Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


HP Gives WebOS To Open Source

Posted by Andrew at 12:33 PM on December 9, 2011

HP WebOS LogoIn a surprise move, HP has announced that it will give WebOS to the open source community while continuing to support and develop the platform. HP believes that the combination of the superb WebOS platform combined with open source innovation and corporate support from HP, will foster innovation, creating a compelling user experience.

WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable,” said Meg Whitman, HP president and chief executive officer. “By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.

HP has said that it will work with the open source community to define the charter of the open source project based on four principles.

  • The goal of the project is to accelerate the open development of the webOS platform
  • HP will be an active participant and investor in the project
  • Good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation
  • Software will be provided as a pure open source project

No news was provided regarding other partners, new hardware or the specific handover timescale.

Undoubtedly more news will filter out over the coming days but it’s interesting move that may work out for HP and WebOS. HP gets to retain the patents it acquired from Palm to protect itself (and presumably WebOS) from attack, while hoping that the open source community and the homebrew scene will move the platform forwards. Future devices could appear from any OEM manufacturer, not just HP, but it will be interesting to see what the next WebOS product will be. Personally, I think it will be a printer.

Android Leads UK Smartphone Race

Posted by Andrew at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2011

Android LogoIn the UK, Android is beginning to dominate the smartphone space, with 50% of handsets sold in the last quarter running Android. RIM (Blackberry) and Apple are almost level pegging on 22% and 18% and with half of UK adults now owning a smartphone, Android has an impressive lead.

Breaking the Android figures down, HTC is the top dog, with nearly 45% of Android handsets sold. Samsung is picking up the pace at 38% but Sony Ericsson is the big loser, falling to 8.5% of the Android market.

Surprisingly, this means that HTC, Samsung, RIM and Apple are each taking about a quarter of the market. Compared with mindshare that Apple generally has and the dominance in the tablet market, it’s clear that the iPhone is under performing.

Personally, I would agree with the figures. Looking round the office, Android phones are definitely in the majority followed by iPhones and Blackberries. I think Blackberries are popular with younger people as both my nephews have that brand of phone. The breakdown of the Android shares also rings true. This time last year, it would have been exclusively HTC smartphones but now there are quite a few people sporting Samsung devices.

The research was carried out by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech over the past 12 weeks. To be fair, this probably means that iPhone sales were down as people waited for new model but there’s no doubt that Android is the no.1 smartphone OS in the UK.

 

Carbyn – An HTML5 OS

Posted by Andrew at 2:19 PM on September 20, 2011

There’s been a great deal of speculation in the blogosphere regarding a new entrant into the apps-that-run-anywhere competition. Called Carbyn, it seems to be an HTML5-based OS and app store. If you are struggling to see how this is a good thing, most modern browsers support HTML5, so you can setup and use Carbyn from almost any computer or tablet that has an Internet connection. No worrying about Windows, OS X, Linux…you just get on and do what you want to do.

The London, Ontario-based company is holding its cards fairly close to its chest and is using social media to spread the word. TechCrunch managed to get a sneak peak and point out that while comparisons with Google’s Chrome app store are inevitable, it’s different in that Carbyn is an OS. Chrome apps run within the browser, Carbyn HTML5 apps run within the Carbyn desktop which runs within the browser.  Facebook is also expected to get in the HTML5 app action with its Project Spartan, so it’s an interesting space to watch.

Carbyn is using social media and word-of-mouth to good advantage. While you can sign up for an invite to join Carbyn on their website, you’ll get your invite faster, if you get your friends to also sign up for an invite. So if you are interested, please use this Carbyn link to boost my standing. I’m shameless and I’ve fallen for their cheap trick…

And yes, Carbyn appears to have Angry Birds….

CyanogenMod 7 On The Nook Color

Posted by tomwiles at 1:25 PM on June 28, 2011

CyanogenMod 7I’ve had my Nook Color for about a month at this point, long enough to develop a real feel for how it integrates into my life.

