Category Archives: Tech

Ubuntu for mobile… damn that’s exciting!

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday I wanted to get something done that I’d been planning for a number of months: replace Windows 7 on my PC with Ubuntu, ridding myself of any Microsoft software (I think).

I’d long ago abandoned Microsoft Office in favour of Libre Office and have had my Samsung N130 netbook running Ubuntu for more than a year. Using my netbook had shown me that it was possible so over several weeks I listed all the software I used on my Windows 7 PC and next to each I listed Ubuntu alternatives. Finally, I was satisfied that it was time and the expected Christmas lull gave me opportunity time to back up (which took ages!) and make the switch.

It worked (on the second attempt) and my Acer Z5101 (with 5GB extra RAM, I might add) is now completely Windows-free and running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.

The Excitement

During all this I noticed a countdown on the Ubuntu site. There was no mention of what it meant so I made a mental note to return when the timer was up. I didn’t need to in the end as plenty of tweets made it obvious: Ubuntu is moving into mobile.

There have been some doubts about whether it’ll work or even if Canonical have what it takes to build a mobile OS. Only time will tell so I remain open minded but it certainly excites me. As most who know me will testify to, I’m a big Android fan and that’s partly because it’s a Linux-based operating system, as is Ubuntu. That’s partly why I’m excited because it gives the mobile world an alternative to the increasingly dominant Android system on the same free and open terms.

Android to Ubuntu

A bigger reason though is the suggestion, from Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, that Ubuntu’s mobile OS will be developed with Android in mind so that apps built for Android will also work on Ubuntu devices. This is fantastic news! For Ubuntu it kinda makes sense as it potentially gives them a ready-made app marketplace to tap into instead of having to build their own. But what excites me is the potential that as a consumer I could flip from one OS to the other, retaining all the same apps that I’ve learnt to love or tolerate (it happens).

It also strengthens the attraction of both Android and Ubuntu to mobile developers. Too often at the moment developers build apps for Android after iOS. If Ubuntu was to steal market share off the likes of RIM and Windows Phone (’cause let’s be honest, that’ll be another MS flop…) it’d create a Linux mobile OS dominance that would take precedence over iOS for app developers who would know that developing for Linux (rather than Android/Ubuntu specifically) means developing for the largest share of the mobile market. Of course, there are nitty gritty details to get around (different devices need different solutions) but there’s a solid foundation to work from.

HTML5

Long a bug bear of mine is that all too often we see native apps developed (often for iOS only at first, or at all) when a HTML5 app would do just as good a job, and in doing so would be naturally cross-platform, excluding no-one and benefitting everyone (with a smartphone, obviously…).

So when Mark Shuttleworth said that HTML5 apps would be treated as ‘first class citizens’ in the Ubuntu ecosystem I nearly leaped out of my chair! Giving HTML5 apps access to the same features of the OS as native apps allows developers to provide the same experience across multiple devices at a much lower cost. Instead of developing for iOS, then again for Android, then again for Windows Phone, then again for Blackberry (…..no, I’m joking, no-one cares about CrapBerry anymore), you just develop once in HTML5 and deliver the same app to every device.

That will make development cheaper which will give the consumer either lower prices or more bang for their buck. It will also prevent the ridiculous monopoly situations like Apple’s app store where it takes 30% of all revenue (including in-app purchases) that only serve to increase the costs to the consumer, because HTML5 apps will have the freedom to process payments however they choose.

Integration

There’s probably a better word.

One thing I don’t think was mentioned (at least not enough) in the Ubuntu announcement (see video below) was the user experience that can be expected when moving between different Ubuntu devices. Google Chrome is a huge part of my everyday digital life and one of it’s best features for me is that I can open Chrome on any one of my devices and see the most recent sites I’ve visited on each of those devices. For example, I could be reading an article on my PC then pick up my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and carry on reading as I walk downstairs to sit on the sofa, without having to do anything silly like email the link to myself – opening Chrome on the tablet presents me with a list including that article that I just tap once to open up.

Having a similar level of integration at the OS level would be fantastic, and I really hope Ubuntu considers this. One example I keep thinking about is games. I’m very fond of playing Solitaire and do so on my Galaxy Tab and my Galaxy S3 using the same app, always trying to beat the high score. However, each device has a different high score because they don’t talk to each other. How great it would be to simply sync the two!

Or imagine the article scenario with Google Chrome mentioned above, ported to a document in Libre Office. I might start to write a little document out on my tablet whilst sitting on the sofa but decide it’d be more comfortable to do it on the PC, so I just head upstairs, open Libre Office on the PC and it greets me with a quick link to just open that same document (of course you can do this with Google Drive, but what if I’m offline or using my own personal cloud?).

