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Nokia going Windows. Share price going south. February 11, 2011

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility.
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Not much to say about this. One only needs to read the comments of developers following the announcement that Nokia completely "changes strategy", hand-to-hand with Microsoft. I guess most people expected that, ok, Nokia will test the waters and develop some Windows devices. Or at least that was my assumption. Unfortunately, such close partnership is quite reasonably expected to kill Symbian (which would be ok IMHO), Qt and Meego altogether. Microsoft is not known for its affection towards competitors. The PR talk by Nokia is not convincing.

I guess, it’s not only developers who are not convinced. During the day, Nokia’s share price in the DAX fell by some 14%:

Nokia DAX share price diagram

At NYSE, as we speak, the share price falls by some 16%:

Nokia NYSE/NASDAQ share price diagram

Clever move to go Microsoft, guys. Everyone has lots of faith in this, as you see.

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The upcoming WebOS ecosystem February 10, 2011

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility.
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I was particularly impressed by the HP announcements yesterday, that in addition to a couple of new phones and a tablet based on WebOS, it is also planning desktops/notebooks with the same OS. The main reason being, HP seems to be the second behemoth in a few days that realizes the obvious: Offering a complete ecosystem attracts developers; and a large range of applications attracts users — given, of course, a decent OS in the first place. Apple did this and has been winning the race so far. Microsoft does offer an ecosystem as such, but it doesn’t seem capable to capitalize on it, presumably because the platform/OS itself is not good enough. Android is apparently managing very well on the mobile world, but Google’s proposal on the desktop, ChromeOS, does not integrate on a development level (even though Google’s services make up for that to a large extent). Although this does not hurt Android-phones sales, I believe it is only due to the fact that Android is an open system, so phone manufacturers feel safe to base their businesses upon it.

I really think that WebOS can remain (become?) one of the big players in the future, given this new strategy of HP, its deep pockets, and the system’s quality. If I was a developer, I would be more than happy to create applications for this platform — especially if they have "write once, run everywhere" properties with as little customization as possible.

Hopefully, Nokia will also build on a similar strategy with Meego — even if it must divert towards Windows/Android for a while, to keep the stock holders happy. It would then have the additional advantage of offering an open platform (like Android is) to attract other manufacturers, but compete on device quality where it shines. Revenue from desktop H/W sales would be a bonus.

Steve, I won January 15, 2011

Posted by CK in Mobility, Productivity, Software.
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After spending a considerable amount of time (yes, George, I know) looking at my options and trying various ways to synchronize desktop PIM data with my Nokia E71 phone, I eventually managed to make it work. It wasn’t piece of cake, and it requires running on my laptop some additional services, which I would not otherwise run. But it works. The main problem to deal with, is understanding your options. I tried many different setups with various combinations of Kontact / Evolution / Thunderbird+Lightning / Funambol / SOGo / OpenSync / SyncEvolution. Some of them appear to work for some people, but none worked for me in complete. Some that worked partially were

  1. Evolution + SyncEvolution + Funambol, but unfortunately Evolution was giving me so much pain re: my IMAP severs, that I just couldn’t stay with it;
  2. Thunderbird + SOGo connector + Funambol, but after creating TODOs and events I could not edit them anymore (this is a known bug, which remains unresolved).

Eventually, what worked for me was a combination of Kontact, Citadel, Groupware Sync server (customized Funambol release) and the Funambol SyncML client on the phone (although Nokia’s native client is used underneath and would apparently work directly if I tried it). This setup works almost out of the box (well that’s sort of a euphemism, admittedly); if you want to reproduce it, here’s how to do it:

First, install Citadel. This acts as a bridge between Kontact and Funambol, using GroupDAV on one side, and a Funambol connector on the other. Kontact is a full GroupDAV implementation, and so is Citadel. The alternative is eGroupware, but Citadel’s being fully open with no "upgraded" versions was the key factor to try it first. I never tried eGroupware eventually. The installation of Citadel (from source, as I could not find a Fedora package) was smooth and just happened. Configuration was, more or less, painless.