Keep in mind, the Nook Color is not an iPad and sells for half the price of the cheapest Apple jewell. I’ve already got the latest iPod Touch with dual cameras, so I don’t need or currently want cameras in a tablet device.

The Nook Color shines best as a word-centric consumption device. It takes the Internet and turns it into a very portable book.

To be perfectly honest, the stock Nook Color version of Android is very locked down. Besides being a good reader platform for books and magazines, you can browse the web, do email, do social networking, and run a limited but growing number of apps (mostly paid but a few for free) from the Barnes & Noble Nook Color App Store. The Nook Color stock software experience is nice for what it does, but still rather limited overall. The included stock Android browser does include the ability to run Adobe Flash. The Nook Color has a bright and very clear 7 inch widescreen capacitive glass touch screen along with about 10 hours’ worth of battery life.

What makes the Nook Color a great value at $249 dollars is its ability to boot into other versions of Android FROM the built-in internal Micro-SD chip reader without affecting the built-in Nook Color’s Android operating system.

After experimenting with different bootable Micro-SD card arrangements, the best pre-built Android solution I’ve found so far comes from http://www.rootnookcolor.com, a website that is selling pre-configured versions of Android to give a good overall tablet touch screen experience starting at $39.99 for a pre-configured 4 gigabyte Micro-SD card.

Cutting to the chase, the best version I’ve gotten so far from Root Nook Color.Com is called CyanogenMod 7, also know as Gingerbread. This version offers great battery life (almost as good as the stock Nook Color Andriod at about 7 hours) and even enables undocumented Nook Color features such as its built-in Bluetooth radio. It also comes installed with the full Android Marketplace, enabling the ability to browse, download and install most of the available Android apps, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands. As mentioned above, since it’s running entirely from the Micro-SD card slot, the stock Nook Color Android operating system remains entirely untouched and completely intact. It’s not even necessary to remove the Micro-SD card to boot back into the stock Nook Color operating system since it comes pre-configured with a dual-boot loader.

While it’s possible to play YouTube and other videos along with apps such as Pandora, by far the most use I find myself making of CyanogenMod 7 is as a highly portable news feed consumption device. I am currently compiling a list of Android apps that take the best advantage of the Nook’s 7” display and will report on these apps in future posts.

Overall, the Nook Color opertated with the CyanogenMod 7 version of Android from Root Nook Color.Com offers a genuine Android tablet experience at a bargain basement price with very good overall performance.

Microsoft Kinected Technologies Evening for Techsumers

Posted by Andrew at 11:50 AM on April 7, 2011

Back with Microsoft for a more consumer oriented evening. This time it’s going to be Windows Media Centre, Home Server, Xbox, Kinect and more on the phones.

First up is Microsoft Home Server 2011 – every house should have one. As standard it’s a media server, dishing out photos, music and videos. Usual DLNA stuff.

Microsoft provides a remote site which in turn can connect to the home server across the Internet. Great if you travel and you need to get at your stuff.

But when you are at home, any PC can connect to the Home Server to configure. Normally the Windows Server works headlessly i.e. without a monitor, so this is how the Server is manager.

Great news – the Drive Extender feature is going to return in 2011 courtesy of a community plug-in which appears to be endorsed by Microsoft.

Not sure if this new news, but they’re saying here that a Nokia running Windows Phone 7 will be out before Christmas, perhaps in October.

A quick demo now using Sonos to play music.

Now it’s the turn of the Xbox and Kinect. He’s playing Kinect Sports. Everything’s been done waving his hand. Ok so it’s a game but the possibilities are there in say, sterile environments. No touch, no cross-infection.

They’re now showing off a Kinect controlling the cursor on a PC instead of a mouse. Flicking through a Powerpoint presentation with your hands rather than a controller.

A video of win&i is being shown – it’s a product from a German company which shows the Kinect interacting with various apps including Media Center and Google Earth.

