Category Archives: Open Source

Nokia N900 impressions

I’ve been using the Nokia N900 for a couple of weeks now and I have both good and bad things to say about it. To give you an idea of what I’m comparing with, my previous phone was a Nokia N95. Here’s my list of impressions:

Pros

  • The screen is pretty good, and I rarely have a problem clicking on links and buttons using my thumbs. The fact that it’s resistive feels like an advantage in this incredibly cold Swedish winter. Next to a Nexus One, however, it’s obvious that the color reproduction could be better.
  • The Mozilla-based MicroB browser really is awesome. Scrolling and zooming is so smooth and quick that it feels like surfing on the iPhone, only this time you’re using the real web. By far the best web browsing experience I’ve had on a mobile device.
  • The fact that I can use it to call VoIP, Skype, Gtalk, and regular cellular networks is amazing.
  • The Conversations application seamlessly integrates IM and SMS in an intuitive manner.
  • The media player handles almost anything you throw at it after installing a few extra software packages.
  • Great synchronization with Exchange-based mail services (e.g. Zimbra, which Mozilla uses).
  • Nice multiple desktop solution (though lacks useful widgets).
  • Battery life is impressive in active use such as in a phone call. Though see the standby time below…
  • The “one-click” (actually a few clicks) publishing of both photos and videos to services like Facebook and Flickr is really neat. Though see below about the camera quality…
  • It really is fun to use it. And it’s open source! And it can run Firefox!

Cons

  • This thing is heavy! I thought my N95 was heavy, but this is significantly heavier. It definitely feels like a solid device, for better or worse.
  • The camera is actually worse than the 3-year-old N95 camera in a number of ways: terrible colors in low light, terrible metering, light leaks making the subject in focus appear washed out, and the field of view is narrower than the N95 camera. In comparison, here’s a photo taken by the N95. Both are 5-megapixel cameras.
  • The standby time is a joke. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but sometimes I can just keep the phone in my pocket during the whole day and it will discharge in less than 8 hours. I first kept all accounts logged in (Skype, VoIP, Jabber), but have since then compromised a bit and only keep Jabber online. Still, the battery isn’t impressive.
  • The horizontal layout is annoying most of the time. When I’m out and about, it feels awkward that I can’t use the phone with one hand. I understand the “handheld computer” legacy (I even owned an N810), but feel that my typical use is much more like a regular smartphone than a portable computer. Ideally, all applications should support both layouts.
  • The keyboard, while certainly better than the N810, is still not really good. It’s too easy to click on the wrong keys, and there’s no auto complete feature that can detect (and correct) common spelling mistakes.
  • The auto suggest feature only shows one suggestion, so 90% of the time it’s not suggesting the word you want and as a result you end up ignoring the suggestions altogether.
  • The physical unlock switch is only comfortable to use when in horizontal layout. It’s nearly impossible to reach with one hand if you just want to make a quick call.

Marc Laporte coming to town

As many people already know, SUMO as a support web platform is built around open source software. For the knowledge base and forum, we use TikiWiki, an open-source PHP-based content management system. What fewer people might know is that SUMO is currently based on TikiWiki 1.10, which is almost two years old today. The latest version of TikiWiki is 3.1 and in only a couple of months 4.0 will be released.

This week, TikiWiki community lead/member Marc Laporte is paying me a quick visit in Eskilstuna, Sweden to discuss our current situation and to figure out what to do with SUMO. We have identified three potential plans:

  • Plan A: upgrade SUMO to TikiWiki 4.x. This is what I’m hoping we’ll be able to achieve. The question is how much work it means to get to 4.x and how much better things will be once we’re there.
  • Plan B: fork our current codebase and continue to add our own features on top of it. This is essentially what we’re doing today, and it’s not exactly ideal since we end up doing work in parallel with TikiWiki, and we’re wasting precious resources.
  • Plan C: migrade our content to another CMS, e.g. Drupal. By far the most costly effort in the short term, and not clear whether the benefits outweighs the investment cost.

Now that Marc and I have the opportunity to spend two full days working face to face, I’m hopeful that we can not only pick Plan A, but come up with a solid plan for the first few steps to make the plan a reality.

If you’re part of the SUMO or TikiWiki community, I would love to hear what you think and if you think there are things we should focus on discussing!

Bye bye Mac, hello again PC!

If I appear to be slower to respond to e-mail lately, it’s because my two-year-old MacBook Pro broke down last week, leaving me without access to my local data. It started with some occasional graphical glitches (see video) but it only took a few days until the computer wouldn’t boot anymore. Interestingly, during this gradual fail, the rEFIt boot menu that normally allowed me to start Linux suddenly disappeared. The first time it disappeared, I could restore it by resetting the PROM memory, but now it’s just gone.

Tiger trying to fix my computerMacs are weird in so many ways. You can’t just install Linux and expect it to work — you have to install additional software like rEFIt just to boot into another OS than Mac OS X. Furthermore, you can’t just plug a USB stick in and boot from it. In short, Apple is the very definition of locked down proprietary technology and it annoys the hell out of me.

I’m sick and tired of Macs and I’ve decided to even out the remarkably unbalanced Mac/PC ratio at Mozilla by getting a PC as my next computer. I’ve also decided to give in to my passion for Linux and use it as my full-time OS from now on.

While I’m waiting for my new computer to arrive, I’m writing this from Sofie’s little 12″ PC running Ubuntu. It works like a charm, but I am definitely not as productive as I was with my own computer. I sometimes have to let go of the computer for a few minutes so Sofie can check her mail — after all, I’m the one borrowing her computer. However, the biggest reason why I’m not as productive as I was before my MacBook broke is that I don’t have access to my local data.

Two things I’m a lot more dependent on than I ever thought:

  • The local address book of Thunderbird
  • The local AwesomeBar data of Firefox

I’m working on getting a Linux Live CD (Sofie’s laptop doesn’t have a CD burner) to boot up my MacBook and transfer all my local data to this computer so I can resume full productivity speed again.

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