Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Science Is Hard

I've just read a piece by Anthony Gottlieb in Intelligent Life, titled How Sceptical Should We Be Of Science (sorry, but you'll have to buy the magazine to read it yourself). While it has left me wanting (and hurting, in places) quite a lot, it also set me thinking. Mostly about what it is about science that makes so many people unappreciative to say the least (and some openly hostile, too).

I think I have at least a part of the answer.

In Gottlieb's article things seem to revolve around inherent uncertainty, and ultimate disapprovability (I know, this might not be a word - yet) of science. And this is where I think the author put his finger on the very pulse of the problem. Yes, he also duly goes on to acknowledge and praise science as the "only game in town". He is also careful to end on a, for science, positive note. Although, reading through you can't help wondering (well, at least I did) if he was truly convinced. I also wondered about whether such an article (and a not very well written one at that) has a place in a magazine created by one of my favourites, The Economist.

But I digress...

What I think the article helped me realise about the difficulties of accepting science as the only game in town (no quotes!) is that what people, as a multitudinous mass, are really after are certainties. And not just any certainties, either. You can be very certain about sun coming up in the morning, yet science tells you it may not, in due course. What people really want are certainties that will last forever. And that, at least now, and by the looks of it not any time soon, is something science cannot give.

And this is where pretty much all of the purveyors of unscientific "truths" get their purchase. What they offer is both (usually) very easy to swallow by even an uneducated person and (more often than not) eternal. Don't look there! The scenery always changes. Look here! We offer beauty to behold all your life, and certainty it will never change. Don't think about what comes after you! After all, it's only your grandchildren you'll ever meet, and by the time they bury you what we offer won't change.

So maybe there should be another kind of warning issued against the unscientific mob. And, this particular warning is very well known, even by the unscientific mob itself. For your own viewing, reading, and hopefully thinking, pleasure, here it is:

If it's too good (easy) to be true - it most probably is!

Monday, 30 August 2010

This Is Worth Re-Posting Here

(originally posted here - no image as it's no fun matter)

You want to read this if you also read this.

And, of course, even if you didn't. I agree with the author wholeheartedly. America today is at grave risk of retracing the horrible steps we, over here in Europe, tied - and in the process brought the whole world to its knees.

So, heed the warnings, and read your history - very, very carefully.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Customer Service As It Should Be

I know I've recently been raving about Amazon recently as if I were paid for the service (I'm not). But the simple fact is that they simply deserve it, and on more than one front.

Take today. It's Sunday. I'm idling while waiting for the Formula 1 race to start. I'm reading The Economist (as one does while waiting for one of the more boring, yet extremely exciting, spectator sport events). I see a link to a book I'd like to read (yes, I know - it's sad). Hop over to Amazon, have a look if it's available for Kindle. Sadly, it's not (really, Steven!). I buy a hard copy one (it would look good on a coffee table - if I were allowed to keep it there). I also click on the link to register my complaint about non-availability of an electronic edition.

While I'm at it, I also check (again) if a Linux version of Amazon Kindle Reader for PC is available. Equally sadly, it isn't. So I decide to register my interest in this as well with Amazon Customer Support. At 12:31:14 (according to Amazon) my message goes out. I go back to reading Economist, waiting for Formula 1, nibbling on Danish pork scratchings. I forget about my inquiry. It's Sunday, after all.

At 13:37 (seconds unregistered by Google Mail) I receive what I think is an automated response from Amazon to acknowledge they received my query and will look into it in due course. I almost do not open it. I decide I should, even if only to see when I might expect a response (if ever).

To my amazement, what I find is a response. Already. And not just a boiler-plate style response, the likes of which I've seen way too many. A person has actually read what I have written and responded to exactly what was asked about. In a very non-boiler-plate, friendly, and ultimately helpful manner. Promising my feedback will find its way to the right department. By quoting the department's actual name, which makes sense, and gives me a sense of reassurance that this will actually happen, and that maybe that department is also manned by people who actually read (and hopefully care about) what their customers want and need.

