Monday, December 22, 2008

ISRO posts stunning lunar flyby videos

ISRO has posted two stunning Lunar flyby videos which can be accessed from and

The videos are combining multiple images taken from Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC) on the Chandrayaan-I.

You will need windows media plugin for your browser to watch these videos. In short, its better watched on a windows box. Hope that they can use flash next time ;)

MeTA Studio: minor update

Another minor update is available. Again, only online update is the only way to get the latest.

This version fixes some bugs reported by users. And adds some small new functionalities (mostly for my convenience ;))..

As usual, check: for more info.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I am using a Mac!

I had always thought that I would never own a Mac. Well that is still partly true, but now I do have an old Mac that I bought for $260. When I was in India, I did think that, given the price factor of a new Mac, I would never buy a Mac. But recently I moved over to Oz and though that investing about 3K on MacBook Air would be good idea. But then I dropped the idea completely as the only reason for which I wanted to get it (the Nvidia mobile 9600 graphics processor) was not really good: it only had 128MB VRAM. That meant I would not really be able to do CUDA programming on it.

As far as laptop was concerned, my Mi Leap-L (now dual booted with Vista and Ubuntu 8.10) are great for my work and for communication back home. But I still wanted to try Mac. And Lol, the CS department came out with an old Mac sale :) This is iBookG4, 12.1" (not the new Intel once), but pretty cool .. Am testing it out, so may post some more info. at a later time :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

MeTA Studio: maintainance update

Minor update of MeTA Studio is available through online updates (MeTA Studio v2.0.12122008).
This addresses some of the issues noted in There is no source / full binary update at this time.

Check back for some interesting new addition in coming few weeks :)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

On Google Earth, Mumbai and the PIL

Its been recently reported (e.g. in TOI) that a PIL has been filed in a Mumbai court for complete ban on Google Earth and other related mapping services in India (not sure if it include GPS too), under the pre-text that these maps were used for planning the recent attack on Mumbai.

Though appearing to be logical at the first look, it is a completely flawed argument for banning a free and extremely useful service for the general public like Google Earth. To me Google Earth and especially Google Maps (mobile version) has been extremely useful in going to places in recent times, and I guess it is so for a large number of people too. Given the lack of accurate maps available form the government it self, I think private services like these (which are in fact free) are extremely useful. Many technologies like Google Earth are many a times dual use technologies, you can benefit from them and at the same time be harmful to you. But this does not mean that we stop using Petrol since it pollutes our environment. If we go by the argument presented by the respected Advocate Amit Karkhanis, we would end up even banning Petrol!! To me this is highly illogical, and higher judiciary should take a correct decision.

With due respect to the unfortunate people caught up in the Mumbai attack, I must say that a technology or service cannot be banned, for good. Only it should be used with caution.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Small Basic: Bringing the "fun" back to programming :-)

Ever wondered where that simplicity and elegance of "GW"-BASIC has gone? And remember all the fun we had with writing absolutely stunning BASIC programs in schools. Well some people at Microsoft are try to bring just that back, for kids and adults alike :-) And its called Small Basic. Wanna get hand on it? Get it from here [].

PS: You would need to have either Windows XP or Vista with .NET 3.5 installed before you can use Small Basic.

Friday, November 14, 2008

MIP of Chandrayaan-I hits lunar surface

So the Indian flag is finally "symbolically" placed on the Lunar surface... :-)

Here is the short news on TOI.

ISRO is yet to update its website (

And by the way today is Children's day here in India (marked on the day of birthday of India's first prime minister, Pandit Nehru).

WOW. So we are finally on moon :-)

UPDATE: ISRO updates its site with news and some pictures from MIP.

Another AVG fiasco?

Just discovered that with the latest Flash player update the install file is being marked to have a Trojan when scanning with AVG free latest update... Any body having similar problem??

I have heard last time it detected user32.dll to be a virus ;-)

PS: Am using Vista UE, AVG Free edition with latest updates (14nov2k8)

UPDATE: This issue seems to have been sorted out in the latest update (270.9.3/1788). But now I feel that anti-virus software in general are dicey... move to Linux ;-)

ARM Netbook will run Ubuntu!

Yes, its official, Canonical (makers of Ubuntu) and ARM have signed a deal to bring the complete Ubuntu distribution to ARM Cortex-A8/A9 processors (ARMv7 architecture). Expect the builds to be ready by April 2009. These netbooks power a full day no-recharge functions. But well only when the true devices come in, can something be said about them.

I also hope, that by meaning "complete Ubuntu distribution", they also port the gcc natively to ARM. Then, truly, new ARM based applications can be developed without the need for the now ubiquitous PC.

More info:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nokia Care Center: Is simply bad

Ever since I have been "mobilized", so to say, I have been using Nokia phone. That was not long ago though. My first phone was Nokia 6600 which I got in 2006. I was quite happy with the phone and Nokia build, until they invoked the then much publicized and now deeply forgotten advisory on their BL-5C class batteries made by a particular manufacturer. After I learned from their website ( that my battery also falls in the faulty category I promptly registered it on their site for a replacement to be sent to my home address. The point is, I never ever got this replacement.

If I enter my battery number, 0670400363563N035122500166, at the above mentioned site, I get a page indicating that the battery shipment had already been done on 2007-10-09 !!

Which obviously is very very false, as I have never received this. I repeatedly called the Nokia care center, India on their provided number but they repeatedly kept dodging me saying that you will soon get the replacement. On the top of all this their number is *not* toll free and I have ended up paying more than 200 INR just to call them, which of-course provided no definite information. In the end one of their executives asked me to go the Nokia Care center in Shivaji Nagar, Pune called "Akshay Telecom". When I reached the place, I was informed that those people have moved to another place: F. C. Road. WoW! The "care-executive", neither their website have made the changes and made me go from one place to another! The lady at the reception (of F. C. Road branch)was simply rude. She simply said we dont provide replacements. Irritated, I again called the Nokia Care center number, again paying through my nose for the call. The "executive" this time took down my "complain", and asked me to again visit "Akshay Telecom" at the Shivaji Nagar address!! I politely told her that I was at the center, and they have moved to a new address! She merely said, that I would get a replacement within a week. That was one month ago. And I have decided not to call those people again. They are simply bad.

Even though I got a new Nokia phone (E51) a few months ago, the next time I am buying a phone, I would think very very hard before going for Nokia. Just making good phones is not good enough, you must have good customer care too. You should know that even one dissatisfied customer can make a lot of difference to you.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

An OS called Puppy :-)


In an earlier post, I had noted that I have been using Windows Vista on my netbook - HCL's MiLeap. To speed things up I used to use a spare 256 MB card as a ReadyBoost device until recently, when I upgraded MiLeap memory to 1GB from 512MB. Well its been quite some time now since I switched over to Vista from Ubuntu, and as far as my netbook is concerned I don't think that I will ever come back to Ubuntu, even after the release of the most recent 'netbook' friendly version. I find myself more productive than just tweaking things around on my netbook, ever since I had installed Vista. Ok thats for my day-to-day-work.

