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28Feb/14Off

From WebOS to Android: 60 days in

TechOps Guy: Nate

About a month ago I wrote about my experience on the first 30 days of switching from a WebOS ecosystem to a Android Ecosystem. Specifically from the never-officially-released HP Pre3 to a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

There were a few outstanding issues at the time, and I just wanted to write/rant a little bit about one of them.

Wireless Charging

Inductive charging technology has been with the WebOS platform since day one I believe(2009). I had become accustomed to using it, and any future phone really would need to have this for me to feel satisfied. Long ago it fell away from the "nice to have" categories to "cannot live without much pain". Fortunately some other folks have picked up on wireless charging over recent years though sadly it's still far from universal.

One of the reasons I liked the Note 3 was it was going to get(and did get) official wireless charging from Samsung. I suppose that is where my happiness came to an end.

I suppose it is semi obvious I wouldn't be writing about it if my experience was flawless 🙂

Samsung charging accessories

What seems like a month ago now I went to my local Frys and picked up the one wireless charging back cover that I liked for the Note 3, along with a Samsung charging base station. I didn't want to risk generating an unstable magnetic field in my bedroom and a rip in the space time continuum by buying a second or third rate wireless charger.

There are other back cover(s) available but the other one(s) I saw also included a wrap around front cover which I did not want. This cover looks identical to the stock cover(same color even, and seems like the same size as well though I could be wrong my perception is far from precise).

The Note 3 is a big phone, and it is fairly heavy too (slightly heavier than the HP Pre3) with a stock configuration. With the regular back cover it was fine, with the new back cover I can't help but think of the word brick come to mind. I mean it is a stark difference - I would say at least 25% heavier than stock. There are no specs that I can find online or on the packaging that talk about the weight of the cover but it's heavy.  I have gotten used to that heft over the weeks though. The HP Pre3 (and some of the WebOS phones before it I believe with specific exception at least to the original Pre which I owned as well) all came with charging covers built in, so I never had a comparison to make with/without them at the time.

Anyway so I'm past the heft of the new back cover (though compared to a co-workers HTC One with a fancier back cover his phone I think is heavier than mine even though it is smaller, he has a big cover on it though).

Charging experience

UPDATE 2014: after a month of frustration I finally figured out the solution to this problem. I had to remove the back cover, placing it face down on a table and compressing it before putting it back on the phone. The connection from the cover to the phone wasn't good enough. Since I started doing this whenever I remove the back cover(rare) I haven't had any issues with the phone not charging.

The next problem came with charging on the pad, it was spotty. There is a green light on the pad that is supposed to tell you when the pad is mated with the phone and is charging. Don't believe it because it lies to me often. Most of the time it would charge fine, other times it would not. In my earlier days(before I learned that the green light lies to me) I tried just leaving it on the pad overnight with the green light on, woke up the next day with the battery at 10%.

The phone does indicate when it is charging wirelessly. Many times (including right now which prompted me to write this now) the phone just refuses to sit still and charge wirelessly. It will go in and out of charge mode every few seconds, then eventually it seems to give up and does not charge at all, unless of course I hook it to a USB cable. I don't understand how it could give up like that it doesn't make any sense to me unless there is a software component, but how could the software component refuse electricity ? I don't know.

I have spent literally 10 minutes trying every possible position on the pad to have the phone not want to charge. Then other times it works 100% of the time for a day or so.

So I thought hey maybe it's the crappy Samsung pad, I had read and heard some good things about the Tylt Vu, specifically they claim that they have a better charging area, meaning you can have the phone pretty much at any angle and it will charge. They have wide compatibility but did not specifically mention Note 3 at the time (I assume because the charging covers for Note 3 are still new).

So I ordered two Vus, and tried my phone on the first one - did not charge. I tried again for 5 minutes or so every possible position and it would not charge. Took it to the Samsung pad and I believe it would not charge there either. Filed support ticket with Tylt to see if they had any ideas, meanwhile the Samsung pad started working again with the phone. It charged all night. I got up the next day, battery was full - I played some games for a few minutes battery drained to ~93% - took the phone to the Vu and it would not charge. Took the phone back to the Samsung charger and it would not charge.

Rinse and repeat several times.....eventually I got both the Vus to charge my phone, though it is still sporadic. Tylt was going to replace the Vu but I don't think it's the Vu's fault. Samsung support wasn't very helpful. I suppose it could be the back cover, but I mean how complex can that be? I'm suspecting more of a design flaw or perhaps a software problem preventing the charging from working. I don't know. All three chargers have semi sporadic charging results, so I suppose I can rule the chargers out as a cause of the problem.

Next up..

Android day dream

One of the long time cool features of the WebOS devices is a feature called exhibition mode. Basically means when the phone is charging it can launch a screen saver of sorts on the screen, default is a clock but it can do photo slide show as well as some other apps. The HP Touchpad took this to the next level and used a form of NFC to uniquely identify charging stations so the device could launch a different mode depending on what station it is charging off of.

I use this a lot with my Touchpads still they make great digital picture frames, just sit them in the charger and the slide show fires right up. If I want to use it I just pick it up, no wires and off I go..

Android has something similar called day dream. However a flaw in either Android or in Samsung's code prevents it from working correctly. When day dream is running, the configured application loads, which in my case is a slide show of sorts, and while the battery charges the slide show shows like it should.

The problem comes with the battery gets full - the OS kicks day dream off line and brings back the home screen and shows a notification the battery is full - disconnect the charger. The wireless charging unit stops charging for a minute or so - then the charging kicks in again, and day dream fires up again for about a minute perhaps then is booted off again and well rinse and repeat.

