No more hard drives for me!

Last week I noticed that the hardware store of my choice had these fancy new (and fast) Intel SSDs in stock – reason enough for me to go ahead and buy two to try them out in my two MacPro desktop machines. Kos-Mos, my home mac was the first to be converted.

But before that, there was this hardware problem to overcome. See: The SSDs are 2.5 inch drives whereas the MacPro has 3.5 inch slots. While the connectors (SATA) are compatible, the smaller form factor of the Intel drives prevents the usual drive sliders of the MacPro from working.

The solution was to buy one of these adapters for the SSDs. Before doing that, I read about other solutions, some of them involving duct tape, but this felt like it was the cleanest way and it was: The kits fit perfectly, so installing the drive was a real piece of cake.

The next problem was about logistics:

pilif@kosmos /Volumes/Macintosh HD
 % df -h | grep Macintosh
/dev/disk2s2   365Gi  319Gi   46Gi    88%    /Volumes/Macintosh HD

Whereas the largest Intel SSD available to date has just 160GB of capacity (149 “really usable”), so at least some kind of reorganization had to be done.

Seeing that the installation running on the traditional drive was ages old anyways (dating back to the last quarter of 2006), I decided that the sanest way to proceed was to just install another copy of Leopard to the new drive and use that as the boot device, coping over the applications and parts of the user profile I really needed.

Been there, done that.

I didn’t do any real benchmark, but boot-time is now sub 10 seconds. Eclipse starts up in sub 5 seconds. The installation of all the updates since the pristine 10.5.1 that was on the DVDs that came with the machine took less than three minutes – including the reboots (I’ve installed the 10.5.7 update this morning and it took around 10 minutes on the same machine).

And to make things even better: The machine is significantly quieter than before – at least once the old hard drive powers down.

I will never, ever, again use non-SSD drives in any machine I’m working at from now on.

The perceived speedup was as significant as going from 8MB or RAM to 32MB back in the days. The machine basically feels like a new computer.

Of course I ran into one really bad issue:

The idea was to symlink  ~/Music to my old drive because my iTunes Library (mostly due to Podcasts and audio books) was too large to conveniently copy to the SSD. I renamed ~/Music to ~/Music.old, created the symlink and started iTunes for the first time, only to get screwed with an empty library.

According to the preferences though, iTunes did correctly follow the symlink and was pointing to the right path (WTF?). I tried to manually re-add the library folder which did kind of work, but screwed over all my podcasts – completely.

This is where I noticed that somehow iTunes still found ~/Music.old and used that one. A quick ps turned out my best friend, the iTunes helper was running, so I shut that one down and moved ~/Music.old away to /, just to be sure.

Restarted iTunes just to run into the very same problems again (now, this is a serious WTF).

The only way to get this to work was to quit iTunes (that includes killing the helper) and to completely remove all traces of that Music folder.

Now iTunes is finally using the Music folder on my traditional hard drive. This kind of work should not be needed and I seriously wonder what kind of magic was going on behind the scenes there – after killing the helper and renaming the folder, it should not have used it any more.

Still: SSDs are fun. And I would never again want to miss the kind of speed I’m now enjoying.

celes in the office is next :-)

This month’s find: jna and applet-launcher

Way way back, I was talking about java applets and native libraries and the things you need to consider when writing applets that need access to native libraries (mostly for hardware access). And let’s be honest – considering how far HTML and JavaScript have come, native hardware access is probably the only thing you still needs applets for.

Java is slow and bloated and users generally don’t seem to like it very much, but the moment you need access to specific hardware – or even just to specific files on the users filesystem, Java becomes an interesting option as it is the only technology readily available on multiple platforms and browsers.

Flash only works for hardware Adobe has put an API in (cameras and microphones) and doesn’t allow access to arbitrary files. .NET doesn’t work on browsers (it works on IE, but the solution at hand should work on browsers too) and ActiveX is generally horrible, doesn’t work in browsers and additionally only works under windows (.NET works in theory on Unixes and Macs as well).

Which leaves us with Java.

Because applets are scriptable, you get away with hiding the awful user interface that is Swing (or, god forbid, AWT) and writing a nice integrated GUI using web technologies.

But there’s still the issue with native libraries.

First, your applet needs to be signed – no way around that. Then, you need to manually transfer all the native libraries and extension libraries. Also, you’ll need to put them in certain predefined places – some of which require administration privileges to be written into.

