Tablets : Windows 8 – Metro @ //BUILD/

14 09 2011

Microsoft have been unveiling Windows 8 at //BUILD/ and the keynote from Steve Sinofsky was, to say the least, inspiring. //BUILD/ was about revealing Windows 8 to the developer community, showing them what it is, where it’s going and what they can expect as it launches, in its various guises.

I’m interested (here) with what Windows 8 and the Metro UI, first seen on Windows Phone 7, means in the tablet space. Or as its more accurately known, the iPad space. What really interests me here is the idea that it might be a year until we see a Windows 8 tablet, assuming this is correct, it would appear to be a catastrophic case for Microsoft, surely the tablet wars will be over in a year?

Well, perhaps that might play to Microsoft.

Right now there isn’t much of a tablet war. We have Apple’s iPad dominant and nothing looking remotely likely to get close, much less topple it. It’s a great device and it has created the market from the previous failed attempts by Microsoft, among others. The there is Android, Googles smartphone OS hacked for tablets. The first generation of devices has been poor and they are approaching end of life, the first signs of the second generation are appearing and maybe Android will get a second chance. HP killed the Touchpad and, well everyone knows what happened with that. Blackberry launched an expensive toy and cant be considered a contender in my opinion, perhaps their second generation will make up for the first. And lastly we have Amazon, rumoured to be about to enter the game, but with a small, cheaper than iPad, based on old Android, low spec device. I don’t really think Amazon is entering the same game as everyone else, maybe with a competitive device but this 7″ shopping tablet isn’t it.

Then there is Microsoft. Metro, the UI, looks very good, it brings something new to the party, but as has already been pointed out Windows Phone 7 brought Metro to our attention and that hasn’t exactly changed Microsoft’s fortunes in the smartphone space, why would it do so in the tablet space? My thought is Microsoft isn’t looking for it to revolutionise anything. Imagine in 12 months, Windows 8 tablets launch, with a decent spread of apps, using the same basic OS that’s been around for some time on the desktop, laptop and server, slowly replacing the Windows 7 (Vista, XP, etc) systems in use by 100’s of millions. The tablet space, probably still lead by Apple, has settled down, its not a war of innovation anymore, its an established market, moving along the adoption curve. There may have been a few casualties, maybe even a new contender. But when Windows 8 tablets launch across a range of manufacturers the sheer choice of devices, all bearing a familiar badge, sporting a look and feel that has had months to become familiar, may be a very compelling idea in the mind of the Early and Late Majority.

There are clear signs that Apple is trying to converge its iOS and OSX operating systems, Microsoft is doing the same thing. Google is working with Intel, Microsoft is working with ARM. In 12 months there is going to be a lot less that divides tablets than there is today.

If you can’t get into and win the war, make sure you are around to win the peace.

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Google android on the HTC HD2

23 08 2010

I’ve been using the excellent HTC HD2 for quite a while now and its proven
to be a first class smart phone, with one black mark against it, it runs
Windows Mobile.

winmo, as it has become known has been around for years and has been a truly
awful operating system in its exposed form, its true value has been when
used on embedded systems which have hidden it from view and review.

With the arrival of iphone, android and even when compared to nokia symbian
or even blackberry its the outright loser by a long way. So it was quite a
surprise when HTC launched the HD2 and hobbled it out of the gate.

The HD2 hardware is leading edge and the screen is still one of the largest
on any smartphone. Which makes it even more bizarre to see the disappointing
Windows boot screen when you power it on.

To be fair to HTC they did an amazing job layering a very bespoke front end
on to of the awful Windows UI, Sense was lipstick on the pig. It was very
good lipstick but it was still a pig underneath.

As HTC continued to launch new phones, mostly running android the inevitable
calls for an upgrade from winmo to android started to be heard, HTC actually
said they could do it, then cruelly didn’t!

Rumors started to spread of a band of developers working on porting android to
the HD2, XDA soon had posts with devs making progress and soon after there
were videos showing work in progress android running on HD2 hardware.

