Thursday, December 06, 2012

Xperia Mini Pro with Android 4.0

I had read somewhere that Sony were going back on their promise to make Android 4 or Ice Cream Sandwich available on my Xperia model, the Xperia Mini Pro. This is the small phone with the slide-out keyboard. And since I was mainly running Linux, I didn't bothered to install the Windows-based desktop companion software. 
However, the phone running Android 2.3 had been acting strangely, slowing down mid-app and losing sensitivity on the touchscreen when the battery was below 50%, which was quite often. The last straw was when the home screen started crashing. Of all the things I'd expect Sony to put care into was their home screen app. It was their own software. It is the main thing that all top brand Android phone makers have to differentiate between each other. So I booted into Windows, ran Windows Update (which took a long time because I hadn't booted it up for a long while) and removed the old LG desktop companion software. Several reboots later, I plugged the phone in and installed the companion software without a hitch. I thought may be there would be a patch or something for their home screen software. I was surprised to see the Android 4 update available. I reckoned what the heck, I had time to burn.
Contrary to my experiences with the LG P500 Optimus One and it's companion software, the Sony Xperia version  was very easy to use. It was clear that Sony called upon it's decades of consumer appliance experience in designing the interaction process of the software. It was download, plug-in the phone, wait for it to restart and Android 4 booted up on my phone. 
Well, not exactly. There was one hitch. The software installed a driver while it was trying to communicate with the phone or Windows installed a driver just before the software was about to be uploaded to my phone. Windows told me to reboot to activate the driver which I didn't. I went ahead to try upload the new Android OS. Anxious minutes passed and nothing happened. Finally, a window popped up from the Sony companion software asking me why was it taking so long. It assured me it was safe to unplug and replug in the phone. I did so and still nothing happened. Finally, I decided to follow what Microsoft told me to do and rebooted the PC. I went through the process again and it uploaded the new OS and rebooted in less then 30 minutes. Start to finish, it was slightly less than 2 hours, much of that spent on Windows update and rebooting. Which was much better than the two day horror I went through with the LG P500 upgrade from 2.2 to 2.3. That story will have to wait for another time.
That was about 2 weeks ago. What's the verdict?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Insert a Table of Contents in a Google Doc with LibreOffice

In another post, I told of my troubles with LibreOffice and Outline Numbering and how it stopped me from setting a table of contents in a file I downloaded from Google Drive.  Finally, I successfully inserted a table of contents into a Google Docs document using LibreOffice with the correct page numbering. It's not hard but somewhat tedious. There are basically 4 things you need to do.

Step 1: Setup the document.

Download the Google Doc document as an LibreOffice/OpenOffice .ODT file. It will likely download it into a temp file. Normally, you can't edit that. So save the file somewhere else to allow for editing. Move the cursor top of the page.
Insert a manual break and change the type to Page Break. Then set the Style to be Default. Now change page number to 1.
Again, move the cursor up to top of document.  Press F11 to bring up the Styles and Formatting window. Select the Page Styles icon from the top row and double click on the First Page style.
Just to check, move the cursors between the top of the document and into the other section and back up and check the name of the section on the status bar at the bottom of the window. The top one should say First Page while the one below it should say Default.
For a better way to do it, scroll down to the comments sections and check out Julian's way of doing Step 2 onward.

Step 2: Correct Outline Numbering styles
Click on Tools - >  Outline Numbering to bring up the Outline Numbering window.
Select Level 1 from the list on the left. In the Paragraph Styles section, choose Heading 1.
Now select Level 2 from the list. Under Paragraph Styles, select Heading 2.
Repeat the process for all levels that have an empty Paragraph Sytle.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A tale of Tables of Contents, Google Docs and the Outline Numbering Monster

I love Google Drive. Specifically, I love Google Docs. It gives me what I always wanted. A word processor on demand, whenever, wherever I need it. As long as I'm near a browser. On a PC connected to the Internet.
Both of which is becoming more common by the day.
To tell the truth, I never really pushed Google Docs. I never really asked too much out of it because I never really needed more than a simple word processor. Have you ever been to a Microsoft Word class where they say that 90% of Microsoft Word users never really use more than 30% of it features. I'm one of those 10% of Microsoft Word users. There is not much I haven't done on Word. Frames. Pictures. Multiple Columns. Sections. Cross-references like footnotes and endnotes. Renumbering pages. Hierarchical documents, where a document is made of many documents that other people are writing. I've even done some marcos and VBA. Did you know that holding SHIFT and selecting text with a mouse will select a square block of text, not lines of text. Did you also know that you could set the background of the editing areas to blue. It was a feature to make WordPrefect users feel at home.
Despite all that, I've never asked a lot from Google Docs. I did ask much perhaps because I was still in awe of the ability to have word processor in a browser. A browser!
That changed recently when I did a proposal for a client. Working with other people in different geographical locations in a single document is what Google Docs was made for. No sending files back and forth. No problems of updating different versions of files. Once the document proposal largely completed, it was time to prepare the document to present to the client. The group had been careful to use the proper headings at the correct level. So all that was left was to generate the table of contents and the cover page. I had resigned to the fact that the cover page was going to be in another document. This was because I couldn't put my head around how reset page numbers in Google Docs. Then, when I went ahead and inserted the table of content, the table of contents didn't have any page numbers.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to make a PDF for free with Ghoscript

I few weeks back I faced a problem with PDFs. I needed to combine several PDFs into a single PDF. The solution was to use Ghoscript. (I later found another tool that could do the same). This brought back fond memories of ghostscript and how it introduced me to the concept of "printing to a PDF".
At one time or another we've all been asked how do you make a PDF file. The natural reaction would be that it would require Adobe Acrobat and would cost money. A lot of money for something so trivial. This isn't a problem on Linux because the ability to print to a Postscript file has been around for a long time. Run the file through the ps2pdf program and your done. Nowadays, you don't even have to do that. You can print to PDF straight from CUPS and some programs like LibreOffice even offer the ability to export directly to PDF.
I'd like to share with you how to "print to a PDF" on WindowsXP or even Windows7. Basically, it's creating a PDF file by printing. Except that instead of printing to paper, it becomes a PDF file. This opens up tremendous opportunities. First, any program can create a PDF. So long as it prints on Windows, the program can be used to create a PDF, sort of.
The tool that makes this possible comes from the makers of Ghostscript. Its called RedMon. It redirects the output of a printer and feeds it into another program on Windows. Basically, it takes the output of printer, instead of printing it on paper, and gives it to another program for further processing. This has many uses, if you are creative enough. But it's most useful if you want to create PDFs with ghostscript.
There two ways to do this. The first way is to install Ghostscript and RedMon, create a few files and configure a new printer. It's not terribly technically complicated. The instructions to create a PDF printer using just Ghostcript and RedMon is very clear.
The second method is just as clear although a bit shorter and requires one more program called MakePDF.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

MSI CR650 Review with Linux

Update: I've given up on the proprietary ATI drivers. Read on to find out how to remove the ATI proprietary drivers.

In my previous post, I installed the Ubuntu-powered ZorinOS 6 on my friends notebook. That notebook is the MSI CR650. I've been able to kick it's tires for a while now and I'm sort of impressed.

