What are tablets for?

Intel was nice enough to hand out exo-pc tablets to people at the Desktop Summit. I didn’t queue up for one, since I already got a brace — and seen as geek toys, they’re not even that desirable. The wetab I took to the MeeGo conference was a geek magnet, but those days are over for this hardware.

But remarks I’ve heard around suggest to me that people are mistaken about the purpose of these machines, and even about the purpose of the tablet UX it’s running. Not all tablets actually are created for the same purpose, but from what I’ve seen, no tablet is actually made to be a productivity tool.

For instance, the iPad is designed to bleed you of dollars or euros, a few a day, maybe ten or twelve euros a week. It’s a boring device where the big draw is the app store. Every app is a bit boring by itself, and after playing around a bit, you tend to want something new. Say… Another app, or a bit of media like an eBook or music file. Or a comic. So you go to the app store and spend a little money, not enough money to think about. Less than a beer in a cafe (unless you’re in Helsinki)… It’s a very good device for that purpose. The way it seduces you is by being very nice to hold and inviting to play with, but boring enough that you need something new for it regularly. And when you’ve got a few dozen apps, it becomes very unattractive to move to another platform and lose your “investment” — because they do add up, those nickels and dimes.

The WeTab is sort of the same, but instead of bleeding you, it’s intended to bleed advertisers. The huge scrolling pinboard is intended to be sold square by square to content/advertisement providers who can place a little app that can continuously show information you might find useful along with advertisements. You’re seduced by the information to take in the ads. The applications on the WeTab are secondary, in my experience.

Intel’s tablet UX has, basically, as its purpose to get you to buy a tablet with an Intel CPU. To that purpose, they have created an interface that shows the average user what they probably want to see: a quick look at their music collection, video collection, the noise their social network is making and a bunch of favourite webpages. For that, the concept is perfect, even if reminiscent of the plasma netbook interface with its columns in some ways. The version of their UX on the exo-pc’s is pretty old, there are newer images on the MeeGo website. I think that the Intel tablet UX is actually quite good and quite useful for the kind of user it’s intended for.

But the exo-pc is a developer device, meant to make it easy for people to test their new multi-touch enabled MeeGo application. And the tablet UX is not meant for developers… People complaining that the terminal doesn’t have a virtual keyboard are really missing the point. The terminal is useful if you attach a usb keyboard so you can execute a few commands to install your app. For that, I think it’s really good enough. All rise to the challenge of multi-touch apps on Linux!

I’m baffled…

We’ve got two Lenovo C3000 laptops around. Both run the same version of Kubuntu — neither runs Windows any more. They have a GMA950 graphics chip and a 1025×768 LCD panel.

All pretty standard stuff, so I cannot understand why some time ago Menna’s laptop started thinking it has a 1280×800 panel. It has, like its sister, a 1024×768 panel. Menna forgot to tell me when she first had the problem, so I don’t know when it started. The really strange thing is that even after I shut it down, already on startup the laptop is wrong about the panel size: the bios screen is 1280×800. And there are no options to fix this in the bios.

it’s hardware… Maybe I should replace it, but it feels silly to buy a new laptop when the old one still works.


I’m sometimes tired of hard and software, too… When my Vista laptop boots and refuses to connect to my wifi network — the little wifi light is on, but no network, or when after coming back from suspending it won’t recognize my password (the same that I can login with when freshly booted), or because the fingerprint reader isn’t supported. Or when the screen goes black for three seconds before it asks me for the admin password. And when the Photoshop CS3 demo complains it cannot install until I close firefox, I get tired. I despair when OSX gives me an update and suddenly the whole machine won’t boot anymore and I have to reinstall Leopard. Or when a friend upgraded to Snow Leopard and discovered he cannot play wma files anymore after the update. I have to admit that OSX’s kernel panic screen is nice and multilingual, but I wish I didn’t have to see it every month or so. And what’s with the vertical green and blue lines the screen on my top-of-the-line Macbook Pro 17″ shows? It’s not pretty. And when KDE’s plasma’s task manager keeps crashing or moving all the tabs to the right-hand side, instead of left aligning them, I sigh. Like I did when I find out I have to reboot my N900 every week otherwise the memory gets filled up by the microblogging service that Mauku runs.

