Archive for the ‘palm’ Category

The secret weapon of the HP Touchpad: Linux

August 31, 2011 7 comments

The Touchpad has been discontinued by HP when the company has changed its business strategy recently (getting rid of the whole PC business arm).

A lot of people think that this was an absolutely unnecessary and sorely mistaken step, especially in light of the possible revival of the Touchpad after the PC business has been separated. Not that the Touchpad is a very competitive device in its current form. It has many glaring design mistakes by HP like missing ports (HDMI out, USB host), no expandable storage …etc but it also has many good features like its high-quality IPS-screen, Beats audio system and over-clockable processor.

WebOS also has a huge disadvantage compared to iOS and Android: very few applications, and this seems to be quite a show-stopper in the current situation (a chicken-and-egg problem).

How could HP make this product more successful without resorting to souch brutal fire-sales like the one we have recently seen?

I believe, that HP should exploit one of the big strengths of the core of WebOS: Linux.

WebOS is built on the Linux kernel and it already uses a set of Linux desktop technologies on top of it (Gstreamer, PulseAudio…etc). In a particular sense, it is a heavily customized Linux distribution (distro), like Ubuntu, which is  purposefully made incompatible with the grand armada of Linux desktop applications in order to allow applications which use strictly WebOS-only APIs.

The development strategy of allowing WebOS-only applications makes sense, since it ensures a consistent level of user experience (e.g.: all applications are properly touch-oriented) and makes it easy to enhance the foundations of WebOS without breaking applications. However, it locks HP into an uphill battle which seems impossible to win from the current situation.

Therefore, I suggest a change of development strategy, which concurrently allows significantly enhancing the number of applications available for WebOS and makes the system appealing for different use-cases.

The main component of the new strategy would be to allow running full-desktop Linux applications on the Touchpad in a so-called Desktop Mode. This Desktop Mode would automatically activate when WebOS senses a keyboard or mouse attached to the system (only Bluetooth in case of the Touchpad).

Desktop Mode would make it possible to use the TouchPad as a Linux netbook while keeping the touch oriented interface for the tablet-mode. Best of both worlds.

Desktop Mode would be a completely standard, lightweight Linux desktop  (e.g: XFCE). and would run the traditional Linux desktop applications and also display the WebOS applications in separate windows. This work environment would not be very different from the Webtop interface of the Motorola Atrix but it would not be such a limited environment. It would be a full-blown, configurable Linux desktop with all of its advantages.

Ideally, you should be able to easily switch back and forth between the Desktop Mode and the Card Interface of WebOS (possibly with a dedicated hw button on new models).

Since Desktop Mode would run every imaginable Linux desktop applications (including Java, Python and even Mono ones), it would make the TouchPad an extremely versatile mobile device. It would be more welcome in the enterprise than its competitors.

The hardware of the TouchPad (dual-core processor clocked at 1.7 Ghz and 1GB RAM) should be absolutely able to handle both Desktop Mode and the Card Interface applications concurrently. Obviously, desktop heavyweights like OpenOffice would open and run slower, but I imagine they would be fast enough to be usable. HP could ship Desktop Mode with lightweight applications (Abiword, Gnumeric…etc) while allowing the easy installation of heavy programs (at your own peril).

The best option for the Desktop Mode would be a chrooted Ubuntu instance because that would mean a very powerful application environment with a lot of readily installable aplications in its repositories (appstore). The WebOS Internals team already ship the X-Server for WebOS, so a well-working Linux desktop is absolutely doable on top of WebOS.

HP could also sell a netbook-kit as an accessory to the Touchbook, which would include a case with a built-in stand and a built-in keyboard. When the TouchPad is in the case and oriented for netbook-mode, the Desktop Mode would automatically activate.

Of course, this solution would not fully compensate the inherent weaknesses of the Touchpad but it would make it  more appealing for those people who consider netbooks as usable devices and expect their tablet to be as capable as their predecessors in mobility.

The biggest mistake Palm has made with WebOS

October 14, 2010 11 comments

Palm’s WebOS (a Linux variant) based phones have been out for a while but I haven’t had the need to consider them until recently (in the form of my Treo 650 broken down).

My Treo 650 was a real workhorse, containing hundreds of contacts, thousands of calendar entries (I use the calendar actively and like to keep entries for a very long time for reference), lots of todos and memos. As a long time Linux/Ubuntu user, I have synchronized and backed up my Treo with JPilot, which is an excellent Linux application. In the past, I have used several Palm devices and I was always able to migrate my complete PIM database with ease between the old device and the new one.

Now that my Treo seems to be dead, I was considering buying a Palm Pre. Researching the Pre, I soon learned that the old synchronization protocol (Hotsync) doesn’t work at all with the Pre and there seems to be no way to correctly synchronize the Pre with my Linux desktop. Since I store relatively sensitive information on the Treo, I would never synchronize my PIM database with a cloud service like Google. Thus, Palm’s new Synergy sync methods are practically useless for me.

This problem is not only related to the Linux desktop, Windows users are affected as well but they at least have existing third-party options for synchronizing the Pre with Outlook.

Now, this is a real show-stopper for me and lowers the Pre from a trusted Palm device to the level of the average smartphone in my eyes. Palm seems to have lost an avid user since if my workflow is broken anyway, I might as well switch to Android. Android has a much bigger community than WebOS, so there is a bigger chance that I find a well working syncing solution to the Linux desktop.

It is also ironic that although Palm’s new WebOS is a Linux device, Palm has decided to break compatibility with the Linux desktop since the only working way between them was HotSync.

It should have been of paramount importance for Palm to ensure compatibility with its own Palm Desktop software and all of the other desktop software which was communicating with Palm devices over HotSync. Currently, Treo owners don’t have an easy way to upgrade to the Pre/Pixi since their PIM databases cannot be easily migrated to the new device the way they are used to. As a fair chunk of Treo users were business people, I am sure, most of them are NOT comfortable with their PIM database stored in the cloud. Palm should understand that cloud storage with Synergy – while a good thing – is NOT a replacement for HotSync in a lot of user scenarios.

I believe that Palm’s lower-than-expected sales of the Pre and the Pixi can be amounted to this, incompatibility with the old ways and the well-working syncing solutions and desktop tools. Their established Treo/PDA customer base will simply switch to other phones and leave them. This way they loose all of their inherited advantage with this people.

If they want to save the customer base which is still on PalmOS, they should VERY QUICKLY create the HotSync client for WebOS or create a HotSync Synergy plugin and restore compatibility with the Palm Desktop and all of the other desktop software which are still using Hotsync.

Categories: linux, palm, ubuntu