Let's get one thing straight. This is no screamer. It is an AMD Fusion E-240 CPU powered notebook. It runs at 1.6Ghz and incorporates the AMD Radeon HD6310 GPU which gives it better than average performance than what you would normally expect for a notebook within it's price range. At 2GB of RAM, it is a bit cramped for Windows but great for Linux desktops.
If the specifications look odd, don't worry. Apparently, different regions get different specifications but since the difference is only in the bundled OS (or not), CPU and memory config, MSI didn't bother changing the model number. Minor things, you know. It's the chassis that matters. And if you are buying this variant of the the CR650, you are better off with a Linux distro.
Since ZorinOS 6 is essentially Ubuntu, you can equate my comments to any other Ubuntu variant like Mint or Ubuntu itself.
Most everything runs out-of-the-box. Just keep to the mantra of Install, Update and Reboot before doing anything else and you should be fine. I panicked when the wireless didn't seem to work at first and tried to fix it before the first big update. Wrong. Just let it go, do the Update and Reboot. And then judge.
My advice to anybody buying a notebook, go and buy it yourself at a shop. Pick it up and feel it's weight. The CR650 is a bit on the heavy side. I blame that mostly on the larger-than-most 15.6" screen. Running at max resoution of 1388 x 768, the screen is a beauty, a heavy beauty. The batteries do contribute but not normally more than other notebooks.
The full keyboard took some getting used to. I've used a similarly large HP with a full keyboard before but the CR650's keyboard posed some challenges. Mainly it's keys are not full size, just slightly smaller. Worse, the right shift key was cut in half to make way for the direction keys, which meant I pressed the up arrow key a lot. While the numeric keypad would be useful for someone who needs to enter numbers by the truck-load, I would rather had a full keyboard. Plus, the location of the PgUp and PGDn keys need getting some used to. Special Fn keys all work with the exception of the Eco key which is supposed to change the power usage profile. I don't know whether it works because there is no feedback. Dmesg is silent. Even if it works, I couldn't see any difference. There is a slight lag when pressing the volume keys but not much. The top row special keys next to the power key are all user configurable so you can assign them.
There were some Linux-specific issues faced.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Modify a PDF

I received a comment after my recent post on how to combine PDFs. The result was that I was reminded of another PDF tool called pdftk. It's a command line tool that does a lot of things on a PDF files. You can extract pages, burst the entire PDF into individual PDFs and yes, merge multiple PDFs into a single PDF. So, if I wanted to do the merge the same documents with pdftk, the command would be

pdftk source1.pdf source2.pdf source3.pdf cat output merged.pdf

PDFtk can also encrypt or decrypt a PDF. That means putting or removing password protection.
It can even insert a watermark or a stamp. The difference being is that while a watermark is an image underneath the document text, a stamp is an image or lettering on top of the document. An example for this is  a stamp marked "NULL AND VOID" on a document. But that it not the strangest thing it can do.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Blogger pageviews reset to 0

Update: By all accounts, the pageview count has been restored. No official explanation from Blogger yet. 

I loaded my Blogger dashboard today and saw that all my blogs has their pageview count reset to 0. All of my blogs on Blogger had a pageview count of 0. Nada. Zip.
Yet I am not surprised. There are several reasons why this could have happened.
Let's first get out of the way the idea that crackers got into the Blogger system and reset all pageview counters for all of the blogs. They are several reasons why they would do this. First is for the ego-boost. Defeating Blogger means 'breaking into Google'. They might even enjoy thinking some of the brainpower at Google is now aiming in their general direction. They could also be possibly some Wordpress closet fans offended that Blogger is still around when 'the rest of the world has gone Wordpress'. Joomla and Drupal users, you're next. Perhaps these crackers were upset with Blogger. Why? Read on further down towards the end.
This could also be part of some spring clean-up gone awry. Blogger is known for some problems with dead and old blogs. Did you know that when you create a blog and delete it, the name of the blog can never be used again, ever. If you created, then deleted it because you had a fight with your cat but later wanted to re-create it after both of you patched up, you can't do it. So Blogger is  littered with dead 'space', names of blogs that were deleted and can never be re-used. It's probably time Blogger did something about it. And probably someone deleted one file too many.
Most likely this is the result of Google's response to efforts of gaming and spamming Blogger. I'm not just talking about backlinks buying or blogging groups that commit to visiting each others site a few times a day and clicking on ads. I'm talking about some serious efforts by crackers to pry into the Blogger system. The end game is likely the automated insertion of content into user templates. The content could be links to viruses, drive-by attacks or just phishing attacks. Drive-by attacks are when a malicious program is automatically downloaded when someone opens a web page. They don't have to click anything. It just does it automatically. Phishing attacks is when on a user is given a web page that tries to convinces them to part with valuable information like bank account PIN numbers. Both of these attacks are possible by inserting code into the user template. Now imagine what would happen if they inserted the code into all of the user's blog templates. Or the master template files that is used when you create a new blog.
I've also seeing a form of spamming on Blogger involving referring URLs. A Referring URL is the URL of the site the browser was previously on before it loaded the current URL. It's a fancy way of saying 'the site I was on which had a link to this site'. So, not only did the site had a link to the page or blog, someone actually clicked on the link to get to the page or blog. But since this is reported by the browser, it could really be anything. So some clever souls have been reporting spam URLs as the referring URLs. When a blogger clicks on the links to check who has been linking to their site, it will bring them a spam page or something even more sinister.
If Blogger has done something to prevent that from happening, that might have pissed off some crackers. More likely so if they were making money off from it. So breaking in and resetting everyone's pageview count, and making bloggers everywhere pissed off at Blogger/Google, seems to be a measured response.
It if was them at all. For all we know, it was Blogger who reset the pageview count on purpose. Anybody running Google Analytics on their site knows what I am talking about. The pageview count and the numbers reported by Google Analytics have long been far apart. But in the last few months, they have been growing further and further apart. So Blogger could have upgraded their code that counts pageviews to reflect numbers closer to that of Analytics.
Either way or any reason the pageview count is set to 0, I still love Blogger. I think it is the best platform for writers who are more concerned about writing. If I want to set up a blog on Blogger, I just register, create the blog name, set the template and start blogging. No plug-ins to set up or additional frameworks to install on top of the existing webserver system. There are a lot of nice template designs and if you don't mind losing some control, the dynamic templates offer an interactive experience to your  readers. That is why I have several blogs on varying topic (and varying degrees of updating).
Real bloggers would just shrug this off and go back to thinking of more ways to drive traffic to their blogs.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to combine PDFs