Basically, no hardware and no software ever works correctly. All software and hardware sucks, and most of it sucks equally bad. I make an exception for vim, of course, but the only reason other software seems to be less sucky is because I haven’t discovered what makes it suck yet. Well, back to doing something about it and getting Krita under 40 known bugs now.

(And now the Photoshop CS3 demo complains it wants at least a Pentium4, Celeron, Core Duo or Core2 processor, on a Core2 laptop…)

Some more thoughts on the N900

I haven’t managed to install a development enviroment yet — that’s part laziness, part caution: I’m not going to install scratchbox on my laptop directly, I’ll use a vm for that. And after installing scratchbox in Karmic, Karmic won’t start anymore. Need to investigate more — that’s the┬álaziness.

Two observations: the lock switch on the side is soooo nice — much better than pressing two keys in exactly the right succession on my old E71. And the N900 gets slow when six to eight apps are running, and — dash it! — I want them running because they are all so convenient. And a third observation: swiping from outside the screen onto the xterm will select the url to open or copy if there’s one on the line(s) you swipe over.

A new laptop

My beloved X61 tablet is still going strong, and I still carry it with me wherever I go. I got the tablet calibrated now, for stylus and finger usage and together with MyPaint (I need to blog about mypaint!) or Krita it’s just perfect.

But KOffice is getting bigger and bigger, there are more and more unittests and the poor thing now takes about two hours to compile everything and another hour to run the tests, which is not productive if you try to fix stuff in the libraries, which I’ve been doing a lot. Krita alone has 102 unittestsi (out of 213 for all of KOffice), not counting the two tests that try to run all filters. And while 1024×768 is still the resolution I am making Krita for, I can only use KDeveloper or Qt Creator if they run in full-screen mode.

So I got a new one. A Thinkpad, of course. A really fast W500 with a high resolution screen. Lovely! Same form factor as my previous Z60M. Weirdly enough, on the X61t OpenSUSE rules: everything works perfectly, but it failed on the W500 with bad screen fonts, no network, no suspend, while Kubuntu, which didn’t work on the X61t, works perfectly on the W500. There’s this thing bugging me: with the great build quality, why does Lenovo put such crappy backlights in their laptops? There’s no way to tilt the screen so all of it is readable. And it’s way too dim for my nearly forty-year-old eyes.

But it compiles like a dream!

I finally succumbed

And got myself a new telephone. When I was in Berlin for the KOffice Sprint, I get totally fed up with sms’ing with only a numerical keyboard. So I went to the shop and got myself something with a real keyboard: a Nokia E71.

My previous phone was actually the Motorola phone I received got the 2006 aKademy Award for Best Application. I clocked up about three hours of call time and about sixty sms messages since then — I’m not a great phone user. But look what this phone can do: Logging in with ssh on my home server!

Of course, no matter what you do, unless you get one given to you (and my daughters are now fighing over the Motorola phone), when you get a phone, you will feel ripped off. Did I get the best data plan? Shouldn’t I have waited for another type of phone with just as good a keyboard, but full VGA resolution? Or maybe even got something that doesn’t run S60?

Right now, I think this phone has great hardware, great design (with two minus points: the rubbery bits covering usb and micro-sd slot are tacky, and the screen resolution should be better) and software that could be improved a lot.

Yet another laptop…

I remember that just before Naomi was born, Irina and I said to each other “we’d better buy that hardware now, after the kid is born we won’t be able to afford new computers anymore”, so we bought a Psion series 3 for her and a Compaq Aero notebook for me. Little did we know….

