Thursday, September 29, 2011

Choosing an Android smartphone

This is in response to a comment at the end of a previous post asking what smartphone to buy.
There is no point of me saying such-and-such model is good because these things change all the time. Like anything else, it that depends on what you want to use it for. Gaming, Social Media (Facebook-ing), just checking mail or an attempt to replace your PC.
Three elements make up a smartphone.
  • The phone
  • The apps
  • The service or carrier

The physical attributes of the phone is a very personal preference. Some like a big screen, others want a keyboard. Some are looking for HDMI output, others want a phone small enough for their purse or fanny pack. Nothing beats going to the shops and holding one in your hand. Choice is what Andriod users have in abundance.
The apps that can run are important especially if you can't live without Macromedia Flash and Firefox. Some don't care. What you do need to know are the quirks about the particular Andriod version. Version 2.1 can't run apps stored on the SD card (argh! Palm Pilot flashback!), Version 2.2 is what I use but you may demand the latest and greatest, Gingerbread (V2.3). Any limitation to the apps is tied to the particular phone. Like Flash is looking for phones with an ARM7 processor (or so I am told). Don't settle for 2.1 unless you intend to root the phone and install custom ROMs. In that case, find the cheapest and good luck. Try not to skimp on memory because there is this quirk that even though you have tons of free space and apps on the the SD card, the apps installed do eat up phone memory too, even if it is on the SD card.
Another aspect is what apps are available specifically for a phone. I love that my phone has both a tethering (able to connect PC to phone and use it as a modem) and portable hotspot options. Apparently not every phone has and not all carriers allow this. Some apps a dependent on the phone features itself, like an enhanced music player. So as you are looking, notice the unique features each phone has.
Finally, you may or may not care about service and what phones are available for what service. Remember it is a phone so coverage is important. For Malaysia, rule of thumb is Digi is the cheapest but with the worst network. Don't be surprised if you're just out of the city area and left with GPRS. In town, Digi is great. Celcom has the largest network but they charge an arm and a leg for unlimited data. Don't know about Maxis, though.From their website, they are about the same as Celcom. Think about where you live and what is the coverage like. But if you are connecting mainly via Wifi you may not care as much.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

HP seeking new directions for WebOS? Here's some.

Why do I care for WebOS? Mainly because it is the continuation of Palm. I want to see another personal computing pioneer who has done so much innovation in the mobile / handheld computing space to survive and reap it's rewards. Palm has done so much to survive and grow in the face of challenges including change when change was required. Not too many  have survived in the way they have. WebOS may not be recognizable as something from Palm to their users of a decade ago, but it is an evolution that Palm undertook to continue to innovate and change to where they wanted the technology to be. Too many people think Microsoft and Apple were the only companies that did anything to advance the personal computer. Even tech journalists, especially sloppy ones, don't even acknowledge Palm's place in history as the first popular handheld consumer computing device. Even fewer know about PenPoint OS from Go Corporation, the pioneer in pen-based tablet computing. They were supposed to introduce a tablet PC in the early 90s but were FUDed out by Microsoft. This resulted in a wait and see attitude by developers and users. And we know how successful that Windows Pen Computing was. And Windows tablets. So what did GO left us? Think of this, without Go, we would have never have had Flash.
Ok, here a few ideas...

If you have gotten this far, chances are you aren't from HP. But if you are thinking about buying or licencing WebOS, here a few ideas I am sharing.

Licence it out 
What is Apple's business model? They sell premium priced hardware. Their OS is designed to take advantage of the hardware to the max since they control exactly what they are. The don't charge for the OS separately so the development cost for it is fixed and one-time (sorta). The more Macs they sell, don't translate in to more software sales. But the more hardware they sell (PCs, tables, phones) the more their revenue. They do also get a cut from things they sell on their marketplaces but the model is still the same, more sold means more profit. More tablets sold is like more store fronts being opened. That is their strength.
That dependency on hardware sales is also it's weakness. They rely on the software to sell premium priced hardware. Hardware-wise they are no different than most PCs. In fact, the same hardware specs costs a lot less in the PC world. To counter Apple, take the opposite direction but with the same intention. Sell more hardware and make WebOS a driver for consumers to buy more hardware. That means cheaper hardware with the same performance. Focus on blanketing the market first and then break it into low-end, mid-end and premium hardware segment. Build a low-cost, easy to build model for the masses and exclusive, blinged-out, celebrity endorsed versions for the trendy.
For example, make WebOS work on a commodity platform like the numerous no-name Android-compatible tablets platforms. Then licence it to any Tom, Dick and Harry (or Chen, Wong and Lee). Those hardware manufacturers would love another OS for their hardware platform because it will sell more of their hardware. Think Microsoft in the 80s when they sold the OS on IBM PCs to other manufacturers.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcome to!