With(out) Amazon's permission (it is after all a message that now belongs to me) here is what I received:

Hello Vladimir,

Thank you for sending us these comments in regards to the Kindle for PC App.

Further to your email, I'm sorry but I'm unable to confirm at this time if a Kindle App for Linux will be available from the Amazon.co.uk.

However, please note that strong customer feedback like this helps us continue to improve the service we provide, and we are glad you took time to write to us. I have sent your comments onto the Kindle business team.

Please feel free to forward further comments and suggestions about our website to us. Each suggestion will be read and taken into consideration.

Thanks for your interest in Amazon Kindle.

Well done Amazon!

And keep up the good work. Which means: get someone to port Kindle Reader for PC to Linux...

Two Service Announcements

For both of my faithful readers I have a couple of service announcements to make.

First, as of a couple of days ago, Grey Noughts are available on the Amazon Kindle Store. Maybe there will be someone who thinks it a good idea to spend two quid a month to be able to follow my missives on their Kindle. You never know. And after all, they can try for a couple of weeks and decide they need two quid more than Grey Noughts after all. In any case, if you head here, you can spend a penny. Err, I mean two quid.

In other news, I've started a new(s) blog. It's not supposed to be much, just a couple of my thoughts on a news item or two, every day or two. I've called it NEWT'd, from NEWs of The Day. I know it sounds lame. I know it is lame. I am open to suggestions. To have a look, just head here. If you don't like it, you'll find a handy link there that will take you back here.

Lastly, I am still on holiday, so please cut me some slack...

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Magic And Revolution Found Heavy, Distracting, Gimmicky, Useless

My views on iPad should not be news any more, but all I wrote to date was based on press reports, word of mouth, and one instance of the device spotted in the wild. This morning, however, I had a chance to lay my hands on the magical and revolutionary device for a few minutes. My, was it an eye opener!

First and foremost, and as I have already surmised just from the specifications, the iPad is heavy, And I mean HEAVY. You can really feel all of its 700 grams (give or take), especially when you try holding it aloft in just one hand. If you ask me, it's unusable and certainly uncomfortable. A deal breaker.

The interface was smooth as you'd expect. No problems there. But then I opened the iBook application. It looked really great, too. Apart from when it decided I turned it upside down, and presented me with the book the wrong way up. Easily solved by a bit of a shake, rattle, and roll. Also, just as advertised, a flick of finger turned the page with a very realistic page flip animation. Which sadly grew old - very old - after I turned one more page. Worse than that, it was truly distracting. I hope it can be turned off or made faster - or something. But the device is sold on this particular feature. I've seen (one too) many huge posters on British railway stations to prove it, too. 

In summary then, after having a little play, I must say that all my reservations seem to be well placed. I am most definitely not getting an iPad. It's too big, heavy, and gimmicky for anything more than showing off, and I need my gadgets to do real work (and fun!). I grew out of showing off my plumes sometime between ages 9 and 12. Especially if they're like peacocks - pretty, but really more trouble than they're worth...

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Clouds Just Got A Little Bit Brighter

When highbrow magazines start regularly reporting on stuff that used to be considered "geeky" you know the related technology has moved into the mainstream. And, when I catch myself revisiting a topic here, it can only mean that "stuff" has either become totally reviled or, as is the case with DropBox, totally cool and above all useful.

Admittedly, the pricing for large data sets is still a bit too steep, but with 2GB thrown in for free (and an additional 250MB for every referral) you can actually save (and share) most of the mission-critical data you have. If you don't think you do have mission-critical data - think again. You do not have to be a billion dollar business to be utterly devastated when you lose a part of your digital life. After all, an increasing chunk of your life is digital these days, isn't it?

Most importantly, however, the DropBox experience is totally seamless. It took only a few clicks and not even as many minutes to have it set up, ready to roll, on a Windows XP box (yes, I still have to use one - at least it's better than Vista or Windows 7).