It gets worse though - if I want to use daydream I have to turn it on during the day and turn it off before I goto sleep. Because if daydream is in use at night, I hit the power button to turn off the screen before I go to sleep. Then guess what - when the battery is full the screen lights up and shows that same stupid battery is full message(and the screen does not turn off again). Without daydream the device turns the screen off automatically and stays off until I turn it on or remove it from the charging pad.

Stupid - I would of thought these would be basic things that would of been solved a while ago.

The only problem I really EVER had with wireless charging on WebOS was with the HP Pre3 and the original wireless pucks as they were called(base stations). The design of the Pre3 is slightly different so they don't fit the older charging stations precisely, even with the built in magnet to help align the phone to the charger sometimes it gets out of alignment and goes into a charging/beeping loop until corrected. Understandable since they were not designed for each other. HP was going to release a newer, significantly more sophisticated charging station for the Pre3(which included wireless audio out too) but of course it never made it to market.

As far as I know, the WebOS phones did not ever "stop" charging when the battery was full, they just keep going. I realize this is not good for the battery but I'll live with having to replace the battery every year or something if it means the above stuff worked right. In fact I never replaced a battery on a WebOS device in the roughly four years I used them.

Other thoughts

All in all I'm still pretty happy with the Note 3. I mean my phone usage has gone up significantly. I think I can compare it to moving from a feature phone to a smart phone originally. I really did not use the Pre3 very much anymore towards the end. The battery life is not to my expectations. Video playback battery life is excellent(I think CNET recently rated the Note 3 as something like 14 hours). But drive that CPU a bunch and it will chew through battery quick, I think I could fairly easily chew through 30% in an hour at high usage. I haven't used any new apps since my last blog post, and in fact other than the two games I mentioned that I do play I haven't touched any of the other games that I had installed either. I have loaded the thing up with pictures though easily 15,000. Also have all of my music on there, lots of video and still have about 25GB available (96GB total).

I also edited the Superbowl to a 19 minute video and have watched that tons of times on my phone(looks amazing). There is another video - an episode of NFL Films presents on the Superbowl I put that on my phone too - also looks incredible(and the episode itself is just awesome). I purchased a pair of Braven bluetooth speakers (originally bought one then got another) which can be paired to each other for stereo playback, they work quite well(and have NFC too).

My mobile data usage has been tiny though since the bulk of my time is either at home or the office where I use wifi. With the HP Pre3 for the most part I kept wifi off all the time because it would interfere with bluetooth. The phone claims from Jan 21 - Feb 21 I used only 136MB of mobile data (I have a 5GB plan - mainly for travel with the phone's mifi hotspot mode).

Anyway that's enough for now.

30Jan/14Off

From WebOS to Android: first 30 days

TechOps Guy: Nate

So as all 9 readers of my blog know I have been a long time WebOS user. Really it was my first real smart phone back in 2009 the Palm Pre. The first and only Palm branded product I have ever owned (other than Pre accessories - my next WebOS device was post HP acquisition).

RIP WebOS

Anyway as I have written about in the past, for a while after HP killed the hardware I was holding out some degree of hope that the software would find a new home, obviously that hope dwindled as time went on and as of about probably 9-10 months ago I decided to kill off whatever hope that was left in me. The current state of WebOS is quite poor, I felt even while HP owned WebOS - every day that went by it was falling further and further behind, they had some unique technology advantages that still shine today but that wasn't nearly enough to make up for the shortfalls. HP later sold the WebOS hardware group to LG to make smart TVs (which seemed to debut at CES this month), and more recently HP sold the remaining patents that they had involving Palm and WebOS to Qualcomm.

Honestly it was somewhat depressing to see the die hard WebOS fans say on what is probably one of the very few WebOS community sites left. Some held really high hopes of what was to come. It didn't(and doesn't make sense to me). The maintainers of the site even stopped posting news articles more than six months ago because there was just nothing to write about (and the six months prior the articles were really scraping the bottom of the barrel for content).

Deciding to jump ship

Around the middle of last year I was getting tired of the software glitches in WebOS that I have endured over the years, knowing they will never be fixed, and Open WebOS is even today little more than a pipe dream (from the comments I've read I'd wager it's at least 2-3 years away from anything usable as a phone and by then it will have even more catching up to do, so really it seems to be a waste of time for anything other than tinkering). I thought about it off and on and decided that the likely candidate replacement was going to be the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, whenever it was going to be released.

Factors going into my decision were I wanted it to be fast, have plenty of storage, have a big enough screen so my big fingers could type on it, and decent battery life. I also wanted it to be Linux friendly as I use Linux on my laptop and desktops.   The specs of the Note 3 weren't released at the time so I decided to wait to see what else came about just in case I think I would want something different. Finally the Note 3 was announced and released and had strong reviews across the board.

I saw a bunch of other devices but none of them stood out to me more than the Note 3.

Keep in mind I have never used an Android or IOS device for more than say 5 minutes so my knowledge of either was extremely limited.  One thing I did like about the Note 3 was it's support for 64GB of internal flash in addition to 64GB of MicroSD expansion. So I decided to wait until I could get a 64GB Note3 to have 128GB of local storage, that would be pretty nice. Searching is annoying because so many results come from people mentioning the Note 3 with 64GB of microSD storage..

So I waited, and waited. Looked around a lot, plenty of news sites reporting 64GB was supported but could not find a sign of anyone -- not even one person in the world -- saying that they had it or knew where to buy it. Even now, doing a very casual search I do not see anyone with a 64GB Note 3.

So December 22nd comes around and I'm at a bar watching a football game, and thinking about going to Best buy across the street to buy it after the game as they were offering it at $199 which is $100 less than anyone else obvious that I saw, and I could walk away with it that day.

