Monday, 30 July 2007

A second look at the Foleo

As I alluded to in a previous posting, when Palm announced the Foleo, my first response was "Palm are seriously out of ideas and this will help kill them". The Foleo was overpriced, looked like a cut down laptop with a limited feature set and no "sex" appeal like the iPhone. Based on a lot of comments following the announcement, I was not alone in my thinking.

Fast forward a few weeks and the tone of the online media is changing somewhat, and this is coinciding with my own thoughts. The thing that first got me thinking about it as a potentially useful device was seeing a video clip of it on YouTube. It was a much smaller device than I originally expected. Then I read about some of the third party apps being developed for it and realised that the potential of this little device is much larger than I first thought.

The Foleo is effectively a small, silent, instant-on, personal laptop. It can surf the web (using the built in Opera browser), handle multiple email accounts, and do documents, spreadsheets and presentations. It's about the size of a decent notepad with many more features - a bit like the old Psion Netbook PDA but with the ability to access the 'net.

So I can imagine carrying this device into meetings (both at work and church) and having access to all my data. Okay, so if I had a smartphone I could do the same, but this would be a *lot* more practical in that text entry would be potentially as quick as using my full laptop.

Beyond that, the fact that the Foleo is running Linux, and there is a Terminal application available from the application menu open the possibilities of the device far beyond the web/email/documents market. Add in an 8GB SD card and who knows what it could do.

Okay, so it doesn't have a touch screen, but with a UI designed for the keyboard (apparently all the apps make use of keyboard shortcuts), this might not be an issue.

The Foleo is starting to look like a very compelling device...

Saturday, 28 July 2007

The frustrating state of mobile computing

The new Palm Desktop did not work with Vista and refused to progress beyond the splash screen. To be honest, I've not spent a huge amount of time investigating the reasons. This means that looking for a new PDA device is still on the agenda. Of course, the traditional PDA market has almost gone, merged into mobile phones, which is where I've focused my attention.

The main players in the mobile operating system market are Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm and Blackberry. To add to the mix, phones based on the Symbian operating system have a couple of choices of operating environments - Series 60 and UIQ.

All have their pros and cons - I've never been comfortable with the old Windows PocketPC interface. It always felt like Microsoft stuffed the Windows desktop down into a small device. This was in comparison with the Palm OS which was stunningly easy to use in comparison. However, with the latest version, Windows Mobile 6, things might have changed, so I should keep an open mind. I would at least expect it to sync my Outlook data well!

Series 60 looks very powerful and is certainly well supported, with Nokia as it's biggest backer. Having read up a bit on it, the two big problems are that it does not synchronise Outlook categories (which I use heavily) and does not support a touch screen (or at least most devices don't). The latter problem is manifested in the web browser that uses a little joystick to move a cursor around the screen - no, no, no, no, no!

Conversely, UIQ, the other Symbian based platform pushed by Sony Ericsson, is touchscreen oriented. Now this might still be an option - the new P1i smartphone does look pretty nifty, and it also comes with a pseudo-QWERTY keyboard. I don't have any experience with it's ability to sync with Outlook though so will need to investigate further.

I've not been a huge fan of early Blackberry models, partly because I wasn't keen on dragging my work around with me all the time, but also the early UI wasn't very appealing. Some of this might be the "interesting" theme one of my colleagues has chosen. I do know that it does Outlook (or Exchange to be mor precise) very well, and the new model is very small and looks just like a regular mobile. If I can get one from work and it manages the calendar and contacts well enough, then maybe that's all I need...?

The remaining contender is Palm. Bearing in mind this whole process started with the miserable failure of Palm to support anything but their top of the line products means their inclusion here is surprising. Let me explain:

I followed the Browse and Buy Devices link on Microsoft's page and specified that I wanted both a touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard, and that the device should support wi-fi. Of the few devices returned, the Treo 750 fulfilled the criteria. It also supports 3G which is another pre-requisite (but wasn't a filter option).

Now the Treo 750 is a Windows Mobile device but it does tick all the boxes. It's only a small sideways step to look at the Treo 755p which is effectively the same model but running Palm OS which I am very familiar with.

This comes full circle to originating problem - will the Palm sync with Outlook 2007 on Vista? My experience with the beta software has been poor, but perhaps I need to wait for the final release.

Why Palm OS? It's architecturally very poor and desperately in need of a new core (I've been hoping for this since Cobalt was announced!), but the user interface is still very, very nice compared to the competition.