Most importantly the DropBox experience is also ubiquitous! First and foremost, the list of supported platforms (devices, operating systems, ...) is as long as my arm: Windows (all flavours), Apple MacOS, and Linux, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android. Hopefully they'll add a Symbian and Maemo/MeeGo clients, too. But for my current purposes they do support all I really need (Windows, Linux, and Android).

I've tried quite a few "cloud" storage systems and/or remote backups, and I must say that only the DropBox ticks both most important boxes: wide systems support, and seamless operation. For "seamless" I could almost substitute "magical". As soon I installed the Android client (again, in seconds rather than minutes) I was greeted with a discreet pop up on my laptop telling me an Android how-to guide has been added to my DropBox share. Magic! Magic that promises to be happening across all the different devices I will DropBox-enable. Sweet.

Now, only for that 100GB price to drop to something (much) more reasonable, and I can see all of my irreplaceables heading up into the DropBox cloud...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Re-Kindling The eBook Market

The sound of war drums is now unmistakable, and it's announcing a very good war.

You may remember I have already griped about the state of the market for eBooks. No wonder then that the news of the Amazon Kindle Store opening in the UK, too, was music to my ears. Teamed with the gorgeous new Kindle (yes, I am getting one - it's already on the pre-order) this turned into a true symphony (as opposed to an opera).

Some retailers have responded already, albeit in a somewhat confusing fashion. Selling all your stuff half price does not exactly send a reassuring message to the consumer. Others seem to have remained oblivious, at least for some titles (admittedly this seems to be changing almost as I type this). While both these are selling Sony Pocket Reader at a heavy discount (a very good pick, as I raved here), and the Sony Touch Reader is a truly well designed and beautiful device (read about it here before it's replaced), I believe that they will all lose out to the complete Amazon proposition. And I'm going to tell you why, too...

I won't belabour (again) the importance of pricing for eBooks. That really should be obvious. What I am going to emphasise here is the importance of the whole ecosystem that surrounds an eBook reader - a successful one, of course.

Let me first nail my colours to the mast when it comes to DRM: it's BAD. We do not need it. It is harmful, and should go the way of the dodo (or worse). Currently, almost all commercial eBooks and readers use it, in one way or another. Exceptions like Cory Doctorow are (too) far and few in between. Yet, the Kindle ecosystem manages to create an impression of DRM almost not being there, or at least not being as disruptive as it is usually. How was this achieved. First and foremost, Amazon put in the effort (and the money) into developing reading software for almost all the major platforms. Notably, not Linux. I'm watching you, Amazon. But anyway...

Building on this, comes the Whispersync, the system that synchronises your library across all the devices you use. And not just that: it will also sync information about where you left off your reading, so when you pick up any of your devices, and open a book, you are guaranteed to be easily transported to the exact same page you closed it on. Of course, all this magic depends on the Internet connectivity, and that's where the new Kindle's connectivity options come into play. Even the basic, really cheep (by today's standards) version has built-in WiFi, and the slightly more expensive one bundles a 3G modem, too. And Amazon did not stop there either. The 3G connection, both for book downloads and sync, and browsing is free in a long, long, list of countries. No contracts, no operators, no cost! 

The whole system truly competes for number one spot of the "cloud" services of today. Yes, it does only one thing, but it does it exceedingly well. This philosophy has always stood Unix (and Linux, of course) in good stead. Better build a set of simple tools that do one thing, but do it well, than create an unwieldy Swiss-army-knife-like contraption that never fits all its parts together well. 

Combine all these things (the device, its ecosystem, lowest eBook prices) and surely we have a winner. Will the others catch up? In terms of prices and raw capabilities - very likely. But they are already a bit late for the game. It is difficult to see a lot of "cloudy" ecosystems begin successful at the same time. Unless of course everyone agrees to be compatible with Amazon's - but that is probably too much to expect even if otherwise I may never want to leave, having invested in my Kindle library. It would be like every time you buy (or even just rent) a new house, you have to leave most of your dearest belongings - including family portraits and silverware - in the old one. Probably worse. If you left your physical possessions behind at least there'd be a remote chance of someone using - maybe even enjoying - them. With digital files locked in a DRMed walled garden it's more like burning them. And we know who used to burn book, don't we?