Then, I created a new KDE standard calendar resource from within System Settings, using GroupDAV and connecting to the local Citadel server. This bypasses akonadi, which has plenty of problems to solve, and is used immediately within Kontact (KOrganizer). Works like a charm. Following that, there was the biggest challenge: Going through akonadi for contacts. Unfortunately, KAddressbook cannot bypass akonadi; using a GroupDAV-based contact store must necessarily go through it. Until I managed to get it right, I had to fight with data store inconsistencies and delayed synchronization, disappearing contacts, and the like. Eventually it worked, when I created the new akonadi addressbook resource via KAddressbook and, before inserting any contacts, I set (via "Folder properties") an "Interval check time" of 2 min, "Local cache timeout" of 5 min. Apparently the exact values are semi-random and don’t play an important role, but it is (I guess) important to deactivate ""Inherit cache policy from parent". Based on the set up described above, contacts are always synchronized without problems, albeit with a delay of up to 5 minutes.

Having completed all that, it was time to install the Groupware Sync server, which was as easy as it gets. It knows where to find the local Citadel installation, and the built-in users are created automatically based on Citadel accounts. So not much more to do on this side either.

The last step was to install the Funambol SyncML client on the phone, and set it up. After some trial-and-error, I got it working. One of the things I had to do was to change the Funambol server’s port from 8080 to 80. As I am not running any other services on that port, it’s ok for me. I guess that eventually it would also work with 8080, if I would commit some more time to figure out the correct settings on the phone.

To make sure there’s a clean start, I removed all contacts and calendar entries from the phone — they were outdated anyway. The Funambol client has an option to do that very easily. Then I chose to synchronize everything, and, voila! My Kontact addressbook and calendar entries made it on the phone.

While using it I found out that addressbook entries are not synchronized when the default phone of the contact is a cell phone number (apparently a bug, it’s ok if it’s declared as a land line), and also that contact photos are not sync’ed (who cares). Perhaps these would be ok with eGroupware, but I’m not interested to change only because of that. Citadel’s appalling web interface? Yes, that could make me switch.

The result is much more important for me than simply synchronizing my PIM data. It means that, to a large extent, I am now safe from lock-in. I am running my PIM using an open integrated solution (Kontact) on an open desktop (KDE) and an open platform (Linux), so I’m safe enough on this side. Citadel is GPL as well, and Funambol is also open source (not sure about the exact license). All are running on my own infrastructure, and the data remains with me. On the phone side, I can use anything with a SyncML client available — and apparently, there’s one for most of the interesting phones/platforms out there. So I could simply switch to a different phone & OS, without caring too much about PIM synchronization. Which is, honestly, a blessing.

I’d love to hear if this article solved similar problems for you, so just leave a comment if you find it useful!

The linux-on-laptop experiment October 13, 2010

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility, Personal, Productivity.
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Eight months ago, I made a pledge: My next laptop would be running on some Linux distribution. Exclusively. At the time, I received various comments, incl. a user satisfaction curve that foresaw disaster. Yesterday evening the pledge became a reality, and it remains to be seen if the curve will also become one.

After also advising with Ubuntu’s “certified hardware” list, I went for a Dell Latitude E6410. The laptop itself is quite fine, but of course from a design point of view there’s nothing to compare with the Macbook; the latter wins hands-down. Having said that, who cares.

Installing Kubuntu 10.10 from a CD was pain, to some extent. The problem apparently has to do with the graphics card, and it took me some time before I find the respective bug report. Thankfully, there was also a seemingly simple solution which worked perfectly well. Eventually Kubuntu installed and (almost) everything worked fine out of the box. I’m quite impressed with how polished it is, and I am mostly impressed with the new default browser, Reconq. It’s dead-simple and, being webkit-based, it renders fast and without problems.

The only problems I currently have are a non-fully-functional trackpad (smart scrolling doesn’t work), and lack of thermal sensor information — which I understand is a problem with Dell and Linux across the board. I can live with both. All of wifi, bluetooth, camera, graphics*, audio, power management (suspend to RAM/disk), etc, work fine. I haven’t tried the fingerprint sensor.

Overall, I’m very happy with my choice, although it’s certainly too early for safe conclusions (and I still regret that I paid for all that MacOSX software which I now put aside). I’ll keep you posted how it goes.

Update (already): Rekonq doesn’t like WordPress. My post was sent in half. Time for the fox.

Onyx Boox 60, update May 24, 2010

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility, Productivity.
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I’m loving it.

After a week of using it, I haven’t regretted the purchase at all. PDF compatibility is spectacular, so the main criterion is fully covered. The screen performed very well under all circumstances, even strong daylight (although, it would be nice for dim-light reading if it would be slightly brighter). Reflections are marginal and definitely not an issue. Controls are very intuitive, and the software covers for everything. The touch screen works very well, accurately and is very responsive for e-ink. Judging from other e-readers I’ve seen, this one is definitely in the fast lane. As regards the size of the screen, which is quite small, if you are reading in landscape mode and zoom to selection, it’s totally fine (at least by my standards). Portrait just doesn’t work for normal PDF papers (which is my main use case), especially double-column is completely unreadable. Finally, the included case is very nice indeed, good quality and holds/protects the reader beautifully.