Recently, I had to figure out how to join pdfs files into one. This used to be something non-trivial. Nowadays, you can use SimpleScan to scan in documents and create a multi-page PDF. But a few days ago I found myself on an older Mandriva PC with a scanner and the need to create a multi-page PDF. I scanned the pages of the documents with trusty old XSane.  Now I have the pages individually. I was thinking of something clever like opening up Scribus and pasting each image per page. I was also thinking of pasting the images in a OpenOffice document but the images would shrink too much. I gave up thinking like a Windows user and looked at the problem in it's most basic form. I could print the images into individual PDFs but then I would need to combine them together. I was thinking along the lines of printing out in postscript and then concatenating the files together. Then convert the resulting postscript file into a PDF, which is trivial.
Finally, I decided I wasn't that smart and asked Google. I found the answer here, in a Macworld article, of all places. Basically, I had to print out the pages individually as PDFs, which involves setting the printer to print to file. Then I use good old Ghostscript. The command is

gs -q -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=merged.pdf source1.pdf source2.pdf source3.pdf etc.pdf

Replace source1.pdf, source2.pdf, source3.pdf and etc.pdf with the names of the files that I had printed earlier. Run the command and rename merged.pdf and I'm done.
Basically the command takes the list of pdf files as input and 're-prints' them out as one pdf file using the printer definition called "pdfwrite" which is a basically generates a PDF output.
Never underestimate the power of the command line tools.
Here is another tool I found to change PDFs.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Elusive LibreOffice Title Slide

Warning: this is a rant over 10 years in the making. I don't know why it doesn't bother other people so much. Maybe because they have given up. Maybe because every time I make an alternative choice. Isn't that part of the story of open source? Don't like something? Make another choice or fix it yourself. The "scratch your own itch" thing.
For me, this has been the StarOffice / OpenOffice / LibreOffice Impress Title slide.
For those who have not noticed, the title slide for the presentation software is not a real title slide. It's not a real title slide because it does not have a separate, different background from the other slides. It also does not have a different layout than the other slides. Perhaps because it doesn't have a different layout, it also does not have a different format scheme. Which makes the Impress 'title slide' nothing more than a normal slide without the content body. 
Don't even try to point out to me the 'Centered Text' layout. That is just a content slide without the title. Plus, changing the format in the Master Slide does not effect it. Which could mean that it is on par with a title slide. Except that you can't have consistent title slides because the format of the Centered Text layout must be changed individually. Which is fine for a 10 slide presentation with a single Centered Text/Title slide but not for anything requiring 3 or more Title slides.
You can create another master and move the title on the title master to where you want to. And even change the background to make  it you unique. But you have to change back because when you add a slide the title of the next added slide will be where you just moved it. That is even more kludgy than the Centered Text layout. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When in doubt, Webmin

I was listening to the Linux Outlaws podcast. Well catching up more likely. My time has been quite filled up lately and I'm behind on my listening to podcasts. I don't listen to a lot but they are just so deep and the discussion that go on just spring my own opinions and ideas. Some of it, those that are better formed, end up here.
I was listening to the edition that was done right after OggCamp. By all accounts it was brilliant. Well, except apparently there was some problem with food for the volunteers and that there was a mixer with some grannys. It's hilarious and you should listen to it yourself.
But what piqued my attention was Fab's issues with setting up a DHCP server. He had some problems and that although there were loads of Linux people around, most of them couldn't help him. Not that they didn't want to. But it's because they weren't Linux server people. They were Ubuntu users but mainly on the desktop.
Now I'm a server guy. Or so I keep telling myself. But I was wondering what would I do in Fab's situation, given that I have some basic ideas for what to do. Or what would I tell someone in that situation.
Well, there seems to be only one sure thing to do. Install Webmin. The dependency is Perl and no distro worth it's salt does not have packages for Perl. Perl was the PHP of it's day. And for most of the stuff that you want to do with Webmin, the standard perl packages would do. Even then, if you do need them, Webmin is smart enough to suggest to you what to do or ask permission to do it itself.
So if you are ever caught having to so anything server-like on a Linux box (or Solaris box for that matter), just grab Webmin from the distro's repos or the webmin site itself. It supports many languages and has add-on for all sorts of things. But even with the standard Webmin, you could do almost all of the daily admin tasks. I do recommend installing it and gaining some familiarity. Help is uneven with some modules having excellent help while others barely have any. Install it even on a desktop machine, it'll work. There is almost no difference in the basic OS for a desktop and a server.  So give it a try. It's not the first time I've thought webmin is great.
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kicking the tyres on Ubuntu ZorinOS 6

A friend of mine asked me to install Linux for him. Now, I get that request a lot but this friend of mine isn't your typical PC user. In fact, he had 'graduated' from Windows XP to the Macintosh recently and was facing some other problems on that platform. It wasn't too hard for him, it just required for him to think in a different way.
He wanted me to convert a low-end laptop he bought so that he could try Linux out and eventually send the laptop to his parents. He understood the problems Windows can be but wasn't sure how his parents would deal with a Macintosh. He chose Linux because he has seen me lock down a PC using Linux and was keen on reducing the support calls from his parents. Why not a tablet, which seem more appropriate given their design is to limit the user to one app at a time? His parents understood the PC and would find this slab of glass too futuristic to deal with. Like my parents.
Since my friend was going to do the support himself, I had to choose something that was easy to support and support would be available easily to him. Plus it had to look cool. My go-to distro is Mageia. It's is extremely easy to support but Mageia2 with Gnome3's spectacular dive into utilitarianism, the looking-cool factor is gone. KDE was tempting but I've been down too many rabbit-hole support calls with KDE when the user tries poking around with the settings. I'm sorry but while I love KDE's customability, it's not for the newbie who may be overwhelmed with choice.
I looked around and finally, settled on ZorinOS. On paper, it was perfect. Powered by Ubuntu means that a lot of resources are out there (people and webpages). But it also has the cool factor down to a pat. So I downloaded the ISO, loaded it on a USB disk with unetbootin and loaded it up on the MSI CR650 laptop.
Which disto had the first graphical installation tool? I'm not sure but I was using OpenLinux in 1998/9 (before Caldera was bitten and became evil) and it had an graphical installation tool. This means it has been around a long time and that by now, all the major kinks should have been worked out and all we have to look out for are the small stuff, the details. Well, I'm not sure why, but after installing all the files, ZorinOS wanted to install Grub on the USB disk. "No matter," I thought, "I'll just change it so that it'll install it in the right disk." Well, the place where to set that setting was the same screen as setting up a custom partition scheme, way back in the beginning. So I had to set up the custom partition scheme in order for it to install Grub in the right place. I deemed this the lesser evil than dealing with which version of Grub was I looking at and the non-standard device numbering it has.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

5 ideas for the awesome Linux tablet

There is still life for the Linux desktop. No matter what the Mac guys say or the Windows guys thumb about, Linux on the desktop will not go away. It's a choice where you don't have to sacrifice security for convenience nor sacrifice IQ points to use them.
But beyond the Linux desktop lies the Linux tablet. I love Android and I do consider them a legit Linux distro, but it's not the same. I need my Gimp, OpenOffice, Inkscape and one day, Scribus.
It's still some distance away but here are my 5 ideas that will make the Linux tablet awesome.