So, re-Kindling of the eBook market may end up burning quite a few. Knowing the state the current market is in, that may not be such a bad thing after all...

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Death of E-Mail

To borrow a well worn phrase, the news of the (imminent) death of e-mail has been greatly exaggerated.

Yes, it is more than 80% spam. Only, in fact, it isn't. While it is true that all the e-mail servers on the planet handle this much spam, the amount of spam e-mails seen by end recipients is far lower. In my Google Mail - which also aggregates several other e-mail accounts I own - I think I see maybe 30% of messages go into Spam folder. In my corporate Nokia account I see no spam whatsoever.

But this is all almost beside the point.

The biggest criticism levied against e-mail these days is that it is a clunky, old-fashioned way to communicate unfit for the twenty-first century. We should all give it up in favour of instant messaging (IM), Twitter, and Facebook-style communication tools. If I was writing this just a week or three ago I could have also listed Google Wave. But apparently Google gave up on it (and no, giving up is not a mark of success). Novell seems to want to try to carry the torch, but what comes out of it remains to be seen.

Frankly, I don't really see how this can happen. As old-fashioned and clunky as it is (and it is, really, in terms of design) there's still nothing that comes close to being able to replace the most important use cases for e-mail.

IM chat is great (and often a great time waster, too), but any multi-party conversation in it is - to put it very mildly - challenging. Plus, and probably the worst, it forces immediacy and speed of response that will often work to the detriment of quality of content. So, informal catching up with your mates is a great use of IM - provided you're both (or all) awake and at the keyboard at the same time, but any formal discussion will be seriously hampered. For cases where such immediacy is beneficial a teleconference is a much better medium.

Twitter and Facebook I really can't see as tools for anything but shouting stuff at the world at large. yes, you may be able to fine tune the limits of such a world, and a modicum of conversation is possible, but again, this is not really suited for serious communication. And here I am not talking about big (or even small) companies talking to, sorry, with their customers. For this, both these systems are great - but mostly because it is a matter of the companies mostly talking to customers, rather than having a conversation of equals.

I can also turn this argument around, and have a look at what can be done better via e-mail.

First and foremost, you can have a good think about what you write, then write and edit it at your leisure. You can write as much or as little as you want or see fit.You can also pour over what you're replying to as much as you need before even starting to think about a reply - if any.

Next, you can truly fine tune your audience. People can be added to the list of recipients at any stage of conversation - with the added benefit that they'll be able to see the whole of previous conversation, too, if it has been properly quoted. Of course, people can also be removed from lists of recipients (but you shouldn't do it unless they ask for it themselves). If you really want to be bad mannered about your e-mails you can also add people as blind carbon copy recipients, thus making them spies, and yourself a traitor. In this, the possibilities are truly endless - to borrow another well worn phrase.

Then comes the ability to enhance (or "enhance") your e-mail with various levels of formatting, and attachments. Used wisely and sparingly, both can add great value - as can careful use of quoting bits of what you're replying to. All of this is available in IM and Facebook, too, but I'd argue it is much more difficult to do, and does not necessarily add the same sort of value.

Finally, there is persistence. It is much easier, and much more convenient, to store old e-mails. It follows only naturally it is also easier to index and search it, too. Yes, you can save IM chat logs, and Facebook and Twitter provide some sort of persistence, but none of them can match the flexibility of e-mail in searching for information. Not to mention that on Facebook and Twitter at least, it is not just you who can search what went before.

So, in conclusion, while e-mail will eventually completely replace paper mail - and to a great extent has already done so - I would be extremely surprised if any of the communication tools currently in vogue ever do the same for e-mail. I am not saying that e-mail as it is now is the best solution to the problem of communication in the modern age. I guess what I am saying is that I believe that whatever eventually replaces e-mail has to provide for most if not all of the use cases now served by it - the use cases not being served by other current tools. In building a better mousetrap we need to remember that the new one still has to catch mice!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Twenty-First Question

You may remember my Twenty Questions posts. You may have even read a few other answers. Having seen those, did you ever feel that something was missing? I know I did, and now I think I know what it was.

