Tag Archives: free software

No Gingerbread Update for the Acer Stream

According to Acer Germany’s twitter account @AcerDeutschland there won’t be a Gingerbread Update for the Acer Stream. While it certainly makes sense for Acer to discontinue support for the “Stream”, which didn’t sell that well (just have a look how few posts about the Acer Stream Android forums contain), this is another sad Android support story.

Personally I really think the “Stream” is a nice device, that probably suffered from a not too handsome design – but most likely more from a poor marketing. Acer are in fact shooting themselves in their foot by discontinuing the support for a device that’s not yet a year old – knowing that they discontinued the support for their “Stream” so soon, how can I possibly recommend their Acer Iconia Tab A500 which got positive reviews (BTW: when I went hands on at a local electronics store earlier today, i liked it, too)? I can’t and I doubt others can. Software Updates are very important, not only to enable the user to run the latest apps, but also to fix possible vulnerabilities – who feels comfortable using a smartphone with known vulnerabilities, knowing these won’t be fixed?

Especially if Android phone manufaturers really want to compete with Apple, they should provide software Updates for at least two years. Everything else is pathetic and a disaster for the whole “Android” brand.

Still interested in Acer products? Acer Iconia Tab A500 at Amazon.de

Flash Will Remain A Problem On Mobile Devices. A Statement.

Adobe´s Flash (since Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005) is a technology widely used on todays world wide websites – still I actually dislike it that much, that I don´ t use a PC without a flashblocker. While it was used for fancy navigations, intros and other stylish stuff back in the late 1990s, it´s used for games, videos and advertisements today. This development is a nice one, of course, as websites featuring flash navigation were completely unusable without the appropriate plugin (and there is still no such thing as Flash for Linux on MIPS (MIPS is not dead, thanks to chinese developments like Ingenics´ XBurst technology or the Loongson CPU, e.g) but still this is annoying, especially on mobile devices, as Flash is a resource hog. Using an average Intel Atom powered netbook, you will soon notice, that Flash applications like those games on facebook or high-res (I am not talking of HD here) video make your little beloved netbook a noisy beast, as the fan will start screaming due to high CPU load.
In addition to that, Flash on Linux (and Mac) has not only been slower than Flash on Windows XP due to architectural reasons, but some features in rather heavy flash applications simply didn´t work – while Flash 10.1 beta actually fixes many of these bugs for me, it still shows that Adobe didn´t really care about platforms besides Microsoft Windows in the past. Now, with HTML 5 (and it´s new media tags) evolving and increased mobile internet use Adobe finally starts to do something – we will see Flash for Android and Web OS pretty soon, and as these are ARM Linux based, these are the first ARM powered, linux running devices delivering the full Flash experience – of course you could use swfdec or gnash, but as SWF v8 and SWF v9 features are only partly supported and SWF v10 features are completely unsupported, you will run into problems.

But this in not the moment to be enthusiastic. Your beloved HTC Dream or Openmoko Freerunner (or any other ARM11, XScale or ARM9 device) won´t support Flash soon, you will have to buy a new device with ARM v7 / Cortex silicon, as Adobe announced. This is a wise move, as a decent Flash experience (which you barely have on your average netbook) seems impossible on an ARM11 based device without slowing everything down, rendering the device almost unusable.

Ok, let´s assume that Adobe will make a fabulous build of Flash 10.1, running well not only on the Google Nexus One, being fast enough on significantly slower devices like the Motorola Milestone or the Palm Pre – still, there might be problems with many flash based websites (and possibly applications). It has something to do with the fact that these devices do not have a mouse pointer – I recommend you to read this text by a guy who seems to know Flash pretty well.

One of the problems with Flash in general is, that there is no OpenSource Flash Player/Plugin you would use unless you have no alternative or are a die hard free software enthusiast – another is the reason for the first one: Flash is proprietary and not an open standard. So what are alternatives? I mentionned HTML5 before, HTML5´s video tag is in a way an alternative, but as long as there is no defined video codec, this will not be a great solution – especially if this leads to websites (like the YouTube HTML5 version) start using proprietary codecs instead of proprietary Flash, it does not solve the problem. But what to use then? Ogg Theora is still in development – and there have been claims that it doesn´t work well on PMPs. This is why the FSF asked Google to free a certain video codec – but actually I doubt that Google will do this.