And don’t get me started about JNI. Contrary to .NET, you can’t just call into native libraries. You’ll have to write your own glue layer between the native OS and the JRE. That glue layer is platform specific of course, so you better have your C compiler ready – and the plattforms you intend to run on, of course.

So even if Java is the only way, it still sucks.

Complex deployment, administrative privileges and antiquated glue layers. Is this what you would want to work with?

Fortunately, I’ve just discovered two real pearls completely solving the two problems leaving me with the hassle that is Java itself, but it’s always nice to keep some practice in multiple programming languages, as long as it doesn’t involve C shudder.

The first component I’m going to talk about is JNA (Java Native Access) which is for Java what P/Invoke is for .NET: A way for directly calling into the native API from your Java code. No JNI and thus no custom glue code and C compiler needed. Translating the native calls and structures into what JNA wants still isn’t as convenient as P/Invoke, but it sure as hell beats JNI.

In my case, I needed to get find the directory corresponding to CSIDL_LOCAL_APPDATA when running under Windows. While I could have hacked something together, the only really reliable way of getting the correct path is to query the Windows API, for which JNA proved to be the perfect fit.

JNA of course comes with its own glue layer (available in precompiled form for more plattforms than I would ever want to support in the first place), so this leads us directly to the second issue: Native libraries and applets don’t go very well together.

This is where applet-launcher comes into play. Actually, applet-launcher’s functionality is even built into the JRE itself – provided you target JRE 1.6 Update 10 and later, which isn’t realistic in most cases (just today I was handling a case where an applet had to work with JRE 1.3 which was superseded in 2002), so for now, applet-launcher which works with JRE 1.4.2 and later is probably the way to go.

The idea is that you embed the applet-launcher applet instead of the applet you want to embed in the first place. The launcher will download a JNLP file from the server, download and extract external JNI glue libraries and finally load your applet.

When compared with the native 1.6 method, this has the problem that the library which uses the JNI glue has to have some special hooks in place, but it works like a charm and fixes all the issues I’ve previously had with native libraries in applets.

These two components renewed my interest in Java as a glue layer between the webbrowser where your application logic resides and the hardware the user is depending upon. While earlier methods kind of worked but were either hacky or a real pain to implement, this is as clean as it gets and works like a charm.

And next time we’ll learn about scripting Java applets.

New MacMini (early 09) and Linux

The new MacMinis that were announced this week come with a Firewire 800 port which was reason enough for me to update shion yet again (keeping the host name of course).

All my media she’s serving to my various systems is stored on a second generation Drobo which is currently connected via USB2, but has a lingering FW800 port.

Of course the upgrade to FW800 will not double the transfer rate to and from the drobo, but it should increase it significantly, so I went ahead and got one of the new Minis.

As usual, I entered the Ubuntu (Intrepid) CD, hold c while turning the device on and completed the installation.

This left the Mini in an unbootable state.

It seems that this newest generation of Mac Hardware isn’t capable of booting from an MBR partitioned harddrive. Earlier Macs complained a bit if the harddrive wasn’t correctly partitioned, but then went ahead and booted the other OS anyways.

Not so much with the new boxes it seems.

To finally achieve what I wanted I had to do the following complicated procedure:

  1. Install rEFIt (just download the package and install the .mpkg file)
  2. Use the Bootcamp assistant to repartition the drive.
  3. Reboot with the Ubuntu Desktop CD and run parted (the partitioning could probably be accomplished using the console installer, but I didn’t manage to do it correctly).
  4. Resize the FAT32-partition which was created by the Bootcamp partitioner to make room at the end for the swap partition.
  5. Create the swap partition.
  6. Format the FAT32-partition with something useful (ext3)
  7. Restart and enter the rEFIt partitioner tool (it’s in the boot menu)
  8. Allow it to resync the MBR
  9. Insert the Ubuntu Server CD, reboot holding the C key
  10. Install Ubuntu normally, but don’t change the partition layout – just use the existing partitions.
  11. Reboot and repeat steps 7 and 8
  12. Start Linux.

Additionally, you will have to keep using rEFIt as the boot device control panel item does not recognize the linux partitions any more, so can’t boot from them.

Now to find out whether that stupid resistor is still needed to make the new mini boot headless.