Microsoft sees Kinect being built directly in TVs and monitors. Several OEMs already have plans (allegedly).

Windows Phone 7 integrates with Xbox Live, pulling in avatars, badges and messages.
The next generation of games will bring the phone together with the Xbox and Kinect. Imagine a game where one player is on the phone flicking footballs at a goal and the other player is on the Xbox and is the goalkeeper. He’s saving the footballs as seen by the Kinect. Tres cool.

That’s it for now! Goodnight.

TechNet Live Tour: Cloud for IT Pros

Posted by Andrew at 9:31 AM on April 7, 2011

Microsoft’s TechNet Live Tour is giving a half day seminar on the cloud and what it means for the IT professional. I’ve been invited along so, for a change, I’m going to try a bit of a “live blog” approach, just typing as I go. It’s going to cover Windows Intune, Small Business Server 2011, Office 365, Dynamics CRM 2011, Azure, Windows Phone 7 and IE9.  Could be a long afternoon.

The event opens with a keynote on the Cloud for IT Pros given by Dave Northey. The cloud and the consumerisation of IT are the big impacts of now and Dave will cover them both. Dave suggests that business led technology a decade ago. But today consumers lead. The average home PC is more powerful than work PCs. Most consumers use Windows 7, yet XP is still used extensively in business.

The three big cloud providers are Microsoft, Amazon and Google, with room for a fourth. Cloud computing is Internet-based computing whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand like the electricity grid – Wikipedia.

Cloud Data Centre
Shared resources – stability, security, reliability, QoS, SLAs

On-Demand – pay as you go, no upfront investment, instant access, scale, no money wasted when projects fail

Public Cloud v Private Cloud
Private cloud uses own data centre. Control over data but less scale.

Regardless aim is for capacity to follow demand. What workload patterns are suitable for cloud?
- On and off, e.g. Batch jobs, video transcoding
- Growing fast, e.g. Unexpectedly successful services
- Unpredictable bursting, e.g. Spikes caused by natural disasters
- Predictable bursting, e.g. End of month for finance.

Type of cloud services
- Software as a Service (SaaS) for users
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) for developers
- Infrastruce as a Service (IaaS) for IT

Datacentre evolution
- Traditional datacentre
- Virtualised datacentre
- On premises private cloud
- Off premises cloud
Virtualisation was a pre-requisite for the cloud.

The private cloud is virtualisation plus self-service, scalability and automation.

Azure is Ms’ platform as a service. It’s a developer offering linked into Visual Studio, .net, PHP and so on. Three components – Azure AppFabric for access control and comms, SQL Azure for database, Windows Azure for compute and storage.

Dave then gives a demo of some of the features of Azure including simply connecting to a folder stored in the cloud but the most impressive part was the management of all the virtual machines. In the (short) demo, a cloud-based server was provisioned with web services.

Cloud services are coming, with private clouds first followed by the move to the public cloud.

Ooh, they’ve announced a Surface device is here.

Surface1

Surface2

Surface3

Surface4

Dave also gave an inpromptu demo of Windows Phone 7 which was as much a selection of soundbites as it was a demo.
- Microsoft expects to be #2 behind Android and ahead of iPhone.
- Multiple forms factors from HTC and Nokia who make over 100 million phones per year.
- It’s a consumer device first
- Marketplace will have quality, tested apps.
- Try before you buy option available to all developers but only one version required – that’s clever.
- Average app lifetime, i.e. Find, download, try, delete is 5 mins.
- Expected that a developer wil earn 10 times as much from Windows Phone app as from iPhone.

Next up was Office 365 by Patrick Herlihy.

Office 365 is the new Software as a Service offering which includes Office, Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online and Lync Online.

Office licensed on a pay as you go per user. Full and latest version of Office. Lync will offer IM, presence and web conference from the start. Voice will arrive later.

