Jolicloud Pre-Release

I’m writing this in the browser as I tend to do, though instead of running Windows or OSX, I’m using Jolicloud on my netbook.  I’ve had it loaded previously, but since I hacked the system with a new wireless card (to hackintosh) it failed to work without a wired connected, severely limiting my desire to use it.  Recently though Jolicloud released a more public beta and I loaded it up yesterday from Windows 7 and Jolicloud took care of everything …

A few system updates later (seems every OS has that post load) I’m really pleased with how Jolicloud runs.  The metaphor is a bit different than most operating systems – for starters, you need to have a live connection to do most everything.  This is great for most things, but something to really consider if you travel around as you won’t be able to do much without finding your way online.

Jolicloud runs over ubuntu from what I can tell, and while it’s linux all the geeky stuff is hidden away behind a simple interface that’s essentially just a launcher.  The “apps” you load are all single window browser apps via Mozilla Prism.  Just like running prism on a standard pc or Fluid on your mac, these apps look like apps when you use your task switcher, but also have the limits of just being in the browser.  A few examples of minor limits are no easy way to see you’ve got new mail with Gmail or ?alerts from twitter.  These are hardly deal breakers, but certainly adjustments you need to make.

I’ve encountered a few bugs (this is pre-release) which will hopefully be resolved in time for the full release.

  • The first is that Prism is not maintaining my login from Firefox to the Prsim web app.  I’m thinking this should work as it’s running from the same base, though perhaps I am misunderstanding how Prism utilizes the Firefox system.
  • A more serious issue is that it’s impossible to use Facebook Connect to login to various sites.  When I’ve clicked to use it Firefox loads from Prism and instead of redirecting back to Prism, the page load dies.  This one neds to be fixed so things are considerably more fluid

Jolicloud is really a slick system.  I’d definitely recommend checking it out for someone less geeky and using one of the linux based netbooks.  Coming from Windows, there are going to be some adjustments (no real offline apps), but for casual computing it’s a great system.

Is the 13″ MacBookPro a Shot at Netbooks?

Apple’s COO Tim Cook had stated the following regarding netbooks in a recent earnings call:

“When I look at netbooks, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens. It’s just not a good consumer experience and not something we would put the Mac brand on. It’s a segment we would not choose to play in.”

For the past month or so, I’ve been thinking what my next netbook might be …

With the prices as they are it’s easy to consider netbooks almost temporary machines. My good friend Andy Abramson almost considers them disposable leaving his MacBook Air in the hotel safe and dragging around the netbook which he can afford to have smashed or even stolen.

In my case, I have been trying to do as much as possible on the netbook and while that’s been both largely successful and pleasurable, there are certainly some limits. The newer crop of netbooks is supposed to alleviate the video processing power and heavy flash web page processing the Atom really does at admirable job trying to handle, but lags. Battery life is of course a major plus on netbooks and I’ve gotten as much as 7.5 hours of active use during a day of business. I love that the battery is solid enough to go a few days of intermittent use without even having to plug in – something my other laptops (work lenovo X61 and personal 15″ macbookpro) can only dream of managing.

The new 13″ MacBookPro is completely changing my perspective on mobility … It’s only slightly larger and about 1lb heavier than I’m used to carrying around but offers an quantum difference in capabilities. The price is rather different as well. Instead of topping out at around $500 for a netbook, the 13″ MacBook is closer to $1800 configured the way I’d want. The price difference, while considerable is small compared to the newly found power I’m likely to find once again.  And let’s not overlook the new battery power to die for according to Anandtech … making the MacBookPro even more attractive!

While netbooks are really about compromises … MacBookPro’s are not.

Lenovo IdeaPad ION Powered Netbook Coming

Lenovo IdeaPad

Portable Monkey brings some news about an upcoming Lenovo IdeaPad 12″ netbook and I am lusting for it. As much as I love my Samsung NC10 (writing this on it), I can’t help but find it lacking on a few fronts and ION seeks to remedy that.

Of course the netbook is a compromise, but after almost 6 months of regular use, I miss the oomph of a more powerful system. I would also love to have a bit more screen resolution and the new Lenovo seems to cover off on both bases. The Sammy’s video performance is very average though that’s apparently how it works with the Intel Atom integrated graphics solution.