Managed switch

Yesterday I’ve talked about configuring a VLAN in my home network.

VLAN is a technology using some bits in Ethernet frames to create virtual network segments on the same physical network, but just go ahead and read the linked Wikipedia article as it’s more detailed than what I would want to go into.

To really make use of VLANs, you are going to need at least one managed switch (two in my case). I knew this and I was looking around for something useful.

In the end, I ended up with two HP ProCurve 1800-8G’s: I wanted something that has at least 8 ports and was Gigabit capable as I was feeling the bandwidth cap on the previous 100M connection between shion and my media center when streaming 1080p content.

That’s something I hope to solve with the 1G connection, though the drobo may still be the limiting factor here, but theoretical 480Mbit is better (where are the MacMinis with the Firewire800 interface?) than the 100MBit I was constrained to with the old setup.

The ProCurves are fanless, provide 8 ports and have a really nice web interface which is very easy to use and works on all browsers (as opposed to some linksys things which only work with IE6 (not even IE7 does the trick)). Also, the interface is very responsive and it even comes with an excellent online help.

With only 10 minutes of thought going into the setup and another 5 minutes to configure the two switches I was ready to hook them up and got instant satisfaction: In my server-room I plugged a test machine to any of the ports 2-7 and got onto VLAN1 (the internal network). Then I plugged it into port 8 and promptly was on VLAN2 (as evidenced by the public IP I got).

I have only three minor issues with the configuration of the two switches so far:

  1. They come with an empty administration password by default and don’t force you to change it. Now granted, on a switch you cannot do as many mischief as on a router or worse, a NAS or access point, but it’s still not a good thing.
  2. They come preconfigured with the address 192.168.2.10 and DHCP disabled, practically forcing you to configure them locally before plugging them. I would have hoped for either DHCP enabled or, even better, the possibility of configuring them using RARP. Or they could provide a serial interface which they do not.
  3. To reset them, you have to unplug them, connect port 1 with port 2 and restart them. While this prevents you from accidentally resetting them, the procedure is a pain to do and when the time comes that I will have to do this, I’ll probably have forgotten the procedure.

But these are minor issues. The quick web interface, the excellent online help and the small fanless design make this the optimal switch once you have advanced requirements to fulfill despite not needing more than 8 ports.

There’s a larger 24 port cousin of the 1800-8G, but that one has a fan, so it was no option in my case – especially not in the sideboard where I’m now at the end of the 8 port capacity.

Life is good

Remember last week when I was ranting about nothing working as it should?

Well – this weeks feels a lot more successful than the last one. It may very well be one of the nicest weeks I’ve had in IT so far.

  • The plugin system I’ve written for our PopScan Windows Client doesn’t just work, it’s also some of the shiniest code I’ve written in my life. Everything is completely transparent and thus easy to debug and extend. Once more, simplicity lead to consistency and consistency is what I’m striving for.
  • Yesterday, we finally managed to kill a long standing bug in a certain PopScan installation which seemed to manifest itself in intermittently non-working synchronization but was apparently not at all working synchronization. Now it works consistently.
  • Over the weekend, I finally got off my ass and used some knowledge in physics and and a water-level to re-balance my projector on the ceiling mount making the picture fit the screen perfectly.
  • Just now, I’ve configured two managed switches at home to carry cable modem traffic over a separate VLAN allowing me to abandon my previously whacky setup wasting a lot of cable and looking really bad. I was forced to do that because a TV connector I’ve had mounted stopped working consistently (here’s the word again).

    The configuration I thought out worked instantly and internet downtime at home (as if somebody counts) was 20 seconds or so – the TCP connections even stayed all up.

  • I finally got mt-daapd to work consistently with all the umlauts in the file names of my iTunes collection.

If this week is an indication of how the rest of the year will be, then I’m really looking forward to this.

As the title says: Life is good.

Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs

I love my job. Ever loved it, always will love it.

But if you ask me what the most annoying aspect of it is, then I would answer you that it’s stuff always breaking all around me.

Whatever I do, there is no guarantee that any defined thing will work like it’s expected to, it will break from one moment to another or it will never work. There are hardware failures, OS failures, software failures – each and every day I lose at least one or two hours due to stuff not working or suddenly stopping to work.

