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18Aug/11Off

RIP: WebOS

TechOps Guy: Nate

UPDATED I have been a user of WebOS based devices for a couple of years now, I bought a Palm Pre in late 2009, and a Touchpad on launch day. WebOS in general has been a pretty good user experience, it worked quite well from a functional perspective in my view. The devices weren't the fastest(though since I really never used any others I had little frame of reference), I think mainly to the web-centric nature of the OS instead of running mostly native code.

The Pre was my first Palm-branded product, though I did own a couple of Handspring Visors for a long time.

WebOS seems to have been, for the most part widely praised from a user friendliness angle from a wide selection  of folks, though that alone wasn't enough to carry the platform forward for HP.

Myself, I had a firm belief that HP was committed to the platform for the long run - at least 2-4 years before making any decisions about the future. Primarily because of the situation of the market. With Microsoft, Nokia, and RIM all struggling in one way or another, and wide fragmentation of Android leading to, from what I've read, poor user experiences on the platforms (granted there are probably some really good ones but given the number of Android devices it appears most of them are pretty bad). There was, and still is room for someone to play in the space with a unique product offering.

I can only assume the new leadership at HP just didn't agree with the previous leadership which is too bad. I mean it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize it's going to take multiple billions of dollars of investment to build up such an ecosystem, you don't need an army of consultants and market analysts to figure that one out. Unfortunately for Palm, WebOS, and the user base the new management didn't want to commit to the platform in the way they needed to in order to drive it.

The best comparison I have I think is perhaps Microsoft - they have been in the mobile phone space in one form or another for more than a decade, and they have low single digit market share to show for it -- but they haven't given up (and it looks like they won't either). I felt that same level of commitment from HP early on, unfortunately I guess the folks that make the big decisions decided to change their mind and cut their losses(either that or the people that make the big decisions themselves got changed out).

It wouldn't surprise me if the current HP management wouldn't of been willing to pay the $3 billion for 3PAR either if they had that opportunity today. Well I'm glad HP has 3PAR -- if for nothing else it kept them out of the hands of Dell. Their quarterly report today mentioned "triple digit growth" for the 3PAR platform, which in general is kind of confusing - I mean it seems most everyone is reporting massive storage growth -- this can't all be net new storage -- someone has to be at the losing end of it -- who ? HDS ? IBM ? (I haven't noticed either talk too much about growth but I haven't tried to look for their comments either). Maybe in 3PAR's case most of their growth is at the expense of EVA(which should just go away), I haven't tried to find details. From the folks I know at 3PAR it certainly seems like they can't keep up with demand.

The news that they are killing WebOS is quite sad to me, it was a platform with a lot of promise, it just needed more work - I have no doubt they were short handed and rushed to market with many things which hurt them -- but it was a choice, either release something now, as a sort of stop gap, or wait 6-12 or maybe even 18 months and release something good. You lose either way (at least until you have a polished end-to-end system) but I think the strategy they chose they "lost" less. You have to keep the news coming, the products coming etc.

I plan to keep my Touchpad myself, and if I see a fire sale on them will probably pick up more, it's a good device, I've been using it pretty much daily for casual use since I bought it and really have very few complaints (even before the 3.0.2 OS upgrade).

If the Pre3 does come out in some form (un clear whether or not they ever manufactured it), I'll try to pick up one/more of those as well - I'd assume no carriers will sign on to sell it, so the only way to really use it would be unlocked, on a GSM network. That is assuming that the device isn't a total brick. I was happy with the functionality I got on my original Pre with WebOS 1.4, in some cases I'm not hard to please (hey - I've been running Linux as my primary Desktop since ~1997 if that gives you any idea). The 64GB "4G" Touchpad was supposed to launch soon, but now who knows - I suspect the launch will get canned.

Even if HP continued WebOS development I have no doubt the Pre3 would struggle to find relevance in the market given it's late arrival. Most folks were expecting it months ago - the most recent estimations put it at mid September - right smack when the iPhone 5 is supposed to launch, as well as the free iPhone 3GS.

