Word Processing With a Windows CE Palmtop

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I have a dream.

It’s not the dream where you find yourself resitting your final exams in school and you suddenly realise you’re butt naked. Or the dream where you find yourself being chased down a winding alleyway by a midget in a carrot costume. Or the dream where your shoes are trying to eat you. In fact, not really a dream at all, but actually a slightly cheesy way of opening an article. It’s not even anything to do with Dr. King. Look, perhaps I’d better start again.

I have a… vision. A vision where I can simply sit and use my notebook, the very notebook I’m typing on right now, to open a plain text user interface that just allows me to type, count the number of words I’ve typed so far, and then save that file to a flash card to be moved to a proper PC to be published on the Internet. Something like the freeware Q10 for grown-ups Windows, which is already much cherished by myself as a pleasant, fullscreen typing interface with no distractions, as well as pleasing typewriter style noises while you’re typing.

The problem I have with doing this is that this notebook runs on Windows CE. Not Windows Mobile; to upgrade to Windows Mobile I would need to be able to link this computer directly to my PC, which runs Vista. And of course, you can’t connect directly to Vista, because Vista doesn’t support Windows CE.

The second problem I have it that it’s Windows CE; anyone who writes software for this OS expects it to be used on PDAs or smartphones, because that’s what winCE does. No-one expects you to have a tiny laptopesque affair with a proper keyboard. And being as nobody writes software that uses a proper keyboard, who on Earth would want a word processor of any usable nature?

An answer that might be immediately obvious is to tell me to stop being cheap and buy a new laptop, a decent one with a full version of Windows so you can type stuff properly. And they have a fair point, though the folding green stuff to do this isn’t going to happen soon. More importantly, however, the purchase of a reasonably useful laptop would, unfortunately, probably result in me getting less done. The more versatile and powerful a system I have, the greater the likelihood is that it’s going to be used to watch movies, play video games, surf the web and generally do all those things my short-attention span brain would rather be doing than writing.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’ll be someone (and there’s always a few of them) that suggest pen and paper should be a perfectly good substitute. To these people, I would note that any make of paper I’ve had in the past has no USB interface, and only a slow, rudimentary word count facility. I would further suggest they should stick to what they know, which probably involves building barns or churning butter or whatever passes for entertainment in the 19th century. What’s more, it’d be worth noting I already use pens and paper in copious amounts. Telling a writer this is like suggesting to a carpenter they should only use a hammer from now on.

My best hope, it would appear, would be in getting the Psion to run a tailor-made version of Linux. And apart from the odd success story, that doesn’t appear to be an option. At least not yet. There seems to be a very large online community of people far more knowledgeable about Linux than myself who are trying their hardest to make Linux a viable, easy to run option on the Netbook Pro. They’ve been at it some years, and judging by their forums, they’re making progress every day. One of them will regularly post to a thread saying something along the lines of “Hurrah, I’ve managed to get Tux to appear on a black screen”, or “Good news! We’re now at the stage where the Psion will boot to a command line and then freeze up”. What we haven’t seen yet is a stable release that Joe Q Windows, or myself, can install onto a compactflash card and run. But they’re terribly enthusiastic about the whole venture, seem to have a lot of energy; their optimism is infectious, and I watch with baited breath.

In the meantime, I tap away on the risible version of Wordpad preinstalled on the Psion, and wish it had a wordcount. Or, when I get a wild hair up my backside, try to use Textmaker, the only commercial text editor for WinCE, which runs at the speed of tectonic plate shift on the Psion, and occasionally locks the entire thing up, leaving you at the mercy of any backup files it might have saved. I still scour Google on a regular basis, hoping for either some genius to have come up with a decent freeware editor for WinCE,or that the top boffins in charge of Psi-Linux have finally cracked it.

Oh, and if Psion Technologix hadn’t already stopped making these devices commercially, they’d be due a swift kick in the pants for deciding Windows was a smart move for the Psion series, instead of updating the version of the already excellent EPOC/Symbian OS they’d been using beforehand. Which had its own word processor, which worked better than anything I’ve used on the Netbook Pro.

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