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Thoughts from Jamie Bennett

Archive for August, 2007

Moving Towards An Online World

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As more and more of our life propagates onto the web, what will the technologies of the future really look like?

“I want it all, and I want it” – together?

Lets overcome the first stumbling block. If everything from you email to you children’s birthday party pictures are online, where do you focus you attention‘s? Who will be your guide? What will be the front end to your digital world?

Up until fairly recently, the only way I found I could cope with the variety of sites hosting the information I needed was to work with multiple tabs in FireFox. Its not the best solution but it just worked. I had my Microsoft Exchange work web mail on one tab, calendar on another, a rss content reader (feed reader) on another e.t.c.

The solution that I have adopted now is Google ig, a personalized, web 2.0, ajazified start page. From here you can add ‘widgets’; Small web applets or applications that allow you to, for instance, access your online calendar, to do list, utube video’s, all in one place. This is what brings the content together and this is where the companies vying for our attention should ultimately be focusing their attention. You see, the wealth of information and opportunity that the Internet brings us is not only its most valuable asset, its also its biggest downfall. What good is information when you have no way of accessing it easily? What good is it if you have to log in to 10 different that many critics think that it could become a websites every day just to access what is important to you? This is where the battle ground of the future will be.

Up until recently google has been having its own way with the customized web page but more and more contenders are popping up daily. Even the mighty Facebook.com is getting in on the act offering such a customisable API that many critics think it may even be a google beater!

My Life Online

I must admit that I am in google’s corner for most of the web applications I mention in this article. Not because I have some vested interest in them, not because I get any benefit apart from the services they provide, but because their solutions are what I feel to be the best on offer at the moment. For instance, as a family, we use google’s calendar application to ‘keep in sync’ with each other. No longer do I have to phone my wife to ask if we have an engagement this coming weekend, I can easily access her calendar online and providing she has kept it up-to-date, I can see whats planned and visa-versa. This is especially helpful when at a moments notice I get a request to be in a certain place at a certain time and sometimes in a different country.

Another web 2.0 application I find myself increasingly using is Facebook. Now I admit that I’m passed my formal education days but Facebook is great for keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, old acquaintances, in fact anyone and everyone seems to be on Facebook now-a-days so the chances are that if you lost a phone number, you can regain it here.

Online Media

Another aspect of my online world is media sharing. I share photo’s with many of my family members as logistically we are seperated by a significant distance. It’s much easier to supply a family member with a url to the latest holiday photo’s than to develop and post the physical photo’s themselves. To do this I use Picassa.

There are many more examples of media sharing sites. Utube makes it easy to share videos; podcasts such as diggnation and the TWIT network offerings are so much more entertaining when you see the guys doing it on video or even live via Ustream, and music can be shared via applications such as Orb. The web is towards a more content driven medium and sites like these are beginning to reap the rewards as people become reliant on their services.

When is Online not Online

Its all very well living in a ever connected world but what happens when you can’t be online for whatever reason? Again, google comes to the rescue. Google Gears is a project to enable online content, offline.

This may seem gimmicky at first but if your stop and think about it for a little while, you may realise that it provides a very powerful experience and one that is most definitely the future.

In the long term, an Internet connection may be ubiquitous and the need for services such as google gears would be irrelevant but in the short term, as the world catches up to our online demands, we need a solution. Online applications such as google docs and spreadsheets, calendar and mail would be so much better if you could access them offline. For example, compose a mail while your on the plane and have it send when you next have an online connection; write a document that sync’s when you find an open access point e.t.c the list goes on. Online is the future but the infrastructure isn’t there just yet so this could well be the answer.

Just to balance the pro-google emphasis, the Firefox browser is tailoring itself to allow more online/offline content in its 3.0 release. Dave Camp is working on integrating an offline UI and backend to enable the same functionality as google gears does, right in one of the biggest growing browsers available today.

Access to the information

As a web tablet and UMPC adv
ocate, where does this all fit in? Well, if all our information is online, will we all be carrying around laptops in 10 years time? I think not.

Small devices that can be carried in the pocket or small bag will be all the rage just as mobile phones are today. Its not difficult to see. Just look at the ever increase convergence of the mobile phone and personal computer; dubbed the smart phone. This is a device that lets you access your online/offline information on a small hand-held phone. It gives you the power of a small computer but conversely has shortfalls that up until now, only laptops could solve. A small LCD screen, lack of mainstream operating system, and lack of horse power have led the current crop of smart phones down the path to oblivion.

