Sometimes, I just want to hug the internet. As some of you may know, I’m working on an article about the history of mobile computing. Tomislav, from the PEEK&POKE computer museum in Rijeka, Croatia, got in touch with me and generously offered to loan me four incredible mobile computers: a Cambridge Z88, a Psion Series 3a, an Apple Newton eMate 300, and, the one I’m most excited about, an NCR system 3125 tablet computer from 1993. Now I need your help: I’m looking for a copy of GO’s PenPoint OS (much more detailed overview) which can run on this NCR 3125.
Before we talk about the NCR and PenPoint OS, though, I want to express my sincerest thanks to Tomislav RibiÄiÄ‡ of the PEEK&POKE computer museum. I never could’ve imagined someone would be willing to just loan this kind of equipment to someone on the other side of Europe, just to write an article about it.
If you are in the vicinity of the museum, be sure to visit it – they’ve got over 1000 items, from early game consoles to rare computers from the ’90s. You can also donate financially through PayPal, and, of course, if you have any old machines you’d like to donate, you can do so too – the museum will take care of the shipping costs. You can contact Tomislav RibiÄiÄ‡ for more information.
While all these four machines will find their way into the article, the NCR 3125 is of special significance. In the planning stages, when I was determining which software and/or hardware just had to be included, GO’s PenPointOS was atop of my list. This was frustrating, since I never expected to be able to get my hands on one of the NCR machines capable of running it.
GO was the poster child for pen computing – what we today would call tablet computing – and while they weren’t the first to explore this concept, they were (one of) the first to develop an operating system entirely for tablet computing, including a GUI metaphor specifically tailored towards pen/tablet computing. I’m not going to chronicle the company’s entire history here, but suffice to say it’s some pretty cool stuff – and very much ahead of its time.
The NCR 3125 is capable of running PenPointOS, and Tomislav once almost managed to get his hands on a copy of the operating system. For now, it’s running Windows 3.11 with Pen Services for Windows – basically a few addons to make Windows 3.11 (barely) usable with pen input. The NCR 3125 is one heck of an amazing machine – it has suspend to RAM (instant – no Mac, Linux, or Windows box can beat this) as well as suspend to disk (and both are operating system agnostic – they appear to be part of the device’s firmware). Its battery is dead, so it needs to be plugged in at all times.
As for specifications, it’s got a 386SL running at 20Mhz, and sports 4MB of RAM. It has a 20MB hard drive, and a passive black & green LCD with 640×480 pixels. The design of the hardware is striking – it’s incredibly minimalistic, straight lines, no frills, and almost feels like a plastic version of what Apple makes today. Tomislav also sent me a special attachment which you click on the top of the device – this attachment contains a parallel port, a COM port, a ps/2 port for a keyboard, and a VGA port for an external monitor.
Overall, even though it’s 18 years old (this unit could be older since the devices were demonstrated from 1991 onward), the device feels incredibly solid. Despite its weight (it’s heavy), it fits nicely in your hands. The touch screen isn’t particularly responsive (although this could be Windows 3.11 sucking badly), but it does work in the BIOS, in MS-DOS, in Norton Commander, and so on. It’s just plain awesome all around.
I don’t have PenPoint OS. And this is where you guys come in. I know it’s a long shot, but since you guys (and the internet at large) never cease to amaze me, I’m really hoping you happen to own a copy of PenPoint OS somewhere. Maybe you know someone who has a copy. Heck, maybe you worked at GO, or you knew someone who did. On top of that – I also need a way to get the PenPointOS onto the device. I believe you use LapLink for that, but how to get that working I don’t know.
If you can help, leave a comment, or send me an email. Note that when we do manage to find a copy of PenPoint OS, and get it to install, the device will be sent back to the museum with PenPoint OS still installed – a great little boon for the museum.
Dear internet, don’t fail me now!
While it won’t be this “PenPoint” product you want, 386SL still has a MMU and supports 32-bit protected mode, no FPU though (..unless NCR added one).
You could likely install an older version of NetBSD or Linux on the system.
I don’t know how the touchscreen is implemented, but there may be X drivers.