The only thing that needs to be fixed, is to memorize screen offsets when leaving a document. Although not a major problem, it’s a hassle to re-adjust margins every time.

I also experienced a crash within the week, but I assume the firmware is still maturing. Not a problem, really.

Onyx Boox 60 May 17, 2010

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility.
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Being sick of waiting for the Que and shocked by its price tag, I decided to look out there for something else. It took a lot of page views to find the right one, but I think I eventually did. This morning I received the Boox 60 e-book reader by Onyx. It is the same product you can also find re-branded as the BeBook Neo.

Pros: The screen is fairly good to look at (albeit too small, I’ll get to that in the “cons”). Construction feels good and solid. PDF rendering is superb (it was the main reason I chose it, they are partnering with Adobe). Reflowing documents works like a charm. Overall, my first impressions are very positive.

Cons: 6 inches is definitely not enough to read full-page documents. This can be largely improved by switching to landscape viewing, increasing font size, or zooming a lot. The problem with increasing font sizes is that, due to text reflowing, images are not being displayed anymore — or at least not in the PDF I was looking at. Also, some settings are often reset, maybe I’ve missed something though.

I haven’t tested yet things like the WiFi, playing MP3s and the like. I’ll get back with a more complete review after a few days of using it.

Apple no more February 21, 2010

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility, Personal.
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Apple is becoming a real pain.

On the iPhone, they decided users cannot be trusted with changing their phone battery. They also decided, no one installs anything unless Apple gets a premium out of it. More recently, they decided that noone has a right to choose even the content on their ridiculously expensive iPhone, even if willing to pay for that, unless Apple says so.

And it’s not only the iPhone. On the newest Macbooks, users can’t change the battery either — a worldwide first. My Macbook’s battery is useless after 20 months of use; literally, yesterday my laptop switched off without any warning whatsoever, while the battery indicator was at 80% or so. And that was 20 months of careful use. Thankfully, I have the previous model and I can just buy a new battery, but if I had the latest one, I’d have to part with the laptop for a considerable number of days, and that’s only because Apple says so.

I had recently decided to upgrade to an iPhone (Android-based phones came a close second). But looking at where Apple is going, also taking the iPad into account, I decided that this is not going to happen. As a matter of fact, although I had decided in the past that I’m not going back to other (existing at the moment) operating systems on the laptop, now I’ve changed my mind. Openness is not just a philosophical issue, it’s a real matter of freedom. I have been using Linux and FreeBSD on various laptops in the past for a long time, and it’s clearly time I return to that practice. Apple desperately wants to lock us in, and Google desperately wants our data, so it’s not Chromium or Android either. With both companies preparing for the mother of all IT battles for advertisements on mobile platforms, I don’t want to be part of it. Any platform whose defaults I can’t override, is not good enough.

So my current plan, as soon as I finish with my academic obligations and as long as things remain the same until then, is to convert to different hardware and some Linux distribution. On the mobile end, I will wait for Nokia’s update to N900; Meego sounds promising.

I only regret the hundreds of euros I spent on software for the Mac OS, and feel sorry I’ll have to part with some favorites such as Things, Journler , BibDesk andOmniGraffle.

The iPad, a lifestyle device. January 27, 2010

Posted by CK in Design, IT, Mobility.
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Ok, to recap:

  • No camera
  • No notifications
  • No multitasking
  • No phone calls
  • No Adobe Flash
  • The keyboard was nice and can make a difference (i.e. tempt people to replace their desktop with the iPad + keyboard)

Nice for couch surfing, maybe reading books if that’s your thing on a computer screen and you’re not longing for e-Ink. In general I’m not impressed, and assume it is mostly Apple loyals who will buy it, people to say “I have an iPad”, and gamers. It has potential to be a great gaming device.

Personally speaking, I use a Macbook Pro and would like to get an iPhone, but I can’t see the iPad filling in any gaps for me.