That kind of cross-device user experience is what really gets me behaving like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. It’s why I love using my phone to queue YouTube videos to play in the YouTube app on my TiVo 🙂

180 WordPress updates…

I’ve just finished my weekly check of client sites who are on my maintenance package and seeing as it’s almost the last check of the year, I thought I’d look at the stats…

I’ve made;

  • 96 backups, each including a WordPress content export, database dump and file backup
  • 11 core updates, including moving from 3.4 to 3.4.1 to 3.4.2 to 3.5
  • 149 plugin updates
  • 20 theme updates

Every single update I’ve done was first carried out on an exact duplicate site first to make sure it wouldn’t break the site – very important for peace of mind.

What isn’t included are the many updates I’ve processed for other clients not on my maintenance plan, nor the several sites that I own and operate – there are a few core updates in addition at least.

I’ve only been doing this maintenance package for six months but I’m getting a steady stream of new clients who are enjoying the peace of mind of having multiple backups (I keep four weekly backups at all times) performed and stored for them plus any updates fully tested and pushed out without issue.

It’s actually a really satisfying start to my week, knowing I’m keeping WordPress sites safe, up-to-date and backed up.

If you have a WordPress site you might want to consider asking me to look after yours too – check out my WordPress maintenance service to see what’s included.

Merry Christmas!

Patent wars: the evil afflicting tech that will only harm consumers

Being a follower of the ‘patent war’ between mobile/tablet manufacturers recently I’m disappointed at today’s news that Samsung has been ordered to pay £1.5bn in damages to Apple. I’ve long been of the opinion that the patent system, especially in America, is fundamentally flawed and this case is another example of why.

First thing to make clear is that I’m not surprised at the verdict. On paper, Samsung have violated the patents and the reports I’ve read clearly showed, to me, Samsung had a not-so-strong case.

What gets me is that the case ever happened at all.

In June a US judge through out a case brought by Apple whilst calling the US patent system “chaos”. There are numerous examples of ridiculous patents, such as this one from Apple that patents software updates, and companies like Microsoft and Apple are openly setting up companies to act as ‘patent trolls‘ whose sole purpose is to destroy competitors through expensive litigation.

Apple is abusing the patent system in order to maintain its dominance in a blatantly anti-competitive move. Far from going to trial, the cases (all of them, including the ones brought by Samsung, Google, Motorola et al) should have been thrown out and the companies investigated under competition law.

Verdicts like that against Samsung will only serve to harm consumers in the end.

Apple created great products that consumers wanted to buy, making it the most valuable company in the world. Apple executives are now seemingly abandoning that philosophy in favour of a protectionist offensive. The rapid growth of Samsung into the smartphone market and the rise of Android, now the most popular smartphone OS, has them scared and so they’re fighting back.

One reason given for Samsung’s success is it’s wide range of phones, compared to Apple’s limited range of one (current model) very expensive phone. Apple also ignore industry standards on connectors, instead choosing to force consumers into using their own connector, a hidden cost to them. Instead, the likes of Samsung use the industry standard connections which, for example, allow me to connect my SGS3 to my HDTV for as little as £10 rather than the extortionate £35 Apple charge. Consumers are wise to this price difference and recognise they can get a similar or much better phone than an iPhone for a much more reasonable price.

Far from protecting consumers against ‘confusion’ this verdict will strengthen Apple’s position in the market and allow them to keep pushing out the same overpriced products (errm, hello, £25 for a 10in cable anyone?!) instead of responding to consumers who have quite clearly demonstrated they want the choice on offer from Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy S3 first impressions

It’s now been two weeks since I took delivery of a brand new Samsung Galaxy S3 (SGS3) and here are my thoughts. I left it two weeks because I was without a micro-SIM for it for most of the first week!

Many of my thoughts are born out of having switch from the HTC Desire HD (DHD) running Gingerbread, so it’s worth noting.

