). It is a game of pure logical deduction. The computer selects at random from a group of five colors. Your job is to determine which color is in each position in as few guesses as possible. After each guess, the computer tells you how many correct colors and how many in correct position.

 Screen 2: The Mastermind game of logic.

 Finally, built-in to the HP 200LX and HP 95LX and available for the HP 100LX is Hearts and Bones (HBUS.ZIP) n. Windows users might be familiar with a similar game, Minesweeper. Another game of logic, the idea is to deduce where the mines are on a matrix of squares. Mine100 n (see Screen 3) is different enough from Hearts & Bones (there is a timer, for instance) that H&B fans might want to give it a try.

 Screen 3: Mine100

Shareware/freeware mentioned in this article

iPhone Life magazine

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The Palmtop Network with its S.U.P.E.R. (Simply Unbeatable Palmtop Essentials Repository) software is now available under the domain name of hp200lx.net.  

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