It's the twenty-first question! The one with the potential to dwarf them all.

What that questions might be? You still haven't guessed?


It could have been asked as the first question since it pre-dates them all, but it would have been much better as the last - to end them all, possibly to shame them all. It would have jumped out at the unwary. It might have made them think they've wasted the time answering the first twenty. Better still, it might have made them think they've (we've all) wasted all those years (and lives - never forget the lives).

On the face of it, one may decide that there was a point to the whole exercise. Just look at the successful Slovenia. Even Croatia can boast it achieved almost all it wanted from the start. Others have mostly been less lucky, but I wouldn't be surprised that even amongst them there'd be those who thought it all a worthwhile exercise.

But let's look at where we were, and then where we are now, practically 25 years after you could say it all started...

In the late eighties, Yugoslavia was, first and foremost a country of considerable size. Twenty-five million is a respectable size for a European country. It had industry to match, too. True, it has both seen better days, and was in need of radical overhaul, but that process has been started under the premiership of Ante Marković.

A full shift towards market economy and western-style democratic rule was still required, but if you looked carefully into your own personal crystal ball you would have been able to see it - right there just across the horizon, or on a good day just around the corner.

Also true, the federal system was creaking and also in dire need of repair, but to say it would have been impossible without first de-constructing it entirely is silly. And to say that it needed military action to destroy it completely is and was criminal - and was in fact found to be literally criminal in most cases, at least when it comes to the actual methods employed. If the will really was there to move forward with the least amount of strife, surely there were models that would satisfy all levels of independence required. After all, Slovenia was, quite genuinely, proposing a loose confederation at some point. Unfortunately, it was laughed out of room - more or less.

Why do I go on about keeping the country as a whole? It should be obvious, really. Bigger countries have bigger internal markets which makes for more stable economy in times of trouble. Bigger countries also generally have more clout in international trade and politics. Again, something useful to have in times both good and bad.

So, we were, in the late eighties, apparently much closer to the proclaimed aims of democracy, European Union, economic recovery, and so on, and so forth. What do we do? We throw it all away because every little semi-local elite wants to run their own show (or everybody else's shows, too, for some).

And what do we all end up with  in the end?

First and foremost, with hundreds of thousands of dead. That can't be good in anyone's book, can it? Can it? Not to mention all those more numerous others who were forced into various forms of exile.

Then, most of the economies were ruined - there's really no other word for it. Everybody, with the exception of Slovenia, are now starting from a much worse economic position than 25 years ago. And even Slovenia has lost most of its backup markets (which she is slowly but surely regaining, thus repeating the history - and we know who repeats history).

Finally, most of the ex-Yugoslav republics, in their quest for "democracy" went through spells of regimes that were anything but, and which were probably far less democratic then what we had in the late eighties - all its failings included!

Did we really need to go through all of that so that we can now start from a much worse position? Did we really? I don't think so. And it's not just about hindsight always being 20-20. I was saying all of this to everyone who would listen for the past 25 years.

The problem was, not many would listen. Not to mention the periods when it felt distinctly unsafe to raise one's head above the parapet like that.

And to close this all off, the last bit is still very much true when it comes to the problem of Kosovo and Serbia, the problem that is probably 35 years old. Those 35 years ago, Serbia had Kosovo nicely wrapped in two layers of protective sheets, safely inside itself, and Yugoslavia. It also had a Kosovo that was reasonably happy with the levels of autonomy it was granted. In the next 35 years of making Kosovo more Serbian what was achieved is that it will soon probably join United Nations as a 193rd member. A wise man once wrote that if you hold your stick too tight it can easily take control of you, rather than the other way around. Not to mention that a carrot is often - if not always - more effective than a stick.

So, in the end, much was lost, little was gained (and what was gained was usually what was first lost). Indeed:


Some may wonder why write about this in English, and why write here rather than possibly here? Well, nobody really wants to listen to this in any language so English is as good as any other. Plus, especially most in ex-Yugoslavia, particularly Serbia, don't want to hear these things, lot less think about them, so I think English is really a service to all of them. It is, after all, ex-Yugoslavia, and ex-Yugoslavs who I care about...