So I went and bought the 32GB version, with a 64GB Micro SD card.

First impressions

It's a big phone for sure, the Pre3 has a 3.58" screen and the Note 3 has a 5.7" screen. The Pre3 is a slider phone with a real keyboard so that adds extra heft. In fact the Note 3 is only 13 grams heavier than the Pre3 - a difference I can't even feel.

Obviously the Pre3 is outclassed in every way:

  • I have six times more storage(16GB vs 96GB)
  • I have six times more memory(512MB vs 3GB)
  • I have quad core 2.3Ghz vs single core 1.4Ghz
  • GPU I'm sure is significantly better
  • I have 1.7 million more pixels on the screen (800x480 vs 1920x1080)
  • I have full LTE support (AFAIK no WebOS device had LTE) - and hey - I'm already paying  an extra $40 or $50/mo for 5GB of data with a Mifi data plan, so might as well leverage LTE right?
  • Significantly better camera (and camera fuctions)
  • I can actually use Bluetooth and 2.4Ghz wifi at the same time (could not do that on the Pre3, would get massive interference on Bluetooth)
  • Much bigger battery and I believe much better battery life
  • I can have tons of photos without the OS crapping out (several hundred supported in WebOS, so far I have more than 12,000 on my Note 3 and I got plenty of room to grow I think)

I could go on...

Anyway, from an overall user experience perspective I have found making the adjustment from WebOS to Android much easier than I had originally expected.  I do like having a plethora of options to play with, that is something WebOS did not have (though out of the box WebOS had a good user experience other than being slow).

Thirty days or so into my purchase there are really only three things I miss from my WebOS days:

  • Wireless charging (this is a huge one for me, I had been using wireless charging for the previous four years -- I know Note 3 has wireless charging support so I will have that soon)
  • Unable to quickly silence notification alarm. Working in operations my phone acts as a pager. I have a very loud, long, and annoying notification message for alerts. The first time that noise went off waking me up at 2AM I about had a heart attack(click the link to listen to it). With my WebOS phones I could just hit the power button and the sound would mute immediately. Not so on this Note 3. I have looked online and this not an uncommon complaint about Android (though some device manufacturers offer this ability). I have seen people requesting this feature going back at least three years. This is quite annoying to not have....

Speaking of which the placement of the power button exactly opposite to that of the volume rocker is not good in my opinion, I find myself pressing the volume button on accident just to press the power button(which I think causes problems for trying to take a screen shot more details on that below). On the WebOS phones the power button is on the top.

  • The Note 3 is not smart enough to determine where to put a phone call. On WebOS for example if I have a bluetooth headset paired with the phone, and a call comes in -- and I answer the call with the phone (not the headset) the call is placed on the phone. On the Note 3 (also noticed this on my last "feature" phone) if a headset is paired(and connected) the call always goes to the headset. I've had several occasions where people have hung up on me with me saying hello???? not realizing that the call had been sent to the headset. So I have to answer the call, and wait a second(to see if the headset is paired, since they auto pair when in range often times) then hit the headset button to transfer the call back to the phone if I am not in immediate reaching range of one of my many bluetooth headsets. That process takes a good 3-5 seconds where the caller is left in limbo.

None of them are deal breakers of course, overall the experience is positive, and I'm glad I made the switch. I could go on for quite a while with the issues I have had with WebOS over the years but that's all in the past now. I still use my WebOS tablets, though these days the browser is so old and decrepit that I really only use them for about 4 different web sites(in all cases I disable javascript to get passable performance). They do still make great digital picture frames (as long as you have less than say 1,000 images). They also are good video playback devices with good audio (though the headset volume is really low, too low to use on an airplane to watch video).

On the Note 3 I really like the stylus (or S-Pen as they call it). I use it tons of times throughout the day. It's really good for precision. It's also the only way I've been able to take a screen shot in Android. I've found a few websites that have upwards of a half dozen ways to take a screen shot and none of them work for me(I think my timing in pressing the buttons is not perfect, but it shouldn't have to be).  But the S-pen has a function that I just click on and it works every time.  The S-pen has a bunch of other functions that for the most part I haven't used yet.

The camera is quite good as well it has so many features (the Pre3 camera had literally one feature - the flash - on/off/auto). I took a couple panoramic shots on my recent holiday road trip. One thing I liked about the Pre3 camera was it was fast. You press the button and instantly you have a picture - the Note 3 at least in auto mode (again haven't messed with it much) you press the button and it tries to focus and then take the picture. You can do burst mode and take tons of pictures (whereas with Pre3 you have to keep hitting the button but it is fast! - though focus isn't always right).

Battery life isn't quite as good as I was expecting given the rave reviews I have seen since the Note 3 was released. It can be confusing, I could watch a 45 minute video and the battery will drop 4-5%, or I could play a game for 10-15 minutes and the battery drops 8-10%. I have been so used to wireless charging and just having my phone charge constantly I find myself plugging and unplugging my Note 3 a half dozen or more times a day just to keep the battery up(I'm obviously worried about the durability of the micro USB connector). I haven't had it drop much below 50%. I'm sure it could go a full day with typical use, but I just don't like seeing it below 70-80% if I'm close to a charger.

My Pre3 on a regular day probably spent 60% or more of the day/night sitting on a charger. The Note 3 will do the same once I get wireless charging hooked up. Though it's going to cost a bit of $ - maybe $250 or so to get enough good charging stations and the charging backplate. Sort of surprised the price of wireless charging hasn't really moved much in the past four years..

I don't have any protective cover or case on the phone. I don't plan to get any, I treat my electronics with a good amount of care.

