Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apple rocks, Nokia sucks

The Apple iPhone has finally arrived. And boy, does it every look good. The interface is gorgeous, it plays audio and video, it makes phone calls, it surfs the web with a standards-compliant web browser (Safari)... here, let me list what I've found so far.
  1. Wireless: quad-band GSM, Cingular’s EDGE network, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR.
  2. Accelerometer: detects when you rotate the device from portrait to landscape, then automatically changes the contents of the display, so you immediately see the entire width of a web page or a photo in its proper landscape aspect ratio.
  3. Proximity sensor: detects when you lift iPhone to your ear and immediately turns off the display to save power and prevent inadvertent touches until iPhone is moved away.
  4. Ambient light sensor: automatically adjusts the display’s brightness to the appropriate level for the current ambient light, thereby enhancing the user experience and saving power at the same time.
  5. OS X: a fully multi-tasking embedded version that supports true desktop-class applications and software, including rich HTML email, full-featured web browsing, and applications such as widgets, Safari, calendar, text messaging, Notes, and Address Book.
  6. Intelligent touch display: lets you control everything using only your fingers. So you can glide through albums with Cover Flow, flip through photos and email them with a touch, or zoom in and out on a section of a web page — all by simply using iPhone’s multi-touch display.
  7. Video: Real honest-to-Betsy video. No jitter, no halts, fully synchronized with sound. And what you like to watch from TV shows.
  8. Audio: It comes form iTunes, and requires iTunes to set it up. If it's still using AAC and DRM, then it's inferior to MPEG. Oh well.
  9. Storage: four or eight gigs of FLASH storage built-in.
What does the Nokia N800 give us (and we won't even waste our time to look at the brain-dead Nokia 770)?
  1. Wireless: 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.0. Woopee. That means you get to struggle finding a hotspot, especially if you're moving around town.
  2. Accelerometer: nope. If you want to take advantage of potrait vs. landscape, it's totally dependent on the application, just like with the 770. It's already in landscape, so I guess 50% is better than none.
  3. Proximity sensor: nope. You get to set the brightness of the screen on your own, and if you use the better-placed microphone to make phone calls, then you better make sure you fat face doesn't touch any keyboards that happen to be up at the time.
  4. Ambient light sensor: nope.
  5. OS X: nope. Instead you get Nokia's hacked version of Linux. Now Linux in and of itself is not bad. But shoe-horning Linux into the N800 along with an X server and Hildon, the UI based on Gnome, gives you something that pales compared to the UI on the iPhone. Go ahead. Find all the pretty pictures of the N800, then go to the iPhone section of Apple, and compare. The N800 comes up mighty short. And those fabulous N800 applications. You get Opera's browser, but version 8, not the version 9 currently shipping on just about everything else. You can make VoIP phone calls, but only if you can get an 802.11 hookup. I can't say for certain, but based on my 770 experiences I'm willing to bet good money that the N800 applications can't even touch the overall quality of the iPhone. They won't even come close.
  6. Intelligent touch display: nope. More like a dumb-ass touch display. I've had my taste of the Nokia display via the 770. No thanks, I've had enough.
  7. Video: you must be joking. No, seriously. If you want to see what the Nokia video playback is like, then gaze at this example of an N800 lamely playing a YouTube video on YouTube. By the way, the clip the N800 is poorly playing is SNL's "Lazy Sunday" parody of "The Chronicles of Narnia".
  8. Audio: the only thing that comes out half-way decent. It plays MP3s, and you can just drag and drop them onto the device. Better than an iPod and iTunes.
  9. Storage: you must be joking. First of all, the bare N800 comes with 256MB. It has two slots for up to two (count 'em, two) MiniSD-compatible slots, for up to 2GB each. That gives you 4GB of storage. And you gotta go hustle up the cards, because it only comes with a single 128MB (yes, MB) MiniSD card in the box.
  10. Built-in video camera. The one thing that the N800 seems to do well is the built-in video camera. I say seems, because what little I have seen it in action doesn't allow me to make a recommendation one way or the other.
  11. Freedom. The Linux zealots will tell you that the Linux-based N800 gives you freedom as in speech, as well as in beer. Well, to quote Kris Kristofferson's "Me & Bobby Mcgee", "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." What good is free when it's a distant second best? Especially when you have to pay $400 for the device to enjoy said freedom?
The Apple iPhone costs $500 for the 4GB version or $600 for the 8GB version. You can only use it with Cingular, which is a bummer for me since I use (and like) T-Mobile.

