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Huxley

Added an unused, super-rare DataRover 840 to my collection!

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*BEYOND* excited for this! With some crazy good luck and timing, I was able to purchase an unused (note the original protective plastic on the display!) DataRover 840. This was (I think) the only officially-released hardware sold by General Magic (and not another company's hardware running General Magic's OS). General Magic was a company founded by most of the original Macintosh team and spun off from Apple during Apple's dark "Scully era" of the early 1990's. A recent documentary about this company has won a ton of awards and buzz for uncovering just how influential they were, despite never being a retail success.

 

When I was a young homeless kid living rough in San Francisco in the 90's, I was fascinated by computers and tech but had few opportunities to get hands-on time. There used to be an electronics store (a Good Guys, or maybe Circuit City?) near the Castro neighborhood, and they had a Sony Magic Link (a Sony device running the "Magic Cap OS" that General Magic created) demo station set up inside. The staff was incredibly kind to me and basically let me play with the Magic Link as long as I liked, and it left a tremendous impression on me. Despite being a little too thick and having only a black-and-white LCD display, to 12-year-old me, it seemed just a couple hardware revisions away from being the "PADD" tablets they used on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Sony called their version of the platform "Magic Link," and to me at the time, the name was spot-on: it really seemed like some sort of amazing future-magic, to be interacting with a computer by simply touching icons on the screen with a stylus, instead of having to learn arcane DOS commands.

 

The Sony Magic Link was a 1st-gen device though, and even though it feels very polished, it's painfully sluggish at times, and the non-backlit display isn't exactly easy on the eyes. The DataRover 840 though - this is a totally different story. Despite a somewhat similar form-factor, it's a much improved implementation of the Magic Cap experience, largely due to the significantly-faster CPU and crisp backlit display. Sadly, this device seems to have landed too late to gain any traction against the later Newton devices and (especially) the PalmOS devices that were rapidly taking over the entire PDA market, and has largely been lost to time - it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page.

 

Not having any luck attaching pics to this thread, so here's an Imgur album with pics and more context. If you've never played around with a device running the Magic Cap OS, you're in for a treat. It's such an oddball UI - for a brief weird moment, these hyper-literal UI concepts were all the rage. The blowback against "skeuomorphism" in user interfaces around the release of iOS 7 a few years ago basically put the nail in the coffin of this whole visual metaphor, but I find it really charming even if it's not the most brutally-efficient approach. I'd honestly argue that UI conventions (especially on iOS) have gone too far in the opposite direction, so now it's not at all visually intuitive when you're trying to figure out which onscreen items are buttons, what happens when you use multiple fingertips, etc. There's something to be said for a thing that looks like the thing that it mimics.

 

I'm digging around for more info, details and possible add-on software for this thing, but 90% of the Web resources for the DataRover seem to have gone offline sometime in the past ~20 years. I've had some luck on the Wayback Machine, but I'd be particularly curious if anyone here knows what specific software I'd need on my System 7.5.5-equipped Mac Color Classic II to get this thing syncing / installing new software packages. Any other DataRover owners here? Finding an unused DataRover 840 in the year 2020 felt super crazy, even more so because it included the original AC adapter and (especially) the almost 'unobtanium' proprietary serial cable - having it the cable is what's giving me hope that I might actually get this thing talking to one of my vintage Macs!

 

:-)

 

Huxley

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