The Ideal Writer's Computer

What would an ideal writer's computer be? This is an idea that has been addressed many times, no doubt. Or maybe not. at least realistically.
For us true computer enthusiast, the computer itself is the thing. We like their innards, we like their OS's, we like the software, etc. As mentioned in these pages over and over again, we enjoy getting to know the machine on all levels. And that's okay; that's what AppleFritter is all about. So why write about a dedicated, single use computer? Well, because I write, and there are times when that is all I need, just a machine to do some quick writing.
What would it be? What OS would such a machine have? I'd have to say one that is fast, probably up and running within a few seconds, at the most, the moment the computer is turned on. I have several machines that fit that description, my Palms and my old Tandy Model 102. Of those two classes, the Tandy is closest to what I'd consider a true writing machine. However, my Palm IIIxe with the GoType keyboard handles the bulk of my writing chores these days. So, it is a step in the right direction. But it's not quite there yet. Storage becomes an issue rather fast. There is also the issue of real word processing power and printing. As much as I love my Tandy and Palm, they are only good for raw writing. There is also the fact that I am a Macintosh enthusiast. So, normally I write on the smaller, less capable devices and then upload to my PowerBook and finish the work there. By the way, the PowerBook is a 540c; not modern, but still very capable.
The reason I don't use my PowerBook frequently for writing is manifold. First, on the technical side of things, its batteries have long since died. Second, it really isn't that portable. In fact, the Targus bag I carry it in has grown to be an office-in-a-sack, weighing upwards of 10 kgs! These problems aside, there is still the wait until it finishes booting; not long, really, but long enough (far better than any modern computer, by the way). But these are minor gripes. There are some amongst us who prefer the lighter PowerBook 150 for writing, and I have to agree, it was a nice compromise. But still not there.
The closest I've seen to a true writer's computer are the eMate 300 or the old Tandy WP-2. There are also the AlphaSmart machines (the Dana looks good, but has a price approaching that of a MacMini). There are undoubtedly other machines out there that fit the bill, but they tend to be aimed at the educational market. I guess that "grown ups" don't need writing tools.
The problem, as I see it, is that too many of us find that once we have the computer, we decide to make it multitask; why limit it to just writing? That the rub (to quote the Bard). More applications means bigger OS, much more memory and slower boot. In short, we come right back to a regular computer.
So perhaps the approach I use is really the best. Just keep the machines simple, easy to use and deliberately limit their capacity. Guess that Tandy is going to be around for awhile.


moosemanmoo's picture

The Powerbook 100 would make a good writer's computer. It's silent with the hard drive off, has decent battery life with a new battery, and has the ability to play some games when you're not writing.

astro_rob's picture

Now that's a nice machine. One of my former coworkers had one, and I lusted over it frequently. Alas, he would sooner part with that then he'd part with his... er... liver. The closest I've been to owning one of the smaller PB models was my brief affair with a 150, which unexpectedly died early one morning in February 2003. I mean dead. Dead dead. Only had it for two months. It lives on in the form of its AC adapter being used to occasionally power-up my Portable.
After I wrote this, I went online and did a little digging for more simple writing computers. As expected, most of these are aimed at the educational market. Below is a list of what I've uncovered so far -

- Laser PC5
- the AlphaSmart line
- Calcuscribe Uno and Duo
- the DreamWriter series
- the QuickPad series

All of the above should make decent writing machines, some better than others. But, none of them are well known (with the exception of the AlphaSmart computers). Which begs the question; is there really a market for machines such as this outside of education?

astro_rob's picture

I forgot that I already had a page up on my old and unfinished website dedicated to two such machines, the Tandy Model 102 and the AlphaSmart Pro...

This page was never really finished (very rough), but it does show a comparison between the two. Perhaps I should expound on the idea. Time allowing, of course...

doug-doug the mighty's picture

I have been thinking about setting up a simple machine for this type of purpose as well, but more for the purpose of working on the text of a business plan. As I have a few older machines on hand I was thinking I could choose two different machines to serve this need. The first is my eMate, which I am using for some simpler things (listing specs on some of my machines). I have and some random scriblings (prose, starts of a short story, mainfesto, etc...) on this as well. Space is going to be a problem unless I get some CF cards. My second choice is to take the old SE in the garage and drop a 400MB drive (or a 9G, cause those are my two choices) in it and use that. I am expecting a network card for that soon, so I could always dock the eMate to the SE and store docs on the SE (which does boot really fast) and then use any other desktop I have to pull the text off and make it "pretty" with pictures and other formating if I need to do such. (Of course if I could use the SE exclusively and not even use the eMate for that purpose...).

Since I have the SE on hand, I figured it would serve me well as a simple word processor. Not a portable mac, but easy enough to move around if I need to and fairly unobtrusive on my desk.

I do have two fully disassembled duo-somethings on hand, but they lack drives, batteries, and AC adapters. One day I may try to put them together and set them up as dumb network terminals once I get a server up and running.

...but I am approaching this from a perspective of what I have on hand and what purpose the machine could best serve for me, vice identifying a machine for an existing need - ergo, their are most likely better machines for any nedd I have, and I may not have a burning need for one of my machine's ideal uses, but that is usually the case when one hordes discarded machines, eh?

astro_rob's picture

You know, the SE as a writing machine isn't a bad idea, I already do that with my Plus. Some time back on the Compact Mac list, one of the members proposed loading some basic writing, scheduling, calendar and date book applications into a compact Mac. Basically, a 15 pound PDA. Not exactly something you'd fit into your shirt pocket, mind you. But as a simple writing machine, a Plus or any of the other compacts are superb (the Plus even more so, due to the lack of a fan; the silence is golden). You could even do this to an SE/30, but that'd be like using a Fiat Spider for going to the grocery store.
Can't help but wonder where this idea could lead, though. Here's a thought. Take a Classic logic board and recase it into, say, an LC case and modify the video so that it can feed out to a simple monitor, even an old composite/TV setup, no color. Next, no hard drive. Set it up so that it boots from ROM, since that is an option in this machine. Now comes the tricky part. Additional storage would be in the form of CF on a CF to IDE adapter, and then an IDE to SCSI adapter, and this would be loaded from the front, opposite of the floppy drive.
There would be limits, of course. You'd be stuck with System 6, and CD-ROM support would be difficult, though not impossible. However, this "Sub-Pippin" arrangement might find some application.

Apple, you guys listenin'? Nah, probably not...