I was watching carefully, but I use my phone everyday and couldn’t afford for it to
be sacrificed to a partially working android or worse a complete bricking.

Then in the last few days it looked like they had cracked it, android was
working. I downloaded the latest version, upgraded the phones radio and
carefully followed the simple instructions.

There it was, android. I did a lot of testing then started to select the
applications I would need. Everything was working, I decided to trial it for
reliability and stability for a week.

Here we are on day three and I can’t see what could happen now to make me
want to go back to winmo.

It feels like I have a new phone, probably the phone the HD2 should have
always been.

Hats off to the devs at XDA.





Weather on the move

8 05 2010

There are a few weather applications and tools I’ve come across that I have found useful to have on my phone, a HTC HD2. The HD2 runs Windows Mobile, regarded by many as one of weakest mobile operating systems available, thats not something I would argue with but its not completely useless (lets be honest Microsoft never do a complete job of anything!).

I’ve little doubt that the iPhone and Android are covered with many more and likely better applications but this is for those of us with Windows Mobile.

I’ve mostly been looking at applications rather than web sites which have a mobile version, but there are a few of those here too.

So what is there for those of us with more than a passing interest in the weather or an obsession with needing as much technology as possible to tell us its raining when simply accepting we are getting wet is not enough.

1. HTC Sense Weather

The HD2 (thank God) layers HTC Sense (Touch Flo 3D in a former life) over the awful Windows Mobile 6.5 UI, without this there would be no point really. One of the ‘built in’ applications is HTC Weather. This is quite a nice graphical tool and adds much needed eye candy to the home screen as well as offering its own application screen. You can add multiple cities as well as have it automatically report on your current location, however, the current location can be troublesome as it relies on Cell Towers for its location fix and not the inbuilt GPS, perhaps someone at HTC can offer some explanation of why?

A 5 day (today and next 4 days) forecast is the basic offering and the graphics are well made, smooth and do impress, something WinMo based phones need to do in the company of their iPhone and Android counterparts.

2. GPS Enabled Weather

This was a real find in my opinion, you can find it on their web site. The application gives you rain radar images and can take its location fix from either GPS or cell towers, GPS obviously provides a more accurate fix and avoids the ‘reception’ issues that the standard HTC Sense Weather can sometimes suffer. This is not so much weather eye candy as it is good solid weather information in the form of radar maps which you can even run an animated loop. You can set your location manually and you can touch the map to update the location too.

Two nice features are the ability to set the map zoom level (no pinch to zoom though, why not?) and a feature that allows you to call a URL with parameters passed from the application, such as your GPS coordinates. This would be ideal to call the Weather Underground mobile pages for deeper weather info on your location. Again, something I will be playing with in a spare moment.

3. iCumulus

Not so much an application as a mobile version of my weather web site created using Cumulus from SandaySoft and iCumulus from David Jamieson, written for the iPhone it seems to work fine within the Opera browser on the HD2.

I think the scripting and CSS needs some anti Safari or more Opera friendly tweaking though, something I hope to get around to soon.

As iCumulus requires a data feed supplied by your own personal weather station and web site its not something you can use unless you either have your own or access to such a site in your location

4. Touch Weather

This is very nice eye candy and solidly built, available from their web site. It allows you to select from different weather services and report on multiple locations. The basic version (free) does not have the 5 day forecast, for that you need to buy the pro version ( $5).

The default page is lacking any real detail, just the eye candy animations and the temperature. A panel appears at the bottom, when touched for, with further detail. Scrolling up and down steps you through the time period forecasts for that day, scrolling left and right takes you forward and backward through the 5 days of forecasts. A 5 day forecast summary panel is available from the detail panel too.

Its all very nice and there is a lot of customisation possible, from changing backgrounds to defining the levels of opacity used by the animations.