I guess the first step is to see if the company will get me a small Blackberry, if only to replace the clunky, old Nokia I forget to carry with me. Then I'll check out the state of the market. Until then, I guess I'll carry on with my Sony Ericsson K800i for phone use and forgo all my personal contact data.

Side note: Despite my first thought regarding the Palm Foleo was "Palm are dead - who wants this product?", it looks like a software ecosystem is starting to develop for it. It's far too expensive at present (and really needs a touch screen), but maybe there is more to this device than first appears...

Friday, 27 July 2007

Beyond the Palm

Having blogged about Vista quite a lot recently, I have decided to revisit the subject of cloud computing. I have still not got syncing between Vista / Outlook 2007, Palm and Yahoo! working, but Palm have released a beta of their new Palm Desktop for Vista software. I'll be giving it a try soon, but the T3 isn't on the officially supported list.

It appears that Palm are continuing to throw away their market. I've been a Palm user since the original Pilot Professional, upgrading to an M500 and then to the T3. The PIM applications have been the main reason why I've stuck with Palm (and I hate the Windows Mobile interface!). But by not supporting the T3 - a model that isn't *that* old - I'm forced to look at other options.

So my criteria is:

  1. Decent PIM applications
  2. PIM synchronisation with Outlook 2007
  3. Web browser - ideally something like Opera
  4. Some form of Internet connectivity - wireless / bluetooth / ???
  5. Keyboard

Synchronising with Outlook will get my cloud experiment back on track, and I like the ability to browse the internet when out and about. The keyboard is a bit contentious, but ultimately, I'm faster on a keyboard that writing and handwriting recognition struggles to interpret my scrawls.

I'm guessing I'm looking at some form of mobile phone / smartphone. The OS News review of the Nokia E90 looks quite good, so that'll do on the list of potentials. I'm still a fan of Sony Ericsson phones, so will look at their offerings.

iPhone? Maybe, but it doesn't have a keyboard (perhaps not a showstopper depending on how good the virtual keyboard is) and I'm not sure what it's PIM capabilities are.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Vista: One week on

I've been using Vista now for a week and to my own surprise, I keep saying good things about it! Okay, so the problem with the Palm sync hasn't gone away (although I noticed tonight that Palm have released a beta Palm Desktop for Vista - without support for my T3!), but it's a nice working environment and definitely an improvement on XP.

Tomorrow I'll be working from home, so will get to see how Vista handles the Cisco VPN client, wireless access etc.

It looks like T will therefore be getting a Vista PC - something I might investigate on Saturday with a trip to PC World.

One of the really good things about my job is the variety. One moment I'll be testing Vista, the next I'll be hacking on a new shell script:

Things have been getting busier at work as we move towards the beta release of our product on Ingres 2006. I've been writing pages of documentation detailing the migration process and spent several hours working on a script that parses a database copy script and splits it so that tables can be copied in in parallel. Hopefully I'll get that finished tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Vista: Day Two: Boo

I can't get the Palm to sync with Outlook. It's giving a strange OLERR error message which according to various sources, isn't actually caused by Vista. There are several possible causes, but I've tried a number of them without success.

The Yahoo! sync doesn't work either which means the cloud experiment has come crashing down in a nasty heap. There is a new version of the Palm Desktop scheduled for "the summer" so I'll try then. No word about Intellisync for Yahoo! so we will have to wait and see.

I tried to use Plaxo to sync to Outlook and in the process managed to duplicate my contacts and calendar entries. Fortunately I have most things categorised in Outlook so it was trivial to recover.

All in all, not a great day for progress.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Vista: Day One

The Vista install went very smoothly yesterday on my work laptop. It's mostly working... so far.

The Aero Glass interface is quite nice and the new default system font is very pleasant to look at. The sidebar is reproducing the gadgets I've previously played with using Yahoo! Widgets and the Google Desktop sidebar. I like the window opening and closing fade effect, but the frosted glass window frame is not very useful.

Adding a networked printer was extremely easy - clicking the Add Printer button presented a list of network printers, I selected the one I wanted and it automatically installed the correct driver. No need to scroll through long lists of drivers, although I'm disappointed that the printer selection window size cannot be changed and I have to scroll through a list in a tiny window when I have acres of screen space that could be used.

Things that aren't currently working: Palm HotSync and Yahoo! Intellisync. The Palm is supposed to work, so I'll have to do some digging.

One comment must be made about the UAC. It's actually not that bad. I'm running as a non-administrative user and so UAC keeps prompting me for an administrators password whenever it wants to perform a privileged operation. I believe that if you're already an administrator it simply pops up the infamous allow/deny box without requiring a password.