1. Bring back tiling windows. The window manager that will power the Linux tablet must do tiling windows. Yes, a tiling window manager. Before any of you cry out a Windows 8 patent violation, Linux has always had that, in one way of another. Compare them if you want. I've had a soft spot for DWM but I think by now the Gnome3 guys would have figured tiling windows out. Why not? It's their philosophy to throw things out. Why not the desktop background?
But seriously, the tiling windows manager will allow the user to utilize the screen space more efficiently. The tendency of tiling window manager will try to fill the screen, giving the user the maximum visible access to open applications. The user can dock / minimiza applications to free up more space and the window manager will automatically resize. If it comes to an arrangement where one application is given more desktop space, the user can toggle which application is given the biggest space.
We all know that running applications full-screen is just a ploy to avoid window management and window decorations (that is the official name for the graphics that make up all of the sides and the buttons of a window). But if the Linux tablet is to stand out and appeal to power users, we have to be able to see more than one application at a time.
Besides, Linux don't need to hide the fact that the OS can't run more than one application at a time by showing only one application at a time.

2. Permanent task bar / always visible widget to anchor other widgets or buttons to. 
I hate auto-hiding stuff because they tend to consume resources to bring them up. I do so only when necessary like the limited screen real-estate of my netbook. It slows things down because the OS has to do calculations to redraw part of the screen, move or resize windows and basically change context and focus. Especially as you reach for them at critical times, like trying to switch out of a windows that has slowed down and causing massive swap space to be moved around. Trying to bring up back the auto-hidden bar consumes more resources just to appear and can bring a low-powered system to it's knees. By having it always visible, it doesn't try to strangle the CPU just to appear from hiding. The emergency buttons on it (like show keyboard) will always be there for use. This is even more critical on a tablet where bringing up the keyboard is also a task upon itself. 

3. Have a button that brings background or desktop widgets up on a translucent layer above the open applications. I've lost all the Gnome3 developers at 'translucent'. 
There will be a time when you need to see or reach for the desktop widgets / applets. It's just is. Unlike some people, Linux users can actually think about more than one thing at a time. It's called the subconscious. It's also that thing that makes you remember about something else. Maybe that's why some people have no recollection of things other people have already done and decide to patent them and sue others for it. Boom.

Monday, September 17, 2012

New beta release show OpenWebOS still has life to it

The OpenWebOS project announced recently the beta release of the storied OS. In a surprising twist, there were two build releases announced, the Desktop release and the OpenEmbedded release. Both are available via github.
The Desktop release allows developers to develop and test WebOS applications on the Ubuntu desktop. It's essentially, the System Manager running as an application. There is an effort on Troy Dawson's site to modify the existing install instructions to make the release work on Fedora but the site has problems at the time of writing. Depending on the complexity of the setup, this could either mean anything from changing the library location variables on the install or it could mean replacing Ubuntu specific libraries. 
The OpenEmbedded release is the actual OS release. The OpenWebOS project has decided to use the OpenEmbedded framework to base or build their OS release on. The software framework allows users to compile and build a Linux distribution for embedded systems. So this means that if an embedded hardware platform is supported by the OpenEmbedded framework, you can port WebOS to it. The layered structure of the framework allows for flexibility in compiling for multiple platform targets. As it stand currently, this includes ARM-based CPUs, several Texas Instruments single-board PCs and even the PowerPC. The framework also supports QEMU which mean developers don't have to load the OS image on real hardware to test. Which means that anybody who wishes to sell an OpenWebOS-based device can modify the configuration of the OpenEmbedded system (called recipes) to fit the chosen hardware target and just use it to generate an OpenWebOS distro. I believe the process is quite involved but not extremely difficult as the OpenEmbedded developers have gone to great lengths to ensure that people who would develop for the platform,  like the OpenWebOS project, is isolated from the development of the platform itself.
So what does this mean in the big picture? Especially for HP.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Linux gaming Steams ahead: Valve looking for tester for Steam for Linux

Linux gaming can be a contentious subject. For a long time, the question was what is Linux gaming. Hardcore gamers were defining it as something that was closer to their interests but their definition left out casual gamers. Games publishers agreed with the gamers definition.
But the meteoric rise of Angry Birds made the publishers rethink about the importance of casual gaming, where these games run and where Linux stands in the big picture. For the publishers, they saw a postage stamp-like revenue model in casual gaming, where the cost of the game is low but with a high number of purchases. This is compared to traditional mainstream games which costs significantly more but with fewer users. More importantly, popular mainstream games have a higher development cost than casual games, which means a lower profit margin per game.
For Valve, it was Windows 8. And the encroachment of what they see as the operating system on the domain of their business partner. Valve have made coy indications of making Steam available on Linux in the past but the rhetoric had gone up a notch in recent months.
Now Valve is taking the next step in making it's games available on Linux by asking for software testers. They would be the first major games company to take Linux seriously in a long time.  More details the jobs on SteamForLinux.
There are two other reason fueling this move. First, it is no secret that PC gaming is back on the rise because console platforms are old and due for a refresh in 2013. Second, the main reason most Linux users list for keeping a Windows partition is to play games. This seemingly creates a ready market or at least an opportunity for Steam and Valve to succeed on Linux by capitalizing on the better PC hardware platform and the interest in running mainstream games on Linux.
The damper on this was John Carmack's comments on gaming on Linux, specifically listing their previous two attempts to sell Linux games. There some valid points to be made about that statement.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

How time flies: Linux turns 21

I read this on a dumb terminal '92. It is Linus's post on comp.os.minix inviting other users to suggest features for an OS he was writing. I found it as I was trying to figure out how to solve a problem on Linux. I was trying Linux out a 4MB (RAM) PC but it needed  (RAM) PC but it needed 8 or 16 MB to run X windows. I tried it because I needed to program on X windows in college but we were sharing 4 guys to a workstation (HP Apollo, I think). Even then, Linus's original scope was being expanded, I think beyond his control by others who wanted more functionality out of Unix but not with the price tag. The difference was that some of them were willing to put in time to code for the features that they wanted.
I ended up abandoning the effort because I simply could not squeeze in X windows in 4MB of RAM no matter how many things I threw out or not loading. Correction: I could not squeeze X windows and a window manager in 4MB of RAM. X windows came up ok but not having a window manager is such a pain when you have to resize windows. I went with cross-platforming the project by encapsulating the graphics primitives into simple procedures. That way I could program on Turbo-C in ANSI-C mode and test out the graphic subroutines at home. Later I would swap out the code in the simple procedures with their X windows equivalents.
But that taste of power with Linux was addictive. I had the same capabilities as the big Sun and HP boxes on my small (even by those day's standards) PC. I have been using them in one way or another ever since. And it has rewarded me by saving my skin on more than a few occasions.
Happy (belated) 21st birthday Linux!

