Archive for April, 2006

Regarding patents

It’s really pissing me off seeing companies having to pay gruesome sums of money for ruled US patent infringments. Microsoft had to pay over $5.5 billion so far and this situation will become worse as times goes by.

However, as I have written in the past, I am not against patents. Patents do serve a purpose and bolster research. But I am fully against the US patent system, which is one of the things that USA does really badly. Want to see a good patent system? Go check Japan’s. An international company that has been awarded 50 US patents, it only managed to get 2 in Japan. All the trivialities are trimmed out, because it seems that japanese actually read the bloody application before they stamp it as “approved”.

Either the US patent clerks never read the filed applications, or they don’t understand what they are reading. Both cases are sad.

What a messy day

Since last night, our internet connection stopped working. This morning apparently it worked only when I tried to connect the cable modem directly to my PC and not through our router. Placing the router back up, the connection went dead again. I then changed our Linksys router with our Netgear router, and soon enough I found out the problem: both the DNS servers we used to use for years are now dead (or temporarily DoS’ed). Configuring the routers to use DHCP also for the discovery of DNS, made the problem go away. I am too lazy to go change all the cabling again and put back the Linksys router though, so I think we will stay with the Netgear one, which is a more recent model (and I just upgraded its firmware too…). The Linksys router is a 802.11b server, but it is more compatible with Comcast’s modems, which is the reason we kept using it over the Netgear 802.11g model (which in the past it wouldn’t connect with the motorola modem, but it now works with our new RCA modem).

The second messing up of the day was about a review item. I was sent a PDA battery for a review at TuxTops.com, but I ordered the wrong thing. Instead of getting the battery for the HP iPaq rx-31xx series, I got it for the 31xx series. See the difference? Damn HP for their poorly named PDA series. >:(

OSNews Mobile: the project of a lifetime

Everyone knows how much I boast about the mobile version of OSNews, but few know that I consider it the project of my lifetime (well, so far). You see, OSNews Mobile is the most unique independent site (e.g. not-made-by-a-carrier) on the web today. Sure, there are many mobile sites out there, but most of them have no design whatsoever. They are a bunch of links and text on a white background (news.bbc.co.uk, Gmail anyone?). Another improtant point is that all the mobile sites out there don’t have an automatic detection, the user has to know a special URL. As for the sites that use WURFL for their detection (very few of them use it [un]fortunately), they leave out the text-mode browsers and mid-90s browsers. OSNews Mobile supports all of them and when the new CSS-based OSNews goes live, many more old browsers will be forced to use the mobile version (e.g. NetPositive, Dillo etc). JBQ (who works for Openwave’s mobile browser division) keeps telling me that he likes the mobile version of OSNews not because it’s the most “fabulous” site out there (it’s not), but because “it proves what is possible if web developers took the time to design properly for mobile“.

Today, the well-known site MobileBurn.com posted a review of the new Sony Ericsson W810i walkman phone. The editor, Michael Oryl, was very kind to send me over 2 screenshots of OSNews rendering on the phone’s brand new version of Netfront, v3.3. The phone has a resolution of only 176×220, but OSNews renders beautifully as you can see. Thanks Michael!



The QVGA factor

Sometimes it is a bit scary how myself and Russell Beattie think so compatible in terms of all things mobile. He yesterday blogged about the QVGA issue. He noted that while more and more phones are now using QVGA 240×320 screens, the text amount fit on the screen is the same as when using a 128×160 or a 176×220 phone. The reason for this is because handset manufacturers are using QVGA LCDs at no more than 2.2″ diagonial and so they are forced to use huge fonts. Now, compare a QVGA screen at 2.2″ and one at 2.7″ or 2.8″ PocketPC. Notice how much more text information the PPC can handle and display, without straining the eyes. Indeed, it seems that the 2.8″ is the “sweet spot” of how big a QVGA screen should be, averaging the dot pitch and quality in regards to the amount of text information fitting in one screen. In the past, I have made a similar blog post, discussing the same issue at Nokia’s brand new phones.

And while QVGA seems to be the best resolution for productivity and web usage, the first consumer VGA phone was announced in Japan yesterday: the Sharp 904SH. And Vodafone LIES about it. They keep showing their 2.4″ VGA LCD displaying 4-times the TEXT information than their previous 2.2 QVGA LCDs. This is a lie and I bet my head that this is just a mockup and not the real user interface. Their user interface can not justify making the fonts incredibly small just so they can fit 4x the amount of text — it’s impossible to see something like that even with a 20/20 vision. You don’t believe me? Have a look and tell me if you could read the calendar app shown on the second image on a 2.4″ diagonial. I didn’t think so. And so their user interface now will HAVE to use BIGGER fonts (check images here for my proof), essentially making the VGA LCDs almost the same as the QVGA ones, text-wise. Sure, the LCD is now brighter and with a more compact dot-pitch, and so their firmware guys can use a bit smaller fonts than normally, so they can fit a bit more of text information in one screen than they could with QVGAs. But that won’t be the expected 4x improvement (as 640×480 is over 320×240). It will be a 1.3x (or at best, a 1.5x) improvement or so.

