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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.

25Feb/13Off

WebOS sold to LG

TechOps Guy: Nate

Hey folks - long time no see. Sorry it has been so long since I wrote anything, I don't know why I haven't. I have been a fair bit busier. I do have a ~5,000 word post that I had been writing back in December about a Red Hat conference I was at, hopefully I can finish that soon and post it.

Anyway for now I just came across news that WebOS has been sold to LG to use as an operating system for Smart TVs. Several months ago there were rumours about LG working with HP for WebOS-powered TVs.

This is hot on the heels of HP releasing a low end Android tablet (well, going to release).

So for me this is just another sad story for the slow death of WebOS. Unlike most of the other die hard fans my Palm Pre was the first (and only) Palm branded device I ever owned. I had owned a couple different Handspring Visors way back when, and there was a couple different apps on them that I liked, so I looked to WebOS when a Palm emulator was made available for WebOS (later this emulator was killed, and hasn't been functional in years now). Of course I don't trust Google, never been much of a fan of Microsoft, and RIM at the time (2009) still seemed very business oriented.  The Pre was also my first smart phone. I did have a blackberry at one company though I really only used it for email (not even phone calls). It was awesome for email with a sort of monochrome-color display, the battery lasted forever.

Where to now ? I'm not sure, I certainly have enough WebOS devices to last for some time, I have very meagre requirements, just need to sync to exchange email, and would like a decent web browser, being able to watch video is nice too for travel. I really have spent no time on any other ecosystem so I don't know what all is out there(ignorance is bliss).

If there is one thing HP did get right with this new Android tablet is conceding the high end market, which they really don't have a chance to compete in. Most folks, myself included don't believe HP will be able to compete with this new Android tablet either, but who knows.

It's been roughly a year since my HP Pre3 and Touchpad got any software updates, the Pre3 still works fine, I suppose the only 3rd party app on it that I ever use is a weather app. Touchpad working fine too, there too there really aren't any 3rd party apps that I have used in a long time (3rd party apps I do use are WebOS/Mobilenations news, Accuweather, and Kalemsoft video).

WebOS was never at a point where I was ready to go try to tell my friends and family they just had to go buy it. I saw the vision and believed they could do it -- if only they had enough resources(they never did). Once HP bought them I expected significant investment but that didn't happen either they continued on a rapid release cycle which led to over promising and massive under delivery.

I had hope that things could turn around more after HP somewhat recently announced they need to do something with mobile. But I guess not. Windows mobile continues to disappoint, and most Android manufacturers are in the toilet as well (even Google's own Motorola).  BB10 is still new, so too early to tell if they can turn it around.

I found it interesting how seemingly neglected the Android market is compared to iOS. I bought my sister a TrendNET HD IP-camera to act as a "baby cam" of sorts she just had a kid. This camera had both IOS and Android apps. Her boyfriend has an iPhone she has some sort of Android device.  While both apps could connect, only the IOS app could remotely control the camera, the Android app just saw the streaming video. I thought, how hard is it to add the remote control functionality ? For some reason it wasn't there.  Of course for WebOS there is no app :)

I'll keep using my WebOS devices for now, I don't have any pressing need to make a change.

Oh how I wish HP would of kept that $10B they spent on Autonomy and invested it in mobile instead.

Also in recent news, Mozilla has announced many carriers have picked up their new OS - based on Firefox.

Mozilla is unlocking the Web as a mobile development platform with Firefox Marketplace and unwrapping mobile apps to enable more opportunity and control for developers and consumers

Where have I heard that one before...

HP did give Palm more time though, so I thank them(again) for that, just not enough time.

Tagged as: , 4 Comments
9Dec/11Off

WebOS to be open sourced

TechOps Guy: Nate

Probably the best thing that could of happened given the scenarios on the table happened to WebOS:

HP Decided to Open source the whole thing, end-to-end

HP intends to fully open source every component of webOS, right down to its Linux core. They aren’t ready to give a public timeframe for exactly when that open sourcing will happen, because there’s some work that has to be done first.

I think it's wonderful news myself, I did not relish the thought that so many people wanted the likes of Amazon to acquire WebOS which made absolutely no sense to me.

Maintaining an operating system is a lot of work, and I can understand other mobile device makers not wanting to take on the mammoth task of doing so themselves.

Open sourcing it I believe will give it a bright future.

