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.