Happy new year (about 6 weeks late)!
After an extended break from Free Geek for the holidays and a jaunt down to South America, it's great to be back at the laptop station. Nothing seems to have exploded or grown mold in my absence -- a slight disappointment to my ego, which likes to claim indispensability. In fact, the place is generally looking good and I was happy to see all the regulars.
Free Geek has accumulated several interesting portables since I was last in. The first one I got my hands on was a Toshiba Libretto:
Looks pretty boring until you put something in there for scale.
Yup, it's that small; it makes a Netbook seem gargantuan. It's genuinely difficult to type on and the only full-fledged computer from the same era that came any smaller -- well, the only one I can name -- is the IBM Palm Top PC 110 (I had a chance to see one of these courtesy of some friend of the Hackery who brought it to the Mini Maker Faire last year).
It manages to pack quite a bit into its little brickish frame. It's a Pentium 75, 810MB hard disk, maxed out to 32MB of RAM. (Stop laughing -- those were impressive numbers at the time.) As you can see, the hard drive (a standard 2.5" IDE device) takes up a considerable amount of its internal real estate:
On the other side of the chassis is a PCMCIA slot. Those cards aren't big, but when you consider that this little chassis holds a standard hard drive, a PCMCIA slot, a considerable battery (seen on the lower left hand side of the photo above), and the guts of the computer itself -- presumably with some heat dissipation gear, too, for the Pentium 100 chip -- you can imagine that a lot of 1990s-era engineering went into this little beast.
The pointing device is particularly unusual. It's a Trackpoint-style rubberized cap to the right of the screen, intended for operation with the thumb:
...with two buttons on the outside of the lid, for operation with two fingers:
Anyway, it's a neat little machine and in great shape. It's a little difficult to do anything with, unfortunately -- the minimalist Linux distributions like Puppy Linux need considerably more RAM than this can offer, and even if that weren't a problem, they would be ludicrously slow. Fortunately there's FreeDOS:
Getting FreeDOS installed was pretty straight-forward, though I had to perform the installation on another machine since this Toshiba is deaf, dumb, blind and mute by today's standards: it has no optical drive, no Ethernet, no wireless (unless you include infrared, and I don't), no USB. (The right person could get this machine browsing the web over a PCMCIA wireless card, but it would take a lot of tinkering.)
The familiar world of DOS is something that I haven't visited in a long time -- fdisk, format, copy; F8 to interrupt boot; config.sys and autoexec.bat; lofty program names crudely axed to fit the 8.3 filename convention. It's the era of computing nearest to my heart because during the supremacy of MS-DOS I was a nerdy kid just learning how everything fit together. MS-DOS wasn't free software, of course, but FreeDOS is -- and they've done a remarkably good job of duplicating the entire environment in open source. It really feels like the MS-DOS I grew up on.
Well, there's not much you can do with a DOS computer these days unless it's a labour of love. Mine was a labour of like -- fond liking, but no more than that. I wrote up a build sheet (more as a joke than anything else) and took it up to the store where it looked thoroughly outgunned by its neighbours.
The Libretto line has quite a following, even now. Maybe someone will fall in love with this one. But if nobody does, and if it's still there next week, I'm putting Doom on it.
(p.s. I wasn't the only person reveling in weird old technology today. I like Free Geek for a lot of reasons, but this is probably the best of them.)