As time has gone on the Pre3 hardware has gone from looking really good to nothing special. Compound that with the fact that HP apparently wasn't going to use the next generation WebOS 3.0 on the Pre3, instead using the older generation of WebOS software with a completely different SDK, I suppose it wouldn't be too far fetched to say the Pre3 was going to be mostly DOA, performing no better(perhaps worse) than previous WebOS devices due to the poor timing of it's release. I have struggled to try to think of why it was taking them so long to get the Pre3 out the door, especially since they weren't going to use WebOS 3.

I'm not expecting anyone else to pick up WebOS -- instead I think others will just mimic it's functionality on their own platforms - sort of like how RIM did with the multitasking on their Playbook tablet.

What was more surprising to me in general was that tablets in general are not selling. As many people have said - there really isn't much of a tablet market out there - there is an iPad market, but not much of a tablet market. I have read things recently that seem to indicate almost all of the Android tablets are faring even worse than the HP Touchpad was - Android as an aggregate has been doing fairly well but the individual companies pitching their tablets - the sales are quite poor in general (with a couple of standout exceptions), There's gotta be what - 50+ different Android tablets on the market now?

I'm really too sad to be mad at this point, I have no regrets in buying into the platform - it's more sad about seeing such a promising platform be killed prematurely.

I suppose I should end this on a positive note -- the one thing HP did give WebOS was another chance, Palm was pretty much flat broke when HP bought them. So I thank HP for that...

UPDATE - Barely 24 hours after they kill the platform they launch the 64GB White Touchpad for a mere $599.

 

The 64GB "White" Touchpad - what they don't have Photoshop? Or maybe they just don't care.

I guess not everyone got the memo yet.

 

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2Jul/11Off

HP Touchpad – first thoughts and tips

TechOps Guy: Nate

I have been anticipating the release of the HP WebOS-based Touchpad for several months now. I picked one up yesterday at Best Buy shortly after they opened. As I expected there was no line around the block to get them, I got there about 10:45 (they opened at 10) and I believe was the first person to buy one, they hadn't even unpacked the pallet yet. There was one other person there that was looking really closely at the Touchpad, other than that not many customers in the store.

I have been using it for a few hours and wanted to post a early review of it as well as a tip which seems to work around a bug related to copying files to the device  (at least in Linux).

I'll preface this by saying - I don't like Apple, I don't like Google, and am not that fond of Microsoft either. So that said, WebOS is a natural choice for me, and it was one of the reasons I decided to pick up a Palm Pre a couple of years ago(the other being the ability to run 'classic' PalmOS apps in an emulator - this option is no longer available on current models). Turns out the OS was quite a bit better than I was expecting and I came to like the software quite a bit.

 

 

I have spent probably a grand total of 10 minutes of time using the iPhone (from various friends), maybe 5 minutes using Android phones, and probably 3-5 minutes using an iPad 1. So I can't speak from the angle of other products may be bad because of X, or WebOS is better than Y, because well I haven't used them, and really have no plans to.

But what I can say is the Touchpad has actually exceeded my general expectations for the device, being a day 1 adopter (I think this is the first time I've ever bought something the day of it's release normally I wait a few months at least). The reviews around the net were by no means very positive, so that kind of got my hopes down in the last couple days leading up to the release.

It's a pretty snappy tablet, audio works really well, good web browser, has integrated skype (integrated so well I spent about 15 minutes trying to find the 'skype' app only to figure out it's built into the messaging application). It also has the ability to integrate several different sources into your contacts, for me that is LinkedIn and Skype (it supports many others but I don't use them). It's really neat to see all of the contacts integrated in one place, if there are duplicates(different names from different sources) it handles them seamlessly.

Since I already had a Palm profile from my Pre, I re-used that and the Touchpad automatically synced all of the compatible applications from my phone (which is now retired because it's on it's deathbed) to the tablet. I had heard that some apps would be capable of "scaling up" to the higher resolution and others would run in a sort of emulation mode with a mini phone on the screen. To my surprise the apps that scaled up were the more complex games, rather than the simple applications. I was expecting the other way around.

I bought a bunch of apps and games in the HP app store to screw around with, also synced a bunch of music, photos and video to it to try out.

The media sync is where I ran into my first real issue IMO, but fortunately I believe I have figured a workaround (which is prompting this post in case it helps someone else).