Thanks to fitofinsanity for posting on the image of the message by at Flickr.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Dell preloads Ubuntu

Click on image to see larger version least in Malaysia.
Is Dell hedging it's bet in the face of a possible future where Microsoft is both a supplier and competitor? Only if Dell decides to sell Windows 8 tablets. And we know what the answer to that is.
The news isn't that Dell is offering a $500 Intel 3rd Gen Core i5 laptop with Ubuntu 11.10. The news is that Dell is offering it side-by-side with their Windows laptops in print ads. Previously, to have Ubuntu loaded meant selling the laptop without an OS and offering Ubuntu as an OS option. This skirts around the need to have everything working properly from the get go and supplying the correct device drivers. Although I would have loved to buy this laptop just to see how much of the hardware is supported out of the box, it comes at an inopportune time as I'm in-between jobs right now. However, Dell's reputation with getting it right with Linux drivers on their servers probably meant they got it right here, too. The more interesting question is how good is the phone support for users will be. While it has support for Linux on servers, taking end-user queries is on a different dimension. Will Dell limit it's support around Unity and not go into hardware configuration at the command prompt? How will it handle the inevitable query on hooking up the laptop to the printer? Especially if one was bought together with the laptop.
It looks like a solid laptop with better than most, specifications. With a 4GB, it should be enough for most tasks. 4GB of RAM means something different to Linux users than what it means to Windows users. There is no option to customize it, although a call to Dell when ordering may give you extra options but bump you up price-wise. The 500 GB disk is also more than sufficient for the advanced Linux user. In fact, the most disk intensive use for Linux users would be for storing videos. The laptop also with comes with a 15.6 inch display with a 1366 x 768 resolution. This matches up nicely with the widescreen 1.0 megapixel camera at a 1280 x 720 resolution. All that and a writable DVD drive. This is the link to the specifications of the Dell Ubuntu laptop online. If this takes off, I do hope that Dell will kick in some local mirrors for faster updates.
Dell is also selling a Celeron-based version of the same laptop with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive for about $350.
So is this the tipping point where Linux will be offered as an equal?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Hey Apple, just so your remember, this is what innovation looks like.

Although I an writing a piece on the Apple vs Samsung decision last week, I found myself having to take breaks from writing. Not for lack of ideas, though. I had to stop writing because I was starting to sound either like Samsung fan-boy or an Apple-hater. And I am neither. I use and Android phone but I have used Macs in the past and understood it's minimalistic design philosophy and the focus on the use experience. I was more interested in why I was writing that way.
I can understand Apple wanting to defend what they thought is theirs. However, the geek in me hated what Apple is doing now. Rather then embrace change and become change, I get a feel like Apple is trying to control change. Like Microsoft in the early 90s, they are incensed that someone else is playing in "their" field and better at it. So the decision is made to do whatever is necessary to keep out these "newcomers". The problem, like Microsoft in the early 90s, they are not the first ones in the field nor was it theirs to begin with. If anything, the field is the consumers'. So what Apple is doing now, like Microsoft, feels like bullying. In geekdom, talk is cheap. The value is in what you do. Put up or shut up. Don't just tell me, show me.
So it came as a surprise when I open the paper and sat the ad for the Samsung Galaxy Beam. I'm not going to review it here. Instead you can read a good one from PhoneArena. I've seen pico projectors before but the idea of merging it with a phone is brilliant. It's like taking a big screen everywhere. The ability to own a wall and share. The coolness factor is high. But the proof is in the pudding. Put up or shut up, remember? Samsung designed it to last with the projector on for about 3 hours, more than enough to watch most movies. And it goes beyond that. Since the battery usage is the big deal, Samsung decided to pack in a second battery! If that is not thinking of the customer, I don't know what is.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The McDonald's Exchange rate

It's hard to really gauge the value of money between countries. I don't mean currency exchange. Since they can be traded, they themselves affect the value of things. So using currency exchange to measure the relative value of money doesn't really work and if it does, doesn't hold up all the time.
When I was a student, I came up with the McDonald's Exchange rate. It compares the value of the same item in McDonald's in two countries. I use the beefburger or cheeseburger as a base. If it costs $1.99 in the US and 1 pound sterling UK, then you get a clearer idea of the value of the money. Since two bucks gets you a burger and one UK pound gets you the same burger, the value of 2 bucks is the same as 1 UK pound.
Snicker all you want, but that burger represent a lot of things, more than the bun and the slice of (what is supposed to be) beef. The price McDonald's put on that burger is a reflection of the cost of production of that burger meat including everything that makes up the supply chain before it, the cost of baking the bun, transportation of the items to the franchise outlet, the salaries of the staff, running the restaurant and every element that makes up everything that happens up to the point you bite into it. Now that price has to represent all that in 2 countries. So I think it is much more representative of the value of money than the exchange rate. You can't sell and buy the burger you bought to increase or decrease it's value.
I think this is much more saner than the system and the idea of valuation that people are using today, especially marketing types in tech companies that sell on-line in many currencies in many countries.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Linux state of mind

A admin friend of mine asked me some time ago whether I knew how to prevent a user from burning a DVD on their office PC. I told him that was easy. Simply remove the user from the group that is able to use cdrecord and set the execution permission to only the user and group. Most distros have a cdburning group. Remove the user from that group and the user can't burn a CD or DVD but he can still read them. My friend looked at me like he was going to eat me alive.
He meant on Windows.
I sincerely didn't know but I did have some ideas. We talked about some ways including editing the registry and removing the service that is used to burn CDs. The problem stemmed from the fact that the PCs came with the software pre-installed. While it wasn't a problem, in the past, the users recently figured out how to do it and were doing it in the office, causing some concerns with some managers. The discussion went on and on and degenerated into finding the driver files and deleting them. At this point, I told him to stop and offered a more pragmatic solution: Remove the DVD writing software. If you don't have the software, then they can't write to the DVD. This seemed to suit him. I think he'll have to set up some group policy to stop the software from running, propagate that and hope for the best. And that the users don't figure out how to download and install their own DVD writing software.
He we talked recently and he noted that removing the DVD writing software worked. I asked him why only now was this a problem. He told me that some users learned a torrent was and were downloading and burning DVDs.
It was my turn to want to eat him alive.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I hate my Blackberry and I miss GroupWise

I hate my Blackberry. It represents to me the most intrusive Microsoft-soaked influence on my life. My Blackberry Bold is temperamental, slow and extremely limited in what it can do on the hardware that it runs. Blackberry, like Microsoft, is more of a brand than anything else. People buy them no longer because they are better but just because people don't know better. Blackberry used to represent a luxury, business-related token meant to elevate your status among your peers. Except all it's used for is for e-mail and messaging. Except that everyone else uses them too (those who aren't using iPhones). NYC hookers prefer them because they make them look more professional and "higher-class". Go figure.
Unlike iPhones and Androids, BBs do not represent a technological advancement. Palm phones were as functional. As far as I can figure out, outside North America, the mythical push e-mail fares no better than frequently polled pull e-mail. What does push e-mail really mean? Does it means that e-mail is sent to your phone the moment it arrives? Provided your phone is in coverage. Provided the coverage includes data connectivity.
BB basically twisted the arms of the carriers to provide unlimited data (the most alien concept to them) and then convinced businessmen who were beginning to rely more and more on e-mails, that the Blackberries will bring the e-mail faster and cheaper because it's on a fixed data/Blackberry charge. The problem is, in Asia, you could get unlimited data plans for your phone. So poll all you want.
The only thing I can give to the BlackBerry was that they would download only the text part of the message and process the attachment into a readable format (there are apps for that). And they could provide end-to-end verification of the sender and recipient within the same BlackBerry Enterprise system. Except when receiving mail from the Internet.
But the main reason I wish to put my BlackBerry Bold under a steamroller is that it fails at it's primary function: it would often prevent me from answering calls. You could see the call coming in. The phone rings but you can't do anything. Pressing the answer button on-screen is just a suggestion to the phone. My hit rate has fallen below 40%.
Thank god I am finally rid of it.