I had also been posting about the possibility of a ultra cheap netbook especially tailored for the Indian market. Putting Vista or any version of Windows (probably even Windows CE) on such a machine would probably, according to me, be a big mistake. Firstly, it adds up to the extra cost of the product. Secondly, you would be dependent on a company for your software and would limit the ability to squeeze hardware as you want it, if an-off-the shelf OS is chosen. Thirdly, an OS like Vista is not devised for small footprint system (MiLeap is not exactly a small footprint device: 900MHz Celeron-M-ULV, 512MB (now 1GB) RAM and 30GB HDD). Vista won't, for example, even fit on a 2GB pen-drive on which I have been using Puppy Linux for some time now. Windows CE does address the second and third issue to a large extent, but definitely not the first one.

With my 256MB SD-Card lying around I thought of putting it to some good use. MiLeap has a inbuilt card reader and you could make it boot from the SD-Card. Since, I though that carrying my pen-drive around just to boot of Puppy was a bit of a pain, I simply installed it on my SD-Card and made MiLeap dual-boot: Puppy from 256MB SD-Card and Vista from 30GB HDD. You see the contrast?

The Good

Like Vista, Puppy works out of box on MiLeap. No fuzz. In fact it is better off than Vista on out-of-box experience for MiLeap on some accounts. All drivers are detected (except the touchpad, which is not properly configured, and behaves more like a mouse. UPDATE: this is fixed in the latest version, but have not verified it), Vista had problem with detecting on-bord WiFi, though the drivers were found on Windows Update. The screen resolution is correctly detected as 800x480. Vista on first boot presented me with a scrollable 1024x768 screen, thinking that how can I have such a small resolution?

All this similarity ends here. For good. The first point is that I have the whole OS with hell lot of applications: Office, Multimedia, Internet, E-Mail, Calender, Games etc. etc. packed into a ~90 MB image, which when installed on the card is about 120MB and the rest of space on the 256MB card is allotted for user files..., which, I would say is quite an achievement. Puppy is pretty well thought of Linux distribution with absolutely no compromises made on usability. Its simply wonderful to have a modern OS fitted in my arcane 256MB card, and with ample space to keep my files too.

So is puppy secure? Well it depends on how you see it. If you are looking for multiple user accounts with login screens, it is not, as far as the out of box version is concerned. You can of course tweak it ... but well you know, how many out there would do so? Yes, OEMs may probably try to do it. That is one of the main reasons I suggest using Puppy for a extremely low cost NetBook that is productive. You can essentially remaster the Puppy the way you want in minutes... and then simply make an ISO and use the remastered copy every where. Its such a breeze. I am in the process of trying out this very feature and will post my experiences soon.

And well it still has one problem that seems to have not been solved in any Linux distribution that I have used so far: Its default WiFi driver can't join my home ad-hoc network if I use WEP/WPA security features... This is really frustrating. But in the wild probably no one uses ad-hoc networks?

But then again the point is, I still love this little Puppy :-) Battery life being one more issue to love it.

Under Vista I generally get average battery life of 3 hr 10 mins. Of course I use quite a lot of applications and do some programming on it (Java, MS Office/OpenOffice, LaTeX, Nokia PC Suit, Firefox, IE8, Chrome and many more). All this leaves about 15GB for user files (of the 30 GB disk)... of which 5GB is already consumed ;-) If Vista installation is cozy, Puppy installation seems to be breath of fresh air :) Puppy too gives similar battery life, though some what better... about 3 hrs 20 - 30 mins. So I guess the power management stuff in Puppy is pretty good. However, I have not found a way to suspend / sleep in Puppy. But then Puppy boots and responds fast enough to probably not have this feature at all!

Another issue to love Puppy is that it plays mp3 files out-of-box, no need to download any codecs. The in-built gxine player is superb, no fuzz, minimalistic multimedia player, which can also handle number of video formats. And, oh well, SeaMonkey browser comes with Adobe Flash Plugin, so YouTube support is out of box.

For whom it is good?

Well if majority of your data is on Internet (read Web 2.0), but you still need a usable OS that does most of things right (word processing, Internet, picture editing, multimedia (mp3, video)) ... then Puppy is your best friend. You can of course, remaster and make a customizable distribution which you can share with others.

Since a NetBook is exactly meant for the above usage scenario, Puppy Linux makes a very strong case for an ultra low cost x86 based NetBook. And I strongly feel that if a ultra-inexpensive NetBook for Indian markets is to be made, Puppy Linux should be the default, supported OS installed on it :-). Well some customizations will definitely be needed, especially pertaining to locale for Indian languages.

And what it is not meant for, in short where to stop expecting more from Puppy?

Well if you are a heavy desktop user and frequently use applications such as the ones I mentioned for my Vista installation on MiLeap... then sorry you must better get pretty heavy hardware and one of those heavy weight OSs: Vista, OS-X or Ubuntu, or wait for Windows 7 ;-)

PS: This post was written using Geany (an IDE!!) on Puppy and then posted by connecting to net using SeaMonkey browser via the ethernet port. The screenshots were taken using mtPaint-screen capture utility in Puppy.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Chandrayaan-1 enters lunar orbit...

There we are! Was wanting to post of Chandrayaan for a long time, but was just tracking it. And now that its reached the lunar orbit, we can hope that it goes well for the next thing in the line ... an impact probe that plants Indian flag on moon :-)

Khoodos to ISRO people :-)

More info at:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

perfect Indian netbooks?

This is a followup post to an earlier post (available here) on the same topic (be sure to read the last PS).

These are the thoughts that come out to me when I strive hard to find out a solution for a made in India low cost netbook.

The most important part of the computing machine today is evidently the kind of processor to be used. A processor not only defines a consistent architecture, it also defines how power efficient is the overall system design. While an ideal design would have a system on a chip architecture; such as the one offered by Philips or Texas instruments, these are not yet wide spread and are definitely not the more widely supported x86 architecture. Moreover as pointed out in my earlier post these systems are still dependent on the standard architecture for software stack development. Where as on the other hand the x86 systems are generally the one that have a full support for self bootstrapping i.e. they do not need any host machine to bring life, read software stack, to them.
A netbook for India must have a large support base. x86 systems do have a large support base, more people know how to write software for them than any other platform. Though you might argue that there are more ARM based processors even in this part of the world, the fact remains that applications developed for this platform is quite rare and are most of the times Java based games that largely restrict the usability of these devices. What made x86 popular is its ability of infinite customization. Whereas what makes an ARM devices widely seen is because of its large production and definitely not because of its ability of customization or programmability.
Thus I feel that for a general purpose computing machine a low cost, low power x86 processor is the best bet. If you check out the current x86 market, only VIA's nano and AMD's geode seem to have these capabilities. Of these the AMD's processor has been extensively used in the first generation OLPCs. The amount of work that has gone into porting both Linux and windows on this low end x86 processor has been any thing but extensive.

VIA's processor on the other hand has been extensively tested in many embedded devices along with the nano-ITX and pico-ITX boards. This processor is actually marketed as a processor for the next generation netbooks; in direct competition with the more expensive Atom processors. The introduction of the Atom processors have infact shot up the prices of these netbooks by more than double. Which is exactly the reason I would not like to ponder on processors from Intel.

Another option is to develop a made in India x86 processor which I would be a lot interested in. But this for long term!

This should be at least 256mb and ideally 512mb. Nothing much to say here for the moment.

Secondary storage:
This should be a solid state device. Provided that these devices would need to be rugged under Indian conditions. They should be a minimum of 2G.

All these thoughts make me think that the simputer project should be revamped!

More on this later.