Friday, 13 August 2010


Yes, I am now officially Minted - and have been, happily, for at least two months. You could also say that I've been de-loused - it certainly feels that way! In less cryptic words, I have not booted into Windows on my main computer for a long, long time. It's finally become Linux all the way for me.

True, I had to run one or two Windows applications every now and then (any advice on how to use Hugin effectively is more than welcome). Even then I ran them from inside Linux. The Wine project has created a truly marvellous Windows emulation (I know, I know - WINE stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator). But otherwise, there really was no need for that slow, clunky, virus ridden monstrosity. I think a few examples will help drawing a better picture of the differences.

In the beginning, there was the installation...

Download the DVD (I went for KDE edition that won't fit on a CD) - quick on ADSL, but YMMV. Burn it - 10 minutes. Boot from it into a full Linux Mint KDE environment - 5 minutes (it is loading from CD, remember). Check all important hardware is supported - 5 minutes (WiFi and sound, mostly). Click on the Install to Hard Disk icon - instant. Going through the few installation options is a breeze, and you could easily leave them at defaults (I'm anal, and pick and choose). The actual installation lasts less then 15 minutes. All said and done, you've re-booted into your fresh operating system in probably less than an hour - if that.

Then came the additional software installation...

But wait! Pretty much everything is already installed - including a full office suite compatible with MS Office. There's also a choice of browsers and e-mail clients there already, a bunch of multimedia applications, graphics, and so on and so on. Being picky about browsers and imaging I downloaded Google Chrome and Picasa. But you don't have to.

Oh, and I also checked for latest software updates. These downloaded and installed in a couple of minutes. And I did not have to re-boot.

Now, let me see what happened when I last installed Windows...

It was quite recently actually, just before I switched to Linux. It was on the same laptop, and probably the main reason I made the switch in the end. It also wasn't just any old, dodgy, Windows XP or even Vista installation. It was a brand spanking new Windows 7 Ultimate, received straight from Microsoft UK HQ (luckily it was a present - otherwise I might have sued for my money back).

First, just to make sure I repartitioned and reformatted my hard disks. Both of them. Even if I intended to install Windows just on one. You see, I've tried installing Windows 7 over Windows Vista, but the result was as slow a mess as you may have had the misfortune of seeing. So, I spent a couple of hours making sure my Windows 7 Ultimate, very much original operating system, is installed on a virgin system. But, to be completely fair, you may not want to count this time and effort in the comparison.

Then, I booted from the Windows 7 install DVD. The installation, in all fairness, did not last much longer than the one for Linux Mint. But unfortunately, your "quality" time with Windows before you can really use it does not start once the system re-boots for the first time. Oh, no...

Next comes a rush to download a good anti-virus application. Luckily, Microsoft itself offers one, and for free. Sadly, it is not included in the installation, not even as an optional feature (Linux Mint comes with ClamAV pre-installed - not that you really need it). Oh well... That at least did not last long.

Onwards we go to check for any software updates. Since Microsoft releases its operating systems once in every blue moon there was a couple of hundred megabytes of updates. And they wanted re-boots. And more that one as well, since not all of them could be installed at the same time. Oh dear... Another couple of hours gone.

Next came downloading some decent browsers and e-mail clients. Yes, Windows comes with those. But no, they are not really worthy of mention.

Since there's no office suite included with windows you have to install that separately, too. Here, you can go the free way (not the freeway) and install the same OpenOffice that comes with Linux. It's also probably the quickest. It weighs in at (barely) reasonable hundred-odd megabytes and, most importantly, will not require you to immediately look for updates. If you install Microsoft Office, on the other hand, you will immediately need to look for updates, and more likely than not there'll be quite a few. Last time I saw such an exercise, there was around couple of hundred megabytes worth of them. And again, you'll more likely than not have to re-boot at least once.