If nothing else, I can see why Nokia kept a low-profile and just shipped the N800. The N800 looks damn poor when compared to the iPhone. I don't know how Nokia knew, but they must have had some indication that the N800 was going to come up real short when compared with the iPhone. I learned my lesson well with the 770. I won't be buying the N800. I got better ways to spend $400; add another $100 to it and get an iPhone.

SLED 10 falls down, finally stands up with KDE

I run Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 on my system at work. That system is a Boxx system built around an AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 (2.6 GHz socket 939) and an ASUS motherboard. When I first got my hands on it the machine was loaded with Suse 9.3 for AMD64. I proceeded to load Open Suse 10.1 and then SLED 10.

The SLED 10 installation was very smooth and uneventful. I "enhanced" the installation by following the directions on the Jem Report, "Hacking SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10." I was able to pick up Java 5 as well as add development tools such as gcc that are not included in the base distribution from Novell. It should be noted I downloaded the SLED 10 DVD ISO from Novell, and installed from that. After installing the bits via the new repositories, I downloaded and installed the nVidia graphic driver from .

SLED 10 worked flawlessy until right before I left for Christmas holiday. I installed some new kernel updates that must have wiped out the older kernel it was replacing during the update, and consequently removed the nVidia driver as well. I found this out when I switched on the machine this past Monday, and the X system promptly crashed to a text prompt on start up.

People like to bash Windows, but I've never, and I mean absolutely never, had a problem like this with any version of Windows, and I've used Windows going back to version 1.03. If there was a problem with a graphics driver, Windows simply degraded to a 640 x 480 or 800 x 600 resolution screen with 16 colors, depending on the graphics chip in the system. That degraded mode still gave me control of the Windows system and made it easy to fix the graphics driver problem with the graphics tools (and I eventually always did).

This issue has happened more than once to me with Suse, and it's also happened with other distributions I've run, such as Fedora. This type of problem gives Linux in general a bad name, and makes you think twice about trusting an 'Enterprise' distribution such as SLED in an enterprise situation. I can understand this issue cropping up with a bleeding-edge distro like Open Suse (well, no, not really, after all this time), but it should never, absolutely never, happen to an 'Enterprise' distribution. The X server should be enhanced such that if it can't use the driver specified in the configuration file then it should attempt to run in a degraded mode, instead of just messily dying in front of the user.

Since I've been in this exact situation before, I knew what to do. I found the original nVidia shell file I'd originally used and re-ran it with the '--update' command-line switch. Sure enough, it downloaded and installed the latest nVidia graphic driver, and I was able to restart the X server.

Unfortunately something else got broken. I was able to log into the Gnome desktop, but something else had scuttled the Gnome window manager. I got the graphic desktop and the applications started up, but no window decorations around the applications. With growing anger I spent all of five minutes trying to find out why Gnome was broken. After five fruitless minutes, I logged back out and then changed my desktop to KDE. Then I logged back into a fully working KDE desktop.

I've included a few screenshots of KDE on SLED 10. For the most part it looks almost as good as KDE on Open Suse 10.2, but it's missing a few features I've really come to enjoy on KDE 3.5.5 and Open Suse 10.2. The Gnome window manager behavior has pretty much killed Gnome for me. From now on its nothing but KDE.

The following is a screen shot showing glxgears and the KDE terminal with some transparency.

Below, just your typical web browser shot showing my website of choice :)

And finally, a shot of Konquorer and the icon on the desktop showing the automatic mount of my slightly dated mini cruzer.

I plan on replacing SLED 10 some time next week with Open Suse 10.2 64 bit. And then I'm going to wait on the next version of SLED and see how it behaves.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's Official: Nokia N800 on Nokia Website


The N800 is selling on the Nokia site, selling along side with the Nokia 770. The price is US$399.