I really was not expecting HP to maintain such.. commitment to the platform. I'm sure if the previous CEO was still around they would not be investing to open source the software, so score a big one for Meg in my book with this decision, good job, this is a great x-mas present for WebOS users and fans alike.

It may be a year or two before another company attempts to release a WebOS product based on this code base but I'm more confident now than I was before that it'll happen. The OS really is great, and now that it will be pretty much the most technologically advanced fully open mobile platform on the planet (more so than Android I believe) it'll come back from the depths of the abyss it was in just a few months ago.

I always felt that the likes of the Touchpad, the Veer, and the Pre- were released before they were ready, they were rushed to market. More so on the software front than hardware for the former, more on the hardware for the latter. The Pre3 was going to be released 6 months too late to make any sort of dent in the market.  I think there was too much pressure to deliver products in such a short time frame they didn't have the time they needed to do it right. With open sourcing of the OS, things will likely move at a slower pace at least initially but the chances of getting it right I believe go way up.

wooohoo!

(I use my Pre3 and one of my two Touchpads every day)

Tagged as: 1 Comment
31Aug/11Off

WebOS device sales still hectic

TechOps Guy: Nate

HP announced recently they are going to manufacture another round of Touchpads to meet more demand, and limit one TP per customer. Best Buy has also been selling TPs with a limit of one per customer.

You can see in the Precentral Forums as well as the Palm Developer forums the frustration by the existing user base that many are not able to get their hands on hardware.

The limit per customer should help get TPs in to more hands without having to resort to the scalping market, though many folks wanted to buy a couple extras as gifts. One is better than none..

While the Touchpad continues to make headlines with the fire sale what hasn't made any headlines is the desperate struggle many users are going through to try to get their hands on the HP Pre3 which was released in Europe mere days before the big HP announcement that they were getting out of hardware.

My own experience mimics that of many others, I put in an order to a UK reseller on the 20th whom appeared to have stock on hand. It took a few days to get past their security checks but I got past them, and then they went to go to their distributor to get stock (they apparently had none at the time), and their distributor told them they couldn't have any stock, someone upstream (maybe HP, maybe another carrier the speculation runs wild) has blocked it. So the company refunded my money and that of many others who ordered. Unfortunately this took until Thursday of last week to find out I was not going to be getting Pre3s from this company.

So I set out on a quest to find Pre3s from someone else, every place I came across said no stock, there was talk about the Palm Eurostore selling Pre3s, BUT they only require both that your billing and shipping addresses are in Europe. No shipping to the US.

There is a UK reseller mobiles.co.uk which is requiring all orders be shipped to the UK. They accept US billing and shipping addresses but have canceled every order that had one after the order was placed.

There are people trying to order from expansys.fr over in France whom have a stock of AZERTY based Pre3s (I had never heard of AZERTY until then), but their shipping forms do not list U.S. as an option (I think people have tried anyways not sure of results). I have seen other stories of people in Asia getting their orders canceled by expansys.fr with the company directing those users to the Asian version of the site (which has no Pre3s of course). While it's apparently not hard to change the keyboard layout in the phone itself, there is still the physical keyboard where the keys won't be right once the mapping is changed. But users are willing to make the compromise in order to get their hands on the device (I would too if they'd ship to the US). I was about to order from them when I saw the billing address had no place to put a state. Only City, Country, and street address. Also no mention of U.S. shipping options, so it seemed pretty clear to me that they weren't going to ship my order so I didn't submit it.

So I began searching Ebay and came across another company KICK MOBILE over in the UK and I ordered a pair of Pre3s from them last Thursday morning. I emailed them later asking if they really did have stock because the last place did not, they said they are sold out *right now* but are 99.9% confident they will get 100 units the following day. The people/person at Kick Mobile has been very nice and friendly. Unfortunately Friday came and mostly went and Kick Mobile sent out an update saying they have not gotten stock yet but have confirmed their upstream supplier has 100 units set aside for them (out of 1500 units on hand), and they are still highly confident they will get them because Kick Mobiles is doing them a favor in buying a couple hundred older Blackberry phones to liquidate. They said they won't know for certain until the end of this month or maybe the 1st or 2nd of September. The upstream supplier was waiting for authorization to release the units to the resellers.

I haven't gotten an update directly yet (have not asked) but did see someone else post an update from them saying that Kick Mobiles no longer has confidence they will get that stock, though the final nail is not in the coffin yet (probably will be in the next 24 hours though).