I do miss the USB drive mode of the WebOS devices though, just plug it in to any computer and it turns into a USB drive (though all phone functions are off during this). With the Note 3 it uses that strange media standard and at least at the moment I can only connect it to a windows computer to copy files onto it (and it doesn't get a drive letter either). It works fine from within VMware workstation though. I can of course copy files other ways like through Owncloud or something, but it's not as efficient if I want to copy several hundred files at once. Windows in VMware works though so I use that when I need that function.

Apps/Games I use

I kept hearing about how awesome the apps are and stuff.. My needs are pretty basic. I have a bunch of apps installed, but I have found that for the most part very few of them get used. Really I think the only application that is not included on the phone that I fire up more than once a day is Firefox. I use the built-in email client for work email, as well as the built in SMS client for text messages.

Other 3rd party apps I use on a semi regular basis

  • Nova launcher - I use this alternative launcher all the time, works very well.
  • Oceans HD live wallpaper - looks really nice
  • F-stop image gallery (seems to be pretty good, I like the dynamic albums it provides, I split my pictures up into portrait and landscape albums so I can get maximum viewing pixels without having to constantly flip the phone back and forth as I view the images)
  • MX Player (video player) works quite well too
  • Skype - roughly 80% of all work communications go through skype

Yet more 3rd apps I use on a less regular basis

  • K-9 Mail (used for personal email, when not traveling I fire it up maybe a couple times a week) - I use the built in email client for my work email(Exchange). Most of the time I just read personal email from a regular laptop or desktop in a webmail client.
  • Owncloud (access my colo server file storage)

Speaking of Owncloud, I am using DAVdroid (and the workaround) to sync contacts between the phone and my owncloud server, that is handy. I don't like the idea of sharing contacts with google or other service providers. The last time I stored contacts on exchange I forgot to take them off before I nuked my exchange account(when leaving the company) and I lost all of them so I decided that was not a good idea to try again. WebOS had a Synergy feature where it could integrate with the likes of LinkedIn directly to your contacts (and it had no ad tracking or anything it was pretty basic but it worked). I will not install the LinkedIn app for Android, too invasive.

As for games, I installed a few first person shooters and a Mech RTS game, I played the FPS games for about 2 minutes and haven't touched them since(sort of afraid my thumb is going to go through the screen with them). The Mech RTS game (MechCom) was pretty fun, though haven't touched it in about 3 weeks.

I have been playing the Simpsons Tapped out and Megapolis quite a bit, they are entertaining. Though I'd like to see a real Sim City game for Android(if there is one I haven't seen it). I poked around for a bunch of other apps/games but didn't see much that interested me. One thing I do note however is it seems like the Google play store could use a lot more categories, with so many apps/games it seems difficult to find something just by browsing around.

I have made sure to limit the apps based on the permissions, there are tons of apps out there that just want too many permissions and I won't take 'em. There's been quite a bit of talk about improving the permissions system of Android I do hope more work is done in that area especially being able to provide "fake" information to apps that are asking for too much. The phone came with the app (I think it came with it I might of downloaded it though) called Lookout Labs Ad Network Detector. Not sure how good it is but it scans all the apps and shows what the major categories of ad networks and what they do and what installed apps are using them. For me there are only 3 Ad Networks detected (Admob, Tapjoy and Millennial) and they don't collect a whole lot of info. Certainly I reject anything that wants to touch contacts, or take pictures, or send/read SMS, collect personal information etc..

I have a bunch more apps and some more games installed but they've all gotten minimal usage at this point.

Work related apps

One thing I could never do on the Pre3 was really anything work related outside of e-mail. Not a problem anymore.

  • Dell SonicWall VPN - while my main VPN is Citrix Access Gateway, there is no mobile app for that, I have Sonicwalls as well though(mainly used for site to site VPN). There is an Android (and IOS) app for them and it works quite well on Android.
  • Citrix XenApp Reciever - we have a very small XenApp server for operations purposes (some windows management software packages etc). This package(especially with the S-Pen for precision) works quite well on Android. I can fire up vCenter, or the 3PAR GUI tools(I don't use them much), or Firefox most recently I fired up Firefox to reconfigure our production load balancers(Citrix Netscaler) from my phone a few weeks ago. Being that the load balancers use Java applets those would not run directly on the phone(I don't think anyway).
  • iVMControl - vSphere interface though not very useful to me. Waaaay too slow to use over a 3-5,000 mile WAN connection. Much faster/easier/better to use XenApp and the regular vCenter client.
  • Microsoft Remote Desktop - haven't used this app yet, may not use it unless I have problems with XenApp, but it's there.
  • HP Storefront mobile access - interesting little app that grants me read only access into my 3PAR arrays. I don't need to login to them very often, but it's there if I need to view an alert or something.
  • HP Support - access to HP support cases. Only used it once to see what it did.
  • iLO Console - access to iLO I guess, doesn't seem too useful, I suppose if I want to access the console(can't remember the last time I had to do that), it doesn't seem to have an Android experience to access iLO functions for that it relies on the iLO web interface which I can otherwise just load in Firefox once I am on VPN.

I suppose the biggest thing I have NOT setup yet is SSH. I have a couple SSH clients installed but have not gone through setting them up with my keys(or generating new keys). None of my systems accept password authentication for SSH.  I was never able to SSH from my Palm phones so this is nothing new to me.

I have also not setup OpenVPN so I can VPN to my colo server. I have an OpenVPN client but it wants a config file in a special format that I haven't spent the time to figure out how to do yet. I did for a brief time have a command line OpenVPN client on my HP Touchpad but long since lost it. There were no Citrix, or Sonicwall or GUI OpenVPN clients that I was aware of for WebOS anyway.

