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The Beginning of the End of an Era

The Beginning of the End of an Era

Hewlett-Packard will stop production of the HP Palmtop on Nov. 1, 1999.

By Ed Keefe

In June, a memo appeared on the HPLX-L mailing list and, from there, went out to all the members on the list. The memo said that Hewlett-Packard planned to discontinue production of the 200LX and 1000CX as of Nov. 1, 1999!

Palmtop users anticipated that the announcement was coming but HP had indicated, in private communications, that they would not make this decision before the end of the year. Needless to say, the memo generated a rash of responses from long time Palmtop users.

Many of the people who read the memo responded with letters to HP arguing that it was not in the best interests of the company to pull the plug on the only available DOS Palmtop. In spite of arguments to the contrary, HP made the announcement official on July 6 in a press release posted on the HP Web site at www.hp.com/ Jornada/news/discontinue200.html (see sidebar).

On July 7, the New York Times featured an article by Steve Headlam on the demise of the HP 200LX. The article referred to the Palmtop as a "cult classic" and quoted the remarks of several Palmtop users including Hal Goldstein, publisher of The HP Palmtop Paper (see sidebar). At about the same time CNet News posted a story about HP's decision to stop producing the Palmtop which, they mistakenly claimed, had been on the market for only 2 years (see sidebar).

Reactions from Palmtop Users

Within hours of HP's posting of the press release, the news spread throughout the Palmtop community. The responses from users ranged, in tone, from grudging acceptance to outright anger: in other words, the classic reactions people experience at the death of a friend. For a sample of some of these reactions, see the end of this article.

What Does It All Mean?

After a flurry of reactions, the online user community admitted that the announcement really didn't matter in the short run. Life goes on and so does the Palmtop.

In the short term, it means that HP will not be producing an upgrade to the HP 200LX. The hoped-for successor to the HP Palmtop, a small PC with more than an 80186 processor, more memory, backlit screen, etc. will not be forthcoming from HP.

In the short run, the announcement means that, if you intend to use the Palmtop for several more years, it would pay to order a second (or third) machine that can be tucked away where it will be safe and ready to go. Granted the HP Palmtop you have will probably last for several more years of normal use. However, consider what your choices of palm-sized computers would be if your Palmtop were lost, stolen or irreparably damaged. If you want to buy a new Palmtop, now is the time to do it before the supply runs out. Used, like new, Palmtops should be available for the next three years.

In the long term HP wants you to buy one of their Windows CE machines. The announcement from HP indicated that HP 200LX users would want to "upgrade" to one of the "great" handheld devices in the HP Jornada line.

This upgrade appears to be a sensible choice for a casual user of the HP Palmtop. Most casual users of the HP 200LX run their machines in much the same way that they ran their HP 95LX. They get good mileage out of the Appointment Book and Phone Book. They typically do not venture into the realm of custom databases, elaborate spreadsheets, electronic mail or add-on DOS and System Manager programs. Few have used HP Calc beyond an occasional foray into the TVM application. In short, their investment of time and effort in the HP Palmtop is minimal. This is as it should be, given that most people who bought an HP 200LX are busy people who may have little computer knowledge. The Jornada handheld would let them do much of what they do with their Palmtop and they could connect to the World Wide Web and send and receive e-mail "out of the box." They might also enjoy the eye-catching, color screen.

However, for power users, the suggestion that a Windows CE machine is an "upgrade" is ridiculous. Most power users have spent time, money, and effort to push the Palmtop into areas where it was not meant to go. Consider something like Software Carousel that will let you have up to 12 versions of the Palmtop in one machine. Consider that the Palmtop community has gathered over 1500 programs that are known to work on the machine. Consider that you can now have up to 96 MB of disk space in the machine. Consider that others have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for custom designed, vertical market software. Stockbrokers, realtors, insurance sales people, railroad conductors, engineers and people in the medical profession have all come to rely on their HP Palmtop. Many of their specialized applications will not run on a standard WinCE machine. A full upgrade would mean additional expense and a long delay in coming up to speed yet again.

Can Others Pick Up the Ball Dropped by HP?

The idea that there will never be an upgrade for the Palmtop inspired several users to start designing such a machine on their own. The HPLX-L mail list has gathered a "wish list and several members on the list are looking at costs. The eventual outcome could be a "request for proposal." There is no promise implied that such a machine would ever be built. It does show that there is an interest in an advanced machine for people who want a truly personal computer and not just an attachment to Windows and the Internet.

How Will This News Effect Thaddeus Computing?

We, like a lot of Palmtoppers, realize that we have benefited from the best "personal" computer that has ever been built. We have yet to see anything like the Palmtop's PIMS in any other machine-be it a desktop or handheld PC. Nowhere else in the handheld market is there such a flexible and powerful database program and a standard spreadsheet. Nowhere else is there the equivalent of HP Calc with its Solver function.

