Sunday, July 5, 2009

July Update

Nokia 5800

Nokia is trying to get its act together on Symbian. Symbian is possibly one of the strangest platforms to exist - one that ensures no consistency across even devices that have the same version of the OS. Nokia also tends to release newer features on newer phones rather than adding them to older phones. While Symbian runs very lightweight and responsive, the sheer popularity and quality of the apps on the iPhone Appstore shows easily the problems faced by developers while trying to use Symbian. From a user POV, consider the horrible Download app used by Nokia (that till recently used to show every single apps as free - only to have the app ask for money on installation)

Nokia is trying to improve on this - by launching the Ovi store, having more frequent firmware updates and now, by decoupling features from the OS. Adobe Flash Lite 3.1 recently became available for download over App Update - independently of the Firmware version. This is followed by the Java runtime being updated to 2.0 again independently of the firmware. This has a frightening disclaimer though - it seems if you interrupt the update, your device may need servicing. I am not risking that on a beta version!

Nokia still needs to work on a few things. Their customer care is one - you cant have the same people who service the 50,000 Rs. 1500 phone owners also try to service the 5000 Rs. 15000 phone owners. In India, Nokia tries to do that - and people tell horror stories of Nokia support as a result. Then there's the region coding issue - Ovi store launched months ago but I STILL don't see the Ovi app in the Download app, so officially, it hasnt hit India as yet. Similarly Firmware - Nokia it seems has 500 different Firmwares for the 5800, with minor tweaks for each country. You can easily change a phone's region code and install another firmware - the hardware is identical! But Nokia still makes you wait months for updates if you live in India.

BTW, it seems you can install Python on the 5800 and then that becomes available as a platform - much like J2ME. Amazing!


I am sure many people remember M$'s much maligned Get The Facts campaign, which somehow managed to prove that Linux was 10 times more expensive than Windows 2003 - by comparing the cost of running Windows on Intel Xeons and Linux on a hyper-expensive IBM box. Well, they recently came out with a similar campaign for IE8. IE8 somehow manages to beat Firefox on every single category - and even get a "tie" on "customizability." I don't understand why M$ does these things - surely the negative publicity and ill-will generates through this would annul any advantages. Of course, the Firefox team occasionally does annoying things too.

In any case, I have been using FF3.5 for a week now. The only extension which is not working with it is Block Site. Unfortunately, as noted earlier, the browser offers only minimal memory usage improvements - after a week with it, I find FF3.5 using pretty much the same amount of memory of FF3.

In the meantime, the Mozilla team is rushing ahead on the "customizability" front. They recently introduced JetPack - a sort of hybrid between Greasemonkey and normal Extensions. This allows you to write Javascript/CSS that not only changes a page's look and feel (Greasemonkey) but also interacts with the browser chrome (like an extension). The other interesting thing is the ability to create collections of addons on the Firefox site. This allows you to use the Add On Collector extension to create a set of addons which will get installed together. Check out this link to see some collections assembled by Lifehacker.

Customizability is the crux of reason why I use Firefox - even if its slower, uses more memory, has less features etc, I have it customized way too much to my liking using extensions to giv eup on it. The FF team though has an uphill task - jokes aside, IE8 is the best browser by M$ ever and Chrome/Safari/Opera are definitely tough competitors.

Other Stuff

Lifehacker regularly publishes a Hive Five - a comparison of various software in a category, followed by allowing users to vote on their favorite. A few months ago, they came out with a best of the best post - listing the winners of past Hive Fives. This was updated recently with a updated list of new comparisons added since March. Note that these are not free softwares - these are just the best softwares in each cateory, whether paid or free. They recently came out with a separate set 0f the essential free software which any machine needs - called the Lifehacker pack, much like the Google Pack. Of course there is another way to get all these softwares - you can use a installer app, like RadarSync/FileHippo etc. to download and install these for you. These apps are pretty interesting - they serve the same purpose on Windows that Apt does on Linux. Not too many Windows users (even geeks) know about them though, which often leads to many of my friends claiming that there is no Apt-like option for Windows.

It is now possible to synch Outlook to Google Apps, much like Exchange. This is only for the premium version of Google apps. Considering GMail's UI and feature set, one would expect it to be far more widely used than right now. The reason its not, is first and foremost because most organizations are (rightly) not comfortable having their data on the cloud. Retraining requirements for administrators is a factor too, but I feel that is easier to overcome - its a hinderance not a deal breaker. If Google comes out with a Maill Appliance like they have a Search Appliance, Google Apps would be much more popular in the enterprise.

I downloaded M$ Morro - M$'s free antivirus a few days ago. For some reason, the site was non-functional (possibly due to overload) when I opened it. M$ were only going to allow 100,000 people to download Morro. For some reason, I couldn't download Morro during the timeframe allowed, but my MSN ID got registered as a valid tester and I was able to download it the next day. Not that I have installed it of course - I am fully satisfied with Avast thank you very much


Unknown said...

Regarding S60:
Python's been available for some time now on it. Thats one of the first things I install on my phone (second S60 phone now...) and probably the only redeemable feature of S60 for programmers.

Its great for doing quick tasks like taking all text messages from a given user and saving as a giant file to be backed-up to your PC. You can connect via bluetooth to the phone and directly run your commands in a python shell.

Their C++ variant is painful to program in. The memory model requires a lot of attention and the tool chain to compile is not straightforward to use.

I've done some apps for the Palm SDK using their C compiler. They also had a weird memory model (basically, the OS moves around chunks of memory so you can't safely keep pointers around in your code) but was less grotesque.

I looked at the Ovi store recently and to say I was dismayed was an understatement. I have an E71 - not exactly an old phone model - and yet the number of apps available on the store is a joke.

Now that scripting is available on the Android, I'm thinking of switching to an HTC.

BTW, do you have any experience with J2ME? Is it worth learning that?

Abisurd said...

Symbian is an unstable OS for now. I did not like the experience on the 5800. Inconsistency across the appps threw me down Skipped N97 annd went for HTC Magic. The Android Market does not have the kind of apps that are made for the iPhone/iPod touch, there are sufficient number of apps already and in some time, I'm betting there will be many more.

My father suffered a broken firmware update and as a result the Media Player no longer works. It has now gone for servicing. He was smart enough to make a backup, so even if they have to completely flash the phone, it would not lead to any data loss.

I'm happy with Chrome for now. I have installed FF 3.5 but don't use it. Just that Chrome does most (if not all) of the tasks for me (except a two-click translation that I had using a FF Extension) but its stable and low mem. Customization is not a high priority for me.

Ashish Vashisht said...

@HS, I agree - the Ovi store is pretty pathetic right now. I guess while it provides a central repository of apps, actually programming them is just as difficult. I havent used J2ME, but I havent really heard great things about it either. Particularly, its OK if you develop for one phone, but when you try to move to another handset, its not as useful

@Abisurd, what's surprising is that Symbian OS has existed in one form or another since the 1980s and they still havent got things figured out after all this time. You should have tried using *#7370#, it forces the handset to reset. It purges all data, but many times it fixes Firmware issues. Re:FF, I cant live without mouse gestures or google toolbar. Also, I use Widefox to move the tabs to the right. So cant move to Chrome alas!