I am using an Ubuntu Laptop as my source computer, so I don't have a Mac or Windows system to test this with. The behavior that I see though is that there is a built in indexing system on WebOS that gives data to the local Palm-specific apps such as the Photos app and the Music app. I copied all of my MP3s over to the Touchpad, and the Music app saw nothing. I copied several hundred pictures over and the pictures app saw nothing. I rebooted the Touchpad just in case, nothing. I was doing the same process as I did on my Palm Pre which worked every time.

I ended up engaging support (there is a nice live chat on the touchpad itself), and chatted with them for about an hour or so, and didn't really get anywhere. Then I saw a different behavior (I wasn't doing anything different) when I unplugged the Touchpad from my laptop. Rather than gracefully going back to the main screen it paused for a while and said "OWW! That hurts! Next time please unmount the drive from the desktop." or something like that before returning to the main screen. At that point the music and pictures started showing up (took a while to index it all).

That "OWW!" screen repeated several times during testing last night even though every time I sync'd the file system buffers and unmounted the volume before unplugging like I do with any USB device (I know sync'ing is done automatically during umount I do it out of habit).

This morning I copied over a couple thousand more pictures, and when I unplugged, I didn't get that screen, and I didn't get any new pictures showing up in the application. So what I ended up doing was plugging it in again, syncing the file system buffers and then unplugging it while it was still mounted, this caused the "OWW!" screen and then triggered the indexer - my pictures showed up.

It's gotta be a bug of some kind of course, I saw something similar from a reviewer on PreCentral.

One thing I did look into was the VPN connectivity, since VPN support is built into the OS, I was eager to find out what kinds of VPNs were supported, and at this time at least only Cisco VPNs are supported. Though I plan to get something like OpenVPN installed to securely connect to my home network. Hopefully some of those web-based SSL VPNs work too.. I imagine with HP's enterprise user base targets they will work to get as wide scale VPN support as possible.

Overall I'm quite happy with the device so far, it will be something fun to play around with. The only thing it is really lacking in my opinion (and I knew this going in) was a Mini/Micro SD slot for more storage. I can imagine it must be pretty trivial to have one on something this big. HP did make an agreement with some cloud company named box.net to give every Touchpad owner 50GB of free cloud storage for the duration you have a box.net account. My question is what would cause someone to lose a box.net account, I mean if your not paying for it how could you get to a point where you don't have one?

Speaking of cloud I will be getting out of the cloud soon, I bought a more up to date server and just got it installed at a new co-location in the Bay Area. I was thinking again about off site backups, and looking at how much it would cost to back up 1.5TB to the "cloud" convinced me to go it alone once again, my new server has more than 3TB usable space with ESXi, and I will migrate everything to it in early August. I need to take it off line for a couple of days to do my initial sync, 1.5TB over a consumer broadband link is just not reasonable. Will write more about that project later.

Like pretty much all WebOS devices in order to get access to the underlying Linux OS there is no jail breaking, no hacking, no exploiting security holes, just type a simple code to enable developer mode, install some software on your computer (compatible with Linux, Mac, Windows) and type a command and you have a root shell.

One thing that I haven't found yet that would be handy is a terminal application. I had one on my Pre a long time ago, not sure what it was called, didn't find any on the Preware homebrew site, though I did install bash, and OpenSSH(client and server).

nate@nate-laptop:~$ novaterm
Spaz / # uname -a
Linux Spaz 2.6.35-palm-tenderloin #1 SMP PREEMPT 129.1.17 armv7l GNU/Linux
Spaz / # free
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:        941916     508700     433216          0      24496     141132
-/+ buffers/cache:     343072     598844
Swap:       524284          0     524284
Spaz / #

Some screen shots

Another tip: to reduce the default logging from debug to normal - use the phone application and call ##LOGS#, from that screen you can individually adjust logging levels for each application, looks very syslog-like.

Looking forward to the over the air updates HP says is coming soon to address some/many of the current software bugs with the device, I can't help but think the launch Touchpads have probably not had software updates in 2-3 weeks since they started manufacturing them.

Looking forward to the Pre 3 as well, it will integrate with the Touchpad so you can do things like SMS, send/receive calls from the Touchpad through the Pre transparently via Bluetooth. What would be even cooler is if the Pre was able to share it's GPS information with the Touchpad, since the Wifi-only version lacks a GPS. There is also the touch to share functionality which can transfer web urls between the Pre 3 and the Touchpad by touching them together.

