The future is coming ready-or-not

Archive for January 2010

Nokia n900 review

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As I write this I’m rocketing across Belgium shortly to transit under the channel on the Eurostar train. I’m crossing a continent rich in history and conflict. But to be honest, it’s an antiseptic journey. Unfortunately, my laptop isn’t on-line, and without a connection it won’t relieve the boredom. Luckily my phone is online. It’s my phone that I’m using to stay connected to the Internet, making sure I’m not missing anything important and keeping me amused during the journey. With it I’m reading e-mail and RSS along with communicating through instant messaging.

As we move towards a world that is mobile and connected the phone is much closer to the type of computing experience I want than the traditional PC. Perhaps without realising it phones are becoming a very significant computing platform. We’re using an increasing number of them – billions of phones ship a year, millions of computers by contrast.  And as you know emerging areas of the world are very big on phones! Finally, smart phones are becoming very powerful, Moores law and all that.

So if you talk about pervasive computing, the incarnation we have of that today is the smart phone: it performs some set of computing tasks and it’s always available to me since I always carry it. Consequently, if you’re interested in what the future of computing looks like then it’s going to have a lot of the characteristics of the phone.

I recently got a Nokia n900 which has a lot of the characteristics that I think are important in a pervasive computing platform. First, for all that we love touch you need data entry and that means a keyboard of some form.  Second, if it’s pervasive then it better be well connected, because I move around a lot. If it’s an always-available computer then it has to be able to do more than one thing at a time, because I’m doing more than one thing at a time. Clearly, it has to have a wide range of applications and that includes full Web capability since lots of “applications” I access like Facebook are on the Web. And it has to be configurable, it’s my device and while it may be managed, I want to customise it.

So having set out my strawman it’s easy for me to conclude that the n900 ticks all those boxes. And it does, the N900 really is a good personal computing platform, it has a lot of the elements I listed. On the other hand, it’s not a very good phone!

OK, so I set the punch line up. Seriously though, if you just want a phone then you’re missing the point of the n900.  Yes, the voice quality is good, and the integration with contacts and conversations is very nice, the embedded usage of Skype and ability to use VOIP/Skype is very interesting.  But it has quirks as a pure phone, and anyway it’s noticeably large, heavy and the battery life borders on terrible.

As a mobile computing platform though it’s very cool. The more I use n900 the more impressed I am with the software package.  Maemo feels very well put together to me, it’s fast, looks good and the UI has some interesting innovations. Maemo is Open Source and Nokia have been working to develop a community around it for a few years. It’s still raw in parts but if it keeps on maturing and benefits from Open Source innovation then it’s going to be great.

Outside from the general user interface the software stack is also very strong. If you want something decent for e-mail then the n900 is a good choice. The native e-mail client handles IMAP very well, the wizards make it easy to set-up and the keyboard is fine – it’s actually better than a blackberry I tried recently, since push e-mail isn’t important to me. It’s got a fantastic full browser that can access heavy Javascript sites. If you use the new mobile Firefox browser then resource hungry sites like Gmail and Google reader are absolutely fine. It’s able to handle instant messaging over a range of different networks which makes for a feeling that you’re constantly in touch with people. The RSS reader is rubbish though, it should be taken outside and quietly shot – seriously no off-line mode!?

If you’re in the market for a new smart phone and you want something a little different, or you’re looking for something a bit more powerful and hackable than the other options out there then check out the N900.


Written by Steve George

January 31, 2010 at 13:05

Canonical Voices

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Want to know Canonical’s secret business plan? Or find out the latest features we’re working on in Ubuntu or UbuntuOne? Then hop over to the Canonical Voices site.  It’s a blog aggregator that provides a single location for Canonical employees to blog and engage with the wider world.

Many Canonical employees develop Ubuntu directly making them members of the Ubuntu community so their views already appear on Ubuntu Planet. However, there are lots of Canonical employees who work in other areas, such as with OEM’s, or on UbuntuOne, in marketing or with business customers. Canonical voices brings together everyone in the company and provides a single place where you can see the breadth of their views, opinions and thoughts.

As an Open Source technology company we’re working within a variety of communities; sometimes that means an Open Source project, but it could mean a group of users or a set of companies. So it’s important for us to be transparent and to engage in a conversation – encouraging understanding and perhaps sparking interesting ideas. Canonical Voices provides a space for that.

A connected point is that Canonical hires a lot of intelligent, opinionated and interesting people who are great communicators. Hopefully, Voices will provide a focus and context for those that want to blog, sparking everyone within the company to feel they are part of an organisation wide conversation. Personally, I’ve been reading Voices regularly for the last few weeks and I’ve already learnt lots of interesting things about other projects within Canonical.

I can’t promise that I’ll be any better at blogging regularly, I’ve already broken quite a few promises and resolutions on that front! Nonetheless, I’ve started aggregating posts about Ubuntu, Linux and Canonical over to the Voices site. Please check it out and become part of the conversation!

Written by Steve George

January 29, 2010 at 18:00

Posted in Canonical, Canonical-voices, Linux, Ubuntu

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Arkeia Network Backup for Ubuntu

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A very long time ago, in a parallel universe managing backups on Linux was a real headache.  If you can remember all the way back to the mid 90’s these wasn’t journaling or iSCSI and Linux wasn’t as stable as it is now – so having good backups was your only lifeline! Arkeia was the the first back-up software that I used for the linux systems, at the time most of the other vendors didn’t support Linux. Of course there were free software options, but they were really hard to use. And anyway, we didn’t want backup, we wanted restore. So Arkeia it was, and it worked very well.

As backup is so easy to ignore, anything that makes it easier is good news. That’s why it’s great news that Arkeia now supports Ubuntu. They recently announced that Arkeia Network Backup version 8 is available on Ubuntu 8.04 LTS. Arkeia have also signed up as a Silver Partner in the Ubuntu Partner programme.

Arkeia is a network backup system, so it’s suitable for a networked environment. There’s a central backup server where all the backups are stored on disk or tape, and individual clients are installed on each system within the network. The agent itself is available for Ubuntu, RH, Novell SUSE, OSX and Windows. So in one scenario you can use an Ubuntu server as the central backup server and install agents on all the other systems in your network. Alternatively, if you have an existing Arkeia set-up this announcement means you can install the agent on your Ubuntu systems and back them up to your existing backup server.

If you’d like to try out Arkeia they’re also offering a free version for Ubuntu users. A pre-licensed version is available through the Ubuntu partner repository, so if you have this switched on then a simple apt-get install arkeia will download and install it. With this free license you can backup two systems (any platform including Windows and OSX) with up to 250GB of files whether tape or disk based. See their documentation for more information.

If you don’t have a backup system this is a great way to get started.

Written by Steve George

January 14, 2010 at 18:14