Psion laptop adventures

I recently turned on my Psion MC400 laptop. I planned to use it on a retro-computing event some time ago but unfortunately I didn’t attend it at all. Anyway the MC400 has fully charged batteries and it is ready for some adventures.

The MC600 is already ready to use (it is kept alive for all time – just for the case). The reason is simple: being a (less or more) ordinary PC laptop, the MC600 is much more versatile than a much cooler but also much more limited MC400 device. The MC600 can run unmodified DOS programs (text-only ones and CGA-compatible graphical ones), and there is also a C compiler for the device. The MC400 runs early version of the PSION’s SIBO operating system (it cannot run software even from the PSION Series 3 machines which are the closest relatives of the MC400). So the basic software for the MC400 is impressive (a graphical shell, a calendar, a word processor and a spreadsheet) but not much more is available. And there is an OPL programming language which doesn’t allow to write no GUI nor graphical programs.

Psion laptops: MC400 and MC600

The plain text window with command prompt of the MS-DOS 3.3 is much less impressive but it makes the MC600 more versatile. This is also probably the reason why the MC600 is visibly heavily used but the MC400 is like a new. I have some plans to use the MC400 for some OPL development but these are plans for the far future.

I use just several program on the DOS-based MC600 on a frequent basis:

  1. Volkov Commander
  2. MS-Kermit
  3. XVi
  4. Power C
  5. Gnuplot
  6. sc spreadsheet

The Volkov is still good for file management but also for vieving and editing of files. The Kermit is used to transfer files via serial line (it works well with my SGI O2). The use of thext editor (XVi) is probably obvious (this post is written in the XVi). The Gnuplot is used to visualise outputs of my programs. The sc is used for a compatibility with my desktop.

There are some other thing installs (like the Atari Portfolio connection software) but they are used rarely.

The MC400 has several interesting applications but now I use only a text editor (for OPL programming) and a calendar (just to play with it). There is also a spreadsheet (it’s Lotus123-compatible) but there is no way to plot graphs (or any other kind of user-defined graphics). The software limits are understandable: the whole box has only 256 kB (not MB nor GB!) of RAM and it is also used as a RAM disk (the DOS-based MC600 has 1024 kB; it was of course much more expensive). So it is possible to have opened several apps at once and to switch between them but the data must be small. The OS refuses to start new applications if free RAM is too small.

Psion MC400 screenshot

Anyway, the use of the MC400 operating system is easy and comfortable. There is a huge touchpad available. Mine is hard to use but it can be related to its age. And the system and applications can be completely controlled from the keyboard.The key shortcuts are bit special but not too much. There is a dedicated Psion (cmd) key which often works like the Ctrl. So for the copying the cmd+C and cmd+V are used, for example. There is also a special Task key to switch the programs. All the keys are listed in the well-prepared system help.

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Psion laptop adventures

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