And video is just a part of the problem. Animations, you know. Ok, what have we got? SVG, CSS, Javascript, Java, Silverlight/Moonlight (though I didn´t run into Silverlight using websites yet, afair). There is no solution yet. But developers will find one. Probably ironically thanks to a company that closes their products quite a lot: If the iPad sell as great as the iPhone does, Flash will dissappear more and more (or at least developers will build decent non-Flash alternatives, based on HTM5 and all these technologies WebKit actually supports.

For OpenSource guys this will not be as cool as it could be. Flash will be most likely replaced with H264 and all its patent and licensing issues – but hey, at least that would be a different problem, so things won´t become to boring.

Thoughts on usabilty on FreeRunner

Today I installed Debian onto my Neo FreeRunner, to be precise the relatively new, Debian based community distribution FYP, which basically combines FSO/Zhone with LXDE. As it is a very new distribution, this post can’t really critisize it, it’s just about writing up some things i noticed and some ideas regarding usability on the Neo Freerunner – rather regardless of the distributions. FYP is just the drop of water inspiring to write this, the first two paragraphs will be Debian related, so you can probably skip them if you’re in a hurry.

First of all, it is great to have an easy way to setup Debian on the FreeRunner, as I said before, Debian armel has great repos, compared to most other FR distribution, which make it easy to try out many applications on the FR without having to compile them oneselves.

But you have to keep in mind, that Debian isn’t focussed on mobile devices, so additional repositorys with software aimed at mobile devices are a necessity in my opinion. This is an observation I made while using Debian on the MDA Pro/HTC Universal some time ago, and I didn’t change my mind on that, examples i remember are the embedded version of Abiword or tools like xmonobut helping you with right clicks, which would be nice to have in such an additional repository, but which partially could lead to confusion in regular Debian.

But let’s come to real usability issues, anyway. In terms of usability there are two kinds of distributions on FreeRunner, those who aim to be finger-friendly, and those that just want to have basic features finger friendly, but require a stylus for the rest – FYP is one of the latter. I think that both usage ways have their point, i like finger friendly efforts a lot, but I like to use software I know from my desktop as well (BTW: I would almost always use a stylus, as long it is a small and handy one – as i hate finger prints, wear,tear and dirt on the display – even think about getting a capacitive stylus for G1 – nontheless: finger friendly is stylus friendly too, as you don’t have to be that exact), at least as long as their is no finger friendly alternative.

An usability issue, which is rather an aesthetic issue, i see on distributions like SHR is that they mix different toolkits, like etk and gtk – the applications look different, and while enlightenment related apps are close to be too beautiful performancwise, gtk apps often look old fashioned or sometimes even bad at all. I think it was Midori on SHR unstable (I know, just a framework demo, not aiming to be a real distribution, but nontheless used by some as one), which looked really bad, using the nice old orange OM2007.2 icon theme, but a plain grey gtk+ theme (i am sorry that i didn’t check, which one) – but the OM2007.2 GTK theme wouldn’t have resulted in a much more appealing UI anyway.

In my opinion these optical issues should be fixed by an “optical initiative”, which rolls out one theme, which makes GTK+, ETK.. etc. apps fit better optically, while being fast and not eyecandy in a way which messes up performance, as performance does really matter and anyway: I personally adore simplicity. This means: Don’t use too power hungry GTK+ engines (e.g. I was really surprised to see FYP using clearlooks… imho not a good idea) to match up with Enlightenment effects, rather remove some “bling” of Enlightenment.
I believe the style “hackable:1” inherited from OM2007.2, the ASU look and the style of new and upcoming “Paroli” are good examples of what I mean.

Additionally I would propose to implement a simple way to enable the user to switch between GTK-iconsets and themes (or rather two configurations of one theme) like a button among illumes applications (or even better as a panel plugin), as there are basically two kinds of applications using the GTK+-Toolkit on OpenMoko devices: Those written for the Neo FreeRunner and familiar embedded devices (OM2007.2, again) and those written for the desktop but being lightweight enough to run on embedded devices like the FR (btw, it would be nice to have a probably xmonobut like easy way to perform right mouseclicks, too) .

I strongly believe that this could lead to a better usability or even workflow ;-) (and so to more popularity for the free platform of OpenMoko and the community) and would be happy if anybody would pick this ideas up soon – being pretty sure that i am not the only one worried about usability and aesthetics.