5. Weather4Me

The light weight Weather4me, offers decent 5 day forecasting with tabs so you can switch between Current, Today and 5 Day view. The AccuWeather tab opens an embedded browser page on the AccuWeather site for your selected location, this gives you more options with the forecast data, right down to hourly forecasts. There are also satellite images with animations.

The nice thing about being graphically light is that it will run well on other, less powerful, windows mobile phones.

The downside is that it looks less appealing next to some of the others, however, accurate data is always going to be worth more than pretty pictures.

6. Weather Underground

i.wund.com, although written for the iPhone, provides  a lot of the great data from Weather Underground in a mobile digestible format. Current conditions, forecasts and maps are all available.

The really nice thing with i.wund.com is that you not only have the choice of weather reports from all the usual sources you can also drill down to your own personal weather station, if you run one, providing you supply a data feed to Weather Underground





JoliCloud moves into Pre-Beta

29 12 2009

Previously I wrote about Jolicloud while I was testing different Linux distributions on my EeePC netbook. I chose distributions that were, in theory, better suited to life with a netbook. After some basic trial use of Google ChromeOS, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Moblin and Jolicloud I settled on Ubuntu and for the last month I’ve been using it quite successfully on my little EeePC 901.

The thing I liked about Jolicloud was its ‘Jolicloud application installer’ this provides a whole slew of applications ready to install and not just the off the shelf Linux stuff, this also has applications that would normally require you to compile from source or run through Wine (the pseudo windows emulation library for Linux)

Since that initial look Jolicloud, which is based in Ubuntu so shares the same solid foundation, has gone from alpha to pre-beta. Pre-beta drops the need to be invited to try Jolicloud and opens it up to the wider world, in their words, “We consider the product and its installation stable and simple enough for a broader release.”, I would agree.

Now the thing that potentially interests me again in Jolicloud is the ‘New UI’, reading the Jolicloud blog further reveals this to be a lot of theme and icon redesign with the goal of providing a more consistent feel to the, lets be honest, mixed bag of typical Linux distro’s.

The launcher has been given a HTML5 makeover and looks greatly improved, cleaner, clearer and ultimately more usable. Compare

with the current/old

It seems to me that if Jolicloud roll out the UI update and pull off a good attempt at a cohesive UI for Linux then they will have a success on their hands. Google’s play is to simplify (dumb down?) the UI to a HTML5 browser, but its tomorrow’s toy, Jolicloud looks set to offer this today.

Season the mix with 98% netbook compatibility and a Windows installer that will install Jolicloud alongside Windows on your netbook (assuming you have the disk space) and there might never be a better time to give Jolicloud a spin and see what the latest world of Linux has to offer the daily netbook user.

So I am going to be re-installing Jolicloud soon, once that new UI is available, and quite possibly moving on from Ubuntu Netbook Remix. That is as soon as I get hold of a new SD card to load it onto.

Posted via email from Steve’s Blog





Browsers – one ring to rule them all

27 11 2009

There are plenty of web browsers for us to choose from. The fact that are plenty is a web site designers nightmare because mostly none of them truly follow the defined standards properly, they all add things, they all do it slightly different. Viewing a web site in a browser that doesn’t render the web site correctly can be annoying or downright painful, it may mean the site is unusable.

Web site designers employee as many tricks as they do good design practices to deal with this and still they can be beaten, how many people are still using Internet Explorer 6 and for how much longer?

In my work I spend quite a lot of time using different browsers, so I have Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.5, Google Chrome and Opera all installed on my Windows desktop.

However, I don’t just use Windows, I also use linux. My Ubuntu 9.10 desktop comes with Firefox as the  default. I also have a netbook, which now runs Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10, thats Firefox too. Then there’s my PDA/Cell phone, a Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, this has Windows Mobile 6.1 and comes with both Internet Explorer and Opera Mobile. Then there is my other cell phone, a little Nokia 6210 Navigator, that runs S60.