I’ve not seen any updates that would propose to offer anything better than what I have in the initial Atom product. Until now … ION will definitely offer MORE. I look forward to tracking the updates on this as it gets closer to release … hopefully the battery tax won’t be substantial.

Update on My Netbook Usage

Samsung NC10-14GW netbook

I’ve been using the Samsung NC10 as my main travel system (also carrying my work laptop) since the end of December and I thought it would be worth reporting on my findings to date.  In general, the NC10 performs admirably for every request I’ve made though it’s not hard to find the edge of the netbook limit either.

Since buying the NC10, I’ve traveled abroad twice and found that aside from needing to connect to my office’s VPN, I can do everything I need with ease during the course of a business day.  I can email, IM, video chat, browse sites, open office docs, play media etc.  The battery in Windows XP goes basically the whole day though I actually rarely run XP as was pre-installed.  Instead, I’ve been using a combination of Windows 7 and OSX as my primary systems – mainly Windows 7.

Both OSX and Windows 7 use more power, but are infinitely more pleasurable to use over XP.  I accept the lesser battery capability in return for user experience and will definitely remove XP when Windows 7 is properly released.  OSX is something I run when I want to use a Mac specific app like iPhoto though after this vacation I will probably not do that too much more moving forward with this current rig.  As much as I like running the Mac side of things, editing high resolution media is not very efficient on the current Atom spec.  You really need more horsepower and ideally a GPU to complement the CPU.  This would most likely reducer battery life further, but again it would be worth the sacrifice to let something this size serve as a primary computer.  I’d pay more for this privledge as well.

This past week, aside from shooting a few hundred RAW images of my kids, I’ve also captured a lot of HD video clips with a Flip MinoHD I received from my wife.  It’s basically impossible to playback these clips at full strength … they play fine in smaller preview scale, but fullscreen HD is just too much to ask for a low powered system in these initial netbooks.  While I would not be looking to edit or playback HD video or edit RAW images on a daily basis I actually lost track a bit that my computer was indeed a netbook.  Of course I know it’s a netbook, but since it really is an incredibly versatile system, I don’t really consider it secondary.  This last thought is something I think is pretty impressive … While the intent of the netbook as it was sold was as a low cost, reasonably powered computer you can actually do a ton of stuff with it – and not really consider the limits unless you start to venture into richer media.

For me, the netbook is still a very strong category of computers and I look forward to upgrading to a more capable system at some point this year when things evolve.  For a typical user these current and even the soon to be released computers will serve a very wide segment and after a few months of use, it’s not hard to see why they are selling well.  In these financially unknown times getting a lot of return on a small investment is a great deal.

Psion is really working hard to keep netbook for themselves

02/07/2009 - Netbook For Mobile Internet

jkOnTheRun reports on how Google is now honoring Psion’s trademark of Netbook effectively killing the search term for anyone else.  If this pushes further we are likely to see devices currently called netbooks go through a rebranding.

What’s strange about this is that Psion has effectively been a dead company for years and has no active product in the market – even if they did in fact invent one called a netbook though it was discontinued in 2003 – long before the notion of low cost computers we now know as netbooks came around.

Why now?  What are they cooking here?  There’s no known effort underway that would require Psion to protect the term so their device alone could be marketed that way … and it’s not looking lie a legal battle is mounting to do anything other than stop people from saying netbook.

Sites like netbooknews apparently get 50% of their earned ad revenue from the term netbook and this change is going to sting initially for sure.  I’ve been debating removing the sticker on my NC10 which reads Netbook for Mobile Internet but now I might just have to keep it there out of spite.

Windows 7 Starter Edition – What can’t you do today?

Microsoft truly can’t get out of their own way … Windows 7 looks so good, yet we’ll have to suffer through a ridiculous number of SKUs when one would suffice. And the worst thing I’ve read yet on the topic is that Netbooks will get something called Starter Edition which limits you to 3 concurrent applications – who the hell wants that??