Let me give you an account of what happened since the beginning of 2009:

  • When installing two previously configured servers at a collocation center, one didn’t start up at all (opening and reclosing the case fixed that) and the ESX server on the other machine refused to connect to the VMWare license server despite a working TCP/IP connection between them which turned out to be a missing host file entry despite connecting via IP-address.
  • One day later, Outlook on a computer of someone I’m looking after the PC a bit decided to trash the .PST-file and I had to remotely guide (on the phone) the person to restore it from the backup.
  • Yesterday, my Firebug suddenly stopped working. At least the console-object wasn’t any longer available in my scripts and the console itself didn’t work. Reinstalling the Addon helped (WTF?)
  • One of my two Vista Media Center PCs suddenly stopped to play any video file, despite me not doing updates on these machines to prevent stuff like this from happening. To this date I have no idea how to fix this.
  • My Delphi 2007 installation just now decided to stop displaying the online help. Trying to fix that by reinstalling it ended with an Error message containing title and content of “Error”, but not after first completely uninstalling Delphi with no way of getting it back (you know… “Error” again). This was fixed by removing D2009 and then reinstalling 2007 and 2009 – a process that took 2 hours of installation time and another three to figure out what’s going on.
  • When I was frustrated enough and wanted to vent (i.e. write this post), my WordPress just now decided to do something really strange to the layout of the “Add New Post” page which made it impossible to post anything. Disabling Google Gears and restarting the browser helped.

Our everyday technology is becoming more and more complex, thus causing more and more strange problems, requiring more and more knowledge and time to work around them. If we continue on that path, sooner or later it will be impossible to keep up with fixing problems popping up.

That will be the day when I’ll hopefully live on some island way off the net and all this stuff.

Sonos news

Today, Sonos announced their new 2.7 software version for their home appliances with some additional web radio features in which I’m not particularly interested as I’m more or less only listening to one web radio station. What they’ve also announced though was much more interesting: An iPhone Version of their Controller application (iTunes Link).

The thing doesn’t just look nice, it also works perfectly well and provides all the functionality you are used to have in your sonos controller, but without the controllers bulkyness (the thing is heavy and quite large). I’m constantly carrying my iPhone around anyways and it’s constantly connected to the WiFi network in my home, so it’s the perfect fit to be a sonos controller.

The application starts up quite instantly: It does show a splash screen for around three seconds, but that is still way shorter than a controller booting up from deep sleep, which you have to put it into if you want it to last longer than a day or so.

Functionality-wise the iPhone application provides everything a real controller does – well… nearly everything. I truly miss the alarm functionality, but I’m quite sure that’ll come soon enough.

Aside of that, I’m inclined to say that this little application more or less obsoletes the original controller. And in every case but the 32GB iPod Touch, it’s always cheaper to buy any Apple device and install the application than it is to buy the original Sonos controller (here in Switzerland, you can get an 8 GB touch for half the price of a Sonos controller)  – if you can live with setting up alarms in the desktop software. It’s certainly possible (and thankfully much quicker than with the original controller) to cancel a running alarm in the iPhone controller.

Very nice indeed.

On related news: I have updated my ogg to mp3 stream converter to stop looking at the url to decide whether the url to play is a stream itself or a playlist, but instead to fetch the information from the HTTP response header themselves, thus making the script to continue to work with Rainwave despite them having changed the URL for the tune in link.

What sucks about the Touch Diamond

Contrary to all thinking and common-sense I’ve displayed in my «Which phone for me?»-post, I went and bought the Touch Diamond. The perspective of having a hackable device with high resolution, GPS and voip capability and flawlessly working Exchange-Synchronization finally pushed me over – oh and of course I just like new gadgets to try out.

In my dream world, the Touch would even replace my iPod Touch as a video player and bathtub browser, so I could go back to my old Nano for podcasts.

