Category Archives: Open Source

Nokia N810 — First Impressions

I finally gave in and bought a device that I can’t really justify because of a real need; it’s just that the “Me wants!” factor was too high to resist it. Overall, it’s a very cool device that allows me to do pretty much all of the stuff I normally do in front of a real computer, but without the bulk of a full-scale laptop that forces me to sit upright, lighten up an entire room, and listen to an increasingly intense fan (which is not an option when my workaholic withdrawal symptoms kick in in the middle of the night).

When you spend lots of money on small things you don’t really need, there is a pretty high risk that you end up being a little disappointed in the end. In this case, I’m somewhat disappointed about a few details, but it’s not as bad as it might sound in this blog post. Read on for the details.
Here’s a list of stuff that annoys me about the N810 so far:

  • The UI is too small to be comfortably used with your fingers. You are more or less dependent on the stylus, which means you have to use two hands. They’ve made some things unnecessarily small, such as the numeric soft keypad displayed when the unit is security locked. It uses only 1/4th of the full size of the screen for the digits, forcing you to aim with the top of your finger to get the pin code right.n810.jpg
  • Scrolling web pages is unnecessarily difficult. There are three methods of scrolling web pages, touch-and-grab on the web page itself, using the scrollbar, or holding down the down arrow key. All three methods have their own quirks:
    • Touch-and-grab: This is the method that in theory should be the most useful, since it’s both intuitive and simple. However, the device doesn’t quite deliver; sometimes the system mistakes the grab with a click, taking you to another page (which on this slow device takes a few seconds, since you have to stop loading that page, and then click Back, and then wait a little longer for the previous web page to reload). Other times the grab turns into a text selection instead. Lastly, just as the regular Linux build of Firefox, you can’t scroll over a Flash object.
    • Using the scrollbar: This method would have been a good alternative to the touch-and-grab method if it wasn’t for the fact that the scrollbar is tiny and at the very edge of the screen. The problem with this is that the frame around the screen is bulky and makes it hard to reach the edge of the screen with your thumb. In non-fullscreen mode it works reasonably well because of the added border around the browser window, which places the scrollbar at a more reachable location. Maemo team: why not use the same thick scrollbar as in the Chat and Mail applications?n810scroll.jpg
    • Holding down the arrow key: This is a slow and unpredictable way to scroll the page. The scolling continues for a good while after you release the button, and if you don’t hold it down long enough, the scroll action turns into a “select first link on page” action instead, instantly taking you to the start of the page again.
  • Typing on the keyboard is hard. The keys don’t have any space between them, which makes it hard to “feel” where your thumbs are on the keyboard. Also, it increases the risk of pressing more than one key at the same time. Finally, the qwerty row  is too close to the screen edge, making it hard to use it with your thumbs.
  • Typing on the screen is harder. For some reason, the large, finger keyboard doesn’t pop up when you tap a text box with your finger, despite the claims in the help documentation. Instead, a tiny stylus keyboard appears, which is impossible to use with your thumbs. If the stylus keyboard option is disabled, you have to click a text box with your thumb circa ten times before the big keyboard appears.
  • The mail app is completely useless. It failed miserably with both my mozilla.com and Gmail IMAP accounts because its performance doesn’t scale if you have more than a few hundred e-mail messages in your inbox. It doesn’t matter if you specify that it should only download 25 or so e-mails; it keeps loading an additional 25 old e-mails every nth minute and eventually their poor Ordo(n^4) algorithms start eating up the precious resources. Webmail ftw!

That’s it, I think. My list of negative impressions. I won’t mention the fact that it’s slightly buggy in general and crashes from time to time, because I expected that and generally has no problems with beta quality software (since I’m a software developer myself).

Overall, I really like this device despite its shortcomings. The Mozilla-based browser MicroB really helps me feeling right at home. The battery life is impressive — at least if you make sure a program hasn’t got stuck in an endless loop, keeping the CPU at constant 100% utilization.

Webcam for Linux/Mac/Windows?

I’m looking for a webcam that works in Windows, Mac, and Linux. My basic requirements are:

  • Not too bulky
  • Not too pricy
  • Must work in Linux

Any recommendations? Oh, and are there any programs that work with webcams in Windows/Mac/Linux as well?