In a typical session I run Firefox (min 10 tabs), Pidgin, Twhirl or Tweetdeck, Ovi Suite and sometimes Evernote.  I also usually add in iTunes or for music. There are few processes like two-finger scroll, Jing and Dropbox running at all times and while  I’m not sure if the smaller stuff would be blocked but it seems I would have to make a choice on the applications running.  I would certainly NOT be able to fire up anything else like Skype for a video chat (which also works quite fine) without first closing down a bunch of stuff.

I run more than 3 applications at a time on my phones … come on Microsoft!

Update – Just ran across another source and it looks like Home Premium will be the standard netbook install for the higher end systems while Starter is really designed for emerging market low end systems.

Offline Gmail is smooth

I’ve been using Gmail for years like many people and have also had it working on my mobile devices using both the J2ME app initially and more recently the IMAP option via Nokia Email. IMAP via mobile gives me access to a few days worth of mail based on how I’ve set the prefs which is nice, but if I need to search something while either in a low connectivity zone or on a plane, I’m out of luck. Well not anymore!

I activated the GMail Offline option via the Labs button last night and now have YEARS of access ready to search and access in Firefox. On my commute I’m accustomed to seeing messages like Unable to Connect to Gmail, Will try again in … which pops up and makes Gmail pretty useless until the connection resumes. WIth Offline mode activated, Gmail and Google Gears maintain a very smooth transition. Instead of the annoying (and bright yellow message) I see a simple message at the top of my inbox that reads (paraphrasing) that I’ll have access to my offline store until the connection can sync with the server. It’s about time!

Sony Vaio P is not a netbook


Sony’s Vaio P (not a netbook) netbook is on display at the Sony Style store and over lunch I went to go check it out.  It’s a beautiful piece of engineering and design, but considerably under-powered and way over priced.  I found the keyboard to be manageable and the screen was really beautiful though definitely small for the 1600 x 768 screen resolution.

Build quality was solid though these seem like pre-production models (no number just xxxx) and I would hope to see it improve even more as release units arrive. The mouse pointer system is similar to what lenovo has on the thinkpad, but the button layout is harder to reach. I found the trackpoint device was also pretty slow though I tried a second P and it was a bit better. Still not anything close to the relative prevision I’ve become accustomed to on the X61 I use for work.

01262009098 01262009100

After a few minutes of playing around just testing the keyboard and seeing what was installed on the system, it feels slow.  Perhaps due to Vista though more likely a result of the slower 1.33GHz processor (with Vista).

In theory this is a terrific machine, but it seems like you are really just paying the Sony tax for styling here rather than getting anything serious from a performance perspective which is pretty disappointing.  A device that costs way more than 2x what the standard netbook costs should deliver more than simply a pretty package.

Are netbooks bad for the industry?

intel atom logo

Thanks to NetbookNews I watched this interesting interview between Xavier from and Rahul Sood, the founder of VoodooPC and currently the CTO of Voodoo at HP…

Rahul has written a great post which led to the interview on his blog and I definitely recommend you read that as well for a very insider perspective on netbooks and Intel’s Atom.

While listening to the interview and reading Rahul’s post I’ve considered my own experiences with the Samsung NC10
and I would have to agree with the general assessment here. Netbooks are killer machines, but they are also limited in what they can really do well. As long as you understand how they really work, you’ve got a very capable system in your hands.

As Rahul points out, the confusion with Netbooks started with how they came to be. Initially designed for the lower end and emerging markets, they quickly found greater success as supplementary systems in more developed markets due to lower costs and pretty solid specs. What’s happening now is a fairly vast commoditization of systems. Looking at the spectrum of netbook news as I’ve been since becoming interested in the category, the specs across the board are essentially the same. The main differences tend to be based on size and how much standard RAM, HD and whether you get a 3 or 6-cell a battery. Just about every brand is using the same 1.6Ghz Intel Atom chip running Windows XP. Aside from a few players the category is pretty vanilla.

The more I’ve used and enjoyed my netbook, the more annoyed I also get with things like flash video stuttering or that I can move faster in google reader than Firefox seems to want to go. I know I bought a “cheap” system but because I’m running standard operating systems and applications it’s easy to forget … The danger here is that the we see a crossover in the types of products in which Atom gets used and as we go bigger, the worse the result.