Unfortunately, the Touch is not much more than any other Windows Mobile phone with all the suckage and half-working features they usually come with. Here’s the list:

  • VoIP is a no-go. The firmware of the Touch is crippled and does not provide Windows Mobile 6+ SIP support, Skype doesn’t run on Windows Mobile 6.1, but all that doesn’t matter anway because none of the Voip-Solutions actually use the speakerphone. You can only get VoIP sound on the amplified speaker on the back of the phone – or you use a headset at which time, the thing isn’t better than any other VoIP solution at my disposal.
  • GPS is a no go as the Diamond takes *ages* to find a signal and it’s really fiddly to get it to work – even just in the integrated Google maps application.
  • Typing anything is really hard despite HTC really trying. Whichever input method you chose, you lose: The Windows Mobile native solutions only work with the pen and the HTC keypads are too large for the applications to remain really usable. Writing SMSes takes me so much longer than every other smart phone I’ve tried before.
  • T9 is a nice idea, but here and then, you need to enter some special chars. Like dots. Too bad that they are hidden behind another menu – especially the dot.
  • This TouchFLO 3D-thingie sounds nice on the web and in all the demonstrations, but it sucks anway, mainly because it’s slow as hell. The iPhone interface doesn’t just look good, it’s also responsive, which is where HTC fails. Writing an SMS message takes *minutes* when you combine the embarrassingly slow loading time of the SMS app with the incredibly fiddly text input system.
  • You only get a German T9 with the German version of the Firmware which has probably been translated using Google Translation or Babelfish.
  • The worst idea ever from a consumer perspective was that stupid ExtUSB connector. Aside of the fact that you’d practically have to buy an extra cable to sync from home and the office, you also need another extra cable if you want to plug in decent headphones. The ones coming with the device are unusable and it’s impossible to plug better ones. Also, the needed adapter cable is currently not available to buy anywhere I looked.
  • The screen, while having a nice DPI count is too small to be usable for earnest web browsing. Why does windows mobile have to paint everything four times as large when there are four times as many pixels available?
  • Finger gestures just don’t work on a touch sensitive display, no matter how much they try. At least they don’t work once you are used to the responsiveness and accuracy of an iPhone (or iPod touch).
  • The built-in opera browser, while looking nice and providing a much better page zoom feature than the iPod Touch also is unusable because it’s much too slow.

So instead of having a possible iPhone killer in my pocket, I have a phone that provides around zero more actually usable functionality than my previous W880i and yet is much slower, crashier, larger and heavier than the old solution.

Here’s the old feature comparison table listing the features I tought the touch would have as opposed to the features the touch actually has:

assumed actually
Phone usage
Quick dialing of arbitrary numbers (the phone application takes around 20 seconds to load, the buttons are totally unresponsive)
Acceptable battery life (more than two days) ? yes. Actually yes. 4 days is not bad.
usable as modem yes yes
usable while not looking at the device limited not at all mainly because of the laggyness of the interface
quick writing of SMS messages it’s much, much worse than anticipated.
Sending and receiving of MMS messages yes not really. Sending pictures is annoying as hell and everything is terribly slow.
PIM usage
synchronizes with google calendar/contacts
synchronizes with Outlook yes yes
usable calendar yes very, very slow
usable todo list yes slow
media player usage
integrates into current iTunes based podcast workflow
straight forward audio playing interface
straight forward video playing interface
acceptable video player yes no. No sound due to no way to plug my own headphones.
hackability
ssh client yes not really. putty doesn’t quite work right on VGA Winmob 6.1
skype client yes no. a) it doesn’t work and b) it would require headset usage as skype is unable to use the speakerphone.
OperaMini (browser usable on GSM) yes limited. No softkeys and touch-buttons too small to reliably hit.
WLAN-Browser yes no. Too slow, Screen real estate too limited.

Now tell me how this could be called progress.

I’m giving this thing until the end of the week. Maybe I get used to its deficiencies in the matters of interface speed. If not, it’s gone. As is the prospective of me buying any other Windows Mobile phone. Ever.

Sorry for the rant, but it had to be.

Which phone for me?

I’m a quite happy user of my Sony Ericsson W880i / iPod Touch combo: The touch is for listening to podcasts and watching video, the W880i is for SMSing and making a phone call here and then, though it’s mostly for getting called these days. Skype exists and works well.

Now with all the new toysinteresting devices coming out all over the place, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the different options. 3G iPhone? Something Windows Mobile based (though the touch diamond seems to be the way to go)? My old phone? Or a combination of any of them?

