Friday, March 20, 2009

Something for the Whiner (Actual GNOME Content!)

I presented at Open Source in Mobile USA in San Francisco last week on different approaches to mobile device development--pretty successfully, I guess, from the reaction, although maybe people were applauding because they were just happy that they were finally getting to go to lunch.

At any rate, one of the more interesting things I saw at OSiM was a selection of netbooks running to 1.0.1 version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix, courtesy of Canonical. On the strength of that, I ran over to the Best Buy in Capitola and picked up an HP Mini 1030NR for a little over $300. It came with "Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition for Ultra Low Cost PCs" (no kidding) pre-installed, and I booted XP exactly once before I slammed UNR into it. It works flawlessly: installation was smooth as silk, WiFi, Bluetooth, trackpad, etc., all work perfectly, no tweaking needed. It's a pretty impressive device, given the price, and--for the part of my day that consists of email and web stuff, i.e. a fair amount of it--it's just fine. I guess if I had an immediate critique it's that the "remix" seems to mainly consist of a different desktop launcher and a patch that maximizes all app windows and changes the tab structure. I'm going to give it a few weeks and a fuller review; I also plan to try the Moblin v2 alpha on it as well, and will report back on that, too.

Netbooks are an interesting kind of interim device; I suspect that they may be displaced by actual "mobile internet device"-style tablets as time goes on, but I guess we'll see. It's definitely a very handy sort of a device to have when I travel, I expect, and I may well leave the MacBook at home on my upcoming trip to London, but we'll see...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Notebook Pr0n

Having spent a year or three experimenting with digitally capturing stuff that would ordinarily be handwritten (on Newtons, via Graffiti on various Garnet OS devices, on various Windows Tablet PCs, etc.), I've always come back to the conclusion that paper and writing implements have been around for millennia because they just work. Digital devices (for capture, as opposed to retention and access) still don't really have it over paper, in my book (so to speak).

I mentioned recently that I'd come across an interesting organizer system from Germany called an "X47". I managed to suffer through the web site's German-only, excruciatingly slow back-end and ordered some stuff from them, which finally arrived this last Monday. In short, it's fabulous stuff.

I got an A6-sized leather notebook, and a number of different inserts. What's unique about this system is that, rather than using a ring binding, this uses a system where the binder has three pairs of pins, one of which is spring-loaded:

The inserts, which come in a variety of styles, have a metal tube stapled into the spine, which fits into the pins:

This arrangement has several happy side-effects: the amount of available writing space is increased to the full page, since there aren't rings and holes taking up space, the width of the spine is reduced to a minimum, and you can use the page opposite your writing hand without having rings in the way. The variety of insert types encourages you to design your own organizer: I've got a one-day-per-page insert for my calendar, a "databank" insert (12 tabbed 6-page sections, good for collecting project-related "next steps"), and a lined insert (which I use for my "Autofocus" list).

Apparently, it's possible to buy this stuff retail in Amsterdam, so I'll be checking that out toward the end of next month while I'm there for a meeting sponsored by FSF-Europe. It's not cheap, but it's really well-made and the design is incredible. The same company makes a more inexpensive line, the X17, which uses rubber bands looped over the spine rather than the pin-and-tube arrangement of the X47.

The system comes in three sizes, A5 (too big), A7 (too small) and A6 (just right!) The A6 binder I got fits quite nicely in the back pocket of a pair of Levi's and has two ribbon markers as well as a number of business-card-sized pockets.

Every once in a while, you come across something that's just perfectly conceived and executed. This product gets my vote.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"It Never Ends!"

I gave a presentation at eComm on "Governance for Mobile OSs" this past week, I think the audience enjoyed it, especially after the droning quality and inability to finish within the timespan allotted shown by some of the previous presentations. One of the issues I pointed out was that developers face, particularly in developing for the iPhone, huge uncertainties that they cannot resolve independently.

The biggest of these has to do with Apple's position as the unappealable gatekeeper for the store. Developers, as shown by quotes last week, are understandably concerned at "keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the best" after having sunk considerable design and development time into their application, knowing full well that Apple can give them the "Thumbs-down" for any reason, or none at all, and that--having done so--they won't spare a second's effort to discuss it with them or even tell them what the issue is.

So (as I actually predicted some time ago), extra-curricular "iPhone App Stores" are springing up, according to a story reported initially by the Wall Street Journal. Apple's threatening to play the DMCA card to stop jailbreakers--although reports are that at least one of the non-Apple stores won't require a jailbroken iPhone to install apps--but it remains to be seen how that's likely to play out.

In a story from yesterday, iPhone developers are "tearing their hair out" over the growing delay in getting applications approved for the iPhone App store: the wait has gone from a matter of days to months, even for free applications. And, of course, Apple doesn't return calls. And, not surprisingly, "developers, who are increasingly being discouraged by a process that in many cases prevents them from getting their first real foothold in the App Store. Without clear signs that Apple is addressing the problem, companies and individuals alike are questioning whether they should continue to produce iPhone apps in the first place." (My emphasis)

Like I keep telling people, it's a big world, and "Who's winning the mobile space?" won't be decided for a good, long time. Situations like the one detailed about show the downside of Apple's store model. Developers are clearly looking for a platform that treats them better...