I’m far from sold on new operating systems or start up modes for netbooks as interesting as Jolicloud does look. Instead I’m sold on the longer battery life, ultra light and mobile systems we currently call netbooks. I hope we see innovative ways to bring the power but keep the size – just like the good old days of Moore’s Law! Now that I’ve experienced the potential power of ultra mobile computing I just want more … absolutely not less. I don’t think netbooks are bad for the industry. Sure these are interesting financial times, but look at how many people are talking about and more importantly buying these PCs. So Rahul, if you are thinking of a Voodoo machine in the 10″ range with at least 6 hours of battery life (though perhaps not a netbook), I’m definitely interested.

Do you need or even want an instant-on netbook?

There’s been a good deal of chatter and even video posted lately about Hyperspace, Phoenix Technologies instant-on OS for netbooks. Sony seems to have felt the pressure as well launching the Sony Vaio P with their XMB start-up option.

In both cases, you get a limited OS but access to things you are most likely to want to check quickly – email, web, voip music etc … It sounds good though as I’ve thought about my own usage, I don’t actually turn the machine off. My laptops and netbook are basically always on. I put things in standby when they go in my bag for my commute and even when I’m heading to the airport. I’ve never felt that the limited loss of battery life was substantial enough to be concerned with or something that warranted turning the computer off to conserve.

According to liliputing, the boot time savings is about 30 seconds on a Lenovo S10 they tested recently. AllThingsD recently gave this a test as well:

“It’s misleading to say that the Phoenix HyperSpace products offer a faster way to start up your computer, because they don’t actually open Windows, which is your computer’s heart and soul. Instead, they offer a primitive, bare-bones user interface that relies on Web-based applications. For example, you can send and receive email, but only by using a Web-based email program like Gmail or Hotmail. Documents must be created using a program like Google Docs, and when you watch videos, you must use a player like YouTube rather than something like Windows Media Player or QuickTime. Photos can be viewed either via a photo Web site like Flickr or in the HyperSpace browser. Nothing like Word or PowerPoint is available in this slimmed-down environment.”[AllThingsD]

If something like an email needs immediate (of course a very relative term) attention I’ve got my phone. Otherwise I think waiting the few extra moments will give me to tools to deal with a situation more effectively.

TechCrunch Crunchpad looks great but …

TechCrunch has taken a considerable next step in the development of their web tablet concept revealed earlier this summer. As you can see in this video it’s actually quite functional, quick and looks pretty nice.

Assuming they develop this device further, and that’s a big if at this point, it may end up as a ‘tweener which is not a good thing for CE devices. The netbook market and this tablet have massive overlap both in function and price. For the $299 price you can get a very capable netbook that offers a considerable amount of capablity through a real keyboard. The screen resolution on the CrunchPad (as it’s being called) is higher than any netbook 1024×768 (pages fit without scrolling) and it’s also 12″ which makes it larger too. Weight seems comparable in it’s current proto state to the 10″ EeePC.

What the CrunchPad seeks to do it apparently does it quite well. I thought the performance in page loading and video playbook looks awesome! It tends to takes a higher end netbook to do the same stuff at that speed… Coming back to the keyboard though I think being able to tap out email and IM is really important for people – let alone posting to blogs, Facebook and other social sites. On screen tapping is not going to be very fun …

The Samsung NC10 Hackintosh

About This Mac

I’m happily writing this on my Samsung NC10 in MarsEdit in version 10.5.6 of OSX. Courtesy of an awesome forum and guide, I was able to install OSX on a partition and now have this little trooper of a laptop triple booting across WIndows 7, XP and OSX. I’ve been going back and forth between Windows 7 and OSX and think I’ll get rid of XP at some point down the line when Windows 7 is ready for release.

At first I tried my own way with the OSX project, but discovered after failing (twice) that perhaps I should read the guide through and once I did it was actually very straight forward and relatively simple to do it. The experience of failure certainly helped as I know a lot more about the process, but in general if you are comfortable partitioning a disk and installing an operating system it’s really not so bad.