So, when Irina’s Toshiba laptop broke down a couple of weeks ago, she could make do with the C20 vintage Gateway Solo laptop that used to be my work computer, until that one broke too. Enter a spanking new Lenovo Thinkpad R61e… Irina decided to run OpenSUSE 11 on it, although we had a recent Kubuntu as a fallback option.

Pretty much everyone seems to work out of the box: sound, suspend/resume, graphics, mouse, usb… But not the wifi. When I ordered the laptop, the specs said it contained an Intel wifi chip, but it’s got an Atheros AR5212 a/b/g wifi adapter and I cannot manage to get it to work. OpenSUSE loads the athk5_pic driver by default, but for some reason that doesn’t work (dmesg says “probe faild with error -5”). I’ve tried getting it to run with madwifi, but failed, and I’ve tried ndiswrapper, and failed, too. It doesn’t work under Kubuntu 8.04 either…

It does work under Kubuntu 7.10 — and I suspect that OpenSUSE 10.3 also works. It isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this kind of regressions when upgrading: Naomi’s very old Dell 5150 laptop has always worked perfectly. But an upgrade to Kubuntu 7.10 killed her sound.

And then…

The power supply of my ten year old hub started smoking. My 3com wireless router was already flaky — it tended to go meekly out of the way when more modern, more powerful wireless routers came onto the air.

So, now I’m the proud owner of a Sitecom 54g turbo storage Linux-based wireless router, nas usb server thingy. Comes complete with written offer for the GPL’ed bits. It took ten minutes and a restart of the router (after changing the essid) to be up and running again. It seems hardware has improved since 1995 ­čÖé

Oh, and it says it’s a print server, too, for printers connected to a usb port. I wonder how I can get that to work…



This morning, General Logistics Systems finally delivered my new laptop. Or rather, almost didn’t deliver it. A bit of street in front of the house was broken up and the driver obviously didn’t want to walk the thirty or so meters with a smallish package. So he’d written up the Addressee Not At Home slip and slipped it into our letterbox. Well, we were just as obviously at home so I contacted GLS through their mailform, asking them to phone the driver to go back and deliver the package.

Well — you can probably imagine my surprise when that actually was what happened: the driver came back, delivered the package all the while loudly expostulating that really, he had rung the bell, obviously we hadn’t heard it ring. Yeah, right… The idiomatic Dutch word is smoesjes.

The X61 tablet laptop is pretty spiffy: kubuntu gutsy installed like a dream, after upgrading to todays version sound and wireless worked. Two things aren’t working yet: the wired lan connection and resume-after-suspend. The former just doesn’t do anything. That’s a bit of a problem since my home dir is about 25Gb and it takes a long time to restore over the air. The other issue is weird: the laptop does resume, but I have to go back to an ascii console to get the screen back. I’ll investigate some more.

The Gutsy installer is pretty confusing in one area, by the way. I wanted to resize the vista partition (didn’t want to delete it — I want to see how vista does the handwriting recognition, and I want to try Corel Painter), but somehow I confused the old and the new partition and managed to give Vista 80GB instead of Linux. Which meant that my home dir didn’t fit, which in turns means reinstallation time…

But twisting the lid and sketching with Krita is really a truly marvellous experience. I’ll see about getting rid of the cursor and the fringe benefits (dockers, toolbox) and adding a few shortcuts for stylus-only mode.

One down, two to go

I fixed sound and wifi on one of the Lenovo 3000 C200 laptops I bought for Menna and Rebecca’s birthday. It was a bit fiddly, at one point the sound system made a noise like an angry modem. But everything is fine now, except that the speakers aren’t muted if you plug in earphones. Youtube works, planet penguin racer works — what else can a 12 year old wish for? Krita is installing now.

This is the essential link:

(The Ubuntu wiki is quite difficult to navigate: there’s so much stuff that the authoritative pages often don’t show up in the first few pages of Google hits.)

I’m pleasantly surprised by the performance of these laptops: they crawl under Vista, but run really smoothly with Kubuntu Feisty and even compilation isn’t painful. Next the other 3000 C200, and then I’ll try to fix Naomi’s old Dell.