Different licensing options for different types of users, e.g. Kiosk worker for basic options, Information worker for more. There are lots of different licensing options depending on your organisations need.

The process to moving to the cloud and using Office 365 goes through standardisation, deployment, service change and includes privacy & security considerations. In particular, most ActiveDirectories will need a good tidy.

Regarding sign on, there are two options – Ms Online IDs or new Federated IDs which allow single sign-on from existing credentials. The latter will need an internal deployment of ADFS.

DirSync synchronises the organisation’s internal ActiveDirectory with the version hosted in the cloud for Office 365. This is needed to keep online permissions etc in step with the organisation.

Exchange Online can co-exist with in-house Exchange and there are tools to move mailboxes between the two systems.

Patrick gave a quick on-line demo of the product. The on-line versions were all very similar to their Windows-based equivalent. Firefix, Safari and IE are all supported. The management tools were comprehensive as well.

The public beta of Office 365 is available now.

Patrick continued to Microsoft’s Intune, a cloud-based PC management service. It offers malware protection, alert monitoring, patch management, software and hardware inventories and remote assistance / desktop sharing. He then gave a demo of the system and it was competent enough. I could certainly see it replacing a number of separate tools. However you got the feeling that it was version 1 and version 2 would be much better. Probably best suited to SMEs with hundreds of PCs rather than thousands.

As proceeds were running late, I had to leave, missing some of the subsequent sessions. But I’ll be back…

Overall, a useful introduction to Microsoft’s vision of a cloud-based future.

 

OpenSuSE Linux 11.4 Released

Posted by Andrew at 7:35 AM on March 10, 2011

The latest version of OpenSuSE Linux, 11.4, has just been released and it’s chock full of new features. The replacement for OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice, gets its first major outing, KDE gets bumped to 4.6 and Gnome comes in at 2.32.

There’s a also a pile of updates to applications, including Empathy, RhythmBox, Amarok, Totem, Evince and Shotwell. For developers, GTK 3 is included so Gnome applications can be upgraded to the new framework.

I’m running 11.3 so I’ll be downloading from the mirrors tonight and upgrading over the weekend. I’m looking forward to the new eye candy provided by the KDE Plasma Desktop Workspaces. Ok, so I’m shallow.

If you want to try OpenSuSE, there’s a live version as well, in both KDE and Gnome flavours. Give it a whirl.

Deloitte’s 2011 Teaser Predictions

Posted by Andrew at 12:00 AM on January 18, 2011

Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunication’s practice have given a sneak peak of their global predictions for 2011.

First up, over 25% of all tablets bought in 2011 will be purchased by businesses, with retail, healthcare and manufacturing purchasing over 10 million. Initially, the use of tablets in business will be by people who have brought their own device into work but by the end of the year, businesses will be buying for employees.

Secondly, less than 50% of all “computing devices” sold in 2011 will be traditional PCs and laptops. Peter O’Donoghue, head of Deloitte’s technology industry practice, adds: “In 2011, more than 50% of computing devices sold globally will be smartphones, tablets and non-PC netbooks. 2011 will mark the tipping point as the growth of applications for non-PC items outstrips traditional software sales and consumers embrace a wider variety of devices.”

When you consider that PC sales will hit 400 million in 2011, you suddenly realise how big the non-PC market has become, that it’s grown from almost nothing in only a few years and that the growth is likely to continue at the expense of the PC market.

Finally, Deloitte is of the opinion that no single OS will dominate the smartphone or tablet market. The top 5 operating system developers have plenty of cash to keep the OS wars going through 2011.  The top 5 aren’t named but I’d guess that it’s Google, Apple, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft. Deloitte points out that this fragmentation causes problems and additional cost for application developers, media companies and IT departments.

The full report will be released on Wednesday 19th January.

HTC 7 Trophy Review

Posted by Andrew at 4:58 PM on November 18, 2010

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll have heard about Microsoft’s return to the mobile phone space with Windows Phone 7.  And boy, have they returned.  Combined with the hardware of the HTC 7 Trophy, it delivers in spades.