There are some great devices on the market but I would hazard a guess that most people that carry a smart phone today also carry a laptop or other device when push comes to shove. One device is needed to converge our digital world.

Conclusion

So whats the answer? What will we all be carrying and using the most in 10 years time? Will it be the ‘Bill Gates vision of the future’ tablet pc? Will it be in the ever increasingly popular UMPC? Or will it be the underpowered and somewhat flaky Internet Tablet? My money’s on a combination of the 3.

At the moment I feel that the UMPC has become the closest solution. Its philosophy seems to be to try to shoe-horn as powerful a PC as possible into the smallest enclosure you can manage but this will not solve the complete problem.

The majority of our time in the future will be accessing information. In fact we will have so much information to digest, it will be difficult to decipher what to ‘take in’ and what to ‘throw away’. That’s where our UMPC/Tablet PC will be become our most valuable digital friend. It will sort out what information we need to see and what can be forgotten about but of course human intervention will be needed, but not as much as is needed today.

The Internet Tablet, especially the offerings from Nokia, are converging with the UMPC to bring us this ideal device. While the Microsoft Windows UMPC offerings seem to be bogged down with trying to be PC’s, the Internet tablets on the other hand seem to be striving to be more powerful while struggling to do the most relevant tasks at hand, that is, access ALL off the Internet in a satisfying way.

As a consumer I would love to see a device that is somewhere in the middle. An offering along the lines of the Nokia N800, with a more powerful processor, that can handle all the Internet has to offer and can give me all that a laptop can, in a form-factor that can easily be carried around.

Is this too much to ask? I don’t believe so. If fact, I would go as far to say that some lucky researcher at an unknown company has this very device in their hands, just waiting to release it if the funding is there!

Watch this space.

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 20th, 2007 at 6:58 pm

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Compiz Fusion

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If your anything like me, you love your desktop bling and nothing comes close to the bling that Compiz Fusion brings. It’s way ahead of even the effects you see on a Mac at the moment.

Projects like this bring a smile to my face. Projects like this justify why we, as Linux users are among the (growing) minority. Projects like this encourage people to go ahead and install Linux, even if they had no intentions of doing so before; and this can only be a good thing for the Linux community.

This leads me a more sobering and UMPC related point. If Linux is to be a viable alternative to Windows on the next-generation UMPC platform, it not only has to do as good as its peers, it has to blow them out of the water.

Life Hacker has an interesting article on Compiz Fusion which is definitely worth a read.

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 20th, 2007 at 6:32 pm

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Cloned Products

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This is both amazing and completely harrowing.
http://www.popsci.com/popsci/technology/e7e48a137b144110vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html

It’s carrier neutral and costs half as much as the iPhone and being China I’m sure they can russle it up 10 times as fast! Note the comment about Linux development and the relatively small development team!

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 10th, 2007 at 10:31 pm

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http://www.webtablet.org the new UMPC portal

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So In response to all the interest I am getting about Internet tablets and UMPC’s in general I scooped up the http://www.webtablet.org domain name. At the moment it just points right back to my blog but I hope in the very near future to be taking my observations on this potentially immense market further afield and reviewing other mobile devices.

Why? Well, my work position lends itself to a very inviting and appropriate prospect. Not only do I get to travel the world with my current employer, I’m also a senior software developer. What this all means is that I get to test out devices in a multitude of weird and wonderful countries and also that I can fix and develop for the device itself. For example the Nokia 770 gets to travel to the Netherlands next week closely followed by a trip to India a week after. I have a long background in Linux (1995-present) and also Windows (http://www.webtablet.org will be a news and user portal for all things Internet tablet and UMPC. If you are a company or have ties to a company who produce (or would like to produce) Internet tablets or UMPC devices (the two terms will merge sooner or later mark my words!) then I am available to give you my unique insight on to how your device performs in the real world and maybe contribute to the development itself.

Naming no names to start off with (Nokia N800, Samsung Q1 e.t.c) if you want to see an honest, thorough and constructive insight, and hey, I even give review units back!, then get in touch. Or if you want, as a user, to lend me a device for a week I will pay postage each way and give you credit online. Unless you live in Outer Mongolia or somewhere similar and the postage is roughly about the same as buying the device itself.