OK. So after a good workday worth of effort my Windows 7 system was finally up and running. It even ran reasonably quickly and smoothly. For a bit I thought that Microsoft finally got their act together. But how I was lighting my fire with the rabbit still in the forest - and not even the one outside the door.

I happily used my laptop, Windows 7 and all, for probably a month and a half when I noticed that it started slowing down. And it kept slowing down. I wasn't doing anything much to it. I wasn't even installing all sorts of silly stuff like I did when I was a wee lad. But it still kept getting slower and slower.

Clean-ups didn't help. Regular updates didn't help. Nothing seemed to help...

And that's when I looked towards Linux again. So I downloaded Linux Mint (then it was still version 8 - Helena). And I had an epiphany. It installed in minutes rather than hours. As frequent as the updates were, they installed quickly and generally did not require re-boots. It wasn't slowing down - at all.

Last, but by no means least when it booted, it booted in less than two minutes. Last time I booted into Windows 7 it lasted almost ten. Every time I boot into my work laptop running Windows XP (and a bunch of security applications) it takes the best part of 20 minutes before any useful work can be done.

So, in summary, not only have I saved myself a full day of life on the installation (because I'd have had to re-install Windows apparently to make it run faster - probably every three to six months), but every week I am saving almost half a day in boot times! If time is money, as they say it is, I am well and truly - Minted!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Rise Of The Robots

No, I'm not going to talk about the game (even if it was quite good, especially for its time). And, you should have guessed that as soon as you saw the image to the left, too.

Yes, it's that cute newcomer to the wild, wild world of mobile phones - the Android. It's been variously praised and criticised, but it is in clear and present ascendancy. Another important fact about it - well, at least for me - is that I am absolutely, positively loving it!

I've recently been experimenting with a few phones running various versions of Android. Namely, T-Mobile Pulse Mini, T-Mobile Pulse, and finally Motorola Droid (also known as Milestone over here in Blighty). My impressions have varied as much as the three phones. The first two lacked a hardware keyboard and proved once and for all, that for me this is a must have on the phone. Interestingly, the much larger Pulse proved to be the more difficult to use without the keyboard. I actually liked the Mini very much, but mostly for its small size (aka pocketability).

The absolute winner proved to be the Droid, and not just because it has a very good hardware keyboard. It could be that its capacitive touch screen is much better than the other two (I think it is), but I was finally able to control the phone without making silly mistakes - something that until now kept me with the more precise, but less swanky resistive screens. Also, this high usability and controllability made it possible to fully assess Android as an operating system.

A word of warning: If you haven't thrown your lot with Google and its various services (like I have) then you may find Android a bit less of a perfect solution. But, if you are heavy user of Google Mail, Calendar and a few others, you will find that the only proper way to use them on the mobile phone is in Android. At different times I've tried pretty much everything: from Windows Mobile, through S60 to Maemo. Nothing comes close to Android when it comes to setting up, and synchronising with, your Google accounts - especially if you have more than one!

Another feature I've been using a lot, and pretty much exclusively, on mobile phones is SatNav. I will happily concede that in this area, and especially when it comes to free voice guided navigation, Nokia Maps still lead the way. Google Maps on Android lack the ability to download maps to the phone so you don't need Internet connection (very useful when in roaming), and the voice guidance leaves a lot to be desired (one thing would be British voice actors - note to Google: it's called a roundabout not a traffic circle!). Still, when it comes to searching for locations and providing information over and above simple coordinates Google Maps on Android work absolutely wonderfully.

I could go on and on and on, but what you really need to do is give it a go. Ask a friend to lend you an Android device for a few days. More likely than not you'll like it. And when it comes to comparisons to Apple - there can't be one really. Unless, of course, you are happy with Fischer-Price styled, walled garden for minors limited, antenna under-engineered device with early twentieth century idea of multitasking. Sure, you may get more sex, but will it be better?

I need to update this page, now that I've relegated my N97 mini to SatNav duties outside of Blighty.

Can't wait to see the just announced Motorola Droid 2 - they kept the hardware keyboard so it can't be bad at all!