I also miss GroupWise. I have configured BB Enterprise to work with GoupWise on Linux. BlackBerry almost doesn't acknowledge that GroupWise can run on Linux but rather focuses on GroupWise on Windows Server (which has it's own peculiarities) and NetWare ( I miss NetWare, too (fire-and-forget file and printer sharing)). Fortunately, getting BES to talk to GroupWise on Linux has the same requirements. In fact, BES has no idea it's talking to a Linux box, just a GroupWise system on another server.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Blogger ate my post, Google Search gave it back

I am a writer at heart. Just look at the number of blogs I contribute to (listed as the Techsplatter network at the bottom of this page). So I prefer Blogger over Word press because it takes care of a lot of details and hassle of running a blog. Don't get me wrong. I've setup Joomla systems and know my way around httpd.conf. But like all racing car drivers and chefs, sometimes you just want drive and cook and not worry about the car or whether the fridge is fully stocked.
Well, I blog everywhere and I used to use Springpad to capture thoughts and snippets that I would include later in my blogs. But then Springpad decided to be more Pinterst-like and that messed up the way I take notes by simply making it harder (it's gotten better since then). It drove me nuts and I sought out and found the Blogger app from Google. I had tried it earlier and it was in a rough shape then. But any other app I tried didn't work all that well.
So I installed it and with the caveat that the post would be typed in html in mind I started using it. I didn't care about formatting because I just wanted to write and have it ready for final editing on Blogger web itself. Well it turns out that the posts can be formatted when you start off. After the first save, it gets wonky and decides to dump you in this mode where you could put in html markup but you really can't see what Blogger will put in. I didn't care because I just wanted to write. And for that, it served me well. I could start a post in the phone and pick up later at home. As you can see in the archive of the blogs, the number of posts have picked up. And because I was out of a job and had tons of free time.
In the end, I thought that I had it licked and was working well within the confines of the app. Then I found out it had one more dark 'feature'.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

10 things Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer should do and shouldn't do

There are two overarching themes to Yahoo. First that it wants to be about content when it comes to consumers and second it has a strong presence in the small business segment. With that in mind here are some ideas for new CEO Marissa Mayer.

Make a play for VEVO. They are not happy with Google and YouTube. Maybe Yahoo Music can be the place people go for music and music videos. Instead of being the place people come from before going to YouTube for their music. By the way, improve video service on Yahoo. It takes too long to load, if it can at all. Pressing Refresh refreshes the browser, does the opposite to the user.

Don't be a social network. Yahoo is about content, right? Be social and make current content readily available and shared by Facebook and Google+ users. Yes, there is Facebook integration on Yahoo. But why is Yahoo driving users to them instead of using Facebook to drive users to your content?
Also make it easy for your users to share existing content. For example, make e-mail messages sharable if consented to by the sender and recipient. Or anybody else who is quoted within. The basic tech to do that is there. Key thing is to make more Yahoo content more readily linkable from Google+ or Facebook. Work with Pintrest so that Yahoo content looks good on Pintrest. Use other social media to drive users to your content.

Comment filtering on comment forums needs to be better.  Make it so that people blocked on one article are automatically blocked or their comments hid on other articles. This way, your users don't need to be bothered by people whom they already disagree with. Yahoo comments forums are becoming loud, crass and where everyone gets to do a Bill O'Reilly impression. People want news and opinions, just not everybody's else's. Engagement would go up if people can customize their experience. Another suggestion: float comments by Facebook friends to the top. We value what our friends think.

Do the news for MSN. Tell Microsoft that Yahoo will take care of the news for MSN so that they can focus on Windows 8, Window RT, Surface tablets and the fallout that will follow. Yahoo have content with their ties-up with ABC. Feed all that through to MSN. Remember that they are thee social network and Yahoo is about content.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Google glasses' first privacy challenge: the restaurant test and what we should be talking about

...and it's not even out yet. I read Brian Brushwood's post on someone being attacked for wearing digital eye glasses and the accompany link to the story from the victim with some concern. While I have joked on this, this incident is much more serious. I will let other people talk about the incident itself. I'd like to touch on  the issue of privacy from public spaces.
While it can be argued that there is no privacy in a public space, the issue of privacy in public spaces have been up to now limited participant within that space itself. It means that if we participate in a public space, we can expect there would be no privacy from the immediate people within the public space. But what about from those not within the public space. Does it mean that we forgo all privacy when we walk in public? That we have to be individually identified for the right to be in public? This has been tested by Google themselves when they started gathering images for their StreetView technology. Google now blurs people's faces out and hides facilities based on request. They've even launched a feature that can automatically blurs people's faces in YouTube. Privacy enforcement on the internet is easy to do when there is only one entity involved. But what do you do when people with Google glasses are walking the streets everywhere?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

PIKOM PC Fair 2012

The PIKOM PC Fair 2012 (II) at KLCC Convention Center this time around isn't very much different from the past. The second PC Fair is usually smaller and the number of participating companies is less than the last PC Fair. Changes in layout resulted in less dealing with stairs to visit each exhibition hall. The addition of Hall 6, while in the back hall Hall 5, gives visitors a comfortable space without exhausting them with a trek through KLCC Convention Center. It also avoid making the fair from being a cramp-fest.

Here are some interesting finds at the PIKOM PC Fair 2012 (11):

All the Rage / New: Android 4.0 9 "and 9.7 inch tablets. Beware when comparing prices! The 9" tablet has a 16:9 / 16:10 aspect ratio (rectangular) while the  9.7" (or conveniently rounded up to 10") tablet is more squarish.

Innovative: The Modeo KB32 Air keyboard with Chatting: It's a wireless micro keyboard-air mouse combo with jacks for headphones and mics.

Uniquely different: 13.3" PRO1301 Prolink Mobile LED Monitor.Plugs into HDMI, powered by USB. VGA cable extra.

The Still Trying Dept.: Aztech Power line (data over power) 200MBps (old) RM49 - Wireless-N (300MBps) RM129, pelbgai

Cheap-cheap: External Hard Disk 1TB Western Digital common types of RM319. Buffalo RM299.

Unexpected: Motorola Fire XT Android 2.3. In-between the ocean of various Samsung Galaxy models. And by the way, Samsung introduces a smaller model of the Galaxy phones.

Surprise: Sylvania / OSRAM M783GB- Android 4.0 7" tablet can also be used as a mobile phone RM699. 

Dumbest ad: "The Smallest 7" tablet". Never thought the 7" come in different sizes.

Tired: Dell laptops are still thick as books when other PC companies have long gone thin with their laptop. Sadly, Dell Laptops looks thicker than it was before.

Clever Ad tactic: Fujitsu puts their monthly easy payment installment in big letters because their prices are much more expensive than their competitors.

