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 [http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/devlabs/cc950524.aspx].

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 (http://www.isro.gov.in).

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: http://www.arm.com/news/23761.html

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 (http://batteryreplacement.nokia.com/batteryreplacement/en/) 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: http://isro.gov.in/pressrelease/Nov08_2008.htm

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: http://code.google.com/p/metastudio/downloads/list

The binary update is from the now usual online update scheme.. download the latest full package from http://code.google.com/p/metastudio/ 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 http://tovganesh.googlepages.com/s60. 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 ;-)