Sunday, April 02, 2006

A response to Doc Searls

I've not been a happy camper with the Nokia 770. I've written my reactions to the device here, here, and especially here. It was the third post that elicited a response from Doc Searls. Doc had written a very positive article about the 770 in the February issue of Linux Journal. When I wrote my third post I'd referenced the article and the effect it had on my purchasing the 770. Apparently word got back to Doc, and he stopped by and left this comment.
Sorry the 770 hasn't worked out for you.

Perhaps one reason it worked well for me (while I had it) was that I love Internet Radio, and it seemed to do a good job with that.

I think your main problem (and Nokia's) is that it's a new device, and doesn't have a large portfolio of software yet. Developers are needed for that.

Seems to me, then, that the 770 is targeted for both developers and users (I hate the term "consumers"). But that right now we're still at the chicken vs. egg stage.

Gotta say the list of apps here looks pretty geeky. While that's probably not a problem for Linux Journal's near-100% geeky readership, it probably would be a problem for civilians.

But then, if enough civilians buy the product, it is likely to become a target platform for commercial developers too.

Still, there you are in early-adopterville. Here's hoping more developers make more cool stuff that works for you.

What apps in particular are you looking for? (I'll do my best to get the Nokia folks to listen.)
I really appreciate the time Doc took to respond. I wanted to spend a while thinking about how to respond in kind. I came up with long, detailed lists about features and applications, but after thinking about my own experiences, I was able to boil everything down into two key areas. They are performance and stability.

You can have all the applications and eye-candy you could possible stand on the 770, but the best thing the Nokia developers could do is to enhance the performance (speed) of the 770 and to fix the crashes I've outlined in the past. Nokia should enhance what's there before adding even more.

While putting together an earlier response that I eventually scrapped, I pulled out my old Dell Axim X5 Entry and compared the two. What I was after was performance comparisons between Windows Mobile 2003 and the version of Linux running on the 770. The X5 originally shipped with an older version of Microsoft Pocket PC 2002. I had ordered an upgrade CD from Dell and upgraded the X5.

To make the comparisons as fair as possible, I set the processor speed on the Dell to 200 MHz. Keep in mind that the Dell already is two processor generations younger than the 770. The Dell runs an Intel XScale 255 based on the ARM 7 core. The 770 is based on the TI OMAP 1710. The OMAP contains two cores, one of which is ARM 9 based. The processor also runs at 233 MHz. The 770 also contains considerably more memory than the X5 Entry's 32MB of RAM and 32MB of flash. Yet, in spite of these differences, the X5 out performs the 770 with regards to application startup and overall application use. For the closes apples-to-apples comparison I could find (and I admit it's not that close), I installed Opera's mobile browser (version 8.5 beta 2) on the X5, and surfed the web with it. Ignoring the X5's smaller screen resolution for the moment (240 x 320), the browsers startup and subsequent page loading were much faster than the 770. And this was using the Dell 802.11b compact flash WiFi adapter vs. the 770's built-in 802.11g adapter. And that's using my Linksys WRT54GS for both.

Malign Microsoft all you want, but Windows Mobile is optimized for the hand-held and runs quite well on that type of machine. Linux, (kernel and support libraries), is not. It might compile and run, but from what I've experienced it does not run well. And if it does not run well then it doesn't matter the depth of the applications that can run on the device or how 'pretty' they look. I have hopes that Nokia will address the related issues of performance and stability on the 770. Until it does, the 770 is little more than a promising technical demo.

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