GPS Navigation on Android

The first time I used mobile GPS navigation was back in I think it was 2001 with my Handspring Visor and a GPS Springboard expansion module along with a PalmOS GPS navigation app. It was fun, things have evolved a crazy amount since then.

Over the holidays I went on another road trip - covering just over 2,500 miles driving to Orange County, then to Tuscon, then to the Phoenix area and back home to the bay area. I was in my own car so I used the Kenwood/Garmin Stereo/Navigation system that I had installed just after I bought the car rather than the phone.

Picture of my car's trip meter from my 2013 holiday road trip.

Picture of my car's trip meter from my 2013 holiday road trip.

(thought this post could use some color so added the pic)

I did use the phone on a few occasions to find things, but did not use it for navigation itself. One thing I pretty quickly saw was lacking on the Android apps that at least I was using (which were Mapquest and Google maps) were two key functions that I frequently use on my car navigation:

  • Find places along my route (bonus points if you can limit the distance from the route, my car's nav system has some sort of default limit that is not adjustable)
  • Find places near my destination

Neither Google maps nor Mapquest seemed to have a similar function, which is too bad.  I'm sure you can do something similar with either perhaps just by zooming out along the route and searching, but that seems like more trouble than it should be.

I installed a bunch of other travel/road/traffic condition apps but I never used any of them on my trip (or since for that matter -- road conditions were fine anyway). My car nav system does not have any traffic info.

I'm going on another trip in March to Atlanta(to visit my company's colo for the first time in over two years), and probably will go to either Seattle or Washington DC as part of that trip, so I will certainly need navigation there as I don't know the area. At this point I've decided to take along a TomTom I bought a while back to do Navigation on that trip rather than rely on the phone. I used it on my last trip to DC and it worked well, I have a stand for it and it sits well on the dashboard etc. It also has the two functions above that I use quite frequently (though last time I was in DC the TomTom spent 30 minutes trying to convince me to go on a highway that was shut down for construction, that was frustrating ...)

I know there is a TomTom app for Android but after reading up on it I think for now I'll stick to the stand alone unit.

Conclusion

Overall I am very satisfied with the user experience and capabilities of my new Android phone. There is not much I miss from WebOS. I find the size & weight of the Note 3 to be very reasonable(more so than I was expecting). It performs well, and really gives me an order of magnitude more flexibility from a mobile perspective than I ever had on WebOS. I still do sort of wish I could of gotten a 64GB Note3, but it's not a huge deal, next time I guess!

I just ordered a Braven 710 bluetooth speaker (mainly for my upcoming trip), and that will likely be my first experience using NFC.

I guess that is enough writing for now.

18Sep/13Off

RIP Blackberry – Android is the Windows of the mobile world

TechOps Guy: Nate

You can certainly count me as in the camp of folks that believed RIM/Blackberry had a chance to come back. However more recently I no longer feel this is possible.

While the news today of Blackberry possibly cutting upwards of 40% of their staff before the end of the year, is not the reason I don't think it is possible, it just gave me an excuse to write about something..

The problem stems mainly from the incredibly fast paced maturation (can't believe I just used that word) of the smart phone industry especially in the past three years. There was an opportunity for the likes of Blackberry, WebOS, and even Windows Phone to participate but they were not in the right place at the right time.

I can speak most accurately about WebOS so I'll cover a bit on that. WebOS had tons of cool concepts and ideas, but they lacked the resources to put together a fully solid product - it was always a work in progress (fix coming next version). I felt even before HP bought them (and the feeling has never gone away even in the days of HP's big product announcements etc) - that every day that went by WebOS fell further and further behind(obviously some of WebOS' key technologies took years for the competition to copy, go outside that narrow niche of cool stuff and it's pretty deserted). As much as I wanted to believe they had a chance in hell of catching up again (throw enough money at anything and you can do it) - there just wasn't (and isn't) anyone willing to commit to that level - and it makes sense too - I mean really the last major player left willing to commit to that level is Microsoft - their business is software and operating systems.

Though even before WebOS was released Palm was obviously a mess when they went through their various spin offs, splitting the company divisions up, licensing things around etc. They floundered without a workable (new) operating system for many years. Myself I did not become a customer of Palm until I puchased a Pre back in 2009. So don't look at me as some Palm die hard because I was not. I did own a few Handspring Visors a long time ago and the PalmOS compatibility layer that was available as an App on the Pre is what drove me to the Pre to begin with.

So onto a bit of RIM. I briefly used a Blackberry back in 2006-2008 - I forget the model it was a strange sort of color device, I want to say monochrome-like color(I think this was it). It was great for email. I used it for a bit of basic web browsing but that was it - didn't use it as a phone ever. I don't have personal experience supporting BIS/BES or whatever it's called but have read/heard almost universal hatred for those systems over the years. RIM obviously sat on their hands too long and the market got away from them. They tried to come up with something great with QNX and BB10 but the market has spoken - it's not great enough to stem the tide of switchers, or to bring (enough) customers back to make a difference.

Windows Phone..or is it Windows Mobile.. Pocket PC anyone? Microsoft has been in the mobile game for a really long time obviously (it annoys me that press reporters often don't realize exactly how long Microsoft has been doing mobile -- and tablets for - not that they were good products but they have been in the market). They kept re-inventing themselves and breaking backwards compatibility every time. Even after all that effort - what do they have to show for themselves? ~3.5% global market share? Isn't that about what Apple Mac has ? (maybe Mac is a bit higher).

The mobile problem is compounded further though. At least with PCs there are (and have been for a long time) standards. Things were open & compatible. You can take a computer from HP or from Dell or from some local whitebox company and they'll all be able to run pretty much the same stuff, and even have a lot of similar components.