PS: There is lot of speculation in the market that ARM (through their licensee) would come up with a netbook based on their Cortex processor by the end of this year. My speculation: the OS is going to be Google's Android. If that is so and if they are going to be half the price of the Intel based netbooks, I am hooked :-)

Note: This post was completely keyed in from my nokia e51.

MeTA Studio updates (shh... voice!) and source release

Well here is the long promised source update to MeTA Studio (v2.0.01112008), get it from the usual place at:

The binary update is from the now usual online update scheme.. download the latest full package from and then get the online update from with in MeTA Studio.

Well this release adds assortment of bug fixes as usual and add some cool new features which you will discover as you use MeTA Studio. But one stuff to mention is that you can now do voice communication with in MeTA Studio talk! Yes! you heard it correct ;-) The voice feature is not very stable and has not been extensively tested as yet, but is usable.


Another feature is that you can now dock the talk window with an existing window in MeTA Studio, allowing you to work and collaborate more comfortably. Right now the docking can only be done to a MoleculeViewer window, in future other widows will be supported.

Ok thats it for this post! I will be taking a short break on development of MeTA Studio as I would be moving out and am working on some other related projects… Have fun with the latest (source and binary) MeTA Studio :-) All suggestions, code contributions, documentation is ofcourse welcome ;-)

PS: Some what unrelated but I updated the mobihf code for s60 3rd ed with fp1 (read my phone, e51) and the updates (with some cool new timings) are available from Have fun with that too ;)

PPS: There is a small fix with the Voice communication code for MeTA Studio that is not updated in the source ... this will be done when I next update the code. Till then take a deep breath .. sounds familiar ;-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My experiments with CUDA

Those of you who are tracking NVIDIA and GPGPU would be aware of CUDA 2.0 .. well the final version is released and is available on many platforms including Windows Vista. I had been experimenting a bit with CUDA APIs in my spare time on my Fedora 9 machine and 8500 GT card. Though I have a similar setup for my Vista machine, I didn’t take the pain of configuring it on Vista … it looked far simpler for me to use gcc on Fedora 9. I had to make some minor changes to the sample SDK code to compile with the new gcc compiler though.

So what have I done? I merely wrote a small program to add two arrays of limited size. This whole example is very simple demonstration of how to pass data from host CPU to the device (GPU), do the computation on GPU and get back the results. Well a lot of such examples are there in SDK samples .. but you see, if you don’t do it your self, you don’t get it ;-) The source is available here (deceptively called vecdot.tar.gz)… and what is this thing called documentation?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Xming: opensource X sever for windows

I was just searching around to check out for a good X server implementation for Vista, and was surprised to find opensource high quality Xming. If you use your windows box to remotely connect to Linux box and some times need GUI applications for Linux ... this is highly recommended!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

MeTA Studio update: the big and small changes

Ok, the big change first. Starting from the current version (MeTA Studio v. 2.0.09102008) a customized version of BeanShell library is being used. This change was largely entitled, because I found that some threading issues are not property handled in the original BeanShell implementation and turn out to be resource hungry when run inside MeTA Studio. This means that from now on MeTA Studio will use a separate source base of BeanShell. In the coming days I will post the updated source base for MeTA Studio which will include the changed BeanShell package source.

Next, a new component for finding-text-as-you-type (see screen shot) is introduced at various places (such as code editor, search result page etc.) so the finding text information and coding becomes easier with in MeTA Studio.



For, developers only, a thread monitoring component is added to the “Job notification and query panel –> MeTA Studio Scheduler” panel (see screen shot). This panel will be expanded in future to include more information and control.


Other small changes include a number of bug fixes in various components, especially the Federation framework (hopefully things are better now for discovering peers!).

Finally, as with previous few releases, the current release is also purely online release, means you need to download the latest full binary package (from, and then use the MeTA Studio update service to get this latest update.


PS: Please be patient for the latest source release ;-), this will be done in coming few days…

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Turing test: will it prove any thing?

Guardian is reporting that six computer programs will answer questions by human volunteers at the University of Reading in a bid to become the first recognized 'thinking' machine, in essence pass the Turing test. To me it appears that it would probably prove nothing, at least for the time being.

For instance, if the “AI” computer programs are coded to follow a particular grammar and semantics,  it can, never be taken as a machine that “thinks”. Over time, humans have evolved their grammar and language, can machines do the same? For the time being, I do not think so. A big example of this is the way SMS text messages are frequently sent [r u tr?, ts is gr8!, i wil cal u l8r!] … can a computer program that is only programmed (or “learn”) how to interpret English, would ever be able to “think” and understand this SMSenglish? I seriously doubt!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Minor updates to MeTA Studio

.. again only online updates ...

This version adds: support for automatic monomer detection, and some bug fixes ;-)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Engineering Windows 7

This is an interesting blog from MS engineers on the development of Windows 7. It gives some interesting insights into what goes into developing a morden customer OS.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MeTA Studio gets another update!

.. This was really quick...
Ok the major addition to the code is that now you can easily add external libraries to MeTA Studio which will be automatically loaded the next time you start MeTA Studio instance.

Here is what you need to do:
1) Ensure that you have the latest version [Right now the only latest version is the one that is offered via online update, so even if u download the latested binary package, you need to update it using online updater]
2) To add a new library:
     a) create lib/ext under MeTA Studio installtion directory if it already does not exist.
     b) copy the .jar file of your library to the above directory [say you want CDK (chemistry developmet kit), then you may put cdk.jar in lib/ext]
     c) Ensure that no instance of MeTA Studio is currently running. And then issue the following command from bin/ directory under MeTA Studio installtion director:
          java -jar MeTA.jar --addlibs cdk

         You can specify multiple such entries in one --addlibs command.
3) To use the newly added library:
    ... well just restart MeTA Studio ;-)  [UI / daemon mode]. You will be able to access all the libs from any BeanShell script that you write.

Well... we are slowly developing something interesting here, more on that later ;-)

PS: Now with the online updates, this package will be most often updated. The source will also be updated frequently, but a bit less than online updates. And finally, full binary distribution will be updated least frequently as they are a bit large for me to upload from my limited internet connection.

PPS: This version also has some standard bug fixes listed on:
If you wanna report bug, want enhancements etc. head straight to

Note: To Vista users, online updates and adding external libs must be done with administrative privilages if you have installed using the windows binary installer and UAC is turned on.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MeTA Studio update: new features and UI tweaks

A new version of MeTA Studio is now available for download from the usual place at:

This version introduces a number of updates:

a) First and foremost, the binary package downloads are no longer from the UoP chem server, but are from SkyDrive. This is because I am no longer associated with UoP and hence have moved out the binary download site.

b) The source updates are now stripped of the the generated Java docs which allows me to keep the whose source tar ball small and thus make it more frequently available from:

c) Starting from the current version (MeTA Studio v2.0.14092008), an online update service is introduced. The updates are kept at: and are fetched by the updated manager. Note that this is the best and cheapest way to keep MeTA Studio updated from now, of course, once you have installed the complete binary package of the current version. However, note that this service currently doesn't work properly on Windows Vista, if you have used the windows specific installer. One workaround is to start MeTA Studio in administrative mode and then attempt an update.


d) Preferences tab now contains a button to show a simple federation rule editor. This is to allow changing security rules of underlying federation framework without restarting the editor.


e) A new command line switch (apart from --daeom, to start in daemon mode), to execute external script without starting the MeTA Studio interface:

java -jar MeTA.jar --script <script file name>

Currently the only supported script is of the type BeanShell. This feature allows you to write scripts that are entirely new applications, but runs inside the MeTA Studio virtual environment :) Boy this should be cool ;)

f) Assortment of bug fixes and routine changes [detecting monomers] ... something you always expect from an update ;)

g) and a number of more scripts in scripts/ folder so that you can write more of what you want to enhance the IDE.