If you are considering this project, there are a few kinks that I still need to sort out and these are known issues currently being worked on by the community:

  • My screen brightness tends to be lower than I’d like when booting over battery power.
  • Sound through the headphone jack does not work.
  • Ethernet is not supported as the Marvel controller has no OSX driver.
  • In order to get wireless running you need to swap the wireless card, which I’ve done.
  • The trackpad is a bit less controlled than I’d like though I’ve been using a mouse with the system quite a bit anyway.

The amazing upside here is that OSX easily sees the Windows 7 partition and vice a versa. I’m able to use dial up networking for remote connections. Software updates appear to work just fine as illustrated in the following:

NC10 Hackintosh Software Update

Updating OSX Software

01/14/2009 - NC10 running Software Update

As I had previous discussed the wireless slot on the NC10 is pretty small given the size of the system and you need to have the right card to swap in. From everything I’ve read, the Dell series of wireless cards seem to be the most compatible across Windows and Mac OS. I chose the Dell 1490 which offers 802.11 a/b/g. While I’ve got an N capable router I have too many things that run on G and it did not seem worthwhile at this stage to pay more than twice as much just to say I had it.

Back inside we go … I removed the 15 screws on the underside and gently pried the cover apart. Here’s a quick shot of the wireless slot empty:

Samsung NC10 Wireless Card Slot

As you can see the stock card and the Dell are exactly the same side … unlike my attempt to get the Airport Extreme card in there.

01/14/2009 - Samsung NC10 Wireless Options

Once the card was installed I noticed as expected that Airport was not enabled yet. This is because the network port is tied to the previous hardware. Adding the new port is simple. Open the Network Control Panel and select the + in the lower right as seen here:

Adding a new network interface

You can name it anything you like and also remove the prior one which is what I did so the new one could actually be called Airport. As soon as I added this new interface it found my home network and I added a preferred network for my office and that connected instantly today when I got to work.

After that it’s up to you what you want to do … I’ve installed my core apps and synced in my personal data. While the NC10 is not of the same caliber hardware as a Macbook, the cost and bang for the buck here is substantial. The NC10 is showing around 6 hours of battery life which is far better than any MacBookPro performance I’ve seen yet actually a bit less than my experience in XP. I think Windows 7 and OSX are running a pretty close race in the battery life department here and to be honest while more is better with regard to battery life, I’m very pleased with 6 hours.

Gotta love the Mac!

OSX DUN on the Samsung NC10 Netbook

It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with a Mac laptop and even though my current setup is a tad unique, the same rules apply. The Samsung NC10 netbook is a killer travel machine … light weight, strong battery life, great keyboard etc. It also happens to run OSX like a champ and I’m really very happy with my sub 3lb mac hackintosh. A few kinks to work out still (brightness controls and sound through the headphone jack) but generally speaking this a great way to go – though far from a simple out of the box experience.

With a PC running windows it’s easy to get a bluetooth to phone data connection using either PC Suite or Ovi Suite and your choice of Nokia handsets. On the mac side, you need some modem scripts and and a little patience. I hope this brief guide helps. I’ve written about DUN connections previously but thought this would be a good time for a new post as the conditions have changed. OSX 10.5 has moved things around in the network panel though it’s not too hard to track down what to do. For this example I’m using a Nokia N85 and ATT.

The first step is to define a PPP connection and you do that right on the first panel once you’ve selected Bluetooth. I’ve set the following options:

Telephone Number: WAP.CINGULAR
Password: CINGULAR1

Network Control Panel - DUN

Ross Barkman’s excellent modem scripts are still THE way to go for anyone looking to use a phone as a modem on their mac. I downloaded the HSDPA scripts and dragged them over to /LIbrary/Modem Scripts. Once there they become available within the Network Control Panel though you need to select other as your brand of phone. I chose the first script which is the Nokia HSDPA CID1 version. Enable error correction and compression in modem is active and I’m ignoring dial tone. I turned sound off too though because you are not actually dialing I don’t think that actually matters.

Network Control Panel Advanced - Modem

Last step is to check the far right tab under advanced for PPP. I did not change anything in mine, though you can certainly check the box for Connect automatically as needed if you find you’ll be doing this for an extended time. That will make sure there’s an open network connection anytime something makes a request so be sure you are comfortable with your data plan.