Strange: Luquipel offers to waterproof your smartphone. Just not yet. Pay to get an early bird discount. The process takes about 30 minutes, in a few weeks time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Apple chooses design over the environment

Apple recently announced that it wasn't going to submit any more products to be certifies by EPEAT, a ratings agency that certifies electronic devices meet an environmentally-friendly standard. This means that Apple products aren't going to be certified as following a set of environmentally friendly rules. So why did Apple pull out it's products from EPEAT? Some of Apple's recent products do not comply to EPEAT's rules.

Apple has not only not stopped submitting products for certification, it is pulling out from EPEAT by pulling out it's products from EPEAT's ratings list. Some have pointed out that this is probably because they would rather not be seen at all than have some products certified and others not. While EPEAT does not certify smartphone and tablets, it seems odd that Apple decided to pull out after having the popular iPhone and iPad on the market for so long. So why make an announcement now ? Did they want to get in front of the message before someone else "leaked" it out and make it look like Apple was trying to hide something?

Apple didn't really have to hide anything until recently. EPEAT's standard is used with PCs and Laptops and is related to government purchasing. Agencies have policies preferring PCs that are EPEAT compliant. Apple's most recent products are glued together, have non-replaceable batteries and generally not serviceable. These fall foul of the regulations. Rather than failing the standards or raise questions as to why some their laptops are not compliant while others are, Apple decides to exit the process entirely.

Apples most recent laptops have these changes because of their ultra slim design. In that respect, Apple is highly respected. In an extensive documentary on design, a European design expert admitted through gritted teeth that no company is as dedicated to design as Apple. The fact that Apple's lead designer, Jonathan Ives, is British is not lost upon them. But few European companies would be willing to give Jonathan Ives the latitude that he has.

Most analyst and users are giving Apple a pass on this issue. They and Apple have pointed out other ways that Apple has been green. And they have done so through their design. Some Macbooks are the size of the hole cut out from the casing of iMacs and Apple displays. This is because the material cut out to make the hole is used to make the Macbook. This and other ways in the past have made Apple a darling of the hip and green set. But it is hard to see that their attitude towards Apple as a way of wanting to keep justifying using their products. Did Apple expect this from their users, especially their fanboys? Of course. What the users don't realize is that their attitude is feeding Apple's arrogance towards every body else. While users feel Apple could be relied on to act responsibly in the past (take the Foxconn incidents, for example), what would the users do when Apples decides to do otherwise? Has Apple done so with this move?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The 3D desktop and the dangers of unchallenged ideas

A follow-up of sorts to my last post on my use of Gnome3 and the struggles overcoming it's user interface problems. After a few updates, Gnome3 "safe mode" has become usable. Workspace switching now works but the top and bottom panel stiil can't be modified, not easily anyway. But it is usable and familiar. In fact, I use it for about 90% of the time. Some things don't work all the time, though, like sftp integration. But that could be PCManFm's problem, the file manager. But since it's the default choice, Gnome therefore shoulders some blame.
This whole episode reminded me of something that happened to me in the late 90s. I was asked about what would be the next step be in terms of desktop interfaces. I had postulated that given the proliferation of graphic cards with 3D capabilities, the next step in desktop interfaces would take advantage of that. It was logical because Microsoft Windows tend to drive the hardware requirements up. By requiring that PCs running Windows have 3D capabilities, PC makers would then make it a standard. Which is in their interest because this would drive new PC sales. It happened before with CD-ROM drives so why not 3D graphic cards?
The design was based on the concept that the desktop would exist in a 3D world. Application windows would "float" in the air above a horizon. By moving within the 3D world, you would move and zoom in and out of the windows. For example, if you are working on a spreadsheet and you want to see a document  to verify some information, you would "move backward", making the spreadsheet window and it's contents smaller but still visible. Now you can open a document at the "normal" size. You would cut and paste in between them as you would normally do because you can still see the spreadsheet and use it even though it was smaller.
A horizon on the bottom of the screen would hint the idea of land. It would animate according to your movements within the world, giving the sense of movement when there are no windows opened. I think that it could also have features like hills and bodies of water to introduce the idea of unique areas. 
This would be useful when you create a workspace (in the semi-literal sense) by grouping windows together within an area of the 3D environment. By moving between the groups, you would be moving between workspaces. The different features of the horizon would help you remember where the groups are. To make movement easier, double-clicking on the horizon would bring up a "signpost" that would point to where those groups or windows are. You can move manually or click on the signs on the post to jump to the area.
Since the windows would exist in a 3D space, you would be able to scroll the "world" left and right.  Scrolling slightly to the side would eventually make the visible applications start to move off the screen. This is useful if you need to see only part of an application window while opening and working on another. Or you could stretch the window further to see more of the application. This would be useful for spreadsheets and graphical applications like painting or CAD application where you could want to open the windows into a space larger than the actual screen size.. 
So what's the point I'm trying to make here?

Monday, July 02, 2012

Ideas for Android tablet makers responding to the Google Nexus 7

It is easy to over-estimate the importance of the Kindle Fire. Most pundits look around and see the dominance of the Kindle Fire in the US and assume that it is the benchmark the hardware makers have to compete. While the Kindle Fire may dominate the Android tablet market in the US, it doesn't do so internationally, even where Amazon does do business, like Europe. 
Now, the tablet makers have a benchmark set for them internationally by the Google Nexus 7. It is both a benchmark and a response to the popularity of the Kindle Fire. The Nexus 7 is like the Nexus phones, is a demonstration by Google of what it expects the other vendors to improve on. Not to just imitate but build on. Memory is short in the smartphone market (insert your memory upgrade joke here). But just a few years ago, in 2010,  the Google Nexus One phone by HTC was the Android phone to have. Since then other phones have come out and have done better, especially the Samsung Galaxt series. It is 2012 and Google has done it again with the Nexus 7 by Asus.
It is now up to other tablet makers to respond. They have to come out with better tablets at competing prices or with tablets that are aimed for more focused markets like the corporate or education markets. They may also have to go beyond the device itself and start building a support infrastructure around their products. This does not just mean hardware, such as charging stations for the education market. Infrastructure also means software, like fleet management systems where settings, apps and data can be device independent within a fleet of devices. The ability to move the data from device to device easily means companies can keep their staff connected and productive even when the device fails or it taken back for maintenance. Blackberry already does this with their Blackberry Enterprise products and that is one of the reasons they are entrenched in the corporate market. Also the ability to read e-mail using one hand. Android phone makers, look into that.
Despite articles stating otherwise, other tablet makers don't have to worry about Google being dominant in the tablet market. They don't have to worry as long as they are willing to do one better. Improving on a Google example is a key success factor. Again, take a look at the Android phone market. The Google Nexus gave HTC a boost but Samsung responded. They came out with more products and features. The Samsung Galaxy range of phones cover the entry level all the way up to the premium Galaxy SIII. They even created their own category, the phablet with the Samsung Galaxy Note. In the tablet space, Samsung tablets are the only premium tablets with the ability to make and receive normal phone calls. Which is a big thing for Asian markets, despite the required bluetooth earpiece. Samsung chooses to be bold and innovate. In the end, it is up to the tablet makers to come with a better tablet than Google 
This is going to be hard considering that the Nexus 7 was sold at cost. But take a page from the other tablet maker and work with the supply chain to ensure the components are priced closer to the delivery date. This means as more tablets are sold and more orders come in, the prices for components fall. By pricing it further down the road, the cost price of the tablet drops the more they are sold. This in turn becomes an incentive for the tablet makers to sell more to push the cost price down. The component maker usually respond by offering the same components to other tablet makers to make up for the shortfall in margins. The entire process commoditizes the components and usually leads to more tablets having similar components. Which is not a bad thing because it reduces the android "fragmentation".