True multitasking is nice as well, which has been native on WebOS since it's inception. Since I so rarely touch the other platforms out there I keep forgetting that so few of them offer multitasking.

There is also a $50 mail in rebate for previous Palm Pre/Pixi owners, apparently all you need is a serial# from the original device, don't need a receipt. Offer good until the end of July.

I've only been using it for a short time of course, but so far I like what I see, and still believe there are good things coming for WebOS. Especially given the situations that Nokia and RIM (especially RIM) seem to be in, there is a good opportunity for HP to capitalize on RIM's scrambling to get their QNX stuff out the door, time will tell if they are able to execute or not and the level of commitment they have to the WebOS platform longer term. The smart phone, and tablet markets still have a tiny amount of market penetration, so it's really a long term strategy.

I give it a thumbs up, though suggest if you are a particularly picky and impatient person and want to try the Touchpad, given what I've read on other reviews you may want to wait a month or two for first couple software updates to be released.

If your on the fence, and have the cash, go get it, you can always return it if it doesn't work out. I bought mine at Best Buy and they seem to have a 14 day no questions asked return policy(not that I expect to return it).

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22Jun/11Off

Buy your HP Touchpad at…a Furniture store?

TechOps Guy: Nate

I've been a fan of WebOS since I got my Pre. Contrary to what some may believe I had never owned a Palm product prior to that. Although I do have a pair of Handspring Visors which was pretty much a better palm than palm back in the day, eventually they got bought out by Palm.

I've been awaiting the release of both the HP TouchPad and the Pre 3 for some time now. I almost pre ordered the Touchpad then figured I will just go buy it when it comes out in a local store, like most, I am not expecting a line around the block of people waiting to buy it on the first day like your typical Apple product.

For no particular reason I was browsing the Palm site (aka hpwebos.com) and saw a list of the official places you can pre order the Touchpad.

Much to my surprise, was what seems to be a big furniture store out in Nebraska. Nebraska Furniture Mart - America's Largest Home Furnishings Store.

I've never been to that part of the country so maybe it's not uncommon, maybe it's the only place people have in Nebraska to buy electronics from?

I mean of all the places to sell some new piece of technology. I realize now after looking at their site they have an electronics section(which I can't view because I declined their cookie requests), but still of all the places to launch a product.......

I look at the TouchPad myself is mainly a toy, something to play with, maybe I'll find some good uses for it with work I'm not sure. Would be nice to see support for wide ranging VPN options as well as perhaps native versions of various HP management tools (looking at you 3PAR).  To those out there that say your better off with a notebook or netbook, I agree. I already have a netbook and a notebook.

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23Apr/11Off

Palm Pixis as PDA/Media player

TechOps Guy: Nate

So my pair of Palm Pixi Pluses arrived yesterday. I'm by no means a hardware hacker, have never really had a whole lot of interest in "breaking in" to my systems unless I really needed to (e.g. replace Tivo hard drive that is out of warranty).

Palm Pixi Plus for Verizon

I have read a lot over the years how friendly the WebOS platform is to "hacking". For one you don't have to root the device, there is an official method to enable developer mode at which point you can install whatever you want.

First thing I wanted to do was upgrade the OS software to the latest revision, the units shipped with 1.4.0, latest is 1.4.5. Given Palm is working on WebOS 2 and WebOS 3, I'm not really expecting any more major updates to WebOS 1. Upgrading was very painless, just download WebOS Doctor for your version/phone/carrier and run it, it re-flashes the phone with the full operating system, then reboots it.

One of the things I didn't really think of when I ordered my Pixis were the fact that they would require activation in order to use (on initial boot it prompts to call Verizon to register, and of course I am not a Verizon customer and have no intention of using these as Phones).

Fear not though, after a few minutes of research turns up an official tool to bypass this registration process, and is really easy to use:

nate@nate-laptop:~/Downloads$ java -jar devicetool.jar
Found device: pixie-bootie
Copying ram disk................
Rebooting device...
Configuring device...
File descriptor 3 (socket:[1587]) leaked on lvm.static invocation. Parent PID 947: novacomd
 Reading all physical volumes.  This may take a while...
 Found volume group "store" using metadata type lvm2
File descriptor 3 (socket:[1587]) leaked on lvm.static invocation. Parent PID 947: novacomd
 6 logical volume(s) in volume group "store" now active
File descriptor 3 (socket:[1587]) leaked on lvm.static invocation. Parent PID 947: novacomd
 0 logical volume(s) in volume group "store" now active
Rebooting device...
Device is ready.