The only reason why someone would want a VGA phone is for pictures. Pictures will just look better and more crisp, especially megapixel pictures captured via the onboard camera. Specially-compiled VGA games will look great too (but they will be slower as they will have to transfer 4x the information on the screen, plus they will be very few of these VGA games for the time being). But in terms of web, messaging and office productivity, the advantage is so small that doesn’t justify the cost of the VGA LCD on the handset. To justify that, the VGA LCD should have been about 3.6″ diagonial (and that ain’t gonna happen on consumer handsets). In other words, whoever buys a consumer phone just because it has a 2.4″ VGA (and doesn’t care about camera images), is a complete idiot.

UPDATE: Check this graphic representation of a VGA screen, and visualize it how small it would be on a 2.4″ placeholder. Think how popular phone home-videos shot at 120×96 or popular games developed for 128×128 would look at that screen. They will be impossible to watch them (especially because very few video playback apps on phones do resampling at higher resolutions or go fullscreen). Cellphones already have a legacy and all software around them has being built around that legacy (of small screens). In my opinion, going to VGA at 2.x” is a mistake. Going to VGA using big screens, is a better bet. And QVGA will continue to be the best resolution to do stuff without its effects getting on your way and still maintain a small-ish size for the handset.

Eugenia wins. Again.

A few days ago I emailed Bitstream’s Thunderhawk support to ask for a feature: to add the word “Thunderhawk” on their user agent so my scripts can recognize it as a mobile browser and serve it automatically the cHTML pages (they are using a standard desktop Mozilla user agent as default, even if their product runs on Windows Mobile and Symbian only). Unfortunately, as with most tech support people, I got a standard reply that helped neither myself or them. I replied in my usual agressive fashion, and I explained the situation further, showing them demos of the HTML, cHTML and WAP versions of OSNews and explained how it all works and why there are cases where they need to identify themselves as a mobile browser. Given the fact that OSNews will soon move to CSS, it is on their best interest to have access to the lighter, simpler pages. I… mandated for this issue to be formally discussed at Bitstream’s engineering meetings. The tech support person was kind enough to pass through my request and so the Bitstream engineers discussed the issue. Today they replied that they are seriously thinking of adding the word “Thunderhawk” on their next version’s user agent (at least as an option to the user, if not as a default). That’s good news as far as I am concerned not only for me and the users, but also for the browser.

Bitmap vs Vector

Jimmac is right. Bitmaps are not going away just because Vectors are “in fashion” lately. Bitmaps are faster to render and they look better on smaller sizes. This whole debate reminds me a lot of the Jpeg vs Png, or the CSS vs cHTML. There are practical uses for every of these technologies. That’s why they are still alive. Best tool for each specific job.

Dreaming of the Afterlife

I had one of these weird dreams last night that I usually have every few months. Apparently, I died in my dream (due to a huge… tsunami) and I was floating around for a few days from place to place (only an old, blind, woman could ’see’ me among the living — I was even careful to not scare her). At a cemetary there was a bully ghost (more like a bad spirit) who was trying to make the dead in that cemetary get even more scared than they already were — considering their situation. At some point I had enough of him and I confronted him WWE-style (you gotta love my subconscious self)!

After that, I found myself in an… office with some clerks working in it. I was soon enough approached by a male clerk who told me that I have to choose between going back to Earth and start living another life, or go to what we humans call Hell (and they did give me a quick taste of it with some clerks temporarily changing shape into ugly creatures — a good time to call Christ’s name in your sleep to help you get you out of the shit-tub, it always worked for me in the event of a nightmare). Apparently, there is either no Heaven, or I was not ready to be offered it as an option.

So, I asked a middle-aged woman who seemed to be like a supervisor there to give me some information about my new life on Earth, because I was obviously not going to pick Hell. Another clerk said that he had to go and see which life I am supposed to get and so he went away in another room to do just that. I found the time to ask these clerks if they were also dead humans like I was, but one of them said “no, but you can consider us ‘cousins’ “.

Soon enough, the other guy came back with a ‘glimpse’ of the life I was suppose to live (”I am sorry, you only have one life-choice this time I am afraid”, he said while he was coming back). The ‘glimpse’ was a picture (kodak-style, no less). It pictured myself, in my home in Greece as a teenager. But the furniture layout was a bit different. And so I asked “so, I am going to relive the same life?”. He replied “no”. After looking at the picture again I asked: “so, it’s going to be the same, but not exactly the same?”, and this time he replied “yes”.