Initial impressions were good; not only am I fond of the mini-tablet format, the design very much reminded me of Sony’s Clie TH55, probably the greatest PDA of all time, so the Trophy had some big boots to fill.  Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint; this is a lovely smartphone.

When you get the phone out of the box and into your hand, there’s a little weight to it, giving a quality feel.  It’s a relatively big device at 62 mm x 119 mm but this is a benefit when you start using the Trophy for more than making phone calls.

The 3.8″ screen has a lovely silver bevel which I initially thought was refraction at the glass edge.  It’s not; it seems to be the milled edge of the metal casing and I think it looks great.  As you’ll see from the picture, aside from the HTC logo, there are just three buttons at the bottom of the screen for back, home / start and find.

Round the back, there’s a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus and flash. The Trophy is the first phone I’ve used that has the shutter button in the right place – when you hold the phone in landscape to take a picture, the button falls perfectly under the right forefinger, just as if it was an ordinary camera.

The sides and back have a soft rubber touch to them, giving a bit of grip.  The last thing you want is for the phone to slip out of your hand and plunge to the floor, which will inevitably be concrete, tile or solid wood.  It’s never a sheepskin rug.

Finishing the exterior, there’s a power button on the top, plus volume buttons on the left side. A micro USB port and 3.5 mm earphone jack complete the physical connectivity.

In use, the phone is fabulous.  The 480 x 800 pixel screen is bright and detailed – there’s only the slightest hint of “jaggies” when you look very closely.  The response to the touch screen is excellent and the scrolling is super smooth.  I guess that’s where the 1 GHz processor comes in.

When it comes to the Metro user interface, you can choose your own adjectives.  I thought it was a stylish mix of two dimensional buttons contrasted by three dimensional effects.  One colleague suggested Fisher-Price and another thought it was bit like a tourist map where you’re not quite too sure what the symbols mean as there’s no legend.

However, there is no denying that the overall presentation is luxurious.  Screens appear as if they’re a page being turned.  Deleted emails drop into oblivion off the bottom of the screen.  Screens can present as if they’re part of bigger montages, with individual elements scrolling at different rates. I like the equivalent of the hourglass – it’s now a couple of dots that zip onto the screen, dawdle in the middle and then zip off again.

Certainly, there is a bit of initial head scratching or accidental discovery of features.  “How do I….?” becames, “Ahh, so that’s how it works.”  And I’m still not 100% certain about whether apps run in the background.

I’m not going to review every single app in turn because pretty much everything that you’d expect is there.  Email – check, calendar – check, address book – check, Office support – check, maps – check, web browser – check.  So what are the highlights and lowlights?

Regarding email, there’s no consolidated application.  Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, etc. are all treated as apps in their own right but I was able to use EAS without any trouble, with emails, appointments and contacts all synchronised perfectly with Exchange.

Contacts are brought into a single place “People” but it’s not perfect with regard to duplicates brought in from different sources, e.g. Gmail and Hotmail.  Sometimes phone numbers are repeated even though they’re the same.

The Phone app is very responsive when you are tapping out numbers – I didn’t get any missed digits or double digits when I was dialling.  An iPhone-toting friend thought that the phone app was much better than the iOS equivalent.  Call quality was good.

I was unable to connect to my workplace’s wifi network because there’s doesn’t appear to be any way to make adjustments to the security settings etc.  To be fair, it’s not possible to connect on an iPhone either.  Connecting up at home was a doddle.

The virtual keyboard is ok.  I’ve got fairly large fingers but on the whole I was able to tap out the odd short email or enter search terms without too many mistakes.   Definitely more successful in landscape than portrait (obviously) but nowhere near as good as the keyboard on a Palm Pre, for example.

The Zune side of things was a hit.  The sound quality was good and reproduction was well-defined.  While the bass could be a little better, it was better than average for a portable device (and the limitation is often the encoding of the track).  I was listening using Sennheiser eH 1430 headphones, not the the supplied ones.

The Zune hub was easy to use and great for browsing.  Videos were smooth and easy to watch. I’m not a big gamer so I didn’t really pursue the Xbox Live side of things but the Trophy is the gamer’s phone in the HTC line-up.  What I did see was pretty slick and it was easy to download games, although it seemed to be quite slow at downloading, even over wi-fi.  I tried a few of the usual suspects such as Bejeweled and they played well.

Obviously the application marketplace isn’t nearly as big as the equivalents for iOS, Android or even WebOS.  But for an OS that’s months old, there’s a fair selection of apps and more will come over time.

Web browsing was excellent….as long as the web page didn’t have Flash.  The big screen and Internet Explorer reproduced most web sites really well and with the hi-res screen, you didn’t have to constantly zoom in and out.  Even quite small text was still legible.  I did find a couple of websites that had mobile or PDA versions and these recognised that the web browser was on a smartphone.  However they didn’t recognise the particular browser on Windows Phone 7 and consequently defaulted to a very basic version.  Switching to the full website version usually solved the problem.

Battery life was perfectly acceptable for a device of this type. I found that I could go a day or two without recharging the Trophy and by that I mean a couple of phone calls, email from EAS, some music listening  and a bit of surfing.  Once I started playing games and watching video, the battery life took a hit, but this is hardly unexpected.

That’s about it. The HTC 7 Trophy is a very good phone and Windows Phone 7 is impressive.  The whole feel of the device  is quality, the screen is great and the OS is modern.  Consequently I would recommend that anyone thinking of a new smartphone should give the Trophy a very long look.

Thanks to HTC for the loan.

Do Frequent Phone O/S Updates Make Sense?

Posted by tomwiles at 1:01 AM on August 18, 2010

I’ve had my HTC Evo for a couple of months or more at this point. When I first turned it on, there was an update waiting. The update installed. So far, so good.

Over the next few weeks I heard there was another update available, but it turned out there was a problem with the update. It took HTC and Sprint about a week or more to fix the problem update, but since the Evo was still in very short supply, I chose not to update it right away. What if there was a problem with the update and it bricked the phone? How would I get an immediate replacement? Better to wait.

A few days ago, Sprint and HTC started releasing the “Froyo” or “Frozen Yogurt” Android 2.2 update for the Evo. I decided it was time to take the plunge and accept the update.

There were two updates. The first one downloaded and installed, and then the second. No problems.

Now I’m asking myself, did the upgrade to Android 2.2 live up to all the hype? Android 2.2 on the Evo might be a little bit more snappy, but it’s hard to tell since the Evo already had excellent performance with the version of Android it shipped with. There are a few changes here and there that improve usability, some of them somewhat worthwhile, but was it really worth the trouble? The phone was a great device before the update. It’s a great device after the update.

Are updates to existing smartphones enough reason for consumers to get really excited over? As I see it, if lots of new basic usability and reliability can be added with a particular update, then it’s likely worthwhile. Smartphones are still evolving devices.

It seems to me that the job of adding new functionality to smartphones falls primarily to apps, and not necessarily the operating system itself. The operating system should be a stable, functional platform that offers basic functionality and services to those apps.

Once smartphone operating system design begins to mature however, the danger of updating and changing things just for the sake of change is always a potential risk. Also keep in mind that on average people replace cell phones about every 18 months, which is a much more frequent replacement cycle than desktop and laptop computers.

In the realm of desktop computer software, Microsoft Office is a great example of mature software design. There are only so many things word processing software can do. Microsoft Word and Excel both had good design and usability for me starting way back with Office 95. With subsequent releases, Microsoft seemed to sometimes arbitrarily change things just for the sake of change, which is a huge usability mistake. Computer software design is not the same as car styling design.