Mobile is different though, with ARM SoCs while having a common ancestor in the ARM instruction sets really seem to be quite a bit different enough that it makes compatibility a real issue between platforms. Add on top of that the disaster of the lack of a stable Linux driver ABI which complicates things for developers even more (this is in large part why I believe I read FirefoxOS and/or Ubuntu phone run on top of Android's kernel/drivers).

All of that just means the barrier to entry is really high even at the most basic level of a handset. This obviously wasn't the case with the standardized form factor components(and software) of the PC era.

So with regards to the maturation of the market the signs are clear now - with Apple and Samsung having absolutely dominated the revenues and profits in the mobile handset space for years now - both players have shown for probably the past year to 18 months that growth is really levelling out.

With no other players showing even the slightest hint of competition against these behemoths with that levelling of growth that tells me, sadly enough that the opportunity for the most part is gone now. The market is becoming a commodity certainly faster than I thought would happen and I think many others feel the same way.

I don't believe Blackberry - or Nokia for that matter would of been very successful as Android OEMs.  Certainly at least not at the scale that they were at - perhaps with drastically reduced workforces they could of gotten by with a very small market share - but they would of been a shadow of their former selves regardless. Both companies made big bets going it alone and I admire them for trying - though neither worked out in the end.

Samsung may even go out as well the likes of Xiaomi (never heard of them till last week) or perhaps Huawei or Lenovo coming in and butchering margins below where anyone can make money on the hardware front.

What really prompted this line of thinking though was re-watching the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago following the release of that movie about Steve Jobs. I watched Pirates a long time ago but hadn't seen it since, this quote from the end of the movie really sticks with me when it comes to the whole mobile space:

Jobs, fresh from the launch of the Macintosh, is pitching a fit after realizing that Microsoft’s new Windows software utilizes his stolen interface and ideas. As Gates retreats from Jobs’ tantrum, Jobs screeches, “We have better stuff!”

Gates, turning, simply responds, “You don’t get it. That doesn’t matter.”

(the whole concepts really gives me the chills to think about, really)

Android is the Windows of the mobile generation (just look at the rash of security-related news events reported about Android..). Ironically enough the more successful Android is the more licensing revenue Microsoft gets from it.

I suppose in part I should feel happy being that it is based on top of Linux - but for some reason I am not.

I suppose I should feel happy that Microsoft is stuck at 3-4% market share despite all of the efforts of the world's largest software company. But for some reason I am not.

I don't know if it's because of Google and their data gathering stuff, or if it's because I didn't want to see any one platform dominate as much as Android (and previously IOS) was.

I suppose there is a shimmer of hope in the incorporation of the Cyanogen folks to become a more formalized alternative to the Android that comes out of Google.

All that said I do plan to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 soon as mentioned before. I've severed the attachment I had to WebOS and am ready to move on.

10Aug/13Off

The Myth of online backup and the future of my mobility

TechOps Guy: Nate

I came across this article on LinkedIn which I found very interesting. The scenario given by the article was a professional photographer had 500GB of data to backup and they decided to try Carbonite to do it.

The problem was Carbonite apparently imposes significant throttling on the users uploading large amounts of data -

[..]At that rate, it takes nearly two months just to upload the first 200GB of data, and then another 300 days to finish uploading the remaining 300GB.

Which takes me back to a conversation I was having with my boss earlier in the week about why I decided to buy my own server and put it in a co-location facility, instead of using some sort of hosted thing.

I have been hosting my own websites, email etc since about 1996. At one point I was hosted on T1s at an office building, then I moved things to my business class DSL at home for a few years, then when that was no longer feasible I got a used server and put it up at a local colo in Seattle. Then I decided to retire that old server(build in 2004) and spent about a year in the Terremark vCloud, before buying a new server and putting it up at a colo in the Bay area where I live now.

My time in the Terremark cloud was OK, my needs were pretty minimal, but I didn't have a lot of flexibility(due to the costs). My bill was around $120/mo or something like that for a pair of VMs. Terremark operates in a Tier 4 facility and doesn't use the built to fail model I hate so much, so I had confidence things would get fixed if they ever broke, so I was willing to pay some premium for that.

Cloud or self hosting for my needs?

I thought hard about whether or not to invest in a server+colo again or stay on some sort of hosted service. The server I am on today was $2,900 when I bought it, which is a decent amount of money for me to toss around in one transaction.

Then I had the idea of storing data off site, I don't have much that is critical, mostly media files and stuff that would take a long time to re-build in case of major failure or something. But I wanted something that could do at least 2-3TB of storage.

So I started looking into what this would cost in the cloud. I was sort of shocked I guess you could say. The cost for regular, protected cloud storage was going to easily be more than $200/mo for 3TB of usable space.

Then there are backup providers like Carbonite, Mozy, Backblaze etc.. I read a comment on Slashdot I think it was about Backblaze and was pretty surprised to then read their fine print -

Your external hard drives need to be connected to your computer and scanned by Backblaze at least once every 30 days in order to keep them backed up.

So the data must be scanned at least once every 30 days or it gets nuked.

They also don't support backing up network drives. Most of the providers of course don't support Linux either.

The terms do make sense to me, I mean it costs $$ to run, and they advertise unlimited. So I don't expect them to be storing TBs of data for only $4/mo. It just would be nice if they (and others) would be more clear on their limitations up front, at least unlike the person in the article above I was able to make a more informed decision.

The only real choice: Host it myself

So the decision was really simple at that point. Go invest and do it myself. It's sort of ironic if you think about it, all this talk about cloud saving people money. Here I am, just one person, with no purchasing power whatsoever and I am saving more money doing it myself then some massive scale service provider can offer it.