So now I have the latest OS, and I have bypassed registration (which also includes turning on developer mode by default). I do lose some functionality in this mode such as:

  • No access to online software updates (don't care)
  • No access to Palm App Catalog (not the end of the world)

I had installed OpenSSH on my Pre in the past (though never tested it), this time around I was looking how to get a shell on the Pixi, and looked high and low on how to get SSH on it, to no avail (the documentation is gone, and I can't find any ssh packages for some reason). Anyways in the end it didn't really matter because I could just use novaterm, another official Palm tool to get root access, I mean it doesn't get much simpler than this:

nate@nate-laptop:~$ novaterm
root@palm-webos-device:/# df -h
Filesystem                Size      Used Available Use% Mounted on
rootfs                  441.7M    394.8M     46.9M  89% /
/dev/root                31.0M     11.3M     19.7M  37% /boot
/dev/mapper/store-root
 441.7M    394.8M     46.9M  89% /
/dev/mapper/store-root
 441.7M    394.8M     46.9M  89% /dev/.static/dev
tmpfs                     2.0M    152.0k      1.9M   7% /dev
/dev/mapper/store-var
 248.0M     22.7M    225.3M   9% /var
/dev/mapper/store-log
 38.7M      4.6M     34.1M  12% /var/log
tmpfs                    64.0M    160.0k     63.8M   0% /tmp
tmpfs                    16.0M     28.0k     16.0M   0% /var/run
tmpfs                    97.9M         0     97.9M   0% /media/ram
cryptofs                  6.4G    549.6M      5.8G   8% /media/cryptofs
/dev/mapper/store-media
 6.4G    549.6M      5.8G   8% /media/internal

I don't think I will need to access the shell beyond this initial configuration so I am not going to bother with SSH going forward.

I have a bunch of Apps and games on my Palm Pre and wanted to try to transfer them to my Pixis. I was hoping for an ipkg variation of dpkg-repack but was unable to find such a thing, so I had to resort to good 'ol tar/gzip. All of the apps (as far as I can tell) are stored in /media/cryptofs/apps. So I tarred up that directory on my Pre and transferred it to my first Pixi and overwrote the apps directory on it, then rebooted to see what happened.

It worked, really much better than I had expected. Several of the games (especially the more fancy ones) did not work, I suspect because of the different screen size, a couple of the other fancy games started up, but the edges of the screen were clipped. There are probably Pixi versions for many of them, but that wasn't a big deal, all of the apps worked.

I put the phone in Airplane mode to disable the 3G radio, installed a few patches (which modify system behavior) , and a few more free apps/games via WebOS Quick Install. Copied over some music to test it out, works awesome. The speakers on the Pixi sound really good in my opinion.

After the apps are installed there is roughly 6.3-6.5 GB of available storage for media.

Only thing missing? Touchstone charging, the custom case to support that looks like it starts at $20, I already have 3 touchstone docks, if I did not, that runs $50.

The UI in WebOS is really great, with full multi tasking, a great notification system, and has everything integrated really well.

Having all of these apps, some games, full wifi (which I can use on 3G/4G with the Sprint Mifi that I have), media playback abilities, a keyboard, nice resolution screen, camera with flash, GPS, user replaceable battery, no carrier contracts, all for $40 ?! I really wish I did buy more than two.

Really looking forward to the Pre 3 and the Touchpad.

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14Feb/11Off

Vertica snatched by HP

TechOps Guy: Nate

Funny timing! One of my friends who used to work for 3PAR left 3PAR not long after HP completed the acquisition and he went to Vertica, which is a scale out column-based distributed high performance database. Certainly not an area I am well versed in but I got a bit of info a couple weeks ago and the performance numbers are just outstanding, the kind of performance gains that you really probably have to see to believe, fortunately for users their software is free to download, and it sounds like it is easy to get up and running (I have no personal experience with it, but would like to see it in action at some point soon). Performance gains up up to 10,000% are not uncommon vs traditional databases.