I went back to the middle-aged clerk woman and I asked her to give me more information about this new life. She was not allowed to say much, but she said “this life is going to be much worse than your previous one”. Another clerk said “this new Eugenia is not like you, she can’t… she just can’t….” and she stopped saying anything more. The middle-aged woman then gave me a bit more (sad) information that I prefer to not air through this blog. Of course, I wasn’t happy about all this, but I knew that I could not negotiate it because they didn’t have the power to make it easier for me anyway. These clerk entities were just “working there”. The middle-aged woman finally said to me “You have a choice between Hell and this, and I must tell you, many other people have chosen to re-live much, much worse lives than the one you are going to get. I highly recommend you pick this life”.

I can’t remember anything else, as I think I woke up after this. Obviously, much of this “office”, “clerks” and “kodak pictures” are “simple, human-understandable representations” of what would things actually look like if something like this was real. Thing is, I don’t believe in the afterlife. And I don’t really believe in “past lives” either. I am not even truly religious. When we die, we simply die. We cease to function, and that’s it. We are just a bunch of complex chemical reactions that eventually go bad.

However, this dream did got me thinking that I may need to start living my life to its fullest and get the most out of it. 10 minutes later though I was back in my desk, in front of my monitor, lazily browsing the net and doing nothing differently than I do everyday. If God or angels or whoever want to shake me away of my (granded, self-exterminating) lifestyle they must try harder than using the… ancient dream method. I need more solid evidence than that. We have telephones these days! I have an iSight too! Let’s put it into some good use! ;-)

Jabber, GTalk and terrible hacks

And so I thought I should make GoogleTalk to use Jabber’s transports to display my AIM, Y!, MSN and ICQ contacts. What a huge mistake. Apparently Jabber’s transports are nothing but badly implemented hacks. I used Psi to register to the transports (using my GoogleTalk account) and all of a sudden I had 465 requests to deny or authorize contacts. Apparently, the transports don’t know how to deal correctly with the other IM protocols and so they download ALL your history during the years of using an IM account! It asks you to deny/ath even people which you never added to a contact list but might have a quick chat about something. What sucks even more is that EACH TIME you login to Psi or to GoogleTalk now, you get these requests AGAIN.

It gets worse: Each time I visit the Gmail web page, it automatically logs me in to GoogleTalk resulting in logging me off from Trillian or Adium (which are the IM apps that I usually use). Additionally, for some weird reason I don’t have the “voice chat” option for any of my GoogleTalk Gmail contacts. Lastly, while GoogleTalk is a fast app, it looks like an ass (like most Google pages do).

Most of this blame goes to Jabber for their half-assed transports, some of it goes to Google for logging me on to GTalk automatically without asking me. End result: I deleted the transports and will continue using Adium & Trillian and will never try GTalk again. And if I want to use Jabber, I will just use my normal Jabber account and not GTalk. While Google is building fast their Gmail community, nobody gives a shit about their IM and so none of my Gmail-subscribed contacts logs in via GoogleTalk. GTalk is completely useless to me without proper support for the other 4 major IM protocols. That’s the power of legacy for you Google! It’s time you have a taste of it too!

Rumor: No more Dell Axim PDA’s

PDALive reports that no more Dell PDAs are to be developed in the future. The x51v is the last PDA-only Dell has created. Which makes sense, as the plain PDA market is dead and phone-PDAs are the future. I won’t be surprised if Dell releases phone-PDAs instead.

KDE vs Gnome popularity

After the “fall” of MandrakeSoft and the “absorbance” of SuSE at Novell, KDE has lost lots of its professional engineers that used to work on the DE full time for their distros. However, while its development has being toned down a bit compared to the past (Gnome fairs even worse in this department anyway), its third party applications have flourished.

One of the ways to see this is by comparing the two main software repositories for the two DEs: kde-apps.org and gnomefiles.org. KDE not only has many more third party apps than Gnome has (there are about 1000 active GTK+ apps out there today) but it also has a healthier and more upbeat development community (mostly because Qt and Qt Designer are more usable than GTK+ and Glade). This is reflected in the popularity of the two sites too. Kde-apps.org has literally gone into the sky the past few months, with over 100,000 pageviews per day! Gnomefiles is doing better too than in the past, but has not more than 25-28,000 pageviews daily, even if the site is pretty much the only gtk-only repository online (there is also gnome-apps.berlios.de too, but it is unmaintainable).

When we announced gnomefiles on OSNews 2 years ago (which came to be after the Gnome.org server hacking that put an end to the official Gnome software repository), apparently the kde-apps.org maintainer became grumpy about it and soon after we got comments on osnews (originating from a German IP) that Gnomefiles… copied them! Which is of course bullshit as the two sites share ZERO design and usability concepts. Gnomefiles is a CLONE of BeBits.com, and not of kde-apps.org. Apparently, behind their grumpiness was a business reason: they had just launched gnome-look.org and they were getting ready to launch gnome-apps.org/com too. And Gnomefiles’ own launch just put a halt into their business plans. To this day, 2 years later, they still don’t link gnomefiles.org from gnome-look.org’s link page (while we do link to them).