When we stop to think about it, the HP Palmtop line of personal computers has provided us with enough insights, tips, tricks, reviews, and profiles to fill 50 issues of The HP Palmtop Paper. When we consider that most of the material for the newsletter came from enthusiastic and knowledgeable users, we realize that Steve Headlam may have been right. We've seen the makings of a cult. However we'd like to change the word "cult" to "subculture." The Palmtop subculture stands for excellence in personal computing and the idea that smaller is indeed better.

Sad to say, the computing world in general, and handheld computers in particular, have become part of the culture epitomized by fast-food restaurants and television shows. That culture can be summed up in two words: "consistent mediocrity."

We fear that we will lose this subculture as the Palmtop era fades. To forestall that eventuality, we plan to continue supporting the HP Palmtop with repairs, upgrades and the sale of new and like-new, used Palmtops for as long as Palmtops and parts are available. We anticipate, based on our experience with the after-market for the HP Portable Plus laptop, we should be able to provide this service for three years or longer.

In the ever changing world of computers we hope that, by then, someone at HP will decide that it's time to return to a quest for excellence rather than meddling with MS mediocrity.

Users' Reactions to the Announcement:

A Sad Day

If HP headquarters were nearby, I'd protest by melting down a Jornada on their steps and recasting it as a fishing weight (on 2nd thought maybe the recasting is unnecessary), while wearing my 200LX serial cable wrapped as a black armband.

Longden Loo Longden_Loo@CANDLE.COM

Thanks for the Great Ride!

Wherever Everett Kaser (design team member and onetime spokesperson for the HP Palmtops) may be, I send him thanks for the technological marvel that he and his team produced at Hewlett-Packard. And I think we owe a debt of gratitude as well to Hal, Ed, and their colleagues at Thaddeus for picking up the slack in HP's support for this machine, and enriching our appreciation of it year after year. Also, to the Webmasters - every one of them; the shareware and freeware authors who added enormously to the already vast body of DOS software available to run on the 200LX; the late and lamented ACE Technologies, and all the other aftermarket providers; the leaders of the Palmtop forum on AOL; and the members of HPHAND and the HPLX List.

We are the winners here, because we have a stable piece of equipment that will last us for years and continue to serve many useful purposes. You simply cannot say that about a lot of the hardware and software that has come and gone. Let the bigwigs at HP pursue their ill-advised marketing concepts. Let Micro$oft have this round. They are no longer relevant to us. Forget about them. The world is too much fascinated by trivialities as it is. We are powerful. We are productive and happy people. We are satisfied that we have the best that the industry has offered to us thus far. I cannot think of a better place to be.

-Roger Feinman Feinmanr@AOL.COM

Reincarnate the Palmtop but Make it Better

Is anyone really that surprised? This day has been coming for about two years. But to me, it comes as a note of freedom.

Released from the shackles of active service, the 200LX will be even more free to evolve on its own away from its parent company. People now know that there will never be a factory-supplied backlight, or more internal RAM, or a motherboard upgrade. Therefore, we can sink the money in ourselves. We won't be competing with HP.

This freedom also means responsibility. If you want to continue enjoying your Palmtops as long as possible, it will mean money. I suggest the founding of a Project Magic-like fund that will keep R&D going in companies like Thaddeus and Times2 Tech. Things like 486 motherboard upgrades and backlights are ready for the final stages of development but are limited by money. Why not donate to the cause? It has the potential to help all of us.

We must also work together on software. I have started the sys|x project (details on news.hplx.net) which will provide a common software base.

System Manager, which will provide the programming freedom required to produce programs for large-scale word processing and Internet connectivity. Sys|x will, if completed, eliminate the System Manager and obsolete PAL, making things faster and more efficient in the process. We need open source, free software to make this happen. Most of all, we need to pull together. HPLX-L, it seems to me, is a very loosely knit bunch of people. We need distinct areas of expertise to immortalize this Palmtop. Programmers must unite and write sys|x and its support applications. Hardware vendors must come up with the funds to complete their upgrade projects. And users must be willing to realize the delicate position the Palmtop maintains as a result of the hardware and software. Unite!

Programmers specifically should come to news.hplx.net's group "hp200.programmers.asg" for details on the sys|x project. We need all the help we can get - and we no longer have any reason to wait.

-Ian Butler ian@hplx.net

Disappointed but Still Hopeful

I am disappointed, albeit not entirely surprised that HP has chosen to discontinue production of the HP 200lx Palmtop. IMO (in my humble opinion) this was the last of the truly innovative HP products.

While it is appreciated that HP is making some special offers available for 'upgrading' to the Windows CE platform I will most likely decline. I have already owned a number of these (and other companies') Windows CE offerings and have not found a single unit which I can make use of.

I do, however, have a couple of suggestions which may prove helpful in your future design efforts.

First, is battery life!!! Above all else battery life needs to be improved in your Windows CE offerings. The average battery life I have been able to squeeze out of any WinCE unit is barely greater than your typical notebook. Considering I change batteries in my 200LX seasonally this is a major drawback IMO. If your handheld isn't powered and ready to go when you need it you end up not bringing it along which kind of defeats the purpose.