Looking at the past few posts (and the pile in draft), I have come to the realization that my posts are no longer limited to my linux adventures anymore. A few commentary crept in and now is the most read around. To do the title justice, I've decided to rename this site to Here some of the changes you can expect to see:

  • More commentary posts, my take on current tech news and trends that affect me
  • Better tagging, specifically two sets of tags on the side, one by topic and other by category. So if you are here for the linux stuff, there will be a linux tag for you filter the posts.
  • More graphics and links to external posts and videos
Well, that enough for now. The changes are going to be gradual, staring with the site name and title. Comments are always welcome.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

HP split is nothing like IBM's

Senior management at HP are probably wondering what is the noise surrounding about HP saying that they are interested in selling off / reviewing their PC division. It's not like something on this scale wasn't done before. Didn't IBM do it and walked away stronger than before?
I think they need a reality check.
When IBM sold off it's PC division, there wasn't as much noise although it was a major event. But they did it after an extremely long process. Analysts were telling IBM to sell it's PC division since the mid-90s, possibly even earlier. We all now know from the stock market crash, how valuable advice from analysts are. IBM in the past recognized the value of the IBM PC brand and the need to keep that front and center. In front of executives and right in the center of the table. That money losing brand was the 'public face' of the large servers and networks in the data center, where few are allowed to go. The large and profitable server and networks business and services. This was a time when computers were becoming even more prevalent in business in general, beyond the previous domain of enterprises. Having the brand on the desktop was still important. It says something about your business when you can afford to be using IBM desktop PCs instead of other brands. So it balances out in the end. Lou Gerstner, IBM's CEO at the time saw it's value but realized the inevitable. He put in place the process to split the PC division before he left and it was completed only a few years afterwards.
What made IBM successful is that although they are a large corporation, they understood the process of making sales. The tech guys would come up with great products, the sales people would shake hands and push the products out to the customer, the senior executive would bring the CEO of the customer out for golf. That basic concept of focusing on getting Job Number 1 hasn't changed even though the products and technology has. In the end, this commitment to the customer is now the main IBM brand, not the PC.
And what tech! Those original IBM PCs were built tough like tanks. I have had IBM keyboards that last longer than the PC it came with. When it came time for them to sell to Lenovo, IBM made sure Lenovo continued carrying on that tradition. I still have old-timers call their Lenovo laptops, IBM laptops (talk about brand loyalty). I don't blame them. The hardware are still built tough. I don't see that kind of brand loyalty with HP. [Full disclosure: I just realized my 4 year-old PC under the table is a Lenovo. Great service: I've had two motherboards and a hard disk replaced on-site with no questions asked]
HP is not chopped liver but my experience with them are still a mixed bag. They make good hardware but the term "good service" doesn't automatically come to mind. It is spotty at best, with some products better supported than others. A tell tale sign? After HP Networking bought 3Com, you have to have a support contract to get access to previously free software or firmware, often the same software that came free on a CD with equipment (which usually is lost within the first few days). Contrast that to the experience accessing HP printer drivers, where software, often updated drivers are free even after the warranty of the product runs out. And guess which one I had to pay more for?
Splitting up is also not alien to HP. HP used to be even more spread out in terms of technology. It used to have business units doing medical imaging, telecommunication networking, semi-conductors and scientific test equipment. These were spun-off into Agilent Technologies so that HP could focus on servers, storage and computing. Looking at Agilent's history could give a clue as to how HP might look like down the road. Agilent began life as an 8 billion dollar company in 1999. 10 years later, it is worth slightly less. In that time, it has sold off it's medical equipment, semiconductor and network test equipment divisions, focusing on the scientific equipment market. It seems to have a policy on increasingly narrowing it's focus in pursuit of sustainability and profits. Will the to-be-split HP Personal Computing unit become like this? First splitting then shedding it's low-profit computer divisions until all that is remaining is the printer unit? Is this the first step on that road?
Motorola also split into two to allow each company to focus on it's own market. Each are doing well enough. Motorola Mobility is being purchased by Google (for a much more complex reason than purely financial). I am going to take a leap here and say that the Motorola split and the HP-Agilent split was about technology and focus on markets. It is about a company that has too many of them to manage and decided it would be better off to split itself up to focus their resources on their specific markets. This proposed HP split is more about what the direction of the CEO is, not about technology. HP PC division wasn't losing money, just not making enough profit. The litmus test is whether they sell off the printer division. If the split was about technology, it would also sell off the profitable printer division which is in the consumer half of the consumer-enterprise split. They may have to include it as part of the PC division to make it attractive. But why would you sell the goose that is laying the golden eggs? Customers, myself included, will see this as HP turning it's back on us.
HP is not a stranger to bad decisions. Come on, this is the company that turned down the Woz's Apple 1. But the way that the announcements were made about the fate of the WebOS tablets and the possibility of selling off the PC division is very suspect. You can look at it one of two ways. Either HP was trying to appease the markets by ditching a low performing unit whose operating profit was 5.7% (and a mere 38 billion in revenue) or it has been working on it some time ago as part of a broader plan to make over the company into something that the CEO better understands. HP's current CEO is from the financial and enterprise world, previously in SAP. The consumer market is probably something he just doesn't want to deal with.
Like in my previous post, it really makes me feel old when I see things like this happen again.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mandriva or Mageia?