So try out the stuff and give me feedback...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Puppy and Fluxbuntu: perfect for Indian netbooks?

A netbook for India should be a sub 10,000 INR device. In fact, should be well below 10, 000 INR to have a mass appeal. None of the products available in today's market are any where near this price range. The cheapest in the range is Eee PC 2Gsurf and HCL MiLeap X which cost around 14, 000 INR.

But the fact remains that, for a netbook (or what ever you call it), a basic computing device with Internet access, to be accessible to an average Indian, should be priced well below 10K INR. I have no idea of how this can be achieved, but am a strong believer that it is not difficult to make it a reality. Some of my ideas of how such a device could be built is what I would try to jot down in a series of posts. I call my creation "peoplebook", which as of now is nothing but a vaporware, until someone picks up the idea and builds a real usable product. Or someone generously funds me to materialize the idea ;)

The first and the foremost requirement of building a device like this should be that applications and in fact the operating system itself be built using the same hardware. This immediately disqualifies many devices that can provide cheap hardware, including ARM based devices which are heavily used on mobile phone and other low power devices.  The biggest drawback of ARM based devices like Simputer, Mobilis, Nokia Internet Tablet or Smartphone (based on Symbian or Windows) is that they require a host computer (the dependable PC) to build the software stack. Moreover it is overlay complex to change operating system on these kind of architectures. So the best bet is to use a x86 compatible low power processor which can support a standard Linux/ Windows OS. As Windows has a licensing cost, which eventually adds up to the total cost of the device, I can safely rule out using Windows here. So the natural choice lies in choosing GNU/Linux for the purpose. Building a customized Linux distribution is not exactly an easy task. Though projects like Linux from scratch (LFS for short) do give you hands on for building exactly that, maintaining and upgrading constantly evolving Linux stack is again a problem. So the best bet is to use standard Linux distributions that are available, build by those who are good at it and supported by community. While distros that fall in this category are easy to trace: Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse, all of them have pretty hefty hardware requirements and may not be able to support low power hardware that I am talking of.

While Intel has introduced a new range of low power processors called Atom, along with its previously available Celeron-M ULV and A110 processors, they will still be requiring fans for cooling. This a major hurdle in bringing down the cost of the whole system, as having no fan will eventually translate to thinner and more portable devices that are probably far efficient in power consumption. So, for the time being, I would rule out using a Intel branded x86 processor. The most qualified processor for such a device appears to be Via's Eden processor with the Nano-ITX board. This processor and board seems to be an extremely interesting architecture for building such a general purpose computing device. I am not sure though as to why other people have never tried this, or have they?

Though Via's Eden processor is quite a capable x86 processor that can support Linux and Windows, its definitely not suitable for heavy weight distributions like Ubuntu or Fedora. So in the search of a lighter but complete distributions, I found two interesting ones: Puppy and Fluxbuntu. While Fluxbuntu is based on Ubuntu, but is tailored for low power devices, with 64 MB RAM and about 2GB of hard drive, Puppy is exactly meant for similar hardware (but about 256 MB ram is required) but has been around for quite a long time and has a wider community support.

Since, I didn't have actual hardware to test out these distros, I first checked Fluxbuntu under the Virtual Box environment, with 64 MB RAM and 2GB HDD, but with Intel Core 2 Duo processor @ 1.86GHz. This gave a reasonable and usable desktop with software for word processing and browsing. But its no fun testing on a virtual environment, so I installed Puppy on a 2GB USB drive and then booted my MiLeap with it. MiLeap uses Celeron M ULV @ 900 MHz and has 512MB RAM and 30GB HDD and currently runs Windows Vista Home Basic. For our purpose we have only 2GB HDD as Puppy is now installed on the USB drive.  This installation turned out to be snap for booting from the MiLeap.

Now some real applications stuff: Puppy comes with standard tools for editing docs (Abiword), browsing Internet (Skymonkey, with embedded flash player for playing youtube) and music player (xine, with requisite codes for playing most of the media files). On development front, you can install the latest gcc and other libraries to use Puppy as a platform for developing new applications, or even building new customized Puppy distributions. The same is true for fluxbuntu, however the support for this distro seems to be lesser.

I feel that if someone could piece these things together, with cheap and low power x86 hardware, one can build a really usable machine for the general Indian public and satisfy their computing needs.

[Lots of blah blah? You will have to bear with me till I see these kind of devices ;) ]

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Google Chrome: Simply terrific :)

And finally they have it here! Google just released a beta version of their browser called Chrome for Vista and XP. And I am already loving this so much that I have stopped using the IE8 Beta 2, with immediate effect and am using this as my default browser now.

This is the best ever design of the Tabbed UI I have ever seen... On the tablet integration stuff for which Firefox and Opera failed, Chrome also fails, but its simply too tempting to dump this fresh and lightweight browser. I will be installing this on my MiLeap too :)

Update: Most of my frequently visited sites work great with Chrome. However one thing I miss is the superb RSS reader like the one available with IE... so for the mean time IE8 beta 2 not dumped :)

Update2: (See the screen shot), its got some serious tools for Web App developoers and Task Manager and a Memory meter, note IE8 beta 2 and Chrome beta memory usage ;)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why I will never buy an iPhone?

The iconic iPhone has officially arrived here in Bharat. At the stroke of the mid-night of 22 Aug 2008, it was introduced in India, as it was done world over. But there was a marked difference, no one was queuing out there to get the first hand on that device. For the price tag that it is supposed to be sold, its definitely not for the Indian masses. I am one of them.

Ever since I have been using mobile network, I am using smartphone. First it was Nokia 6600, and now its Nokia E51. So actually speaking I am smartphone user form the beginning. For the past two times I have bought a smartphone, I have always got a basic model that has got all features. I got E51 lately because its the cheapest phone that has all the connectivity options including WiFi and can handle most of the file types that I frequently use on my desktop and laptop. I am price conscious, and always look for the best offer in the least price. My earlier posts on mobilis/simputer had effectively indicated by what I mean by this product pricing issue. This is the prime reason, I will never get an iPhone. The second reason is openness in installing applications, which is tightly controlled by Apple. The third reason is based on speculation: does Apple use the Darwin core on iPhone, if so why is it not making it available to the community?

Moreover, the iPhone does not support (as of now) some common file types that I use frequently. The only advantage it seems to provide over my E51 seems to be pretty looking and touchy interface. To pay almost thrice the cost for such features, is simply not convincing for me.

An iPhone that is tied like this, to the network, is highly priced is simply not worth it. I would better wait for Windows mobile 7? or something more interesting for Linux world like OpenMoko.

Friday, August 29, 2008

MeTA Studio update

Had been a bit too caught up with many activities... so didn't get time to post on the updates. Well here hare some of the updates on MeTA Studio...

First and foremost, a software report describing the MeTA Studio platform has been accepted for publication in J. Comput. Chem. (currently ASAP). I hope that this brings in wider audience and more developers for the MeTA Studio platform!