Second, in your offerings for previous HP Palmtop users it may be beneficial to include a copy of the excellent XT-CE software which is a PC emulator for Windows CE. Among other things it supports the HP 200LX Int5 graphics mode enabling a large body of HP 200LX software to be run within the emulator (www.xt-ce.com). This would provide a better upgrade path for many users than an extra battery (pointing out a weakness in battery life) or an extra organizer (REXX).

So in closing... It's been fun. I will continue to use my 200LX and await the day when someone will release another true handheld with enough battery life to actually carry for a few weeks without being tethered to an AC outlet. Maybe that handheld is yet to come from HP? if so they will once again get my business... if not, someone else eventually will.

-Dan Ridenhour driden@stlnet.com

Looking to the Future and Feeling Lost

As I have read the posts from those searching for alternatives to the 200LX and from those seeking to campaign HP to change I have thought about it and concluded the following:

HP isn't going to bring the 200LX back. Their collective mind has been taken over by Microsoft and they are not the company that they used to be. As we say goodbye to the 200LX, we also bid farewell to the venerable old Hewlett-Packard Company. Get your backup machine ASAP!

Presently, there is no replacement for the 200LX. We are the last of a dying breed. If we are seeking an alternative, perhaps we should look in the direction of the Palm Pilot and a good notebook computer (especially now, with the demise of the Toshiba Libretto, also).

Linux has a long way to go in order to be a viable, mainstream alternative to DOS/Windows/etc. It is just too Unusable. The command line commands don't make much sense and the GUIs are still somewhat primitive. Solaris has possibilities, but they both lack widespread hardware and software support. People used to say that DOS was too hard to use. DOS is easy, Linux is hard to use! As much as I hate MS, I have to give them credit for giving DOS and Windows a consistent user interface, and making it easier to use than many other OS's. I would not bother with a Linux/Unix-based Palmtop.

So, those are my thoughts on the subject(s). Please keep in mind that I may be wrong, and I really don't care. I am just getting tired of the computer industry and it's all-too-constant change. I'm tired of lies, greed, marketing hype and lawsuits. Remember, folks, it's just a computer, a tool. You can't take it with you.

--Richard Smith rsmith@ENOL.COM

Long Live the Palmtop

HP is NOT making a big mistake by discontinuing the 200LX any more than your girlfriend did when she dumped you for the nerd with pots of money.

It's their choice and their problem. We don't have a problem.

HP200s are robust & long lasting. Yours will serve you well for years to come. Replacing it in 5 years time with the spare you buy now is a lot cheaper than upgrading a CE machine every 6 months.

Most, if not all niggles are known about and fixable.

Even "asteroid hitting the earth" style problems like the hinge crack are fixable with a little care.

They work - and work well. They are more useful now than ever before thanks to well-written, functional 3rd party software.

There will be (wishful thinking?) an inexhaustible cheap supply when the corporations who were using them in vertical applications flood the market as they dump them for a modern, supported machine. Tens (hundreds?) of thousands were made. Hundreds/a few thousand still want to use them. Nice ratio. Just keep telling people how crap they were and that they're practically worthless ;-).

Chris Randle chris@AMLOG.DEMON.CO.UK

Japan Users Start Campaign

Many 200LX users in Japan have started conducting a signature campaign against the termination of the HP Palmtop. To them, CE machines are not the successor of 200LX. To me, a Psion 5 seems to be a successor if many excellent 200LX applications including the PIM can run on a Psion 5/Epoc 32. I would be pleased to see if The HP Palmtop Paper starts an article of how to program the 200LX applications on Epoc 32. Another reason that I like a Psion/Epoc is that we, Ericsson support the Epoc and NTT DoCoMo, the biggest Cellular phone operator in Japan, will introduce the Epoc terminal.

Toshio Konishi (NRJ) Toshio.Konishi@nrj.ericsson.se

Long Time User

I have never written to The HP Palmtop Paper, but I wanted to let you know my feelings toward its discontinuance.

The HP200LX has become my trusted and valued companion. I don't use all its functions, but I could not be without its Appointment Book and phone functions. More importantly, I now rely on its 32 meg memory and its 2X speed, as well as the built-in fax modem for my email.

Most important is the HP financial calculator functions with a separate keypad. I am a real estate analyst and this tool is indispensable to me, especially with its ergonomic location.

What in the world could HP be thinking in changing this feature? I want you also to know that I have been a subscriber to the PTP for a number of years, and will continue as long as it's published. You are very much appreciated. Your articles are timely, informative, and your editorial content is, shall we say, "right on".

Harmon Garrin hgarrin@worldnet.att.net

Comments on the New York Times Article: Hewlett-Packard to Shut Down Production of a Cult Favorite

Text of HP's Announcement:

Text of CNET News Article:

iPhone Life magazine


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