I admit that I've been a geek for a good long while now. 30 years ago, I was taking computers apart and soldering new things into them to experiment or to force them to suit my needs. Those were fascinating times in the computer industry to be sure. Operating systems were simple enough to be understood in their entirety by a single person. Software applications were also very simplistic. Kids in 2009 would LOL at our total lack of sophistication but we were enthralled to be able to move circle and squares sloppily about the screen to simulate bombs or gnomes or whatever we could imagine. We had to use our imagination more in those early days and it wasn't a bad thing per se. Poor graphics and poor sound weren't an impediment to us because we didn't know that they were bad. But we knew they could be better and that kept us going.
At the halfway point on my journey thus far, I bought a Sony Magic Link PIC-1000 handheld computer. It was 1994. I think I paid about $800 for it at the time. I remember the excitement I felt as I opened the package and powered it up. It ran the Magic CAP operating system from General Magic and it was a thing of pure joy, I'll tell you. The screen sporting 16 shades of gray was organized into a virtual desktop complete with drawers that you could open and close by tapping them. You could drag objects into and out of the drawers. It had a filing cabinet, an on screen keyboard and a graphical toolbar of contextual tool icons at the bottom of the screen. The built-in modem would allow you to connect an e-mail or fax provider to exchange messages and documents with others.
I used my Sony Magic Link every day for a couple of years and it taught me a lot about the value of good software design. Some of the applications were clunky but, for the most part, it was a very functional device. Sony positioned the Magic Link as an upscale alternative to Apple's Newton. Having used both of them, I believed the Magic Link to be a far superior device for getting things done. The screen was bigger. It did decent animations. It had a built-in modem and a PCMCIA card slot. And the sound was good for the period. The Newton was cool but it was a glorified notepad, in my opinion. There's no doubt that Apple studied the Magic Link with great care to learn from it. As an iPhone user today, I often think about how similar my iPhone is, in so many ways, to the seminal PDA from Sony. Many of the Magic Link's gestures and graphical metaphors live on in the iPhone today, with or without attribution from Apple. Microsoft didn't seem to learn much from it though as Windows Mobile 6.5 still feels like a desktop OS crammed into a device not so well designed to run it. The truth hurts, I know.
I'm pretty sure that I still have that old Magic Link lying around in the attic somewhere. As I sit here in the White Hawk Music Café waiting for my son to complete his guitar lesson, I bristle with some of that old excitement I felt in 1994, wondering if I find that old device in the attic, will it still work? Will it be as fun today as it was then? Is there something I can solder into it to make it do something fun and new? Some things never change, I suppose. And that's good, too. Never stop learning. That goes for you, too, Mr. Ballmer. Watch and learn.