What's more frustrating is that Kick Mobile mentioned if I had placed the order a mere 24 hours earlier I would of gotten the phones. Getting the bad news back from the first reseller took too long!

I don't blame any of the resellers they are all doing everything (or have done) they can to try to get the product to the desperate customers and have done a great job.

So yesterday I went on Ebay again and found a pair of Pre3s from what appears to be an end user who had two of them, and I immediately hit the buy it now button to buy one. I'm normally not one who likes to use auction sites I don't know why I just don't feel comfortable doing it but at the moment if I want a Pre3 (and I want one as you can clearly see) I have little choice at this point, it seems as time goes on there are fewer and fewer available, even though there is good information that says there are at least hundreds to thousands being held up in warehouses with an uncertain future. You can probably bet there are hundreds to thousands of AT&T and Verizon branded Pre3s as well which people speculate may just be outright destroyed rather than sold.

With each attempt to buy a Pre3 the unit price has gone up by roughly $125. There's one report of someone paying over $900 for one.

There have been rumors of a fire sale of Pre3s as well but so far very few have been able to get them at those prices, even the official Palm Eurostore says they were not able to resell at those prices and in fact is unable to get more stock and is canceling all outstanding orders and not accepting new orders. Not a good sign. Contrary to initial beliefs the Eurostore is not directly affiliated with HP or Palm but is a 3rd party reseller like most others. From their web site

Update Wed 31st Aug 15:00 :
From the contacts we initiated since last Friday ;
- We have cancelled and refunded all orders where we received notification to cancel.
- We have shipped all orders for those people we had contacted and who accepted the order for a single unit at the standard/agreed price.
- We are still awaiting response from some of the people we contacted
We are now going to set a deadline of midday (BST) on Thursday 1st Sep. A final reminder email has gone out to these people. We will have no option but to cancel those orders after that point if we have not heard back from them.

The European Pre3 only works on one of the two AT&T 3G frequencies, so will be crippled to some degree(mainly when used in doors), by contrast I read that the way T-mobile uses their frequencies the Pre3 would have no 3G coverage at all. T-mobile apparently uses one frequency for upstream and one for downstream, AT&T has both frequencies available for up and down.

I'll take what I can get though, assuming I can get the Pre3. I got a Pre2 in yesterday (can't use it yet because I don't have a SIM card). Was supposed to get a Veer (with AT&T SIM) yesterday, but fedex screwed me on the delivery claiming my address was wrong and before I could pick the package up at the local facility shipped it back to AT&T.  I have another Fedex package coming from HP today with a Touchpad and some accessories in it, will see if they screw up again. I've recieved a lot of UPS and USPS packages at my address so I know it's right, it is a new address, the building has only existed for about 1.5 years but hard to believe Fedex hasn't delivered a package here before, there's a couple hundred people living here.

While the initial reviews of the Pre3 are very positive at least from the WebOS community(which is biased of course), they are not suitable devices for the general public in the U.S. as you will have to jump through hoops and stuff to use them due to the frequency differences and general lack of support. But for more hard core technical users it's clear it's by far the best phone to come out of Palm since the first Pre launched back in 2009.

In case your wondering why I have been trying so hard to get my hands on a Pre 3. Well part of it as I have mentioned in the past is, for several different personal reasons (won't elaborate again here), I won't really go near a Android, iOS or Windows mobile device for myself at least. The Pre2 and Pre3 will keep me on a platform I like for a while to come until I need to make a decision about where to go at that point. I've been using a feature phone from Sanyo for the past 8 months while I waited for the Pre3 to be released. It's an OK phone, I like that I don't have to charge it often, though it's not as nice as the Sanyo phones I used to have, the software is quite different, and in general not as good.  It may be because the phone might just be Sanyo in name since they were bought by Kyocera (the phone itself says Sanyo by Kyrocera) Though I guess one thing I will be able to finally test without being too paranoid is how rugged this rugged phone really is, your supposed to be able to completely submerge it in water and have it be OK. I'll finally test that out!

Meanwhile my order for 4 Touchpad 16GBs which was accepted by HP's systems on August 21st at 2AM (26 hours before their cutoff period for canceling orders) is still pending shipment, I assume they are out of stock now. The order status page says it is in an "Admin" state. My 2nd order  was processed before my first which I thought was unusual. My 2nd order is the 5th Touchpad with accessories, in order to secure a discount on accessories I had to buy another TP. I was in such a hurry to buy the original Touchpads I did not pay attention to accessories or discounts on the 21st as I was busy fighting server errors on HP's side.