“Openness” vs. “Usabilty” – Round 1


The headline might be confusing, actually this is something like a “virtual” fight, which is ought to point out the differences between an open device like my recently aquired “Neo FreeRunner” and the T-Mobile G1 I have for a short time, too. In a way this is a kind of reply to – or at least inspired by this post by FSO/OpenMoko/OpenEZX developer Stefan Schmidt.

Yesterday I sat in university and wanted to view a PDF with some exercises for statistics on one of my mobile devices, instead of just printing it – as I hate paper waste (actually i could write several pages about my relation to paper as a medium and the waste of it, but I won’t do this right now ;) ).

The task was as simple as viewing a PDF. As my first soldering attempt on the FRs (and close to first soldering attempt at all, soldered the last time on a soldering workshop on a birthday party approx. 10 years ago) AUX switch hadn’t proved to be successful, I had to use the G1 whether I wanted or not.

I knew that there isn’t an inbuilt PDF reader, so I went to the “Android Market”, searching for PDF: Attempt failed, no working PDF reader there judging by comments. Starting the browser, searching Google for “android pdf reader” – some results. So I chose “Multi Reader”.. after installing the app, opening the PDF took some time. And guess what: The app started to read out the PDF featuring a text-like view which messed up some details. So I went on with searching. When the time I spent on that was already half an hour and I was close to printing the stuff, i had the idea I should have had before: Just using a web pdf viewer. Searched Google and chose the first result. Works. Great!

This was on the G1, which is supposed to be an easy to use platform. It indeed is, but currently it still lacks applications I really would like to see (at best as free software) – I guess that there will be a bunch of commercial solutions as soon as the Android Market features payed Apps, but anyway, guys: PDF is needed that much, OK, there is that preview function for attachments, but it doesn’t help, as you are unable to send mails with documents attached (only able to attach photos in Google Mail App ATM; besides: testing it with an invoice i got recently the preview just crashed and nothing else)….

If I’d had a working FreeRunner with a good distribution allowing me an easy internet connection (didn’t set up anything like that on one of the distributions I tried yet (ANDROID (I will do a write up about ANDROID soon), SHR unstable, FSO MS5, Qtopia 4.3.x)), it would habe been a no brainer, a simple opkg / apt-get install epdfview at worst. So in this case, the FreeRunner with it’s distributions is far ahead.
Considering other cases, it isn’t as much as it could be. Looking at distributions like SHR (ok, I only tried the unstable, so can’t really judge it) or FSO MS5 (I know that it’s just a framework demo), there’ve been some points really annoying me. First of all the theme that the really great “illume” uses – it is too fat (and power-hungry, as s3c2442 armv4t + xglamo isn’t a powerhouse) if you ask me. I have read that there is a lighter (==better) theme used on OpenMokos 2008.12 – but this distribution has other disadvantages. Then there is the lack of a finger (or even stylus friendly) browser which doesn’t force you to use scrollbars (beside old and possible insecure Minimo), though there certainly is such software, e.g. gecko-based midbrowser or coming up fennec – but (even considering that it might run rather slow (midori e.g. isn’t bad at speed)) there is no thing like that in the package repositorys. Well, I have high hopes for the future in an enlightenment/webkit based browser like ewww – but the situation right now is rather sad.

And besides that: All popular distributions (besides Debian which packages are meanwhile often rather fat or have dependencies one could argue on) the package reposoritys I’ve had a look at are rather poor of packages, didn’t see vpnc (i’d need it for university) or even abiword anywhere (looking at GTA02 as pocket computer (absurd? think of USB host mode!) with a phone in it this is a huge lack) – of course this isn’t surprising as SHR e.g. is still rather new and hasn’t released a version stating to be stable yet – but I can just hope that maybe even more collaboration efforts between distributions make this situation better – I know how to cross compile things, but hey, more simplicity is always nice.

Anyway, comparing G1 and FreeRunner the latter is somehow ahead in my internal judgement, simply because it’s so open and because i can imagine a good or even bright future due to platform efforts like FSO and Paroli – I guess that there will be good and stable distributions for the GTA02 without much drawbacks this year – probably just at the time when GTA03 will hit the distributors (though i am not sure that a GTA03 on sale this year is realistic, as there have been no shots of hardware prototypes yet (well, couldn’t find any)).

Concluding all this weird bunch of words I wrote, openly admitting that this conclusion is maybe to general for a “first round of a fight”:
While you are always depend on some operators/manufacturers on a “normal platform” (besides the platforms security is cracked), you have close to endless chances on an open platform, limited only to your phantasy, creativity and ability and the hardware’s performance.