Testing Ubuntu 7.04

Just installed Ubuntu 7.04 on two different Dell laptops. So far, I’m impressed:

  • It’s the first Linux distro ever where desktop effects (compiz) works out of the box and without major problems.
  • It was helpful enough to point me out how to enable mp3 support when I tried to double-click a song on Sofie’s desktop.

However, none of the two new features were problem free. The problem with compiz happened because during the Live CD session, a notification area icon asked me to install a restricted driver for the graphics card, which I happily did. For some reason, though, the downloaded driver didn’t end up in the installed system, but the xorg.conf changes to use “nvidia” did. The result was that the gdm wouldn’t start and I was left with a horrible error message about a missing driver. Thankfully, I’m a bit of a geek (no shit?) so I just changed xorg.conf to use the “nv” driver, started gdm, and then installed the restricted driver using the notification icon again. Ubuntu devs, you might want to fix this bug!

The other problem I had was when totem asked me about mp3 support. I selected the corresponding option to enable mp3, but for some reason I had to check the very same checkbox three times in order for it to stick. Don’t know what happened there and I’d rather not install Ubuntu again to find out.

All in all, I’m very happy with the new release. It looks very polished with the desktop effects, and after making my own modification of the default desktop background (changed it to a blue shade instead of brown) and then changing the theme to Glossy, it looks really slick.

Ubuntu 7.04 Screenshot with custom background

Desktop Java and Desktop Linux: A Match Made in Heaven?

[Both] Linux and Java benefit from using Java on the Linux desktop, since both of them want the same thing, and can mutually contribute towards the same goal. Both Linux and Java want greater desktop market share. Java can give this to Linux by providing a more productive, more secure, and easier to debug platform for writing applications, as well a platform so that applications written in it can also run on Windows. This helps protect the developer’s investment in a minority platform when it comes to the desktop. And Linux has something to offer Java as well: a second chance at becoming a major player in the desktop application arena. Linux is slowly but surely gaining desktop market share. Java can help it grow, and also grow with it. It could be that desktop Java and desktop Linux are a match made in heaven.

Downloading OpenSUSE 10.3 Alpha 1

Ubuntu has started to bore me lately. Nothing really new and exciting seems to be added to Feisty. And they just can’t seem to ditch the brown.

Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Herd 5 Desktop

I actually installed OpenSUSE before (I think it was 10.1) but I quickly went back to Ubuntu again. However, I can’t really remember why I didn’t like OpenSUSE so I’ll try it again. After reading about the progress of the new Gnome main menu, I don’t mind the hassle of installing it one more time.

OpenSUSE 10.3 Alpha 1 Main Menu

Google Talk with Video Calls?

Google TalkI read at the Swedish IT website IDG.se that the Nokia N800 internet tablet comes with a version of Google Talk that supports video calls. Is this really true? Then why isn’t it available in the Windows client? And why hasn’t Google Talk been released for PC Linux when it’s obviously available for internet tablet Linux?

Speaking of Google Talk, when are they planning on making significant progress? It was released 18 months ago and still, it’s not possible to e.g. call Google Talk contacts from Gizmo Project, another SIP compliant VoIP client. What’s the point of being standards compliant if it’s not possible for other clients to communicate on the same terms?

Mono

MonoI’m excited about the progress of Mono, the open-source implementation of the Microsoft .NET development platform. The software I’m developing at work is written in C#. This basically means that in the future, we could switch from Windows XP to Linux with relatively little effort. The only things that would need to be re-written, I’m assuming, are the OPC communication library, and the database communication (we’re currently using a Microsoft Access 2003 database).

I see a few potential benefits from switching to a Linux-based platform for the EM5 machines:

  • No Windows XP/XPe license cost.
  • Easier to set up a secure, restricted environment for the operator.
  • Secure remote administration using SSH.

Some emotional aspects as well:

  • No sucking up to Microsoft.
  • I like Linux.

Of course, I would need to do a proper investigation to see if there are other aspects that makes Linux less suitable. For example, many customers communicate directly with the queue database of our software system. That communication must be working between their system (e.g. Microsoft Access or whatever they’re using) and ours (using e.g. MySQL).