Our computers/tablets are becoming more and more an entertainment
rather a productivity device. It is getting worse with each operating system
released – it even seems that it is done on purpose. How does affect writing
productivity? For most – not good, for some it does not really matter, when
they are focused on what to write. Still, even those rare moments when I am
really focused on writing on a modern computer, there are unnecessary
distractions. First – I switch on my computer, and what it does – it goes to a
long list of updates to be configured, which lasts from 10 to 30 minutes –
stealing my writing time in front of my eyes, not even being ashamed of the
process. When it is finally loaded, I open my word processing software, to be
nagged by status messages of an Antivirus, some operating system problems I
really do not want to attend now, the sounds of social network messages – all
this creates a distraction at it’s best. At the end I have to solve the problems
my computer has, and instead of a productive writing I have typed a couple of
paragraphs at best, not even talking about the quality. 30 minutes lost to updates,
10 minutes solving the problems for the PC, and only 5 left for a productive
writing.A great writing session, indeed…
Luckily, not everything is that bad, and there are other ways to write
– longhand, typewriter or a vintage computer. Yes, a FreeWrite as well,
however, it still does not live up to my expectations, so it is mostly
gathering dust now. This time I will look at something really old (1986) – how
about a Sharp PC-7000? It’s a portable machine you really would not be wanting
to haul around for prolonged time, unless you need a workout for arm muscles.
It is heavy, it has only 384KB of RAM, and runs ancient version of DOS (2.11).
It has no hard drive, it uses two 360K 5.25 inch floppies, so now there is a
total of 720K storage. The processor is chugging along with 7 Mhz frequency.
Even entry level computer now has about 300,000 more storage space, about
10,000 more RAM, not to mention the processor speed. The keyboard, is completely
OK, better than most of the keyboards we are used to writing today, but sure, not
even close to the best available. Judging by the specifications, it seems, that the
Sharp PC-7000 should belong either to a vintage computer museum or a junk yard. However, let’s do some tests with a timer first:
Operating system startup: 15 seconds
Text processor (PC-Write 2.4) startup: 6 seconds
Total: 21 seconds, and you are ready to write. No unnecessary messages, no
questions, it’s just you and the text on the screen.
Maybe we have too little storage space? Let’s do some math. First floppy is
used by an operating system, text processor, some tools, so we are left with a
360K in the second floppy disk. Sounds very little left, doesn’t it? However,
this time it is more than is actually needed. PC-Write, just as many DOS text
editors, stores the file information as plain text file, which does takes
considerably less space than documents, which are created by a modern Word
processing software. It is more than enough for a NaNoWriMo – you can fit in
about 70,000 words in that space. In case you need more – just replace the
floppy disk, and continue writing.
While floppy disks are not the most reliable storage format, 5.25 inch
floppies, which can be bought new, work pretty well. Sure, you need to backup
your data, and there are several ways to do it properly:
First– if you have an old PC with a 5.25 inch floppy drive, just copy
the floppies there, it is the most easiest way, but not an option for everyone.
Second – you need at least a vintage laptop, old enough to run MS-DOS,
which means any machine with Windows 9x(95, 98, ME) is good enough. You will
need this to run Laplink software for a data transfer between Sharp PC-7000 and
another machine. Plenty of options to choose from, you can even buy a nice
vintage Toshiba Libretto 50CT, which takes very little space, and will do just
fine, remember, you will need a small docking station with it. You will need a
Laplink cable – a cross linked cable to connect the serial ports of the
machines. With Laplink program, everything is simple – you can copy files
between two computers like working on the same drive:
Third – a highly recommended option for backup – buy an IOMEGA 100 zip
drive, you can connect it to the parallel port of the SHARP PC-7000. While it
does not work with it’s original driver, there is a custom driver palmzip.sys,
created by Klaus Pelch, which works with older hardware. The only limitation –
you can use the partition size up to 32MB, so for a single zip disk you will
have three extra drives – C, D and E, which is not bad at all. The software
costs a fair 8 EUR, and a free trial version is available. Basically, you can
even use the IOMEGA Zip as the primary storage for your documents, and backup
to the PC from time to time, when you need to edit them on a modern machine.
The question, which might arise for most, who had never seen a DOS
machine or it’s operating system – does it have a hard learning curve? In fact,
the answer is reassuring – No, everything is pretty simple, once you know the
basics. Everything is command line, however, you can use a simple file manager,
such as Norton Commander 1.0 on this machine.
When DOS is loaded, you will see a command prompt, getting ready for
your command. You can either type a command or a program name.
For example you need to copy file from drive A: to B:.
Just type: “copy A:test.txt B:“.
Need to launch file manager, Norton Commander – type NC. You will have an
access to more user friendly file management.
Ready for text editing – (PC-Write) – type ED.
If you need to open a particular file, you can type: “ED B:test.txt“.
IF you are lost and do not know the floppy contents, type “DIR” –
you will see the floppy contents listed on the screen.
Deleting a file – use a command DEL, for example, DEL B:test.txt
That’s about all for the basic things you will need to know in order to get
some work done. Everything else is not mandatory – you can either learn more
about DOS commands, or do not care about them.
There is no multitasking in DOS – once you have launched a text editor,
you wont be nugged by some other messages, all you can do now is write. Or do
not write, but you will not be doing anything else. Period.
Distraction free – 7/10 – once everything is running, all you can do is type,
however, there remains a place for some old DOS games, especially text
adventures, which might serve as a distraction.
Screen – 6/10 – the contrast on a blue back-lit screen is not the best, but the
text is readable, and you can get the work done.
Keyboard – 7/10 – an OK feeling, but nothing to rave about
Ease of use – 6/10 – you need to set up the system first, and have a ways for a
data transfer. When all is set, I can give a score 10/10 – it just works!
Price – 8/10 – not bad, but there are even cheaper devices. However, you can
get a fully working Sharp PC-7000 for about 100 EUR or even less on Ebay. It is
best to buy it with an original master floppy available, but, just in case I
have made a backup image of it:
Portability/autonomy – 3/10. Best left on your working desk, table, or wherever
your writing place is. As for power supply – Sharp PC-7000 has no batteries, so
it is totally grid dependent. If you are strong, you can take this machine to
write-ins, but make sure the power outlet is nearby.
Design – 8/10 – it is a well built and well designed machine, with attention to
details, such as mechanically tiltable LCD screen, which can be adjusted by
pressing a button near the screen,dark grey LCD frame with silver margins,
floppy drive access indicators in front of the device, and a convenient place
to store the keyboard cable when carrying it around.
Software – 9/10 – there are thousands of DOS programs you can run on the
device, many of them, such as different text editors or utilities are available
online as a freeware/abandonware, you can customize it for your writing needs.
Final rating: 7/10
Sure, as with all vintage electronics, they may fail after some time,
but still. given the fact that they survived that long, there is a pretty good
chance they will survive even longer. There are many under-appreciated machines
out there, which are outdated by todays standards, but are perfectly usable for
a distraction free writing, SHARP PC=7000 is just one of the many. I will cover
more of them in my other posts.
* Written on a Sharp PC-7000, with a PC-Write 2.4*