Thursday, February 16, 2012

Toshiba Libretto

Happy new year (about 6 weeks late)!

After an extended break from Free Geek for the holidays and a jaunt down to South America, it's great to be back at the laptop station. Nothing seems to have exploded or grown mold in my absence -- a slight disappointment to my ego, which likes to claim indispensability. In fact, the place is generally looking good and I was happy to see all the regulars.

Free Geek has accumulated several interesting portables since I was last in. The first one I got my hands on was a Toshiba Libretto:

Looks pretty boring until you put something in there for scale.

Yup, it's that small; it makes a Netbook seem gargantuan. It's genuinely difficult to type on and the only full-fledged computer from the same era that came any smaller -- well, the only one I can name -- is the IBM Palm Top PC 110 (I had a chance to see one of these courtesy of some friend of the Hackery who brought it to the Mini Maker Faire last year).

It manages to pack quite a bit into its little brickish frame. It's a Pentium 75, 810MB hard disk, maxed out to 32MB of RAM. (Stop laughing -- those were impressive numbers at the time.) As you can see, the hard drive (a standard 2.5" IDE device) takes up a considerable amount of its internal real estate:

On the other side of the chassis is a PCMCIA slot. Those cards aren't big, but when you consider that this little chassis holds a standard hard drive, a PCMCIA slot, a considerable battery (seen on the lower left hand side of the photo above), and the guts of the computer itself -- presumably with some heat dissipation gear, too, for the Pentium 100 chip -- you can imagine that a lot of 1990s-era engineering went into this little beast.

The pointing device is particularly unusual. It's a Trackpoint-style rubberized cap to the right of the screen, intended for operation with the thumb:

...with two buttons on the outside of the lid, for operation with two fingers:

Anyway, it's a neat little machine and in great shape. It's a little difficult to do anything with, unfortunately -- the minimalist Linux distributions like Puppy Linux need considerably more RAM than this can offer, and even if that weren't a problem, they would be ludicrously slow. Fortunately there's FreeDOS:

Getting FreeDOS installed was pretty straight-forward, though I had to perform the installation on another machine since this Toshiba is deaf, dumb, blind and mute by today's standards: it has no optical drive, no Ethernet, no wireless (unless you include infrared, and I don't), no USB. (The right person could get this machine browsing the web over a PCMCIA wireless card, but it would take a lot of tinkering.)

The familiar world of DOS is something that I haven't visited in a long time -- fdisk, format, copy; F8 to interrupt boot; config.sys and autoexec.bat; lofty program names crudely axed to fit the 8.3 filename convention. It's the era of computing nearest to my heart because during the supremacy of MS-DOS I was a nerdy kid just learning how everything fit together. MS-DOS wasn't free software, of course, but FreeDOS is -- and they've done a remarkably good job of duplicating the entire environment in open source. It really feels like the MS-DOS I grew up on.

Well, there's not much you can do with a DOS computer these days unless it's a labour of love. Mine was a labour of like -- fond liking, but no more than that. I wrote up a build sheet (more as a joke than anything else) and took it up to the store where it looked thoroughly outgunned by its neighbours.

The Libretto line has quite a following, even now. Maybe someone will fall in love with this one. But if nobody does, and if it's still there next week, I'm putting Doom on it.

(p.s. I wasn't the only person reveling in weird old technology today. I like Free Geek for a lot of reasons, but this is probably the best of them.)


  1. Interesting device, indeed. These old ones used to be the most impressive devices at their time. But no one seems care about them any more. Looks like we can only reuse some old devices, not all of them. Thank you for trying.

  2. Good news! Apparently someone bought the Libretto and is very excited about it.

    1. Bummer...they could have gotten Doom for free with it


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