The Casio BOSS (also known generally as the SF Unit series) was the catchall name for a particular line of PDA said company put out in the USA in the early to mid 1990s. All the devices featured a qwerty keyboard and digital display, along with directional buttons and a handful of buttons to allow you to change modes at the push of a button. It was to be the be-all and end-all to personal organization systems, and allow you, the user, to take that bulky old Daytimer and stick everything in it into a digital device around the size of a pocket check book.

BOSS, by the way, was an acronym - it stood for "Business Organizer Scheduling System".

All of these devices at the very least came with a phone bank/address book, memo bank, schedule keeper, calculator, and a few other features that could prove fairly useful to just about anybody who thought they needed one of these clever little devices; depending on needs, desires, and the amount of money in your wallet (or a combination of the three), though, you could get more features and RAM. The low end models came with only a few features and about 16 kb of storage, and could not be backed up to computer; more money, and you could get that feature by way of a 3/32" "micro" stereo phone cable, with the added bonus of 32 kilobytes of storage. You still had to pay for the backup cable though. Even higher prices found the models that garnered you more features and, of course, more memory.

Other brands of PDA would get you other features; I think Panasonic made one with a check printer installed on it, and there was yet another that had a fax machine that you could couple with a phone.

What sticks out in my mind was the SF-8300 and their executive series (more on that later). The 8300 was the first low-end unit to have a screen that was in the hinged lid, separate from the keyboard (the lower end units had their LCD display on the same portion as the keyboard, with brief instructions in the flip top lid that all of these units invariably sported), coming with additional features such as a to-do list, a secondary memo bank, and a few other features - with 64 kilobytes to store all the information you could dump into this thing.

And of course, the more money you spent at places like Circuit City, the more features that you could get with these. The 9300 came with other features as well, and also had a slot to insert something resembling a PCMCIA card into it, which allowed you to do things like use extra storage space, play Tetris, read The Bible, things like that.

Then you had your top of the line units. The aforementioned executive series. The SF-M10, the SF-R10, and the SF-R20. Oh, these were the creme de la creme of PDAs. These, if you will, were the things you got for your boss on Boss' Day - if you didn't keep it for yourself. These units came with every feature you could think of ever wanting on a PDA. Spreadsheet brought to you by Lucid 3D, To-Do list, a help button that actually gave you full on help, two schedulers, two memo pads, a sort of wordpad like application (like the memo pad, but allowed you to store more data in one entry), and about eleventy-seven other features, along with a floppy disk that contained a DOS version of the Casio BOSS backup software and the software that let you transfer and translate spreadsheet files (they were 2 separate progs), and a link cable that allowed you to transfer data to another SF unit. The only differences between these units were simple: the M10 and R10 both had 128 KB of storage, where the R20 had 256 KB; the R10 and R20 had the aforementioned slot on the 9x00 series for the same purposes, where the M10 lacked this. All three, while particularly bulky, had a nice rubberized exterior, a huge screen, enormous keyboards that you could actually touch type on, took 2 AAA batteries (and an additional CR2032 for power backup), and would be anything and everything you needed an "external brain" to be. And the spreadsheets! Added so much in capabilities to it. Imagine being able to roll D20 without the die - just write a randomizing formula and hit the F4 key to roll!

I had an R10 for a while, and lost it; I later replaced it with an M10, and that was what I used until buying a refurbished Handspring Visor Deluxe and hand transferring everything into that. But I digress.

So what killed it? Probably the biggest killer was US Robotics, when they came out with the Palm pilot. It had to - where the SF series was finite, the handhelds that USR came out with - like a Newton, but smaller - were extensible and clever. You could add software to your palm pilot - not so with even the PCMCIA units. Meanwhile, Casio released two different PDAs about that time - the 5x80 series (whose nifty marketable features were solitare poker and blackjack) - and the SF-A10, the first Casiopeia units to be released. History took its course, and the foldover type PDAs got relegated to the discount bins at Target, while the gadget geeks and anyone else who used a PDA of some flavor or another moved over to PalmOS and, later, WinCE and Linux devices. The rest of that is history outside of the scope of this writeup.

What I think killed that flavor of PDA, though, was the fact that it was mutually incompatible with other brands - and in some cases, the SF series. Back then, Sharp, Seiko, Rolodex, and even Tandy had their own flavor of PDA - and none would talk to the other brand. And while Casio's SF units would all talk to each other, the release of the 5x80 series in 1996 put an end to that: they changed the protocol, so you could not transfer the from the old unit to the new! You could find software and cables for the new protocol set for a small fee, of course.

Then there was the size. A typical PalmOS, WinCE, or Linux based handheld is just a little larger than a deck of playing cards and fits easily into your pants pocket, but the SF unit had varying sizes and could be bulky. Remember the 8300 above? That one was about the size of a pocket checkbook. The R10 was the size of my wife's wallet and a half an inch thick, however. Not always conducive to just putting it into your pocket.

And that's where the SF Unit story kind of ends, I guess.

Somewhere in my apartment is that old M10. I had since flushed the data off after I had transferred into the visor deluxe I use to this day. The rubberized exterior is long worn off thus exposing the underlying plastic case, owing to the many miles I put on it after giving it five years of usage. Maybe one day I'll find it, but I really don't know what I'd do with it anymore.

EDIT: 22Jun2005: I found my old M10. Amazingly, the AAA batteries still have a touch of juice in them, and apparently haven't corroded. But, I was right - I have no idea what I would do with this thing aymore other than shipping it off for Best Buy's recycling program, since my Visor Deluxe does what I need it to.

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