Archive for June 19th, 2006

T-Mobile’s Sidekick 3 Launched (Updated)

So, the HipTop 3 is out, under T-Mobile’s usual Sidekick brand. Great stuff, it’s a really nice (smart)phone. The only three things I don’t like about it is its lowish-resolution screen (240×160 — QVGA would have been nicer), extremely limited Bluetooth support (only hands-free and vCard profiles are supported) and it’s still a bit too big/heavy. Adding some WiFi & VoIP SIP, UMTS and a video-call camera would be groovy too. I guess that’s what’s coming with Sidekick 4 in 1-2 years time, I just wish it could have those already so it could really kick ass.

Update: Michael Oryl of MobileBurn was again very sweet to send me over screenshots showing how OSNews renders on the new Sidekick 3.

2 years of Gnomefiles and the state of Gnome/GTK

Gnomefiles.org is already 2 years old now, it has over 1230 GTK+ apps in its database and it has a steady flow of about 25,000 pageviews per day. I don’t plan to add any features or change the site, it does already what I want it to do and how to do it.

Gnomefiles always makes me think that there are no more than 1500 GTK-based active applications out there. KDE/Qt has double that, even if lately Gnome and KDE have almost equal market share these days (KDE used to have over 55% and Gnome about 25% just 3-4 years ago), but still, KDE produces more apps. The reason for this, as I have mentioned many times in the past, is the tools provided. Trolltech — being a commercial/professional company– provides all the tools required to create a modern app easily. GTK+ is more difficult to learn (thank God for pyGTK and GTK#), but most importantly, it has no serious tools. Comparing Qt Designer to Glade and KDevelop to Anjuta is a bit of a joke. Additionally, KDE has more debugging and profiling tools than GTK has. More over, GTK+ and its bindings have no up-to-date documentation (no, looking at other people’s source code does not count). Trolltech on the other side, has taken all the required measures to deliver good docs. The only problems of Qt are GCC C++ changes that break Qt app compilation every other moon, incompatible Qt changes in itself and the fact that the resulted apps look seriously crappy (regardless of KDE/theme used).

Anyways, I have being arguing online about the GTK problems for years and only recently Novell has placed two guys to work on them. One works on Stetic (a new C# RAD tool) and another one works on API documentation. But they don’t move fast enough…

In the meantime, Gnome 3.0 is nowhere to be seen or heard. There was some talk about it a year ago, now it seems that the maintainers don’t really care about it. The original idea was to break source code compatibility with the 2.x code and deliver major new features, but it seems that either they don’t have the stamina to go on with such a big change, or no one wants anymore to lose the current stability and the compatibility with these 1500 apps. I would actually agree with them. They should evolve Gnome stadily and compatibly and not re-write large parts and re-discover the wheel breaking everything on the way. That would be an even bigger disaster than the current one with the existing GTK 2.x third party developers.

Gnome 3.x and GTK 3.x should retain full source and binary compatibility for the sake of its users and its subsequent success. We don’t want to have the same problems we had with many Gnome 1.x applications under Gnome 2. Some worked, most didn’t, even after installing the old libs (with resulted headaches). The old apps just didn’t work correctly and transition was not smooth. The same should not happen with Gnome 3.

In conclusion, I must say that the reason why we don’t see much of Gnome 3 propaganda (and even not so much of KDE 4) is because the Linux desktop is in its decline in terms of hype. Be careful, I am not saying that this year will be fewer Linux users than last year (on the contrary, Ubuntu brings many new users to the Linux platform every day). I am just saying that there is less HYPE about it. Normal people know what to expect from it now, they don’t eat all the “Linux is the best OS on the planet” shit anymore. The whole Linux scene is toned down, for a bit over a year now. The “Golden Era of Desktop Linux” (remember: hype-wise) was between 2001 and 2004. And since we are out of this era, companies like Sun, Red Hat and Novell have shifted most of their forces away (Mugshot anyone?) and have a smaller involvement with Gnome/GTK. And SuSE & Mandrake don’t do nearly as much as they did in the past about KDE either. Hence, the whole tone-down in development and consequent hype of Linux on the desktop and as a competitor to Windows.

I firmly believe that Linux on the desktop in its current incarnation (== several distros kinda similar but semi-incompatible with each other) has already reached its maximum at that 2.5% of OS market share. For Linux to go further and impress, a company (with the kind of money Google has – *twink*) must invest in rethinking the whole thing and create something fresh and innovative. Kinda like how Apple took Mach and FreeBSD and created a brand new OS, but didn’t kept compatibility with either NeXTSTEP or FreeBSD. Compatibility is very important (as I said above), but not when the existing distro market is pulling you down with it. If there is ONE Linux-based OS that uses ONE package manager and it’s fully compatible with itself all the way through and it’s fresh, new, innovative with lots of financial backing, then it can do it. In other words, that would be a brand new platform that simply “happens” to also use some Linux/GTK code (so that existing third party apps would be ported relatively easily to it). That doesn’t mean that this OS would be “just another distro”. It shouldn’t be.

Praising h.264 once more

I am amazed with Apple’s implementation of h.264. If you go right now at Apple’s front page you will see a random “Mac vs PC” TV commercial. The one I stumbled on is 30 seconds, 12 FPS, 1.01 MBs filesize, 642×362 size (high-resolution), AAC stereo sound and 16 millions of colors. This means that each second of playback uses about 34 KBs of data, and each frame is at around 2.8 KBs. This is amazing. Now, sure, MPEG4 does not encode parts of a frame that haven’t changed, so it saves on filesize. But the quality of each frame is so good, that I am sure that without Photoshop’s enhanced JPEG algorithm I wouldn’t be able to save a JPEG 642×362 frame in less than 40 KBs. And that’s only 1 frame, not 12. And don’t forget that there’s stereo sound packed in the video file too, plus QuickTime’s container overhead…

In my opinion, h.264 has only two problems:
1. Extremely slow encoding times. We are talking in many-many hours of encoding for a single movie with QuickTime. I think it took about 5 hours to encode for the QVGA iPod a 150min movie on my 867 Mhz Powerbook G4. The open source utilities for h.264 encoding (e.g. the ones that come with freeware Handbrake) are even slower.
2. There are weird artifacts when the frames are dark. For example, on a movie scene where it’s night/dark, you will see some excessive 4-color bleeding. I can’t quite describe it well, but here’s a grab shot on a 16 million color screen. The problem is visible on LCD and well-configured CRT screens on many trailers on Apple’s own web site.

It would also be nice if the open source community had a better support for it. While normal-sized h.264 videos work well, 1080p videos don’t. If your video is 1920 pixels wide (HD resolution), for the last 320 pixels on the right you will get a green or pink color and no picture. Yup, you guessed it! They have hard-coded the decoding process for 1600×1200 monitors! The problem exists with all the serious compatibility-wise OSS media players: mplayer, Xine and VLC (they all use the same ffmpeg decoder).

An update on the diet

My diet continues successfully: I have lost 11.2 lbs in 3 weeks time (that’s over 5kg). However, there was an emerging problem: I started having an involuntary muscle twitch (”tick”) on Friday. I couldn’t get rid of it. A quick search online revealed that very low calorie diets (aka VLCD) require vitamin supplements of at least potassium and magnesium. So we drove to the store and we got 4 bottles of vitamins — vitamins that I am missing with this kind of diet: fiber, magnesium, potassium and a multi-vitamin one. Needless to say, the muscle tick dissapeared just half an hour after taking the K,19 & Mg,12 vitamin pills.