There are more photos of the N800 out, this time courtesy of C|Net. I'm still waiting for the official Nokia announcement at CES.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Nokia N800 is here

There is an actual physical next-generation Nokia web tablet out in the world tonight; it's the N800. I read about it first on OSNews, then followed the link to Linux Devices. There's a collection of photos of the N800 taken at a store in Chicago where the N800 is being sold, posted on Flickr.

There's very little to go on at this point. No technical specifications what-so-ever. Nokia hasn't published anything about the N800, nor has it even announced its availability.

My questions:
  1. Is this the so-called 870/880, or is this the low-end version of an 800 series of devices?
  2. Will Nokia allow a trade-in (or trade-up) from the N770 to the N800?
  3. What are the technical specifications of the device? Does it have more memory and a faster processor than the N770?
Maybe this time the N800 will be more of a real device instead of the hacker come-on of the N770. And if it is a real device (with sufficient resources and processor power) then maybe it'll attract serious main-stream developers instead of the odd-ball fringe that's currently developing toy applications for it.

Update #1

I've just read a post here that gives the following statistics:

Nokia N800 Nokia 770
Processor Some Random V6 Processor rev 2 (v6l) ARM926EJ-Sid(wb) rev 3 (v5l)
BogoMIPS 320.37 125.76
Features swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp java swp half thumb fastmult edsp java
CPU implementer 0x41 0x41
CPU architecture 6TEJ 5TEJ
CPU revision : 2 3
D size 32768 16384
D assoc 4 4
D line length 32 32
D sets 256 128

Hardware Nokia N800 Nokia 770
MemTotal: 127252 kB 62224 kB
MemFree: 46508 kB 5176 kB
Buffers: 256 kB 12 kB

If it has these features then it would be a solid upgrade from the N770. I'm just not happy to spend another $400 to replace a $380 device that's barely 10 months old. Oh well. Sucks to be me.

Update #2

More information and better pictures at CarryPad.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Suse 10.2, part 9: Getting real work done

The youngest is going off to college as an incoming freshman in just a few days. She got a new iMac for Christmas as her college PC. We'd picked it up at a local Circuit City, along with a Canon printer/copier/scanner, a copy of Microsoft Office Student for OS X, and a year's subscription to .mac. We also picked up a 50-disk spindle of blank DVDs and a 50-disk spindle of blank CDROMs. She was going to back up her collection of MP3s and images she's collected and created over the past two years to the iMac. The Windows box had developed a problem with its burner, and she didn't want any more money spent to make the Windows system work. Over time she's grown to despise Windows, and the iMac was her big switch.

Turns out that in spite of the superiority of the iMac and OS X over Wintel (and yes, they are superior), she still needed Dad and his Linux box to actually back up her Windows box and then burn that to DVD. Seems that there's a small learning curve to OS X and she didn't have enough time to figure it all and and make the backups herself. So I backed up her files from her older Windows box to europa, across the home network, and then used K3B on europa to burn the now-local files to DVDs.

The total amount to backup was over 8GB. I organized and configured her Windows box to make it easier to mount the shares on europa, then mounted everything automatically, from europa's desktop, and started the copies with a simple drag-and-drop. Mounting the shares was easy; I clicked on My Computer, which opened Konqueror, clicked Network Folders, then SMB Shares, then Workgroup, then the icon representing her machine. At that point I had access to the folders and files I'd prepped earlier. Then I split the file view vertically on Kong, selected the right for local file access, and opened a view into my home directory. From there it was simply dragging and dropping from the Windows folders to a new empty folder on my machine. Since we're talking 8GB plus, I let it run for a while and went off to do something else.

When it was finished copying I fired up K3B, created a new DVD data project (three would be needed eventually), and then dragged-and-dropped the local files into the K3B project to be burned. K3B is a dream to use, and compares (in my not-so-humble-opinion) to Windows burning tools such as Nero 6 (which I own). I burned 6 DVDs (one set of three for her to take, one to keep here as backup) without creating any coasters.

I have to admit updating my system from packman added considerable polished capability to europa, and it showed during this exercise. K3B was one of the applications that was updated. I've been using the Linux side of europa almost continuously for the past two weeks. I've left the system running continuously as well, whether I'm at the keyboard or not. Everything I care about has settled down and is working smoothly and correctly. Almost as good as a Mac :)