The point wasn't just the storage though. I wanted something to host:

  • This blog
  • My email
  • DNS
  • my other websites / data
  • would be nice if there was a place to experiment/play as well

So I bought this server which is a single socket quad core Intel chip, originally with 8GB, now it has 16GB of memory, and 4x2TB SAS disks in RAID 1+0(~3.6TB usable) w/3Ware hardware RAID controller(I've been using 3Ware since 2001). It has dual power supplies(though both are connected to the same source, my colo config doesn't offer redundant power). It even has out of band management with full video KVM and virtual media options. Nothing like the quality of HP iLO, but far better than what a system of this price point could offer going back a few years ago.

On top of that I am currently running 5 active VMs

  • VM #1 runs my personal email, DNS,websites, this blog etc
  • VM #2 runs email for a few friends, and former paying customers(not sure how many are left) from an ISP that we used to run many years ago, DNS, websites etc
  • VM #3 is a OpenBSD firewall running in layer 3 mode, also provides site to site VPN to my home, as well as a end-user VPN for my laptop when I'm on the road)
  • VM #4 acts as a storage/backup server for my home data with a ~2TB file system
  • VM #5 is a windows VM in case I need one of those remotely. It doesn't get much use.
  • VM #6 is the former personal email/dns/website server that ran a 32-bit OS. Keeping it around on an internal IP for a while in case I come across more files that I forgot to transfer.

There is an internal and an external network on the server, the site to site VPN of course provides unrestricted access to the internal network from remote which is handy since I don't have to rely on external IPs to run additional things. The firewall also does NAT for devices that are not on external IPs.

Obviously as you might expect the server sits at low CPU usage 99% of the time and it's running at around 9GB of used memory, so I can toss on more VMs if needed. It's obviously a very flexible configuration.

When I got the server originally I decided to host it with the company I bought it from,  and they charged me $100/mo to do it. Unlimited bandwidth etc.. good deal(also free on site support)!  First thing I did was take the server home and copy 2TB of data onto it. Then I gave it back to them and they hosted it for a year for me.

Then they gave me the news they were going to terminate their hosting and I had only two weeks to get out. I evaluated my options and decided to stay at the same facility but started doing business with the facility itself (Hurricane Electric). The down side was the cost was doubling to $200/mo for the same service (100Mbit unlimited w/5 static IPs), since I was no longer sharing the service with anyone else. I did get a 3rd of a rack though, not that I can use much of it due to power constraints(I think I only get something like 200W). But in the grand scheme of things it is a good deal, I mean it's a bit more than double what I was paying in the Seattle area but I am getting literally 100 times the bandwidth. That gives me a lot of opportunities to do things. I've yet to do much with it beyond my original needs, that may change soon though.

Now granted it's not high availability, I don't have 3PAR storage like Terremark did when I was a customer, I have only 1 server so if it's down everything is down.  It's been reliable though, providing really good uptime over the past couple of years. I have had to replace at least two disks, and I also had to replace the USB stick that runs vSphere the previous one seemed to have run out of flash blocks as I could no longer write much to the file system. That was a sizable outage for me as I took the time to install vSphere 5.1 (from 4.x) on the new USB stick, re-configure things as well as upgrade the memory all in one day, took probably 4-5 hours I think. I'm connected to a really fast backbone and the network has been very reliable (not perfect, but easily good enough).

So my server was $2,900, and I pay currently $2,400/year for service. It's certainly not cheap, but I think it's a good deal still relative to other options. I maintain a very high level of control, I can store a lot of data, I can repair the system if it breaks down, and the solution is very flexible, I can do a lot of things with the virtualization as well as the underlying storage and the high bandwidth I have available to me.

Which brings me to next steps, something I've always wanted to do is make the data more mobile, that is one area which it was difficult(or impossible) to compete with cloud services, especially on things like phones and tablets. Since they have the software R&D to make those "apps" and other things.

I have been using WebOS for several years now, which of course runs on top of Linux. Though the underlying Linux OS is really too minimal to be of any use to me. It's especially useless on the phone where I am just saddened that there has never been a decent terminal emulation app released for WebOS. Of all the things that could be done, that one seems really trivial. But it never happened(that I could see, there were a few attempts but nothing usable as far as I could tell). On the touchpad things were a little different, you could get an Xterm and it was kind of usable, significantly more so than the phone. But still the large overhead of X11 just to get a terminal seemed quite wasteful. I never really used it very much.

So I have this server, and all this data sitting on a fast connection but I didn't have a good way to get to it remotely unless I was on my laptop (except for the obvious like the blog etc are web accessible).

Time to switch to new mobile platform

WebOS is obviously dead(RIP), in the early days post termination of the hardware unit at HP I was holding out some hope for the software end of things but that hope has more or less dropped to 0 now, nothing remains but disappointment of what could of been. I think LG acquiring the WebOS team was a mistake and even though they've announced a WebOS-powered TV to come out early next year, honestly I'll be shocked if it hits the market. It just doesn't make any sense to me to run WebOS on a TV outside of having a strong ecosystem of other WebOS devices that you can integrate with.

So as reality continued to set in, I decided to think about alternatives, what was going to be my next mobile platform. I don't trust Google, don't like Apple. There's Blackberry and Windows Phone as the other major brands in the market. I really haven't spent any time on any of those devices. So I suppose I won't know for sure but I did feel that Samsung had been releasing some pretty decent hardware + software (based on stuff I have read only), and they obviously have good market presence.  Some folks complain etc.. If I were to go to a Samsung Android platform I probably wouldn't have an issue. Those complaining about their platform probably don't understand the depression that WebOS has been in since about 6 months after it was released - so really anything relative to that is a step up.

