Pandora as retro computer service provider (calling hmc)?


The voice of reason, sense and exasperation
Staff member
Aug 15, 2006
South of Sweden
I have a small thought here. I, being of the somewhat nerdy sort, has a bunch of old computers. I'm particularily partial to early portable computing and palmtops - That is, Epson HX-20, Amstrad NC100, Husky Hunter, Atari Portfolio, HP 95/200LX, Psions...That kind of stuff. And, I even like to use these old dinosaurs every now and then. They have their very special charm, all of them.

Now, the problem: These old machines are really not working very comfortably in the modern world. One still-relevant usecase these days would be for word processing/notetaking - The old laptops have quite good keyboards and amazing battery times. But how to access the result? The only way out of the computers are usually the serial port, and most of the software that existed to copy stuff from these machines run on DOS, period. Or you could print the document - if you have a serial printer lying around. Another usecase would be as a PIM machine - both the HP200lx and the Psion 5 have beautiful and useful calendar views and contact managers, and so on. However, these days we would expect to be able to transfer our calendar info back and forth between different machines, import into Google Calendar and whatnot, and, well...Apart from the same kind of communication troubles, the data format for the calendars and contact lists and so on is different on each machine, and is not any of the more accepted standards today. And so on...Some of them actually have the capability to access the internet - If you have a modem that can ring up your internet providers modem pool...

However! The pandora is small and portable, too (as compared to, for instance, the old desktop computer I have that still has a DOS installation and thus can communicate with these machines) and it has an USB port that ought to be able to take a USB-to-serial converter. Thus, it ought to be possible to do something like a retro computer toolkit pnd, to provide some services that would ease the use of these dinosaurs. I'm thinking something like these sort of functions:

* General serial communication. That is, basic tools to set the serial parameters for the pandora port, and basic send/receive files functionality (kermit, x/z-modem, basic terminal). This is, of course, for all sorts of communication that is not covered by any of the more special cases further down, and in particular for transfering software for those old machines to them.

* Printer simulation. That is, a program on the pandora that listens on the serial port and pretends to be an epson-compatible serial printer. Thus, the remote machine can print as if there was a printer attached, the pandora will capture the printer stream, and then give the user a choice to save as text or convert to HTML or PDF (that way, the printer codes for i.e. bold or underlined would be honored). This would of course be useful for any old computer that prints to serial printers.

* PIM file sync and conversion. That is, the ability to receive or send (or possibly just work on files received or sent by ordinary serial comms) calendar and contact files, and also to convert them between format. Get an iCal file from Google Calendar, convert to HP200lx format, and transfer. Get that back, convert to portfolio format, send...And, of course, similarily for contacts files and so on.

* Internet connection sharing via PPP, or possibly by pretending to be a modem. That is, connecting the old machine to the pandora, and use the pandoras internet.

There are certainly more possibilities, but these are the ones that popped immediately into my mind. Now, my questions are:

- Is this interesting to anyone but me?

- How much of this exists already in some sort of free form? I know, for instance, about lxtools for the HPs.

...yeah, well, that is more or less the whole thing. Comments?


Notices Two Things
Mar 10, 2006
In a cave.
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There are actually quite a few people out there that are doing stuff like this. DriveWire for the Color Computer comes to mind immediately. It's a hardware/software solution that allows a CoCo to access files on a host machine. So there is definately interest in the retro computing community for extending the usefulness of these old computers into the modern era.

The main problem is, the youngsters are all just saying "Emulate that bitch!" and the geezers are all like "I'm afraid of the future!"

Some of us are right in the middle, and see the benefit of real old hardware interfacing with real new hardware to accomplish new and wild things or that just can't be done through emulation alone. Very much sadly, as far as I am concerned, are the few people who seem to be interested in merging platforms also seem to be hung up on milking money from out of it too.

So yeah, there are people out there. Finding them is a tad bit difficult, as they tend to be scattered across their respective platforms, but the CoCo community has a fairly lively Facebook presence. As a matter of fact I've talked to several programmers of some of my favorite games from when I was a kid. Which is pretty awesome - now that I really think about it. :p