And well after that wonderful news, here are standard set of improvements on the platform.. again no major updates right now, but expect quite a few in coming versions:
1) More cleaner federation framework interface for writing user level applications. See scripts/ directory for examples.
2) Federation framework now includes a new service for transferring files (binary or otherwise).
3) Many bug fixes and enhancements as enlisted here:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Switching form Ubuntu to Windows Vista! (...installing Vista on HCL MiLeap-L)

I never thought that anybody will ever write such a post! And I would have considered myself to be the last person to ever think of making the switch.

But it happened. I have been using Windows Vista Home Basic on my HCL MiLeap-L, which originally came loaded with Ubuntu 7.10 which I had upgraded to Ubuntu 8.04 very recently. The switch was not a single day decision. I was using Ubuntu on my MiLeap of quite a time, in fact ever since I purchased it, thats about six months ago. Over the time I realised that I was spending more and more time configuring and fine tuning the Ubuntu installation than actually getting any real work done. True, I learned (majority of the times re-learned) many a things, but I just felt that all this was a complete waste of time. The Ububtu updates are one of the most horrid experiences; they can come any time (unlike scheduled release of Windows updates) and they are big all the time (10s or 100s or MBs!). Then as I mentioned in this post, that I had to recompile the rt73 drivers for appropriately supporting wi-fi ad-hoc mode... this resulted in another pain, every time there is a kernel version change, I had to recompile these drivers. And after I updated to Ubuntu 8.04 there have been at least a dozen of these updates. All this made me think hard and finally I switched over to Vista.

I have installed a Windows Vista Home Basic edition on MiLeap, as this is the only edition which is fit for the kind of hardware that is there on my laptop. I chose Vista instead of XP because I have been using Vista on primary desktop and my experience with it has been a far better environment than XP.

It took about 2hrs to completely install Vista and get the desktop. The drivers for my Wi-Fi and Sound were missing in the default install. Which were easy to obtain from Windows update ( I connected to the net using the Ethernet port on my laptop). I also quickly updated to SP1. Overall the amount of download was about 300 MB. This was far better than Ubuntu, where I am sure that I have done more than 2GB updates.

So what do I miss from Ubuntu world?

If I forget about the philosophical reason for using Ubuntu, which anyway a user hardly cares (a user psychology is always to get her task done, and very rarely how the task is done)... I only miss one thing: the gcc compiler package. That said, I rarely used it on my laptop, as most of the time I accessed it from either my VirtualBox installation or my old and well configured FC6 linux box. There was obviously no problem in installing Python and Java on my laptop, that I frequently use (need)...Python for trying out s/t quickly and Java ofcourse for MeTA Studio :)

Other things that I generally use on my laptop: OpenOffice, LaTeX, Media player and Browser are there in Vista. OpenOffice and LaTeX of course had to be installed. But the Windows Media player and IE7 are just great. I hardly used Firefox in Ubuntu (when I had it installed), but rather used Opera as it was better and faster. But on Vista I am sticking to IE7 for the time being, for some strange reasons like this and this [links to previous post].

The new Windows media player has a simple but amazing feature, that allows you to share your playlist to other Windows media player capable devices.. and you can guess what I do with my desktop and laptop ;)

Next, I used to use Gizmo to make voice calls to my GTalk mates... now with GTalk available natively, I am evidently not missing it.

Next, my laptop has a strange screen resolution: 800x480. Ubuntu had always trouble with this, most of the dialogs never fitted properly in the display area, even after I did a lot of tweaking. Vista was not without problems though. The first time I started it, it went to a virtual 1024x768 resolution and gave me a scrollable desktop! But after I changed the resolution appropriately, all most all the dialogs I have encountered are fitted properly in the display area... which is sorta great considering that Vista was never made for such a low powered ULCPCs.

Boot up time of Vista is about same as Ubuntu, provided AVG is not installed. In any case I installed and uninstalled AVG which I found to really slow down my laptop to make it almost unusable. So, for the moment I rely on Vista's "strong" security features and windows defender to protect me against malicious attacks.

Though battery times are almost equal for both Vista and Ubuntu, I find Vista does a better job in handling the "sleep" mode. For me the sleep and the hibernate feature never worked on the Ubuntu setup. But it has worked out-of-box for the Vista installation. And now, I never shutdown my laptop ... I just put it to sleep :-) Putting it in sleep mode has obvious advantage of getting the desktop back in under 20sec (max), as against about 2mins required to boot up the whole stuff. My desktop though boots in less than 20 secs, and wakes up from a sleep in about 5 secs ... owing obviously to quite high end hardware specs. 

So whats not well with Vista?

Well the general answer to this Q is, nothing so far ;)

But there are a few things that are not smooth. One of the prime things is the support for Bluetooth dongles. While on Linux I found that most of the dongles work properly without a hassle, this is not true with Vista, forget about earlier versions of Windows. I simply do not understand why this area is so neglected in Windows.

In Ubuntu, when running on battery mode, the GNOME applet always used to display the amount of time the battery will last. But in Vista so far what I get the the % amount of battery remaining, this to me is actually not so helpful. Till now I have not found a way to change this.

And what about Vista ratings?

aka. Windows Experience Index. Here is it:


evidently, the very basic stuff, if you compare it with my dekstop:


PS: This post was written on my MiLeap running on Vista Home Basic using Windows Live Writer.

PPS: I am in no way advocating the use of Vista. I am just telling my experience. Its for each user to decide what is best for him/her. I am no way related to Microsoft and this post is not endrosed by them either.

Friday, July 18, 2008

virtualization using java!

I have been using virtualization technologies on my Vista machine, but was surprised to find that there is a purely Java based virtualization tool exists.. and what a fun it runs on my Nokia E51 too, allowing me to boot FreeDOS on my mobile!

Friday, July 11, 2008

My New Laptop ;)


... so soon expect some updates to application written by me on S60 (2nd ed) phones ( ;-)
Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 07, 2008

MeTA Studio updates: new graphics pipeline, federation updates

This MeTA Studio update brings in an assortment of changes... especially to the backend graphics pipeline. The graphics pipeline has be rewritten (but all the public APIs preserved) so that external dependencies (like Java3D) are differed till they are acutally requested for. This makes using MeTA.jar to construct applets a simpler task and now only requires this file for all the default graphics applications. For an example take a look at:
I will further update and release the source of the above link in comming days.

The new binary distro also include two files in scripts directory that give example on using the federation framework for building simple distributed applications: testfedconsumer.bsh and testfedservice.bsh ... more on this soon ;)

In the mean time get the latest from:

... no source updates yet but expect that soon :)

The applet adapter source is posted at:
The HTML/Javascript stuff seem to work well in Firefox, however there are some problems with IE. Didn't have time to look into it. Any help in this regard is appreciated!
This new interface is now used in WebProp.

Friday, July 04, 2008

When Operating System = Browser

I primarily use my desktop running on Vista UE and my MiLeap running on Ubuntu 8.04 for work and fun. As most of the real work that I do (read programming) is on my Vista machine, I many a times need access to Ubuntu to get some stuff checked in the Linux world for which I find using VirtualBox as the best solution. I had tried Virtual PC before, but I find VirtualBox to be much better product.