What I need is some continuity, a browser that, broadly speaking, is the same on all platforms. One that can be my browser of choice, the default, no matter which device I’m using and will, more or less, work the same, render the same (within the confines of the device, of course) and not be an annoyance to use.

You would think that my requirement shouldn’t be that big a deal, right? Well it is.

What if we dropped the pda/cell phones off the requirement? Well it doesn’t really help that much, our choice is pretty much Firefox. Google Chrome could be used but its not officially available on linux yet and besides I don’t want to drop my pda/cell phones from the requirement. I do accept that my requirement may be a minority request though.

So here is the requirement

  • Must be able to download and install easily, no messing about with source, compiling, etc.
  • Must support Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • Must support Ubuntu 9.10 and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10
  • Must support Windows Mobile 6.1 on Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
  • Must support S60 on Nokia 6210 Navigator
  • Must render the sites I use in a usable manner
  • Ideally share a common ‘cloud’ of bookmarks
  • Nice if it handled email
  • It MUST work, browsing should be an easy experience, not a chore.

Who are the candidates? I checked on wikipedia and this list seems to be

  • Internet Explorer
  • Safari
  • Opera
  • Chrome
  • SeaMonkey
  • Camino

Now this is just part of the whole list, trust me (or don’t and go look for yourself) there are a lot of browsers out there.

It doesn’t take long to whittle that lot down to one, in fact the only one that can support my requirement (and more besides). Opera seems to support almost everything out there in one of its forms, everything except the iPhone.

Welcome to Opera.

Opera has been around for quite a while, from their web site

“Opera started in 1994 as a research project inside Norway’s largest telecom company, Telenor. Within a year, it branched out into an independent development company named Opera Software ASA.

Today, Opera Software develops the Opera Web browser, a high-quality, multi-platform product for a wide range of platforms, operating systems and embedded Internet products – including Mac, PC and Linux computers, mobile phones and PDAs, game consoles, and other devices like the Nintendo Wii, DS, Sony Mylo, and more.

Opera’s vision is to deliver the best Internet experience on any device. Opera’s key business objective is to earn global leadership in the market for PC/desktops and embedded products. Opera’s main business strategy is to provide a browser that operates across devices, platforms and operating systems, and can deliver a faster, more stable and flexible Internet experience than its competitors.” – http://www.opera.com/company/

I’ve been using it now for the last 12 months or so and I am impressed, hell its even the browser on the Kid’s Nintendo Wii. In every day use I’ve had no real problems but I do come across the odd site that doesn’t want to render quite right, this is more to do with the site than the browser, however that means a switch to one of the others. Typically this is so rare that its not an issue, in fact its just as likely to occur with any of the browsers. Sometimes its more an issue of linux not supporting all of the rich web media as well as it could in most cases.

Opera also has Opera Link, this is a portal system that allows you to, among many other things, synchronize your bookmarks to a single account and share that account on each device. This means if I update a bookmark or a start page on my linux desktop when I come to log in on my Windows desktop the same change is there. This feature alone makes life so much easier, if it ever extends to the mobile version as well it will be fantastic.

Update : Opera Mobile 10 Beta 2 adds Opera link to the mobile version, providing synchronized bookmarks and more between Windows, Linux and Mobile (S60 and Windows Mobile)

Would I stop and use something else? Of course, if something else comes along and is better I will use it. This is about getting what I need from the browser, my requirement is what is important, not the tool used to deliver it.





Windows, linux or Google?

25 11 2009

It doesn’t take a tech genius to realise how much of a player Google’s ChromeOS could become in the netbook arena. Ignore all the talk for now, its just an open source preview and their desperation to show something is coming. It doesn’t make sense until they get closer to launch and (or) the first leaked hardware is shown.

But here is the pitch; you’re in PC World, well you’re not because you never would be, but Mr and Mrs Wewantanetbookforlittlejohnny are in PC World. They walk admiringly past rows of shiny Macs and start poking at the Acer’s and the Asus’, the Samsung’s and the HP’s, the netbooks.

