Mobile phones – does the hardware matter anymore?

I was recently using Nokia’s N96 which is an impressive phone. The phone has a great camera, flash, a nice screen size, bluetooth, wifi, an impressive 16GB of storage space and it even plays DTV. I switched it for an Android G1.

A while ago we tended to switch phones when the hardware got better. A lighter phone, a better camera, better screen resolution / size. But, now the mobile OS war has just gotten interesting with Apple leading the new era.

Talking about mobile phone’s operating systems the main players are:

  • Android – google sponsored, open source;
  • Symbian – Nokia recently bought it and promised to open source it;
  • Blackberry – RIM’s OS that is quite famous among enterprises, proprietary closed source;
  • iPhone – developed by Apple, proprietary closed source.

The G1 I’m now using, although it has lower specs than the N96 is making me much more productive. The relatively new Android Marketplace has a lot of very nice stuff for productivity, connectivity, media management, navigation and more.

As mentioned before, the iPhone right now is leading. The Android has quite a bit of potential to be as big, if not bigger. It is open source so a great excuse for cell phone makers to worry more about making hardware and not spending money on software (like Motorola might be doing).

The Android’s future though is not looking as good as it should. I feel it lacks some of the same things missing with Linux – a big marketing sponsor. Although Google launched the Android initiative there doesn’t seem to be an organized continuous push for it.

I’m hoping the situation changes so we don’t see in a few years a 97% market share dominance of a proprietaty mobile phone OS.

Free your iPod with Rockbox

One of the reasons why I don’t like iPods is the entire philosophy of having everything closed and according to the likes of Apple. But, fortunately the open source community is too awesome and have developed a firmware that we can install on several different audio devices.

Rockbox is a bit like an operating system for portable media players. You can install it on several different devices from the following manufactures: Apple, Archos, SanDisk, Toshiba, iriver, and more.

Why install Rockbox? First, the number of features you’ll get with it is huge. For example, your device will be able to support several different audio and video formats (yes, it’ll play video if your device didn’t allow you to). Plus, you might even get some gaming done. If you want even more features you can also add some extra plug-ins to it.

That certainly helps in making my next decision to purchase a media player. The number of devices supported by Rockbox isn’t huge, but quite a few iPod models have been tested well. So, you might even give a new life to an old discarded iPod.

If you’d like to watch a video review, head over to the Linux Journal and let Shawn Powers show it to you.

Install and setup Ubuntu Eee 8.04

I’m glad to report back saying the attempt to install the Ubuntu Eee 8.04 was a success. Now my Eee 4G is quite a sexy machine. I’ll detail for you the steps involved in the whole installation and tweaks.

1) Install

Head over to the Ubuntu Eee Download and Install page to get the first part done. The steps listed there are pretty easy to do: download the ISO, place it on a USB drive, boot your Eee, and install. I went for the guided installation that took the full disk.

The installation process took about 30 minutes. Of course, the downloading part will depend on your connection speed.

2) Optimizations

After the complete install was done it was the moment for some tweaks:

  1. Apply automatically fixes for the Ubuntu 8.04;
  2. Reduce swappiness and decrease disk writes to relieve strains to the SSD;

3) Hardware

I was a bit surprised that the webcam and mic weren’t working even after all of these steps. But, eventually I got them to work.

  • Fixing the webcam: I restarted the Eee and went to the BIOS. On the hardware components list, for some reason the webcam was turned off. Switch it on and restart.
  • I haven’t been able to completely fix the microphone issue, but I found this tutorial to give a bit of a fix to use the microphone with Skype.

4) Removing and adding programs

My next task was to see how much space I could eliminate to place my favorite productivity programs in. I used some of the tips found here to remove:

  • all packages related to CDs and DVDs;
  • all games;
  • diveintopython;
  • wodim;
  • thunderbird;
  • and I ran localpurge.

With that saved space I felt more comfortable to install some of my favorite apps:

  • Gnome Do (much better not to rely so much on the trackpad);
  • Conduit (awesome to sync stuff to the clouds);
  • KeePassX;
  • Gimp;
  • Empathy (I liked the program so I’m willing to try and use it a bit more).

All of that left me now with 1.1GB of storage. I’m still pretty happy as I also have a couple of other USB drives I use (and the clouds).

5) Visual improvements

7 inches of screen real estate has to be planned out well. So, I spent a bit of extra time to get the best setup possible.

I decided to use only 1 Gnome panel to have as much available space as possible. So, I removed the bottom panel and did the following modifications to the top panel:

  • removed the Menu Bar applet to replace it with the Main Menu applet (now I have only 1 icon instead of 3 pull down menus);

  • removed the User Switcher;
  • added the Window Selector applet so that I could access all of the programs opened (or, ALT+Tab shortcut also works);

  • I also added the Trash, Force Quit, System Monitor, and Workspace Switcher applets.

Now the final adjustments were done for Firefox by installing:

For fun”:

Once everything was installed in Firefox, I right-clicked on an open space of the toolbar area and choose “Customize”. I configured everything to sit nicely in a single toolbar row. It seems a bit cramped now, but for me it works.

One day after the switch, everything is working very well and the Eee seems much more powerful.

Changind the eee OS

I’ve been using the eee PC for about 4 months now with the default Xandros OS. I’ve done a couple of tweaks to install some programs like Gimp and KeePass. But, I’m still not completely satisfied.

The default eee PC OS still doesn’t have the latest versions of Firefox, OpenOffice, and the hassle to update these are a bit time consuming. So, I’ve just decided to make a switch.

As I type this, my little eee PC is installing the Ubuntu EEE (an Ubuntu distro specially made for the eee PC). I’m hoping that it’ll give me a bit more flexibility on what I want on my machine, a bit more stability after all of the updated programs are installed, and improve interoperability between the different OSs that I’m running.

As a side bonus, I’m sure it’ll look a bit nicer.

Cross fingers!

Open source OS – Linux

So far we’ve covered open source programs you can run on your computer. Most often they’re safer, lighter, and able to have you get the task done just as easily as proprietary equivalents.

Now, we’ll take it to the next level and talk about entire operating systems you can use on your machine. With an open source OS, at the maturity level of the existing projects, you will be able to make your entire computer safer, leaner, and quite often easier to manage.

Linux is one branch of open source OS you can go to. Contrary to common thought, you don’t need to know or run command lines using the main distributions available. You can do so if you want to customize your system or solve some very specific problems. But, let me assure you that this kind of situation can be extremely rare. I’ve been running Linux almost exclusively for months and only had to run command lines a couple of times guided by one of the several user generated forum tutorials.

One of the hardest things to do when I migrated was to make the choice of which distribution to use. All of these distros are free, mature, and very stable. My favorites are Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu (or Kubuntu, Xubuntu) and Mandriva. Also, you’ll have to choose the file system and visual desktop management systems: KDE, Gnome, or the lighter Xfce. Currently I’m using Ubuntu which comes with Gnome. But, it is all a matter of choice and preference.

Why I chose Linux?

  • because it is free (download as you wish, copy, share, upgrade);
  • because it is much safer from virus;
  • very low maintenance required since pretty much you won’t need an antivirus, anti-spyware, and defrags;
  • software repositories will come with hundreds of free softwares that’ll be just a click away from you to download and install;
  • everything is basically modular so you can add, remove, adjust anything that you need;
  • it will work well with other computers running Windows and MacOS (file sharing, networking).

All of the projects mentioned above will have a live CD option so you can try without actually installing anything to your machine. So, have fun exploring the Linux world and later we’ll be back with some installation tips.