The Internet Tablet and UMPC market is about to explode. Lets hope, as a community, somewhere like http://www.webtablet.org can voice our opinions, good or bad.

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 10th, 2007 at 6:31 pm

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Ari Jaaksi Interview

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There’s a great interview with “Nokia’s open source director”, Ari Jaaksi at linux devices which includes some background information of how Nokia conceived the 770 Internet Tablet.

You can also find slides from his LinuxWorld 2007 at: http://www.linuxdevices.com/files/misc/LW2007_Jaaksi.pdf.

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 10th, 2007 at 11:43 am

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Ubuntu Mobile On the Nokia 770/N800?

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There’s been a lot of interest lately in Ubuntu’s initiative to produce an embedded version of its Linux distribution for mobile devices. Initially the consensus was that it would be x86 only, effectively ruling out any chance of it working on the Nokia tablets but pieces of information dotted about the Internet may imply otherwise.

Quoting the Embedded Ubuntu wiki page:

Suggestions were made to build “packages naitively or using pre-built cross-toolchains to build the ARM archive.”

Ubuntu Mobile should “consider [the] [WWW] Nokia 770 as potential platform for development – start with taking software from [WWW] Maemo.org, strip what seems to be not necessary (try to retain core SW as much as possible), and build on top of it.”



From the same page:

“EmbeddedUbuntu will initially cover ARM-based platforms, preferably with a LCD display. This includes ARM-based PDAs and Internet Tablets”

Another bit of information that points to a non-x86 release was Canonical Software spokesperson Gerry Carr’s comment that Intel “expects to see the first [MID] (Mobile Internet Device) devices in 2008″ which could be up to a year after the initial release of Ubuntu Mobile. This begs the question, what will Ubuntu Mobile be running on in the mean-time?


Initial development has begun on the ia32 platform and continues to gather pace in this direction although a few comments on the Ubuntu Mobile mailing list by Matt Zimmerman provides a glimmer of hope to the arm based crowd.

"If what you're asking is whether an ARM port is planned, that's wide open.
As I noted in the original announcement, this project has begun in
collaboration with Intel with an aim to support their new platforms."

We are committed to the success of UME, and ARM is clearly a relevant platform in the mobile and embedded space.

At present, we have funding for the ia32 platform work, and have plenty of
interesting work to do there in the near term. However, given a source of
funding for ARM, work on a port could begin very quickly, and all of the
work that we're presently doing to build the framework will carry over to
it.

Open source is all about alternatives. If Ubuntu does become available on the Nokia tablets I can see a lot of users at least trying it. Whether it will be better or not is another question although I do believe that Ubuntu has a more open development model than Nokia’s which can only benefit the end user.

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 9th, 2007 at 6:00 am

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Will the Nokia N800 With WiMax Support Change the Mobile Phone Landscape?

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Theres an interesting article over at Linux Devices detailing the announcement that Nokia is to work with Sprint, the US phone carrier, to produce a N800 with WiMax support. What this means is that the WiMax enabled N800 will be one of the first carrier promoted Internet Tablets (if not the first) to have a data connection usually reserved for mobile phones. The roll-out date? Sometime in 2008.

While this is a good thing for Nokia and Internet tablets in general, it does highlight something maybe a little more disturbing. Does this announcement mean that the N800 is Nokia’s main focus for the Internet Tablet and that we won’t see any other (improved) device during 2008? Or just that Nokia will be expanding its range to include the WiMax N800 alongside other new developments? I sure hope its the latter.

But one thing is for sure, I really like Nokia’s decision to explore new and somewhat “landscape changing” avenues. Lets not forget that a WiMax (or HSDPA for us in the UK) enabled internet tablet could remove the need for a phone at all. If everyone were carrying these devices, VOIP would rule and the revenue that carriers get would not be based on any current model in existence today.

If we can’t have ubiquitous wifi everywhere, especially in the short term, maybe this is the answer to a VOIP enabled world?

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 8th, 2007 at 9:40 am

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Congratulations to the Poky Team

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A (somewhat late) congratulations to the Poky team for their 3.0 (“Blinky”) release. Amongst the supported platforms is:


Nokia N800 web tablet (experimental)”.