I've been putting this off long enough. I am a long time Mandriva user from the days of Mandrake. Not exclusive, of course. It's the distro I use at home and on my laptop at work. I promote it to novices and other Linux users alike. I think I use it because it appeals to the lazy part of me. I get things done with little or no hassle. No fireworks. Not too much bling. Not many surprises.
Ever since it was forked into Mageia, I realized that I would soon have to choose. But since there was nothing concrete from the fork, I waited. Then Mageia 1 came out. I waited some more. Now the new Mandriva is out. The updates are getting fewer and father in between for my  Mandriva 2010 Spring. Normally, it is that time when I turn on the backports repo and feed off that while I read the forums about possible show-stoppers. There wasn't much in the last few releases. So I think there shouldn't be much in the way.
I guess the real question is, how do I choose which one. I use Gnome on Mandriva, so there is that Gnome 3 choice also. After see-sawing back and forth I've decided to burn LiveCds of both to kick the tires a bit.  Only Mandriva doesn't have that anymore. And they only support KDE with a new tablet like interface.
The Mandriva upgrade instructions look frightening, largely because the English is confusing.

When you use --download-all option urpmi will download all the packages first and then begins to install all of them. It is strongly recommended option for migration to a new release with urpmi. It is used to provide reliable update, you need to download and update a lot of packages. If you do not use this option and during update process you face Internet connection problems, you will get a very bad situation when only part of system will be updated, that will result in problems with correct system working.

I'm having nightmares about my former Russian  math tutor repeating that to me again and again. Signs of influence from the Russian investors?
Not everything is going against Mandriva. There is no PLF in Mageia, so I'll need to figure out how that works out for me.
This is one of those times I want to shout out, " I HAVE A GREAT SYSTEM. I CUSTOMIZED IT AND IT WORKS FOR ME. WHY DO I HAVE TO KEEP REINSTALLING AND START OVER?" Especially with stuff like wine setups lying around, upgrades means re-configuring those again.
I find it funny complaining about change. Especially from someone who has probed monitor refresh rates  to configure X windows (Look it up kiddies. There is no more spectacular way to make your monitor into a paperweight).  Change is why I don't have to do that anymore. But I think we have reached a plateau. Hopefully my choices won't lead me to cliff at the end of that plateau.

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