The joys (not) of searching for a new phone December 24, 2009

Posted by CK in Mobility.
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I have already mentioned in the past that I am not too fond of my Nokia E71. Practically since I bought it, I’m thinking of selling it and buying something else. These days, being the fool that I am for nice new toys and Christmas presents to myself, I thought of looking at my options. From the beginning, I have written off all types and incarnations of Windows for mobile devices as well as Symbian and anything building on it. I looked at various phones, and here are my conclusions.

The first phone I checked and liked after playing with it a bit, was the Samsung Jet (S8000). I liked using it quite a lot: The interface was prompt and beautiful (although I know others despise the inconsistencies in the TouchWiz 2 UI, for me it wasn’t really a problem). I initially thought it was Android-based, it turns out it is using Samsung’s proprietary OS. Samsung is about to release Bada, an open platform that I presume is basically this currently-proprietary OS opened up. Until that happens though, and until it attracts enough developers, the owners of the Jet are constrained to the applications that Samsung releases for the device with its firmware upgrades (plus J2ME applications). In the times of Apple Store, Android Market, and Palm App Catalog, this is a serious limitation. So I had to move on.

Then I looked at the Palm Pre. I’ve been a loyal fun of Palm devices for more than 10 years now, so I was very excited when it came out. It’s available in Germany, and I could even do with the QUERTZ keyboard, if it supported the Greek language (which, to the best of my understanding, it does not yet). This is an immediate show-stopper, so that’s out of the list too.

The iPhone and Android-based choices are basically the only options by now. I find the former to be terribly expensive, and I am much bothered by the way customers are tied up: No replaceable battery, no memory extensions, device sold only by specific telecom providers. I have been spoiled by option so far, and I have a serious moral problem with getting myself restricted in such a manner. On the other hand, it has the most complete application list by 3rd party developers, it synchronizes seamlessly with Mac OS X which I am currently using, and it offers a beautiful, consistent user experience.

From the various Android devices out there, the HTC Hero is quite nice and complete, and the price is reasonable for what it offers (still not cheap though). I also like how Android is open, but on the same time I am much bothered by its strong ties to Google and things I’ve been reading about how one can’t get rid of this integration. Unfortunately, I had no chance so far to take a close look and see if these phones are actually usable without a Google account. The Android Market also seems to be catching up with the Apple Store as regards applications, although still a different league. One issue about the Hero in specific, is that it’s more than 6 months old and is about to be replaced — typical HTC release cycle…

So at the end, I’m still trying to decide between the two (iPhone and Hero), or maybe just wait. Ideally, I’d like something as complete as the iPhone, and as liberal as the Android-based phones, minus the strong coupling with Google services. It feels like one is going after my money, the other one after my data, and I don’t like any of the two.

Maybe I should just forget about 🙂

Plastic Logic’s Que December 13, 2009

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For the last few weeks, I’ve been contemplating about buying an ebook reader. Seeing the Kindle ad every time I was visiting Amazon, certainly helped a lot. The truth is, I’ve collected a large amount of books and papers over the last few years, and I’ve only read a small percentage of them. There are two important reasons: Lack of time, and the fact that I don’t like carrying books around — my backpack is already very heavy with the laptop et al. Although the problem of time would not be solved, an electronic reader would certainly help as regards the mobility of reading material.

The price of Kindle is now at $US 259, quite attractive indeed, and the approaching Christmas made the temptation stronger. Although I arrived twice at the checkout screen, I eventually decided I should do some more research. I’m glad I did. Kindle’s support for PDF is unfortunately suboptimal (granted, PDF’s static nature doesn’t help to deliver the reading experience that Amazon has achieved for its own digital format), and all my reading material is PDF-based. Especially for papers this is a problem; I’ve read many reports saying that the conversion to Kindle’s native format leaves a lot to be desired when formulas and tables are involved.

So I set out to find something better for reading PDF documents. I don’t care about wireless delivery and the such. Eventually I found that the offerings of Irex are currently the closest to what I need. A choice between 8.1” and 10.2” displays, native PDF support and a touch screen you can use for notes and annotations! Nevertheless, the price is just too large. The cheapest product costs 540 euros, which is more than double the price of Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and basically pretty much anything else there exists out there. Also, they all are quite heavy, apparently (430g for the Iliad, more than half a kilo for the Digital Reader).

So I kept searching, and stumbled onto a product still unreleased, but about to be officially presented (on Jan 7): The QUE, by Plastic Logic. This is brand new technology, and the QUE is the first product to feature it. This video from All-Things-Digital made me drool; the device is super-thin, apparently very light, and the display seems to be at least on par with everything else. I hope they price it reasonably too!