It really sounds like an awesome product that can do more real time analysis on large amounts of data (from a few gigs to over a Petabyte). Something that Hadoop users out there should take notice of. If you recall last year I wrote a bit about organizations I have talked to that were trying to do real time with hadoop with (most likely) disastrous results, it's not built for that, never was, which is why Google abandoned it (well not hadoop since they never used the thing but Mapreduce technology in general at least as far as their search index is concerned they may use it for other things). Vertica is unique in that it is the only product of it's kind in the world that has a software connector that can connect hadoop to Vertica. Quite a market opportunity. Of course a lot of the PHB-types are attracted to Hadoop because it is a buzzword and because it's free. They'll find out the hard way that it's not the holy grail they thought it was going to be and go to something like Vertica kicking and screaming.

So back to my friend, he's back at HP again, he just couldn't quite escape the gravitational pull that was HP.

Also somewhat funny as it wasn't very long ago that HP announced a partnership with Microsoft to do data warehousing applications. Sort of reminds me when NetApp tried to go after Data Domain, mere days before they announced their bid they put out a press release saying how good their dedupe was..

Oh and here's the news article from our friends at The Register.

The database runs in parallel across multiple machines, but has a shared-nothing architecture, so the query is routed to the data and runs locally. And the data for each column is stored in main memory, so a query can run anywhere from 50 to 1,000 times faster than a traditional data warehouse and its disk-based I/O – according to Vertica.

The Vertica Analytics Database went from project to commercial status very quickly – in under a year – and has been available for more than five years. In addition to real-time query functions, the Vertica product continuously loads data from production databases, so any queries done on the data sets is up to date. The data chunks are also replicated around the x64-based cluster for high availability and load balancing for queries. Data compression is heavily used to speed up data transfers and reduce the footprint of a relational database, something on the order of a 5X to 10X compression.

Vertica's front page now has a picture of a c Class blade enclosure, jus think of what you can analyze with a enclosure filled with 384 x 2.3Ghz Opteron 6100s (which were released today as well and HP announced support for them on my favorite BL685c G7), and 4TB of memory all squeezed into 10U of space.

If your in the market for a data warehouse / BI platform of sorts, I urge you to at least see what Vertica has to offer, it really does seem revolutionary, and they make it easy enough to use that you don't need an army of PhDs to design and build it yourself (i.e. google).

Speakin' of HP, I did look at what the new Palm stuff will be and I'm pretty excited I just wish it was going to get here sooner. I went out and bought a new phone in the interim until I can get my hands on the Pre 3 and the Touchpad. My Pre 1 was not even on it's last legs it was in a wheelchair and a oxygen bottle. New phone isn't anything fancy just a feature phone, it does have one thing I'm not used to having though, battery life. The damn thing can go easily 3 days and the battery doesn't even go down by 1 bar. And I have heard from folks that it will be available on Sprint, which makes me happy as a Sprint customer. Still didn't take a chance and extend my contract just in case that changes.

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8Feb/11Off

New WebOS announcements tomorrow

TechOps Guy: Nate

Looking forward myself to the new WebOS announcements coming from HP/Palm, seem to be at about noon tomorrow. I've been using a Palm Pre for almost two years now I think, and recently the keyboard on it stopped working, so hoping to see some good stuff announced tomorrow. Not sure what I will do - I don't trust Google or Apple or Microsoft, so for smart phones it's Palm and Blackberry. WebOS is a really nice software platform from a user experience standpoint it's quite polished. I've read a lot of complaints about the hardware from some folks, until recently my experience has been pretty good though. As an email device the blackberry rocked, though I really don't have to deal with much email (or SMS for that matter).

Maybe I'll go back to a 'feature phone' and get a WebOS tablet, combined with my 3G/4G Mifi and use that as my web-connected portable device or something. My previous Sanyo phones worked really well. Not sure where I'm at with my Sprint contract for my phone, and Sprint no longer carries the Pre and doesn't look like it will carry the Pre 2. I tried the Pixi when it first came out but the keyboard keys were too small for my fingers even when using the tips of my fingers.

I found a virtual keyboard app which lets me hobble along on my Pre in the meantime while I figure out what to do.

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