When I started using VirtualBox, I had installed Ubuntu 7.04 and later upgraded to 7.10. At the same time my MiLeap came bundled with 7.10 which I quickly upgraded to 8.04 as I badly need a lots of new stuff that was in 8.04 but not in 7.10. Was thinking of doing the same thing with my VirtualBox installation, but then something strange happened. My VirtualBox hardware emulation is actually pretty minimal for Ubuntu installation: 5GB HDD and 256MB RAM. I though for myself, I have the required gcc/g++ (which for my work has not changed much from the 7.10 to 8.04) and the only other thing I occasionally use is Browser aka Firefox. Now the only thing I really care about is a better web experience inside my VirtaulBox Ubuntu installation whenever I need it. I actually do not use any thing else than that: compiler and Firefox. So I merely upgraded to Firefox 3.0 and just forgot about what version of Ubuntu I was using. Later on I started jotting this down in the blog, from Firefox 3.0 on my VirtualBox Ubuntu (which version? what hardware?)

The above was just a description of what I had experienced in the VirtualBox environment. But lets take this further to real (yet mock) usage scenarios. User Joe buys a computer. Joe doesn't care about what kind of processor and stuff like that, the marketing guy on the counter manages to convince him that he has got the best deal. Jeo uses GMail for mail, PicasaWeb for photos, YouTube for videos, Google Docs for docs, spreadsheet and creating presentations and thats it. Jeo needs only these every day. He uses his favorite browser (the one that came with the OS) to access these services (to him they really are applications). Some day he discovers that there are alternative browsers and then installs one of the popular ones. After a few years Ubuntu and Microsoft come up with brand new OSs with tonnes of features and ever increasing hardware requirements. Joe doesn't see why he needs all that, stops buying (or using) new hardware and new OS, and just upgrades himself to the new version of the browser that was just released.

If this is how it works out for majority of users, Ubuntu and Microsoft will have tough time convincing users to try out their next best offering... of course this has a caveat that your favorite browser might stop supporting previous OS releases. As it happened with IE and Firefox 3 (no support for my old Windows 98 machine!).

Leaves me wondering about this cloud computing scenario. It looks to be an interesting perspective. Something that can't exist without the current client OS but soon these will be a thing of past when they will be accessed through low cost devices like ULCPCs... where only a browser upgrade will enhance the user experience. The applications keep improving on the sever side .. no need to purchase/download/install them locally. You only need a fat pipe, and that is becoming cheaper by the day. Sun Microsystem always says "The Network is the Computer"... looks like we are sooner or later headed that way.

On the developer front, this is gonna be another interesting stuff. Google is already providing a lot of APIs to access and build applications for its cloud computing resources. Note that you are here not developing on a isolated machine anymore, you are using a huge computing resource .. and the possibilities are limitless.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

PicLens: something fantastic and worth trying



PicLens is a browser add-in for IE, firefox and Safari provides an immersive 3D experience for searching though various video, tv and photo sites. Highly recommended for Vista and Mac users. You can download it from here: .

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Internet connection sharing from Vista

I have a broadband connection on my main desktop that runs Vista, which has an ethernet port and a usb WiFi dongle. And I have HCL MiLeap-L that comes with WiFi on board. I always wanted to have internet connection sharing setup on my Vista machine so that I can access Internet anywhere from my house using MiLeap-L. Until recently, I could not figure out why the ad-hoc network created from Vista was not getting configured from the default NetworkManager applet of Ubuntu (MiLeap-L runs 8.04).

It turned out that this the problem with the default Ubuntu driver for the WiFi chipset on MiLeap-L. The default driver (supposedly a newer version) called rt73usb has buggy support for ad-hoc mode operation. So after googling around a bit I found that you need to use the legacy drivers rt73 and blacklist the newer ones to get it working. Moreover the older version is not compatible with the NetworkManager applet and you have to use its own GUI called rtutilt. So here is what I did to get stuff working:

1) I already have latest kernel update with the requisite build tools and kernel headers. If you don't you will have to get that using apt-get install kernel* build-essential.

2) Get the latest rt73 source from

Do the following using root (sudo -s) credentials:
3) unpack, change to Module directory. Then make and make install.

4) Remove previous module: rmmod rt73usb

5) add:
blacklist rt73usb
blacklist rt2500usb

at the end of /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist

6) modprob rt73
depsmod -a

7) Install rtutilt using synaptic manager (u may have to enable extra repos)

8) disable NeworkManager applet from Main Menu->System->Preferences->Sessions

9) reboot and use Main Menu -> Internet -> RutilT WAN Manager to discover and connect to access point or ad-hoc network.

Note: If at any point of time you need to upgrade the kernel, you will have to most likely recompile rt73 drivers.

On Vista:
Its straight forward here.

1) First enable Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) on interface to which broadband is connected, in my case this is the LAN. This automatically assigns then to the WiFi interface. The required gateway and other settings are also automatically made.

2) Then setup a ad-hoc connection using the Connection wizard in which can be initiated by clicking the Network icon on the task bar... or better still use the Instant search!

3) Thats it!

Hope this is useful to other HCL MiLeap users who want to try similar setup.

PS: when you need to use WiFi from any other source, you need to use the RutilT GUI now instead of the NetworkManager applet in Ubuntu.

PPS: This whole stuff was written on my MiLeap-L and posted using the connection that I set up as described above :)

Tried Opera too!

Tried the latest Opera 9.5 on Vista, though it looked great, I eventually uninstalled it as I faced similar Tablet PC integration problems. Is it the problem of the browser code, or MS didn't expose these APIs propertly?

Btw I installed Opera 9.5 on my HCL MiLeap (which runs on Ubuntu 8.04) and have instantly replaced Firefox 3 as my default browser. I find Opera 9.5 to be far superior and loads a lot faster than Firefox 3.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Flipflop: Firefox3 and now back to IE7

thats on vista. But had no other choice after I discovered that my favorite browsing tool, the Tablet PC components don't work great with Firefox. Apart from the address bar completion not working properly, it had one major issues with password fields. That the password would show up in the screen, plaintext!!

Now waiting for IE8 beta2. May try Opera meanwhile.

Monday, June 23, 2008

MeTA Studio update: do more with Find, changed Federation protocol

A new version of MeTA Studio with updated source is available from the usual place at:

This version includes an assortment of changes:
a) The federation discovery protocol has changed, and is incompatible with the previous version. No further changes with this protocol will be made in future that will break existing clients. However you will have to update to the current version if you are using an older release.
b) Numerous Find tools have been added in the MoleculeViewer, see docs for details. Will post more details, along with long promised examples of using Federation APIs.
c) Java3d/2d renderer has been improved for performance.
d) number of bug fixes and additional sample plugins and widgets are also added.

You are invited to check the features. If you have any issues, suggestions or would like to contribute to the project kindly post it at:

Have fun!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Microsoft and HCL: Worlds cheapest windows laptop!

Was hoping that this was a april fool's prank...
But if this is true, its not really gud for adoption of Ubuntu (Linux) based laptops (such as HCLs own MiLeap L). All this means that there has been a great demand for Windows based low cost laptops (even ASUS is releasing Eee with WinXP preloaded), and these people will eventually move to Vista (MS is smart in seeing this). So all the bashing and FUD for Vista will have no effect after all. People who use unrealistic reasons for adopting OSS are any way going to fail because customers do genuinely see the benefits in Windows... and Vista is definitely a superior OS.

But in other ways its good that its creating a new market and new opportunities.

