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Newton Dash Board 1.1

Transfixed. Remember the first time Dad allowed you to sit behind the wheel in the driveway? All those gauges and controls laid out in front of you: what a feeling of power!

I felt it all again with Five Speed's swiss knife utility for the Newton 2K series, Dash Board. It's aptly named, not just for the feeling of fingertip control it induces but also for its design philosophy: providing all that control without impairing the user's view through the main "windscreen" area, using the "dead spaces" of the Newton's own buttonbar. You still have the seven icons as normal, albeit without the text. But it adds much more.

Infinity at a glance
Without touching anything, you're provided with readouts of the time, percentage of battery charge, whether the sound is turned off or not, whether the backlight is on and the amount of free RAM heap.

We Newton users have grown accustomed to opening the Extras drawer in order to reach the button that rotates the screen. This, the documentation amusingly points out, would be like having to open the glove compartment to turn your headlights on. In any program, Dash Board's tiny buttons allow you to access the system clock, get detailed information about the battery state, adjust or toggle the sound level, toggle the backlight, adjust the contrast, rotate the screen, or restore RAM heap.

Impressed? We've barely started! Apart from those incredibly useful buttons are two absolutely amazing controls: the Newton menu and the Letter Launcher.

The Newton menu
Tapping Dash Board's Newton logo button displays a menu that can contain anything you want: use it to open any package, any Extras drawer, or perform any of the dozens of functions that Five Speed gives you as "Special Items:" open the Dates application to a new Event slip, ready to be filled in; reset the Newton; switch the Newton to Guest mode for handwriting recognition; or any of dozens of other things that might take six or seven clicks and a trip to the manual otherwise. And the menu is not just configurable in terms of contents. Thoughtfully, built into the menu editor are features to help you organize and group items: you can drag them into any order you want, insert dotted-line dividers and even tuck things in hierarchical sub-menus (and sub-sub-menus if you desire!).

The Letter Launcher
But a menu takes two taps. The Letter Launcher is quicker still! Dash Board also adds to the buttonbar a little white box, reminiscent of a tiny yellow stickie. Virtually any of the commands that you can add to the "Newton menu" can be attached to a letter or group of letters: write the letter "e" in the box and the Newton obediently opens Dates to a new Event slip. Or use "e" to open the Extras drawer. Again, you configure Letter Launcher in a Preferences screen.

And there's one more thing. Should there still be something really odd that you want the Newton to do, Dash Board allows you to program small NewtonScript-like functions in a purpose-built editor and access them from its Newton menu or from the Letter Launcher. Included example scripts teach you how to get information using dialog boxes and set system alarms. This summer ICS, makers of NewtCase, announced that their GestureLaunch engine and scripts would be made compatible with Dash Board, good news not only for programmers but also for non-programmers who will have more published third-party scripts at their disposal.

There are some drawbacks to using the program, but for most people none of these will be serious. Always open, Dash Board inevitably wants some heap. But it is by no means a large chunk, I estimate about 4K on my MP2000. It takes up a little under 250K of storage.

Dash Board will conflict with other utilities that rely on adding to or modifying the button area. In all probability, however, you'll find that Dash Board also replaces the other utilities' functionality rendering them redundant.

Finally, then, we come to appearance. Dash Board is not ugly and its creators have worked hard on its looks (witness the redesigned arrow and overview buttons). Nevertheless, it does take a part of the Newton display that was characterized by space and organic shapes and fills it will a multitude of straight-lined, hard-cornered boxes of functionality. If you think this might annoy you, I'd advise trying the demo for a few days (

This is a powerful and empowering program that will suit novices and Newton-geeks alike. With no question of the superior functionality of the program and at the bargain price of US$25 (most of us would consider the hierarchical menu module alone worth that price), the only possible excuse for not owning Five Speed's Dash Board is personal taste.

-Conrad Gempf

Contact: Five Speed Software
Cost: US$25
System: MessagePad 2000/2100
Memory: 250K

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