I mean I can't even read my personal email on my WebOS device without using the browser. Using webmail via the browser on WebOS for me at least is a last resort thing, I don't do it often(because it's really painful - I bought some skins for the webmail app I use that are mobile optimized only to find they are not compatible with WebOS so when on WebOS I use a basic html web mail app, it gets the job done but..). The reason I can't use the native email client is I suppose in part my fault, the way I have my personal email configured is I have probably 200 email addresses and many of them go directly to different inboxes. I use Cyrus IMAP and my main account subscribes to these inboxes on demand. If I don't care about that email address I unsubscribe and it continues to get email in the background. WebOS doesn't support accessing folders via IMAP outside of the INBOX structure of a single account. So I'm basically SOL for accessing the bulk of my email (which doesn't go to my main INBOX). I have no idea if Samsung or Android works any different.

The browser on the touchpad is old and slow enough that I keep javascript disabled on it, I mean it's just a sad decrepit state for WebOS these days(and has been for almost two years now). My patience really started running out recently when loading a 2-page PDF on my HP Pre3, then having the PDF reader constantly freeze (unable to flip between pages, though the page it was on was still very usable) if I let it sit idle for more than a couple of minutes (have to restart the app).  This was nothing big, just a 2-page PDF the phone couldn't even handle that.

I suppose my personal favorite problem is not being able to use bluetooth and 2.4Ghz wifi at the same time on my phone. The radios conflict, resulting in really poor quality over bluetooth or wifi or both. So wifi stays disabled the bulk of the time on my phone since most hotspots seem only to do 2.4Ghz, and I use bluetooth almost exclusively when I make voice calls.

There are tons of other pain points for me on WebOS, and I know they will never get fixed, those are just a couple of examples. WebOS is nice in other ways of course, I love the Touchstone (inductive charging) technology for example, the cards multitasking interface is great too(though I don't do heavy multi tasking).

So I decided to move on. I was thinking Android, I don't trust Google but, ugh, it is Linux based and I am a Linux user(I do have some Windows too but my main systems desktops, laptops are all Linux) and I believe Windows Phone and BlackBerry would likely(no, certainly) not play as well with Linux as Android. (WebOS plays very well with Linux, just plug it in and it becomes a USB drive, no restrictions - rooting WebOS is as simple as typing a code into the device). There are a few other mobile Linux platforms out there, I think Meego(?) might be the biggest trying to make a come back, then there is FirefoxOS and Ubuntu phone.. all of which feel less viable(in today's market) than WebOS did back in 2009 to me.

So I started thinking more about leaving WebOS, and I think the platform I will go to will be the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, some point after it comes out(I have read ~9/4 for the announcement or something like that). It's much bigger than the Pre3, not too much heavier(Note 2 is ~30g heavier). Obviously no dedicated keyboard, I think the larger screen will do well for typing with my big hands. The Samsung multimedia / multi tasking stuff sounds interesting(ability to run two apps at once, at least Samsung apps).

I do trust Samsung more than Google, mainly because Samsung wants my $$ for their hardware. Google wants my information for whatever it is they do..

I'm more than willing to trade money in a vein attempt to maintain some sort of privacy. In fact I do it all the time, I suppose that could be why I don't get much spam to my home address(snail mail). I also very rarely get phone calls from marketers(low single digits per year I think), even though I have never signed up to any do not call lists(I don't trust those lists).

Then I came across this comment on Slashdot -

Well I can counter your anecdote with one of my own. I bought my Galaxy S3 because of the Samsung features. I love multi-window, local SyncML over USB or WiFi so my contacts and calendar don't go through the "cloud", Kies Air for accessing phone data through the browser, the Samsung image gallery application, the ability to easily upgrade/downgrade/crossgrade and even load "frankenfirmware" using Odin3, etc. I never sign in to any Google services from my phone - I've made a point of not entering a Google login or password once.

So, obviously, I was very excited to read that.

Next up, and this is where the story comes back around to online backup, cloud, my co-lo, etc.. I didn't expect the post to be this long but it sort of got away from me again..

I think it was on another Slashdot comment thread actually (I read slashdot every day but never have had an account and I think I've only commented maybe 3 times since the late 90s), where someone mentioned the software package Owncloud.

Just looking at the features, once again got me excited. They also have Android and IOS apps. So this would, in theory, from a mobile perspective allow me to access files, sync contacts, music, video, perhaps even calendar(not that I use one outside of work which is Exchange) and keep control over all of it myself. Also there are desktop sync clients (ala dropbox or something like that??) for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

So I installed it on my server, it was pretty easy to setup, I pointed it to my 2TB of data and off I went. I installed the desktop sync client on several systems(Ubuntu 10.04 was the most painful to install to, had to compile several packages from source but it's nothing I haven't done a million times before on Linux). The sync works well (had to remove the default sync which was to sync everything, at first it was trying to sync the full 2TB of data, and it kept failing, not that I wanted to sync that much...I configured new sync directives for specific folders).

So that's where I'm at now. Still on WebOS, waiting to see what comes of the new Note 3 phone, I believe I saw for the Note 2 there was even a custom back cover which allowed for inductive charging as well.

It's sad to think of the $$ I dumped on WebOS hardware in the period of panic following the termination of the hardware division, I try not to think about it ..... The touchpads do make excellent digitial picture frames especially when combined with a touchstone charger.  I still use one of my touchpads daily(I have 3), and my phone of course daily as well. Though my data usage is quite small on the phone since there really isn't a whole lot I can do on it, unless I'm traveling and using it as a mobile hot spot.

whew, that was a lot of writing.