- What is a Mailstation?
- The Mailstation is a portable email device developed by Cidco back in 1999. It's a self-contained unit capable of sending/receiving email via modem. Users paid a recurring fee for an email account through Cidco to use with the device. Cidco (and its 120,000 customers) was later acquired by EarthLink in 2001 for $5 million.
- How many versions were there?
- The Mailstation went through a few different hardware revisions: the Mivo 100, 150, 200, 250, and 350. If there's any other versions, I don't know of them. Most of these were similar hardware-wise, until the later two versions. The 250 was cordless, and the first to introduce email attachments. The 350 had a different CPU altogether. I personally only own a 100, so I can't completely vouch for anything regarding these other models.
- Can I put Linux on it?
- The short answer is "No." All of the Mailstation models prior to the 350 used a Z80 CPU, which is vastly underqualified to handle any version of Linux. A possible candidate for an alternate OS might be CP/M, however. There are still many applications and games for it out there. The Mivo 350 does have a different CPU, but to my knowledge not enough is known about its hardware to determine if it's capable of doing anything more than the original models. But I doubt it could ever run Linux either, if I had to guess.
- What's in a Mailstation worth developing for?
- It's not so much a single component, but the fact that you have them all in one device, capable of running off of AA batteries. You get a 320x128 monochrome LCD, keyboard, modem, parallel port, Z80 CPU, 128KB of SRAM, 1MB and 512KB flash memory chips, and a real-time clock.
Those specs aren't very hot by today's standards, and there are much more capable devices out there to tinker with (such as the Zipit). But that doesn't mean the Mailstation is worthless, especially to people who love old hardware. The Z80 CPU was very popular in its day!
- What have people done with them so far?
- The majority of activity has been from people wanting to use the Mailstation with their own POP/SMTP servers, which has been possible via various methods for the various versions.
There was once a lot of activity from individuals trying to figure out the hardware, but gradually interest seemed to diminish. Much has been discovered, but not a lot has been written. The only other software development I know of was by a guy on the Yahoo Mailstation group, who wrote a remote debugger called Mailbug. When I showed up there and started asking a hundred questions, he helped me out a lot, so I have him to thank for me being able to develop for the Mailstation to begin with. And of course thanks to all the other individuals who may have contributed to the collective pool of knowledge throughout the years!
As for myself, I've done a lot of researching and question asking, followed by some actual experimentation of my own on the hardware. This led to my writing FyOS, which was/is the beginnings of an OS replacement for the Mailstation. And as I learned more about the hardware, I realized it could be modified to be compatible with original CP/M applications as well. So I built the hardware mod into the only Mailstation I own, which fortunately didn't ruin it, and continued my experimentation. After a long break, my interest in the Mailstation returned, and that led to my developing the Mailstation Emulator, to allow me to test code on my PC before putting it on the actual hardware. All of this will eventually, and hopefully, result in a fully CP/M compatible OS replacement for the Mailstation!
Presently I have a basic CPM BIOS layer written which emulates a floppy disk via the Mailstation's flash memory, and is capable of booting into CPM v2's CCP command interpreter. This allowed for running Zork 1, which was one of my goals. But the virtual disk is still just read-only for the moment.
- I have a Mailstation, how do I get started developing?
- I haven't written that part of the site just yet! But you can find some details in the documents that come with the FyOS archives for the time being. Or better yet, poke around the Yahoo Mailstation group, where there's lots of good threads with various info.