A Retro computer can contribute positively to your digital life and be fun. It can help you work in the much-needed isolation that super-connected modern devices can’t provide.
I am writing this on my Psion Series 7. It is very definitely a Retro computer. The Series 7 was a portable computer made by Psion, a British Company, and was released in 2000. It was, except for the Psion Netbook, the most advanced Psion device. I suspect that it would appear a very rudimentary computer to my children. It had basic internet connectivity even back then, and surprise – it has yet to get any better. It is distinctly offline. But for that reason, it allows for totally distraction-free word processing. It has a perfectly ergonomic keyboard and ninja-like applications for writing, jotting, creating spreadsheets, sketches and databases.
Integrate Retro Technology into Your Digital Life
Retro technology like a Psion can’t access my data like my iPhone or Mac can. That’s great – it allows me to exclude everything but what I want to use it for! The degree of separation is liberating. Instead, it has a controlled integration into the rest of my world, even if it has no direct communication with the wider one. For the Psion, transferring files to and from a modern computer is not an issue – this is easily solved using a Compact Flash (CF) card, which the Series 7 has a slot for. The problem is converting the Psion files I create into their modern equivalents.
The traditional and much-documented approach is to use Psiwin, a PC app. This fails to do the trick because a) it is a Windows app, and b) it won’t run on Windows 11. I remember Psiwin was flaky back in 2000, then on Windows XP. So it is not surprising it won’t run on a modern Windows system! Given the failure of Windows, I have decided not to make special allowances; it either can be integrated with my Apple devices, or it can’t.
Use a Psion Series 7 with a Mac or iPad
The trick is to convert the files on the Psion itself with Psion software. And to do that comprehensively, use Nconvert by Neuon. This app does the job in-situ. It can convert the file formats the Psion uses for documents, spreadsheets, databases, etc., into more modern formats. These can then be read on my Mac or iPad, etc.
But, then my problem was the registration of the software, which is otherwise in trial mode. Neuon.com is defunct and no longer handles registrations; we are talking about turn-of-the-century software, so how to register Nconvert?
Quite a lot of Googling eventually leads me to archive.org, and there I find a registration code to use with Nconvert, thoughtfully donated by Neuon… and for the benefit of anyone looking for a Nconvert registration key, here it is:
Software Title: nconvert
User name: Neuon User
Why use Retro Devices?
I love Apple devices, especially new ones. So why I would pay attention to a retro device like the Psion Series 7? Frozen in time, the Psion will never get another update. But, it was a perfectly thought-through device which made every job it was supposed to do a cinch. It can still do those jobs, provided you are prepared to have your data offline until you retrieve it and transport it to another device. If you like how your Apple device ‘just works,’ you would recognise the resonance with a Psion device, which also supremely just worked within its offline world.
We have gotten used to storing so much of our data in the Cloud, and we hope this data is secure, encrypted and available only to us. The data (files, emails, photos, etc.) is open to all our modern devices because they can authenticate on our behalf and access the Cloud. This data synchronisation is fantastic, but we should question it more often.
My Psion 7 worked in an earlier world where data moved between devices without the Cloud. This is fine for some kinds of data. So, this Psion can now transfer data via CF card to my modern devices. It can also share the data with another Psion smoothly via beaming. Instead of using Wifi or Bluetooth, as we might today, it uses infrared, much like a TV remote. So this data is safe because it can be backed up to other devices, and it’s not in the Cloud where it might get hacked!