Only it would now be tougher for me to convince my uncle to use Ubuntu on MiLeap L that i got for him :(

Upgadre experience: Vista SP1 and Ubuntu 8.04

Have recently upgraded my Dell Dekstop to Vista SP1. Well as with all other windows upgrade this turned out to be a breeze, after the initial hitch over my audio driver got resolved thanks to the wonderful free help from Microsoft tech support :) Had to download 69MB of updates, which turned out to be pretty fast on my broadband. After the updates surely SP1 is far more snappier than its predecessor. Also all the promised performance improvements in Vista seem to be working well.

Next I upgraded my MiLeap L from Ubuntu 7.10 to recently released 8.04 LTS. Obvious reason for upgrade was that its an LTS and more over its got some cool new features. This update turned out to be a big 701MB! So far the new Ubuntu experience looks great :)

While Vista upgrade to SP1 was over in under 40 minutes, Ubuntu upgrade took more than 5 hours! Well to be fair this cant be really compared as hardware base was totally different: Vista running on modern Core 2 Duo (1.86 GHz) while Ubuntu on a Celeron M ULV (900 MHz) processor.

Though technically speaking the Ubuntu upgrade was actually a new OS, while for Vista it was just a service pack, but there is a huge difference in upgrade sizes. And this is the reason for my worry. Vista uses what it calls a Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) to just transfer the set of bits that have changed form what is installed on the current machine, for all the windows based updates/ upgrades. Ubuntu on the other hand downloads complete set of packages (.deb files) even when it is simply updating and not upgrading. Is there no technology simiar to BITS in Linux? If no it would be interesting to develop such a stuff for Linux update/upgrade services.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

MeTA Studio updates

Updated MeTA Studio after a long time... Here are some updates

1) Firstly not anything to do with this update... but moved all my development environment to Vista (which was recently updated to SP1)... long set of reasons for that a discussion on a separate post.

2) A number of bug fixes, see for the complete list.

3) New set of federation APIs to help build distributed applications over MeTA Studio framework. This includes sendXXX() and receiveXXX() methods in FederationRequest class. Look back at this space for examples on using this API.

The latest bins are available from the usual place:, source package is not yet updated to reflect new changes, but will do it as indicated on the site.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

WebProp usage

A few months ago, I had co-developed a web interface (and its backend) for performing ab inito one electron calculations on small to medium sized molecules. This is currently hosted at and is also available through MeTA Studio widget found at:

We have even published a report describing the functionality of this tool in J. Comput. Chem. (click for abstract).

After months of monitoring the service, I find that the usage of this tool outside our group is pretty low, which is a bit disappointing. Though a niche area (ab inito quantum chemistry, to be specific), I would like to encourage educators, researchers or all the people to try out this unique tool for their needs.

If you have any queries on how WebProp will be useful (for educating, research etc.) kindly mail us at: webprop -at-

The above address is a mailing list, and the mail is forwarded to all people of WebProp development team, who would be more than happy to address your queries on using WebProp and its interface. We also welcome, your suggestions and critiques on WebProp.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is Mobilis dead?

Short answer is a big YES. Long answer is, unless Encore Software (who makes Mobilis) is able to reduce the price of the device to around 5000 INR, it simply won't have any takers. This is not the only way of revival though, there are many more steps that need to be taken and I am enlisting them here.

The first thing to note is a comparison of Mobilis with other contenders of low cost laptops in the current market. I have just compared with what I have with me (HCL MiLeap L and Mobilis). I have not put up the other contender, ASUS Eee PC partly because I myself have not used it personally and partly because specs wise its comparison with Mobilis will look even worse ;) [because of accessories like integrated web cam].

Comparison Chart:

  HCL MiLeap L Mobilis (basic model)
Processor Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900 MHz Intel XScale @ 400 MHz
Architecture x86 ARM
Cooling Fan Yes No
Memory 512 MB (DDR2) 128 MB
Storage 30 GB HDD 128 MB Flash
Ethernet Yes (In built) No (USB based can be used) *
WiFi Yes (In built) No (USB based can be used) *
Bluetooth No (USB based can be used) No
(size, resolution, touch)
7", 800 x 480, no touch screen 7.5", 800 x 600, touch screen
Touchpad Yes, pretty usable No, not required
Keypad Yes, pretty usable Yes, hopeless design
Battery About 4 hrs 30 mins About 6 hrs
Weight 1.44 Kg about 600 grams
OS Linux (Ubuntu) Embedded Linux (Montavista)
Price (INR) 17,000 20,000 +

* Not every USB device can be used. The driver support on the installed OS is very bad.


The first thing one notices from the above comparison chart is that for less, you are basically getting more in case of MiLeap! Granted that Mobilis sports a fantastic touch screen, with a slightly larger screen and resolution. But then MiLeap has 512 MB RAM and 30 GB storage as compared to paltry 128 MB each of RAM and Flash storage!


What else is wrong?

  • The price needs to be competitive (it should be priced around 5000 INR, any thing above is expensive for this device) with other ultraportables that have come up in market. What I think Encore should be doing is build a reference design and then sell the design to OEM manufactures and charge them some percent for each unit that is sold. This way the OEMs do not have to pay a hefty amount at the beginning (as in the case of simputer), and Encore will also be benefited in long run.
  • On board flash memory needs to be redesigned so that it is expandable easily.
  • OS used is another major issue. Montavista is actually a commercial vendor and you pay up a lot for their licensing fees which adds up to the total cost of the device. The development toolchain for OS is also not free, it costs another 5000 INR! And I have no idea why the old 2.4.x kernel is still being used on the device. Driver support from Motavista is absolutely useless, as compared to any modern Linux distribution. I guess Encore should look at some community supported OS like Ubuntu mobile and port it on their platform instead of using Montavista, which just adds up to the total cost of the device, and also provides a very crippled environment.
  • The worst design in the whole Mobilis tablet is the keypad. It is simply not usable. It has to be redesigned, and should look attractive and easy for a user to use it.
  • WiFi and Ethernet port should be inbuilt, and should not cost another 5000 INR to get them fitted!


I guess, I have made my point. Good luck Mobilis.


PS: If anyone at Encore Software does read this, I at least hope that they take this post seriously as I still use my Mobilis!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

All the fuss about Windows Vista

Ever since the release of the much delayed OS from Microsoft, it never seems to be on the correct side of the news reported world around. I beg to differ and through this post I would like to tell my experience of using Windows Vista for more than 8 months now.


Setup that I use daily

I do most of my work on GNU/ Linux. At work, all my machines (development, clusters and word processing) use either Fedora 8 or Ubuntu 7.10. For  home and personal use I have two old desktop machines, one new DELL machine (preloaded with Windows Vista Ultimate edition) and two ultra mobiles: Mobilis (reviewed here) and HCL MiLeap -L (reviewed here). Of the two desktop machines one is fairly new and has Fedora 6 loaded on it. The other is about 8 years old and came preloaded with Windows 98 (HP Pavilion 6615).

Of all the machines at home, I have been using the Fedora 6 machine for all my day-today activities till I got the DELL machine. Now I use the Fedora 6 machine mostly for programming and rarely for watching DVDs. When I am on move or bored sitting in front of my desktops I use my ultra mobiles.

Well to be very complete I also own a Nokia 6600, but use it rarely ever since I got the two ultra portables.

In terms of expenses I did for my personal set up, the Windows machines were about 8 times as expensive! That's because my Linux machine was a second hand buy (but of COMPAQ evo brand).