Network Control Panel Advanced - PPP

Battery life is the key to mobility

There are of course many factors when it comes to mobility, but battery life tends to be the Achilles heel for most devices.  Today for the second time I left the NC10 unplugged inadvertently at my desk.  I did not use it that much directly (more in ambient third screen mode) and only discovered it was unplugged at the end of the day when I went under my desk to pull the cord.  Yesterday I actually did the same thing, but realized when the system refused to update the BIOS without a DC connection. 

Now on the train home I see I’ve got about 35% or about 1:16 left to run at this current brightness (3 of 8) and activity (Firefox, Tweetdeck, Windows Live Writer and iTunes) level.   I only woke the system from sleep once after an extended away period in a meeting which is killer considering any other laptop I’ve used would absolutely have been dead by lunch. 

Ovi Suite – Syncing Smoothly in Windows 7

One issue I’ve had running Windows 7 was Nokia’s PC Suite refuses to install due to some privilege issues.  I’ve tried a few tricks and it seems it’s just going to fail.  The good news is that Ovi Suite installs just fine (except for Nokia Music  which I will have to try separately in compatibility mode) and brings a sleek UI and connections to the portal.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that my E71 was also able to connect even though it is not listed as a supported device.  The E71 will actually only sync PIM data for the moment though … no media sync through Ovi Suite until it’s eventually supported (right Nokia??).

The real benefit though is that I now have a simple way to connect to my phone for a data connection which is something I do daily during my commute.  I know there are other options but prefer DUN over Joikuspot or Walking Hotspot for a 2 device connection as the connection seems to just work better.

As you can see in the image above, my N79 is syncing while I’m typing this.  I’ll give the rest of the suite a whirl over the next few days, but having this working is a big bonus running Windows 7!

two-finger-scroll – awesome donationware

As I’ve previously mentioned the Synaptics software is not yet working in Windows 7 which is a definite bummer, but that problem has been solved with an excellent donationware project on Google Code. two-finger-scroll is a quick download and once installed you can use two fingers to scroll through any screen.

I’m loving this!

Black NC10 available now

black NC10

A very tempting transition option while still within my return period with Amazon … The Samsung NC10 in Black is finally available. I probably would have ordered the black one if it had been ready a few weeks ago. Debating now though as I am quite committed with software and my personal configuration. Thanks Joseph!

Windows 7 beta on the Samsung NC10

I should probably preface this post by saying I’m far from a windows expert.  I am quite comfortable within XP but don’t really have much experience in Vista outside of the few occasions I’ve launched it in VMware to flash a phone.  I use XP daily for work, but basically just tolerate how it all works.  I definitely prefer OSX, though the more I’ve used Windows on a daily basis the less I find I care as there are ways to basically to everything I need on each system.

The Windows 7 beta was leaked at the same time I ordered the Samsung NC10 netbook so I decided to go for it.  I had a few days of experience in VMware before the NC10 arrived and overall I find that it’s quite peppy and looks really slick.  It definitely reveals XP’s age visually and offers some general niceties.  I was pleased to see that performance in both virtualized as well as the netbook environment was excellent.  The standard install / startup of the NC10 includes some Samsung specific applications for controlling the keyboard, trackpad, battery etc and none were obviously included in the Windows 7 install though they all installed without too much hassle in Windows 7.  I did have to use compatibility mode to install things, and thus far the only conflict here seems to be the synaptics trackpad software.  Through some trial and error I was able to find that the conflicts are unfortunately with most of the cool stuff you get with the synaptics driver.  By disabling the virtual scrolling and gestures, I was able to stop the trackpad from freezing.  While this essentially reduces the trackpad to a basic device again, I at least can continue using the PalmCheck feature which prevents the trackpad from activating while typing.  With the smaller keyboard this feature is actually critical for me.

Otherwise I’m running Firefox, iTunes, Tweetdeck, Chrome, Windows Live Writer, Evernote, Launchy, Skype, WinSCP, OpenOffice, Boingo and probably a few things I’m not remembering.  I’ve seen a few circular stalls (the windows 7 beach ball) which I expect to have resolved when I upgrade from 1 to 2GBs of RAM.  Windows 7 installed beautifully and seems to handle pretty much anything I’ve thrown at it.  I’m looking forward to seeing how things evolve over the course of the beta.