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Google Nexus 7 ups the ante against Amazon in Android marketplace war

Google announced the Nexus 7 tablet at Google IO 2012. The 7 inch tablet with the $199 price point is aimed squarely at the Amazon Kindle Fire and dislodging them from the no1 spot. It also heads off Amazon's plans to expand the Kindle Fire to other markets like Europe, where Amazon does business.
Google throws down the gauntlet by shipping the Nexus 7 with the latest version of Android, Android 4.1 Jellybean. While Google has an advantage from being the latter device and providing better hardware such as a 1280x800 display versus the Kindle Fire's 1024x600 screen, the real battle is not for hardware dominance but for the Android marketplace. Apple has already shown how lucrative the tablet-commerce space can be. The battle here between Google and Amazon is for customers who will spend money on apps and products in the respective marketplace. Or to put it bluntly, this is for who gets a cut for the business that's being done on the android tablet. Google sells apps through the Google Play store while Amazon sell Android apps through Throughout the presentation for the Nexus 7, Google emphasized an optimized and improved experience for Google Play content on the Nexus 7 as well updated features such as improved app updates that update only the parts of the app that have changed. While these may be Jellybean specific and will probably appear on all Android 4.1 devices eventually, for now the Nexus 7 is the only one that has it.
Google is also taking aim at Amazon's core business by starting to offer magazines and books through Google Play. They showed off the smoothness of the new e-book reader and were forward with their intentions of selling movies and books through the Google Play store. This is Amazon territory and emphasizes on the concept of the tablet as being a consumption device. The old idea of being able to see something on TV, like Indiana Jone's fedora and being able to purchase a fedora on-line immediately is now a reality. It still takes a few clicks and searches but it won't be long before you could pause the video, touch on an object, have Google guess what it is and offer you to buy it or show places where it could be bought.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pay MS-Tax to access Windows on iPads

I came across this piece of news while testing Ulteo and doing some background work. By the way, I am looking to offer services around this product so please take what ever I am writing here about them with a grain of salt.
Apparently, MS has introduced an additional charge when you access a Windows desktop from tablet. The CRN article goes into the gory details of the licensing issue. The license supposedly aimed at user-owned devices. It is meant for large corporate customers under a certain licensing scheme who are running VDI or a Virtual Desktop Interface. This is when the desktop OS is running in a virtual machine on the server and the user's device is akin to a dumb terminal. But if you want to access it from your iPad or Andriod device (most likely through some sort of RDP client), there is another license that is required on top of whatever there is. However, this license apparently will come bundled with Windows RT, the tablet OS version of Windows 8 on ARM processors. Which effectively means that Microsoft is imposing a tax because you are not using Windows RT to access the corporate desktop.
The intended effect of this is very clear, slow down iPad adoption in corporations. For companies that facing this, there are two directions to choose from.
First, start with a strategy that focuses on delivering access and service to you users and then move them to the concept of doing work rather than using a tool. Or to put it in another way, doing work is getting the job done not how you used some tools. Output and completion is important not the tools to get it done. If you can get it done on a PC, good. If you got it on the iPad, kudos. As long as the jobs is done and done well.

Saturday, June 23, 2012 Crashing Solved

I explain how I fixed the crash below. I described the crash problem and I how I narrowed it down here.
While I didn't have access to another computer, what I did have was another phone, a trusty Nokia feature phone with another carrier (with a good voice plan). I popped the sim out and put it my Android. The Sony worked ok and the error message didn't pop up. The phone didn't have a data plan so I couldn't do anything on the Internet without costing an arm and a leg. To be sure, I set it on GSM mode to nip any temptation. Then I tried the Android sim on the Nokia and it couldn't find a network there too. So the culprit was the sim card or related to it.
By now, one part of me was saying to just go and get it replaced. Enjoy the day in park. I was already getting stares with two phones lying around me in pieces. But I knew I was this close to solving this.
I put the Android sim back into the Sony and booted it up. This time, there was no error message. I checked the Mobile Network list and it found the networks but listed only the 2G/GSM networks. It was enough to get past the McAfee SMS verification.
I now knew what was happening. The process was trying to connect to a 3G/WCDMA network. In order to do that, it must use APN information from the sim card. The APN list on the sim card was corrupted. It tried to use the corrupted values stored in the APN fields and crashed. Since this is a core Android process, a watchdog process saw it crash and just restarted it again, creating a loop.
I called the carrier's support line from the Nokia and they re-sent the APN list. This was a Command/Configuration Message via SMS / text message and didn't use the data connection. Once the correct APNs were added, the phone connected to the network fine. The other casualty were a few phonebook entries on the sim card for the Nokia. I discovered later that a couple of the most recent entries went missing which probably reinforces my suspicion that there is a bug in the routine that handles read and write to the sim card.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 Crashing: The Problem

The solution to process crashing is here. This post explained what I did to get to the solution.

I was out enjoying a warm day in the park. That, I think, was how the problem started.
Basically, my Xperia Mini Pro suddenly gave the error " stopped unexpectedly". It didn't give me much of a choice but to Force Close it. Then it began looping the error. The only way to make it stop was to go into Airplane Mode. Once set, I couldn't get out of Airplane Mode. I had lost all network connectivity.
Since this was a relatively new phone, I tried remembering what I learnt from the LG Optimus One. And the number one culprit on that phone was resource starvation, specifically memory. I had 50MBs of Internal Memory and I could blame the Linked.In app I installed earlier as the villain.  But clearing cache and data to free up to 100MBs didn't solve the problem.
I tried removing my text messages because on the LG, they too used up memory. It was hard because the pop-up message was kicking me out of the Messaging application. There was a long draft message with random characters, probably made when I put the phone in my pocket without turning on the screen lock. After many tries, I managed to tap fast enough to remove it. I rebooted the phone with the same results.
I was in the park which gave me a significant disadvantage. Since I had no network connection, I couldn't get to a PC to look up the error message. So the next thing I could think of was that it was a malicious act, one of those mobile trojans I keep hearing about. I opened Settings and navigated to Manage Applications, looking for the process. I remembered seeing applications like those on the LG. I couldn't find any. I was getting worried. Maybe a malicious program had come in and deleted the file. That would be the equivalent of deleting in Windows, making a statement that the machine had been 0wned (yes, I am that old). I opened the file manager and tried looking for the file. I couldn't find it which made me think that it was true. Then, I did a sanity check. Android is more akin to Linux than Windows. There is a possibility that isn't visible to me since the phone wasn't rooted (yet). So I had to think like I would on a Linux box.

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