Finally no hurting the feelings of Mac people but I never owned a Mac and probably will never because I always have a feeling that they are too closed source people even if their base kernel and development tools are all GNU based.


Vista: An OS that serves me and my parents well

Let us first see the things in the perspective of my parents. They always need a way to communicate using the Internet and easily access many stuffs like photos, videos, watch movies and many a times catchup with the TV shows. Being a media centre computer with Windows Media centre installed, they find the machine relatively easy to use. They also find using IE7 easy (I don't have FireFox installed currently). GTalk and Skype are other applications they use and are relatively mature on Windows than other OS. As far as advanced features of Vista are concerned I do not believe that they are directly useful for them. But features like "sleep" are better implemented in Vista than in XP, in the later case I had constantly observed freezes of my machine. On Vista however this problem seems to have disappeared all together. Another feature my parents had to frequently deal with earlier version of Windows was the "blue screen of death", I have not encountered a single instance of this on my Vista machine to date, despite a number of hardware changes that I did over the original setup.

The Instant Search and the inbuilt voice recognition tools are also frequently used and most loved tools (especially by me). For me the Instant Search is in many ways better than other similar tools provided on other OSes. The voice recognition on the other hand seems to be an unique feature in Vista.

Going into more technicality, my basic needs from an OS are: Good development tools, rich media and Internet experience, devices should just work, be secure to a large extent, and an intuitive user experience. Before using Vista I have used all previous versions of Windows form Windows 3.1. I have also regularly used Linux distributions from Red Hat 6 to Caldera to SusE, PC Quest and Ubuntu (from 6.10). It has always been hard to figure out how to get a particular device work under Linux; which has never been the case with Windows. People would argue that this problem is mainly for devices or peripherals who do not open up their proprietary hardware to Linux developers. This may be partially true, but when I look from a users perspective it comes to choosing between one of the "better" OS, the one on which devices just work. Further, installation of a driver under Linux can simply be not done by an average computer user. You should have fair amount of idea of what a kernel is and what a compiler is, which my parents simply can't cope with! well all that for support of Windows:) But what makes Vista stand out from previous version of Windows is a feature in the Windows update that automatically comes back to you incase no appropriate drivers are found (which I myself experienced with Logitech Quickcam webcam).

Vista also comes with a assortment of development tools, many of which can be downloaded for free from Microsoft's site. Many of the tools can be used to build applications for older version of Windows too. The tools provided with Visual Studio Express edition are just enough for my work. Though I have also installed the Windows SDK as some of the programs I compile require core Win32 libraries.

I regularly use Virtual PC 2007 and VirtualBox for virtualization environment and find both of these to work without any hitch on my Vista machine. I frequently need Linux environment to test a lot of stuff so I have installed Ubuntu with all required compilers in VirtualBox and find its performance under Vista (even when running media center and recording the current TV show) very smooth.

UAC of Vista had been a big topic of debate, but I find it to be pretty usable and worth the hassle. Moreover, it is how it works out in the Linux world (sudo!).


Some things are a problem though

I have been wanting to program with the CUDA system from NVidia since a long time, but its drivers for Vista have simply not been available to date :(



In short, after more 8 months of using Vista, I find it to be a fantastic and rock solid product, which makes it worth to invest in a bit of new hardware too.

NB: This full review was written with Windows Live Writer using the iBall pen tablet ( reviewed here).

This review is not endorsed by Microsoft and are my personal views.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Review of HCL MiLeap-L

Recently HCL India released a series of ultraportables branded as MiLeap series. The cheapest one of these is a flash based (2GB), Intel class mate PC style, MiLeap X series. I purchased a slightly higher version of these machines called MiLeap L series that instead comes with a 30GB HDD. This review is on MiLeap L series, though I also intend to buy the flash based version of this device for my uncle for reasons given below ;)

Hardware Specs
This is an ultraportable with following main specs:
- Intel Celeron M ULV (ultra low voltage) processor @ 900 MHz
- 512 MB DDR2 RAM
- WiFi, 10/100 ethernet
- 2 USB ports
- 1 SD Card reader
- Inbuilt Mic and Speakers
- Audio out and in jacks
- Touchpad
- 7 inch TFT screen with 800x480 as max res
- Battery Backup: ~4Hrs
- Total weight (including battery): 1.44 Kg

General feel, usability...
I just love this piece :) HCL has done a nice thing in packaging this little laptop not only on the hardware front but on the preinstalled Ubuntu distribution. The preinstalled Ubuntu takes up about 3GB of disk (so i am not sure what the flash version is bundled with). As against a standard install this comes with all the required apps (OpenOffice, Gimp, a series of media players and best of all with all required codes) out of box. The only thing that I didn't like was a 8GB partition on which FreeDOS was installed (presumably for those who want to switch over to windows), which i immediately reformatted as ext3 :)

Ubuntu is quite usable on this little laptop. Word processing and all other apps open without much fuz and seems quite fast for me. The boot time is a bit slow, but thats mostly as a result of using a bit slower processor. Network configuration, WiFi to be specific is just a breeze and worked great for me.

All other usability features of Ubuntu works great, and I feel that this pretty good for people looking for office related tasks and also for surfing.

The most wonderful aspect of the whole thing is the preinstalled gcc compiler set, which just worked out of box. I feel with the price tag (17000 INR) this is a pretty good buy for students learning programming. Though vi is preinstalled, you need to download vim and emacs if you really intend to do serious programming. I also installed the latest JRE and was pleased to see that MeTA Studio ran effortlessly of it ;)

The keypad and the touchpad are also nicely designed and are pretty much usable. There was one small problem though, that I found when using vi, that there is only one SHIFT key, but with a small form factor like that it would be difficult to fit in any extra key.

Overall the battery backup is pretty good and goes well beyond 4 hrs if you use the screen with reduced brightness. With standard brightness too, the battery pack gives at least 4hrs backup.

On heating issue, this heats up as much as my Mobilis, so I think that there is not much of a problem with it. I have continuously used the machine for about 4 hours and find it okay. Some times the base gets heated up a bit, and so its advised not to keep it on your lap for along time ;)

Final thoughts
I think HCL and Intel have finally begun to introduce to Indian market of what I had said earlier in my blogs. I have used Mobilis from Encore and after nearly an year after I tried using it I find it a highly restrictive device that is overpriced (the only thing on which it scores over MiLeap is a battery backup of about 6hrs). I would highly recommend this (and other MiLeap series too) if you are on a lookout for an affordable ultraportable, or even a second computing device.

NB: The whole review was written and published from my MiLeap L :)

Update: About the sound, its pretty good for the form factor.
About the heating issue, I think the use of flash drive will drastically reduce the heat generation. Also the flash drive is more rugged with no moving parts and hence the reason I will be buying it (MiLeap X) for my uncle ;)

Update 2: Aniruddha had written in to ask if VGA connecter is available from MiLeap L, short answer is NO. Check comments for more info.

Monday, January 28, 2008

updates to MeTA Studio

New MeTA Studio builds are available and includes a number of new features and UI:
1) more streamlined UI when viewing molecule object.
2) integrated talk interface
3) few additional scripts to show off scripting powers in MeTA Studio

Of the few scripts included the most notable one is a script (freq.bsh) that computes frequencies from a energy Hessian matrix of a molecular system. I will shortly blog in more detail about these and more scripts.

the code is available from the usual place: