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Taking platform management advice from a Mac person is like taking relationship advice from an autistic savant. His advice probably works for him, but Your Mileage May Vary.

Which brings me to John Gruber of Daring Fireball on OS opportunity:

If Palm can create WebOS for pocket-sized computers — replete with an email client, calendaring app, web browser, and SDK — why couldn’t these companies make something equivalent for full-size computers?

Short answer: look how many people are developing for Palm.

Long answer: Funny how an OS in some people’s minds (especially Mac users) stops at the web browser and email+calendaring. An OS as a platform is so much more. It took Linux 7-10 years depending on whom you asked to be taken seriously in the server world (it’s not quite there yet in the desktop world). Even the iPhone, with its seemingly unassailable 100k+ apps, has developers champing at the bit with its platform limitations. There is every likelihood that an open standard (whether in the sense of de facto industry standard or open-source, or both) like Android will do to the iPhone what the technically far inferior DOS and Windows did to the classic Mac.

Apple does particularly well these days well because it’s the equivalent of a BMW in the computer market — people buy it for fact that it’s a nice PC, and it has polish and grace for the basic tasks users need to perform: web, email, photo and video editing. But the Mac also has an amazing line-up of applications beyond these basics. Even discounting iWork, you can buy Microsoft Office for the Mac, and lots of Mac users appear to like it (indeed, Microsoft is the biggest ISV for Mac). Then there’s the all-star line-up of pro-grade DTP, photo, video and music manipulation apps – a niche the Mac has held on to for years. And yet even Apple has had to fight hard to convince even its top ISVs to keep the faith – witness the times the Mac community felt betrayed because Microsoft or (worse) Adobe seemed to prioritize the Windows version.

Nurturing a platform is hard work.

Sure a Dell or an HP could go its own and create a platform. But it’d have to stand by and commit to its platform for the 5-7 years it takes for a platform to gain critical mass. (Hint: you can’t commit and still sell Windows. That’d send a really bad signal about how committed you are.) Can Dell or HP take the sales risk? If all they want to do is escape the clutches of Microsoft, wouldn’t they rather throw a few pennies at Canonical and get Ubuntu on their low-end machines?

And no, Desktop Linux in its current avatar isn’t going to save PC OEMs. Apple bolted a proprietary, world-class consumer-grade GUI to an open-source Unix in 4 years. 12 years on, Linux desktop devs are still distracted with KDE v Gnome. Desktop Linux is very much a low-end user/advanced-user choice, not a solution for a mainstream user.

That said, I’m looking forward to seeing what Google’s Chrome OS has in store for us. Google’s heft in the marketplace would go a long way in assuring ISVs and OEMs of commitment. Slowly but steadily, they’ve been putting blocks like Gears, HTML5, Native Client and the Go language (it targets Native Client along with x86 and ARM) in place to make the beginnings of a compelling platform. And they have some of the finest minds in OS development working for them. If anyone can give the OEM market an alternative with polish and backing, it’s Google.

Interesting times ahead, for sure.

1 Comment

19 November 2009 5:27 pm

Useful Windows Shortcuts: Win+B

Lifehacker recently pointed to a very useful new Windows 7 shortcut that vertically maximizes windows — really useful on laptops with 800 pixels or less of vertical real estate.

In that spirit, here’s another useful “shortcut”: Win+B gives focus to the “show hidden icons” button on the system tray.
Win+B gives focus to the "Show Hidden Icons" button on the Taskbar

This works on Windows XP and Vista as well, but is especially useful on Windows 7 because 7 corrals tray icons into their own box, where they’re not easily visible.
Then, pressing Enter will reveal the hidden icons

After pressing Win+B, press Enter to reveal the hidden icons and press the cursor keys to cycle through them (caveat, the highlight effect is really quite subtle on the RC and easy to miss).

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9 June 2009 10:02 am

Installing Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope on a Sony Vaio

Installing Linux on laptops still isn’t as easy as it should be. I installed Ubuntu 9.04 (”Jaunty”) on a Sony Vaio today, only to find that

  • WiFi — on an Atheros AR242x controller — was working, but very slowly. I got no more than 23-80kB/sec on a 12Mb/sec connection, and frequently got as little as 1 kB/sec.
  • Video effects weren’t supported on the Intel GM965/GL960 Integrated Graphics Controller (they were supported on Vista and Windows 7) because of a known bug.

I fixed the wifi by using the Windows driver for the Atheros AR242x with ndiswrapper as described here. (Although the page says Jaunty doesn’t have this problem, it did.)

The video effects were fixed by following this thread from UbuntuForums.

Looks like the year of Linux on the desktop/laptop is still a few years off.

5 Comments

8 June 2009 4:41 pm

Google UK as a Search Provider in Firefox and IE

The default Google search built into Firefox (at least in British builds) goes off to google.com and is then redirected to google.co.uk. Problem is, sometimes the redirection stops working and it stays with google.com — usually clearing cookies solves this problem. This means you lose the benefits of country-specific search. Installing this Google UK Search Provider will make sure that searches from the Firefox search bar go to Google UK every time. Also works with IE 8 (and any browser that supports OpenSearchDescription files).

1 Comment

5 June 2009 11:57 pm

Using the Flickr API with Python’s FlickrAPI

Python FlickrAPI is an easy-to-use library for accessing Flickr from Python apps. Here’s a simple app prints the thumbnail URL for a photo, give a list of photo URLs.

(more…)

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11:51 pm

Not as Annoying

Windows 7 wins a ringing endorsement from MSNBC: “Next Windows won’t be as annoying”.

Jokes apart, Microsoft tends to do lousy .0 releases and very good .1 releases. And Windows 7 == v6.1.  Who knows, maybe I won’t have to switch to Ubuntu after all.

1 Comment

28 October 2008 10:59 pm

Chrome Burning Bright

So Google finally got tired of waiting for other browser vendors to improve their offerings – not surprising given how their business absolutely depends on the web. Chrome is definitely very important because it’ll change the way people think of browsers. Back in 2005 I wrote about the browser of tomorrow and listed some key features:

  • Offline Access – baked into Chrome thanks to Gears
  • Compiled code that can access the browser DOM – present thanks to the “V8″ Javascript VM
  • Modern widget set – still waiting on HTML5

2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

A lot of the buzz about Chrome has been about how this is a warning shot about Google’s platform ambitions. Actually, Google’s ambition has been plain to see for some time now: to suck in as much of personal and enterprise computing into the web (preferably its own server farms) as possible.

Its own browser furthers that goal by giving it a greater say in how the web shapes up, but don’t expect a Google OS on your desktop anytime soon. The real gruntwork an OS does (supporting obscure devices, maintaining software and hardware compatibility) is remarkably unsexy and thankless and tends to produce not “ooh shiny” fanboys but “my printer does not work you suck” maniacs who troll your forums (both Microsoft and most Linux distro vendors know this pretty well). Of course, Google will be looking to get its mittens into controlled environments like mobile phones and Internet tablets. But even a browser like Chrome alone will have some profound consequences for the industry:

Mozilla: Now that Google is committed to a svelte, usable, cross-platform browser (dare I say it, the vi of browsers), Mozilla will have no choice but to become the emacs of browsers – an über-customizable does-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink app for dealing with the web. Extensibility will remain Chrome’s weak point simply because XUL (which Firefox uses to create its UI) is so much more expressive. Like emacs’s elisp, XUL is Firefox’s Achilles’ Heel and its single biggest competitive advantage.

Microsoft: It has to get serious about web standards – its rendering engine, Trident, is showing its age (complex CSS-based layouts load significantly faster on Gecko than even IE8 Beta 2). More than that, it’s commitment to Javascript has been iffy as it has bet on Silverlight’s .NET DLR to bring a modern multi-language VM to the browser. With Google showing off what can be done with Javascript alone, this strategy is looking like a classic case of overreach. Sun has the same problem – a JITed Javascript is the beginning of the end of Java on the web client. At this point the best option for both is to work out how their VMs can handle standard ECMAscript in addition to other non-web languages, and how to make these VMs ubiquitous on as many browsers and platforms as possible.

1 Comment

4 September 2008 1:57 am

Fun with synthesized RSS feeds

In an ideal world everyone would have full-content RSS feeds. Until then making your own isn’t that hard — and it’s getting easier by the day with mash-up tools like Yahoo Pipes. Here are some I’ve created:

Update: added links to source code.

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9 July 2007 6:40 pm

Get your blog iPhone-ready

Apple’s releasing a new phone today (if you didn’t know that, you’re lucky). Beside curing all manner of ills, the phone has a great web browser that should get people really interested in using the web while on the move.

Now, the thing is lots of other phones have decent browsers — many phones run Opera, for example, or at least the Opera Mini. And with reasonable data plans becoming increasingly common, it definitely makes sense to get your site ready for mobile browsing.

I used a media="handheld" stylesheet declaration on this site, but that wasn’t very well supported. So here’s a better solution that requires very little work, if you run Wordpress:

  1. Get the Wordpress Mobile Edition plugin and install it. This will create a wp-mobile.php file in your Wordpress plugins folder, and a wp-mobile folder in your Wordpress themes folder.
  2. Open wp-mobile.php in a text editor and search for the word 'iPhone'.
  3. If you don’t find it (I’m sure it’ll be added as soon as the user-agent string is confirmed) add this text exactly as shown (without double quotes) somewhere in the middle of the list of browser user-agents:  " ,'iPhone' " (search for the text 'small_browsers' to find this list). When you’re done, save the file.
  4. Optional — you can also tweak your site’s mobile appearance by going into the wp-mobile folder (under your Wordpress themes folder) and editing the files there (mainly index.php). Some knowledge of PHP is required, but you can avoid the PHP and modify only the HTML inside the file.
  5. Test your mobile site using the Opera Mini applet, iPhoney (if you’re on a Mac) or even a real iPhone ;-) . Emulators for most other phone browsers are also available.

The other advantage of a mobile-ready version of your blog is that mobile versions tend to very accessible and compact. Most accessible browsers already support disabling stylesheets, images, etc, but they still have to load other text, such as blogrolls, sidebars, etc. You could use the wp-mobile theme along with a theme switcher that would allow users to switch to a compact, accessible version if they wish.

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29 June 2007 11:29 pm

The Web Just Got an Upgrade

Google Gears is an open source browser extension that enables web applications to provide offline functionality using JavaScript APIs. According to TechCrunch, one of the first demos to use Gears will be

… Google Reader, which will add a green download button to the user interface. When you click the button, Reader will download the last 2,000 messages to your computer, preparing your computer to work offline or under a spotty internet connection.

As I’ve written before, offline capabilities are an important step towards making the Web a truly ubiquitous platform. Wifi is still not everywhere, and it’d be great if browsers were useful when you are away from an IP tone.

The next logical step would be for browser vendors to get their act together and bake this into the browser. The last thing I need is a bunch of different “lite” SQL databases and replication engines consuming cycles in the background.

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30 May 2007 11:25 pm

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