For those that don’t know what Poky is, the official blurb is:

“Poky is an embedded Linux build system, distribution and developer environment which builds upon OpenEmbedded technologies. Poky’s focus is purely on building stable optimised GNOME Embedded type platforms (X11/Matchbox/GTK+) together with a streamlined system layer and cross development environment. “

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 7th, 2007 at 8:07 pm

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Gimp Tutorials

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For anyone out there that’s interested in the gimp, there’s a great set of 10 video tutorials at http://vntutor.blogspot.com, covering everything from the basics to photo manipulation, take a look.

The line up is as follows:

Lesson 1: GIMP Basics
Lesson 2: Selective Decolorization
Lesson 3: Make a thumping picture in GIMP
Lesson 4: Render Images in GIMP
Lesson 5: Make a Superkaramba (A-foto) decoration
Lesson 6: How to make a banner
Lesson 7: Alter an image
Lesson 8: Lightning
Lesson 9: Retouching a Photo
Lesson 10: The User Interface

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 5th, 2007 at 6:19 pm

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Support the old to encourage the new

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Nokia’s first foray into the Internet Tablet world was the 770, a 141mm x 79mm x 19mm bundle of great potential. Their Maemo platform was a step in the right direction for mobile devices and choosing Linux as their operating system was a great decision. So what’s currently gone wrong with their Internet Tablet strategy?

The 770 is ‘cheap as chips’

Nokia’s latest decision to dramatically reduce the price of the 770 has been a master stroke on their part. For example, in the UK you can, at the time of writing, get a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet for £73.40!

This is at the magical consumable price point. It’s not to prohibitive that potential buyers would dismiss it as being too expensive and in the same vein it lures the people who weren’t even in the market for something like this to part with their hard earned cash. Effectively Nokia has created a whole new customer base for itself.

Ordinarily this would be a welcome event for any manufacturer but in the case of the 770 they could in fact be ‘shooting themselves in the foot’.

Product Maturity

You see the problem with the 770 is that Nokia treated it as a test bed. A dip of the toe into the proverbial tablet waters if you like. This is all very well and good but I’m sure they were aware that the platform they created on the 770 would need a good deal of maturing to give them at least a chance against the likes of the Microsoft offerings in the same space.

Windows mobile has seen may incarnations over the years, some good, most bad but the underlining factor its that these guys (and gals) have been at it for some time. They have ironed out many bugs and digested many user reports which has enabled them to produce a some-what stable platform. Nokia on the other hand seems to have abandoned the 770.

Competition

In a recent announcement, arguably the most popular Linux desktop distributor, Ubuntu, announced an initiative to develop an ultra mobile version of its software. This was big news, even the BBC here in the UK picked up on it. The most damming news for Nokia was that is was to support the x86 architecture rather than Nokia’s arm base one and thus would not be compatible with any hardware Nokia had previously released. But the encouraging signs are there that Nokia’s involvement with the Hildon desktop for mobile devices will not be in vein as that could be used in future devices from other manufacturers.

A customers perspective

With the influx of new users, Nokia has now got a rather large problem if is to lead the way with Internet Tablets. You could say that Nokia is at a transitional period when it comes to this market. Sure, they are pretty damn successful in the mobile phone market but who can honestly envisage a future where your mobile phone just takes calls, a text message and the occasional photo here and there?

Nokia were very smart to see that the future is a mobile ‘computer’ not a phone but they may disgruntle future adopters of their platform by leaving past customers wanting.

Many people are coming in at the bottom end. Buying the 770 as an impulse buy, just to try it out. But what they will get is a buggy, unfinished and unpolished bit of hardware that will grace many a second hand sale on ebay or the likes. For a Linux geek its great, for Mr Smith who thought it looked cool and the price was great, Nokia just lost a future customer.

First impressions last

Nokia should see their recent stock sell off as an opportunity to sell more future products, not an opportunity to try to claw back some revenue from unsold 770′s. Support the 770, don’t abandon it just because its not the latest and greatest. Sure, the N800 is where the profit margin is but how many 770 owners will upgrade if they are dissatisfied with the 770? How many will choose the N900 (or what ever Nokia choose to call it) and how many will just jump ship to an Ubuntu/Intel derived model?

Make a good impression, that’s what I was always told by my mom, because once you’ve made it, you can’t take it back.

Written by Jamie Bennett

August 2nd, 2007 at 5:25 pm

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