To be honest, having installed a bundle of software packages, it's not that bad. There is no caching of the password that you find on Linux, but then Vista is likely to be a more vulnerable target by the black hats. Of course, many users will blindly click Allow, but at least UAC is a start.

At the end of day one, it's a pretty positive experience. Onto day two...

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

The start of the great Vista experiment

T has decided that she would like a new PC and that I would have the job of sorting it out. So I worked out a list of pros and cons based on her needs to decide whether a Mac, a Linux PC or another Windows machine would be the best choice.

I'm a big fan of the Mac and hope that the rumours of the Mini are greatly exaggerated as I was looking for a small Mac to play around with. The iMac seemed like it would be the best option for her, but with a product refresh imminent, it might not be the time to buy. Furthermore, T has a requirement to operate on Microsoft Office documents, and the added cost of purchasing Office 2004 pushed cost too high (when is native on MacOS X this might change things).

The second option was to migrate to Linux. Although I'm a happy Linux desktop user and happy with the combination of, Firefox and Thunderbird, there are some applications for which Linux isn't quite there yet (Scribus is a decent DTP program, but it's not as easy to use as Publisher...).

Which led me to investigate Vista. Now, I'm not a huge Microsoft fan and my first experience with a Vista beta was to loudly diss it as a cheap Mac OS X rip-off. But the reality is that at some point, be it at work or when helping my friends, I will have to learn it and use it.

So, this is the start of the great Vista experiment. At the moment, I'm typing the last part of this entry on my laptop which is installing a bunch of Vista patches. I'll blog my experiences - what's good, what's bad - and hopefully learn some things along the way...

Friday, 13 July 2007

Google Browser Sync - Yay!

Earlier this week I merged my personal and work bookmarks into a single file and installed the Google Browser Sync add-on for Firefox. This keeps multiple machines in sync with each other. As of tonight, I have got my "global" bookmarks syncing between my home PC, my work laptop and T's PC.

All good stuff and working very nicely. This is a real result for cloud living.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Bookmark Woes

Having successfully synced my calendar, to-do list, notes and contacts so I can access them from anywhere, I turned my attention to bookmarks as the next thing to move to the cloud.

I have a small collection of bookmarks on my home PC, as well as on my work laptop. Over the weekend I took the step of merging them together into Yahoo!'s new bookmark system. This is pretty funky....

...until you try and manage them! Although sporting a slick AJAX driven UI, Yahoo Bookmarks is limited in being able to easily drag and drop bookmarks and re-arrange them. It also requires a visit to the page to access them and my common bookmarks are not sorted at the top (accessing Facebook is slower than typing into the address bar).

The Yahoo! toolbar for IE provides instant access to your bookmarks by clicking a button, but the Firefox toolbar tries to read the old bookmarks system (which wasn't very good!).

Alternatively, I could use the Google bookmarks system, but this doesn't appeal at the moment (it doesn't have the whizzy page preview that Yahoo has).

So for now, I'm opting to use the Google Browser Sync extension for Firefox that will keep a copy of the bookmarks on the cloud, while still providing the ability to manage them using the rich Firefox interface.

It's not a solved problem, but it's a good step forward.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

A plethora of blogging options

So I've just registered with Blogger (part of the Google Empire). This is in addition to my Slashdot Journal, neglected Yahoo! 360 page and my personal website. Far too many options to keep them all relevant, so I'll try and settle on the best and remove the others.

This blog is called "Living on the Cloud" and it refers to my current mini-project of moving all my "digital life" (how's that for a pretentious blog comment) from my local network to the Internet where I can [theoretically] access it from anywhere.

Check back soon for more updates (I know, you can't wait...)

Big Brother is watching you...

Had a thought recently following on from the terrorist attacks in the UK:

If we had hi-res CCTV in most public places, along with a DNA database of the entire population (including those peskly tourists
;-)), then would it dramatically cut crime?

At the moment, TV programmes like Crimewatch show low-res, grainy CCTV footage that doesn't look very useful. Hi-res will presumably arrive sooner rather than later and could help massively in identifying criminals.

Similarly, imagine how simple it would be to solve crime by turning up, swabbing the scene for DNA and get an instant ID.

I'm not saying that this is a good thing - it's open to misuse like most technology - and the privacy concerns are significant.

But it could also be useful in proving one's innocence. Hi-res CCTV will make misidentification more difficult, and DNA identification could similarly be used to prove that you were NOT the culprit.

Just a thought...