Not so great things

  • Gmail. It’s probably one of my most used apps so I was disappointed that on ICS it removes much of the colour definition between areas. For example, when replying to an e-mail the original email always sits below where you type your reply. On the DHD this was in blue but the SGS3 is all the same light grey, making it harder to focus your eyes at first. Poor usability, IMO.
  • Switching applications. I’d gotten very use to dropping down the notification tray to switch between apps on the DHD, although you could do it by holding the home button. On the SGS3 the top of the notification drop down is taken up with quick settings instead and holding the home button takes just that little bit longer that at first it’s annoying. You soon get over it, though.
  • Motions. A key feature of the SGS3 adverts were the many Motions that make certain tasks possible with a gesture so naturally I started to try these out. I was disappointed when very few appeared to work and I find out that most of them are disabled by default. Considering these are the key selling points of the device I can’t imagine what the thought behind disabling them is! Enabling them was quick and simple.
  • Widgets. There is a thoroughly disappointing lack of widgets. Again, this is probably because I’m used to HTC Sense. On the DHD I had a small clock widget and small weather widget side-by-side on my home screen, leaving room for 12 icons beneath. Now my only choice is to have half the home screen taken up by wide widgets. I couldn’t find decent replacements in the Play store either.
  • Moving icons. On the DHD, moving icons to the home screen panels was a sinch and it would allow re-ordering by dropping icons on top of each other. Presumably that’s a feature of HTC Sense (which I knew I’d miss!) that Samsung haven’t decided to duplicate. Apparently Jelly Bean does include that functionality though so I’ll have it soon.
  • More icons. Additionally, moving icons to the static bar that sits below the home screen panels (to the left of the application menu button) is a confusing and silly process. First, you must delete ones you don’t want which is fine. Then you must grab the icon you want from the apps menu and drag it to a home screen panel first. Once there you can then drag it onto the bottom strip. There’s no instructions on that so you just have to work it out for yourself. In fact, I had to tell my OH’s sister how to do it a few days ago even though she’d had the phone about two weeks longer than me!
  • Stay awake. Remember the advert where the bloke falls asleep on the sofa with his kid and so the phone turns off too? Yeah, that’s a great feature especially when you like to read things as I do. However, you do have to hold it close to you which often means in a position that isn’t particularly comfortable and it can’t seem to cope with anything other than the phone (and you) being completely upright. I’ve had to stop lying on my side in bed in the morning reading the news!
  • Power button. It’s not a great position! It’s on the direct opposite side of the phone to the volume buttons which means changing the volume is a common accident.
  • Notification light. First off, it’s very bright which is nice compared to the DHD which was too dull but when it lights up the whole bedroom from your bedside table at night you realise it’s a little intense. Which leads me to the quick setting that turns notifications off… It removes them from the notifications tray but for some reason doesn’t turn the light off which I would have thought makes sense. Go figure. At bedtime it looks like I’m unhappy with my new phone as I lay it face down to stop it keeping me awake…
  • Mobile data & battery. For the first week I was without a SIM so used the SGS3 purely on WiFi (which showed me just how little I use my phone for, y’know, phone things. As soon as I got the SIM in the battery usage seemed to increase a lot, which was disappointing although probably to be expected.

Good

  • Screen. It’s lovely. I knew I wanted a bigger screen but oooh this is nice. It’s so much nicer to browse around the web (incl desktop) and read stuff. I spend at least half an hour reading in bed in the morning before I get up… it’s great!
  • Quick settings. The pull down notification tray includes 10 quick settings icons for things like wifi, mute/vibrate, power saving and others. That’s really useful because previously I’d had to use up home screen space for quick settings icons.
  • Stay awake. It doesn’t work great all the time, but in general it’s incredibly useful. You don’t tend to notice when it works but you can see when it’s checking (a little eye icon appears) and realise that it saves lots of tapping to wake up the phone.
  • Weight. It’s so light! I’ve never known something so light, and it feels really good in your hands. I quite often find myself holding it at the bottom between my thumb and two fingers which just feels quicker and easier than grabbing the whole phone as I had to with my (now hefty feeling!) DHD.
  • Size. I’ve mentioned the screen already which is great, but the SGS3 is also incredibly thin. It kinda needs to be because any more bulk would make it a bit of a brick, but it adds to the lovely feel in your hand.
  • Camera. The camera loads really quickly and takes pictures really quickly. It also returns you to the camera quickly too, allowing for multiple photos in quick succession.
  • Syncing and uploads. When setting up, the SGS3 invites you to link not only with your Google account but with Dropbox and automatically upload all your photos there over wifi. I already auto-upload to Google+ but having them in Dropbox means they are automatically transfered onto my PC and therefore onto my backup hard drive too without any effort.
  • Battery. It’s awesome! I deliberately spent a whole day on mobile data only, using the phone heavily and it lasted the full day without issue. Not only that but it doesn’t seem to suffer from faster drain towards the end of it’s battery life as I had with the DHD (which had become a little annoying on battery usage). I confidently leave the flat with full sync on and it doesn’t blink. I went for a bike ride the other day and used Endomondo to track me (using GPS). When I left the battery was at 98% and I was out for 45 mins and the battery only sunk to 91%. The DHD would lose about 40% of battery doing the same.
  • No annoying apps. The SGS3 does come with pre-installed apps that you know you won’t ever use but unlike the DHD they didn’t bother me – I had no interaction from them and they just sit there keeping to themselves.
  • Chrome. CHROME! I use Google Chrome religiously and so having it on the SGS3 is fantastic – it knows what I’m typing in before I’ve even typed the third letter and all my bookmarks etc are there straight away. Beautiful!
  • Face recognition. Ha, this is cool – you can unlock the SGS3 by just looking at it. It recognises you, and unlocks with a code or pattern as a backup. I wonder what’ll happen if I shave the beard off…

Overall

It’s just lovely. Feels nice, looks nice, is quick and easy to use. Apart from the niggles that mostly arise out of the move from HTC Sense this is a great phone and well worth the expense.