As we have no known hardware differentiators at this point lets skip that part and come back to it in 6 months time.

They look at the Windows netbook. Its going to be either still running XP or maybe by now its got Windows 7. Its recognisable, somewhat familiar and they don’t take too long to find the web browsers, see the Google search page and their gmail account, they can even find Flickr and this new fangled twitter thing that littlejohnny keeps raving about. Yep, Windows netbook seems to have it all and all is good with the world.

Next they see the linux based netbook. Now the eye is caught by the price tag, its cheaper than the windows netbook, possibly by some margin. Then they start to prod it and look at each other, “what is this?”, “where is the start thingy?”, the conversation doesn’t really go very much further. Its not familiar, in fact it can seem downright alien. They look lovingly back to the windows netbook and start to look for a salesman to do the deal.

Now then, this we all know. Netbooks arrived with linux, various distros, mostly horrid, all perfectly useful and workable. Then XP arrived and linux disappeared like the dinosaurs.

Enter stage left, Google.

Mr and Mrs Wewantanetbookforlittlejohnny switch it on and oh, its on, that was fast!

Oh there is the Google search page and gmail, that all looks familiar. Pretty quickly they are at home with it. The price tag is good and the sales sheet talks about; no messy software updates, all safely backed up online, easy to use, all your web applications. Sold!

linux is trying to build a UI that can work and provide an experience that allows users to ‘use’ the netbook and not have to fight the OS. Moblin, Ubuntu UNR, these are valiant efforts. But they are not there yet, not for a mass market. I use UNR on my netbook every day, everything works perfectly, I love it. I use linux on one of my desktops, windows on another, windows 7 on a laptop. I am not a typical user, Mr and Mrs Wewantanetbookforlittlejohnny are!

Google will steal this market from linux by being linux but calling it Google. Canonical know it thats why they are working with Google.

The choice could be a Windows 7 netbook or a Google netbook, the decision will be made based on price and Google is banking on delivering a hardware device that can be cheaper than the one needed for Windows.





Adventures with a Netbook

22 11 2009

Since I first acquired an Asus EeePC its had Windows XP installed. This has worked fine if a little slow and cumbersome. The atom based netbooks are not fast and this one (a 901 with 1G RAM) is no different, but they are perfect for light use and taking everywhere. Anyway, I decided it was time to move on from XP and started to look at options.

Option 1. Stick with Microsoft. This meant Vista or Windows 7. Well I’ve had pretty much no trouble at all with Vista on my desktop, it all works pretty well. This isn’t the usual story though and I cant see it running well on a netbook. So Vista was out on the basis of it being slower than XP unless fed a decent CPU and RAM. I’ve been running Windows 7 since early beta on my laptop and I have to say its very good, this was definitely going to be an option, but I’m not ready to fund Steve Balmer’s retirement (unless he guarantees to retire) yet, so this would have to wait.

Option 2. Hackintosh. I’ve always liked Mac’s. I haven’t actually used one as my own PC for years though and the thought of introducing a 3rd OS into my daily mix isn’t appealing. Conclusion, review again as a choice between OSX and Windows 7.

Option 3. linux. I’ve had Ubuntu 9.10 on a desktop linux PC since it released a little while ago and also as a dual boot on my laptop, so far I’ve not had any trouble and its been a decent operating system for daily use.

So I decided to bin Windows XP on my EeePC and try out some linux based solutions.

My netbook needs are simple

  • Terminal access (via SSH) so I can get at all the systems I look after
  • Web Browsing, preferably using Opera but FireFox will do
  • Skype (plus something for yahoo and messenger)
  • Office suite, light weight ideally but must be word/excel compatible
  • A twitter client (using the web isn’t great)
  • BBC iPlayer would be nice
  • eMail
  • Remote desktop /VNC
  • Media player, though not so important
  • Easy to use

So, will UNR910 cope? What about Google’s newly released ChromeOS? How about Intel’s Moblin project? and what is Jolicloud?