My original Palm Pre, which has been disconnected from the Sprint network for 8 months did something unusual on Monday - it showed I had a new voice mail. I checked my normal Sprint phone it too said I had a voice mail. I would not of expected the Pre to show that (it never has before). Just because I was curious I tried to check the voice mail on the Pre and got a message from Sprint saying my account could not be verified. So clearly the phone wasn't authorized to operate on Sprint anymore, must've been some sort of temporary hole opened in the Sprint network which allowed the phone to log in for a moment and detect the new voice mail.

I only wish management at HP cared enough to handle this whole situation better in the first place. I do feel sorry for the entire WebOS division (hardware+software), including the leadership who were just as blindsided by this as everyone else. I can't imagine the stress the leadership is under to try to maintain morale at this point.

Over 2,000 words for this post, not bad.

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21Aug/11Off

Windows Phone 7 is dead

TechOps Guy: Nate

That is the headline of this news article, and as I read the article, and more importantly the comments I couldn't help but think about the parallels between both of those and HP's now defunct WebOS (yeah I know officially HP has committed to continue support but most people expect nothing to come of it unfortunately).

Here is part of the list, see the article for the rest

  1. Sales are plummeting - Same was said for WebOS
  2. Mango (new version of Windows phone 7) is taking too long - Same was said for WebOS 3, Pre3, and the Pre3's lack of running WebOS 3
  3. Customer's don't care - Similar things said about WebOS
  4. Nokia doesn't matter - HP at least believed the Palm brand didn't matter since they killed the Palm name earlier in the year..

I'd say a good 8 out of 10 of those points could of applied to WebOS/Palm as well. I also suspect that the same could possibly be said of RIM as well.

But the comments from the community responding to the article were much more similar to what the hard core WebOS community would say than I would of expected and thought that was fascinating.

Maybe it's coincidence, but I have seen more than one suggestion from the WebOS community that Windows Phone 7 is the closest user experience to WebOS.

I was never a strong defender of the WebOS platform, I used it for myself, thought it was a solid product line, never tried to talk someone else into using it, though often times I wanted to try (unlike some other products/companies I talk about on this site). I suppose deep down I knew they needed "more" to appeal to more users so I was patient  - waiting until the day they had those core elements completed, HP wasn't so patient though.

For me, I ordered a pair of unlocked Pre 3 phones from the UK for about $500 each last night in the hopes they will ship. Far more than I've ever spent on a phone before, but given the retirement of the hardware and no future prospects of new hardware at this point, ironically it was a pretty easy decision to make. I just hope they have stock. The price point almost assures there won't be a mad dash to buy them like with the Touchpad. If I get lucky and HP has a fire sale of the remaining stockpile of Pre3s in the US, I'll pickup more. My only real concern is batteries - what's the best way of storing a battery if your not going to use it for a year or more ? Should it be fully discharged? Should I keep it on the charger the whole time? Maybe it doesn't matter what I do.

At this point I guess I'm glad HP left the Pre 3 with WebOS 2.2 where there was/is a stronger development base on the Mojo(?) SDK with many more applications. WebOS 3 by contrast that runs on the Touchpad uses another, incompatible SDK Enyo.

One of the strange decisions HP/Palm made was when they built the original SDK they didn't take into account large screens, so when the Tablet came around they had to re-do it. Unfortunately for some reason they didn't make the new SDK good for small screens for some reason (I assume that reason was lack of time and resources for the schedule), so developers were stuck having to use two different ways of writing apps to support the Phone vs Tablet, not a good way to attract developers from competing platforms.

But like most of the faults I believe it would of been fixed at some point in the not too distant future(~1 year or so), once Palm had the ability to stabilize and catch their breath from the break neck pace they've been working at for years now.

I think what hurt Palm/HP/WebOS more than anything is they didn't have enough resources to pull off what they needed to in the time allowed. I have little doubt they tried to hire like crazy after HP bought them but there just wasn't enough time to develop these 3 products, and ramp up hiring / get people familiar enough with the platform to be really productive at developing by the time they had to launch their products.

Made me think back to this post about a year ago.

The main difference between WP7 and WebOS, as I've mentioned before, is that Microsoft is not going to give up on their platform. WP7 may die, or may not, I don't know. But if it does MS will re-work it, and try again. I had expected and hoped, as mentioned before, HP was going to do the same with WebOS.

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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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