20097July

Open Source Is a Great Feature.

While I am not opposed to closed source or proprietary software, as others may be, I very much appreciate software that is open source. I view it as a feature: a very attractive feature that can be implemented in any piece of software.

No Malware

When I install a piece of open source software, I can be reasonably sure that it does not contain any adware, spyware, or trojans. This is simply due to the fact that such things are not tolerated, and if the program is at all useful, someone will have noticed and called the software developer out. Once this happens, if the original developer doesn’t modify the software to remove the malware, someone else will undoubtedly create another version - this time without the offending bits; this version will then become the de facto standard. This is my single favorite benefit of the feature of being open source, especially when it comes to other people’s computers and the repairing thereof.

No Dangling Bits

I also can be reasonably sure that a piece of open source software is easily and completely uninstalled from a system. Many shareware and freeware apps are simply of very low quality; either the installer or the uninstaller or both may not work correctly. This is another example of bad software behavior. Over time, installing and uninstalling shareware and freeware software contributes to a very messy system with orphaned libraries, pointers and other files. This is another software behavior which is simply not accepted in open source software.

A Great Tool

There are many other more technical reasons open source software is great, but they don’t apply directly to most users. However, I would like to point out one somewhat technical benefit: open source software is a marvelous tool for learning to program. There is a stage that comes after a person learns a first programming language but has not done much programming. At this stage, being able to see and modify the source code of programs is very beneficial and empowering. This can also help someone get involved with a community of software developers.

Pragmatic

Open Source is more than an ideology for me: it’s one of the best features a piece of software can have.

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200923June

Alice.com Is Pretty Cool!

I just read about Alice.com today. This is a service which lets you order household goods online. Until now, it really wasn’t easy to do this for a few reasons: shipping costs, higher prices (compared to traditional stores), and timing - it’s usually too late for online ordering when you think to get more.

the business side

Alice.com folks have worked with the manufacturers of these types of products to bring this service. They are not a typical man-in-the-middle retailer that buys large quantities of items to sell to consumers. Instead they offer companies a platform to sell directly to their customers. Because of this, the prices on Alice.com are actually competitive. Additionally, there are no shipping costs. The price you see on the “shelf” is actually the price you’ll pay.

pretty cool features

To make the shopping more convenient than going to a traditional retailer, Alice.com has a space where you can set up your own products so you don’t have to search for the right item every time. They make it easy to set up regular reminders for each item so if you only need some items every other month and other items every week, it will remind you appropriately. It actually will make an initial guess for you based on how many people are in your house and what kind of item it is. Additionally, the will very soon have automatic shipping set up so you don’t even have to go to the site. If you like to shop using coupons, they have them and you can limit your search to show only items with coupons. The same is true of “green” products; every search has the option to show just organic options. There is also a social aspect to the site; you can set up friends and choose items based on what they like. There is also an option to show a list of just the items you’re likely to need right now (based upon your reminders and the last time you ordered the item). Finally, there are budgeting tools which show how much you spend on each type of item.

referral code

Now, if you like the idea, go ahead and sign up, it’s free and they don’t share your private information (including your e-mail address) with anyone. If you click any of the links to Alice.com on this page, or if you paste E088D4E in the referral code part of the sign-up form, you can get some warm fuzzies by knowing you’re helping us out without any cost to yourself. And if you want to, you can get your own referral code when you sign up.

more info

If you want more information, you can read the corporate blog entry about the launch or the community blog entry, which clearly outlines some of Alice.com’s cool features.

20094June

ZDNet: Why Linux Is Ready for the Desktop Today.

I wanted to point this article out. There have been more and more of these lately. This particular one isn’t so much why linux is ready other than signs that Linux is starting to grab hold in the marketplace.

20093June

Pixel Qi's Display

They did it. They actually did it.

I became aware of Pixel Qi a couple of months ago. They claimed to have been making a display which has all the following qualities:

In addition, it didn’t require the creation of new fabs, it could be done in with existing LCD fab plants. I was very skeptical; the claims they were making were outstanding. The most recent color e-paper was pretty rough and refresh rates were not even close to video speeds. In addition to that, the Company’s page at the time was very simple and template-y. They also didn’t have any specific data; what is a “video” speed refresh rate 10Hz?15Hz? 24Hz? What is full-color? 8-bit? 24-bit? Who knows?

Well, the first batch of 60 screens is out and they look amazing! Both the e-paper mode and the full color mode have video refresh rate (I’ve heard that it’s 60 Hz). You can read more about it on Tech Video Blog. Or keep up to date with Pixel Qi at Mary Lou Jepsen’s Blog.
[UPDATE: another video from JKKMobile is below]

Below is the video demo from techvideoblog:

Here is JKKMobile’s video:

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200929May

Moblin 2.0... Completely Useless.

I was looking forward to trying Moblin, the Linux-based operating system designed specifically with mobile devices in mind, but apparently, it’s pretty lacking in a number of areas.

The interface looks very sharp; it is mostly flat, 2d graphics with a few subtle, well done 3d shaded parts. I really love the flatter interfaces because they look especially clean. I personally use the Elegant Brit theme on my system. Moblin also uses a Clutter back-end to draw its interface. Clutter uses OpenGL to draw 2d graphics on 3d surfaces; this allows for some fancy animations which take advantage of the amazing computing power which is available on modern graphics cards. In addition to the interface looking handsome, it also functions a bit differently than a typical computer desktop.

Unfortunately, this is where Moblin falls down. JKKMobile published a video review which shows off these shortcomings of the operating system. The video is rather long, so I will discuss some of the points made.

I’ll start with the minor things. First, there seems to be a lack of configurability throughout the system. There is a web browser, but no configuration options. There is a list of recently used files on the home screen, but no way to modify the list (such as pinning down or removing items).

There are a couple of places where you click an icon to invoke a desired functionality, where it needs some information in order to complete the function (such as browsing to a website - it needs a web address). It should allow you to type this information in readily, however, it requires another click (in a textbox) before you can begin typing.

Now for the big problem: some serious user interface flaws. The main toolbar which you use to interact with the system (akin to Windows’ start menu or OS X’s dock) hides itself. To get to it, one must move the mouse to the top of the screen. “What’s wrong with that”, you ask “that’s the behavior I prefer: it saves space.” Well, it completely fails on devices with a touch screen! It is very difficult to activate that very top row of pixels on a touchscreen. It also gets in the way since the individual applications mostly have controls at the very top of the screen. When you try and click on a control, the Moblin toolbar pops up and you end up clicking on something you did not intend. But that’s relatively minor. If you want to have a laugh, skip ten minutes twenty seconds into JKKMobile’s video. The media player is just plain wierd. He clicks on an image, and thumbnails shuffle around. Then he clicks on the same image; they shuffle around again. The process continues until he finally gets to the image he wants to see. You have to watch the video to fully see just how wacky this thing is.

For an operating system designed around a user interface, it looks like there really wasn’t much thought put into the interface. It’s a shame because it seemed like it was going to be great. It is still in a beta phase, so there will be some changes before the final product. It’s possible that we’ll still end up with something good, but right now, it’s not of much use.

I would like to also point out a couple of aspects which are part of the Moblin project which are pretty interesting. It includes a data store called Mojito, which fetches items from the web and caches them locally. Examples of items it might fetch include photos from Flickr or your contacts’ updates from Facebook. Developers can write programs which use Mojito to work with the user’s web data. Another interesting data tool is Bickley, which is a metadata management system. This allows items on your system to have extra bits of data tacked on. For example, you might want to know how frequently you play a song or which contacts collaborated with a set of documents.