I tried to make a tabular comparison, where I’m listing the phones by use cases. And I’m only listening features interesting for me. Your points may differ from the ones presented here. This is, after all, a guide I used to pick a solution.

iPhone Touch Diamond W880i
Phone usage
Quick dialing of arbitrary numbers yes
Acceptable battery life (more than two days) ? ? yes
usable as modem probably not yes yes
usable while not looking at the device limited yes
quick writing of SMS messages yes
Sending and receiving of MMS messages1 yes yes
PIM usage
synchronizes with google calendar/contacts2 maybe yes. Contacts limited
synchronizes with Outlook maybe yes not reliably
usable calendar yes yes
usable todo list yes
media player usage
integrates into current iTunes based podcast workflow3 yes
straight forward audio playing interface yes
straight forward video playing interface4
acceptable video player5 limited yes
hackability
ssh client maybe yes
skype client6 maybe yes
OperaMini (browser usable on GSM) yes yes
WLAN-Browser yes yes

Notes:

  1. While I’m not using it often, here and then I come across something funny which I want to share with my parents or my girlfriend. MMS is the optimal medium for that. I send about one MMS per two months and I receive around 2 MMS per month, so this is probably not as important.
  2. Using Services like GooSync it is possible to synchronize the W880i with the Google services, though Google’s Contact API currently isn’t in a state where it would be useful for actually using it to synchronize contacts with the pone – mainly due to not providing an option to synchronize only certain matching contacts.
  3. iTunes not only downloads Podcasts but also keeps track of playback position and the new/not new state across devices and computers. I’m subscribed to more than 20 podcasts, so such features are essential for me.
  4. Neither the iPhone nor the WinMob devices provide an user experience for playing video that even comes close to match the one the iPhone would provide for Audio files.
  5. The Video player on the iPhone is limited to MP4-packaged H.264 files, whereas there are Media Players for WinMob that can handle whatever you throw at them.
  6. Skype is available as a JavaME application, but in addition to the (horrendous) GPRS charge, Skype also charges you, whether you make or receive calls. This is why I listed skype support as missing on the W880i

What’s missing in the comparison table is one of the upcoming large Windows Mobile devices with built-in keyboards like the Sony Ericcson XPERIA or the Touch Diamond pro. This class of devices does provide more convenient typing, but their usability still doesn’t even come close to matching a pure phones one. You’d still have to browse through menus, search special keys (like umlauts) and stuff. It’s just that typing has become a bit easier.

These little usability benefits do not even come close to offset the weight and especially thickness of these devices which is why I’m not listening them in the table above.

But let’s discuss the tables content for now:

First the obvious: The best phone in the list is… well… the phone. Neither of the two smart phones is capable of bringing a pure phone user experience that comes even close to what a real phone with a real keyboard can provide.

In case you wonder: I’m a heavy user of T9. Typing with a 10-key keypad assisted by T9 feels completely natural to me and the W880i provides really nice T9 functionality with quick access to suggestions and other shortcuts, so I’m actually inclined to say that I’m quicker to type on that phone than I would even be with one of the larger keyboard-based smart phones, mainly due to shorter distances to travel with the finger(s). With my ~100 SMS per month, I consider myself to be a heavy user of SMS, so quick and easy SMS writing and reception is a key feature for me.

Aside of that, the phone is more or less just that: A phone. It doesn’t really shine in every other aspect. Music kind-of works, but is unusable for Podcasts due to not saving playback position between launches of the media application, let alone synchronizing the playback position across devices.

Video, applications and even just browsing beyond the means of what OperaMini can provide are out of the question.

As such, the W880i basically is like grep. Or sort. Or uniq. Or like any other of these little UNIX utilities: It does one thing and it does it well.

The WinMob phones provide not much better media support (they do play video, but for Podcasts they are still not as good as iTunes), but they shine in the realm of hackability and, of course, the PIM synchronization, though there they more or less only work with Exchange. Also, the larger screen provides the user with a lot more possibilities UI-wise.

So while the W880i is the better phone, the WinMob devices are the better PIM solution and better platform to hack on which appeals the geek in me quite more – obviously.

The iPhone is limited in its capabilities as a phone, provides next to no hackability and will probably come with some enforced phone contract here in Switzerland. It does shine in the media department though, but that part is also perfectly well handled by my current iPod Touch to which I can easily (at the cost of $10) add the limited hackability the iPhone is going to get – should I need it.

Looking at this, the iPhone certainly looks like an uninteresting solution: All it would provide I currently have in the touch, aside of the phone, for which I currently have a better solution anyways.

Replacing the W880i/touch combo with either an iPhone or a WinMob solution seems like a stupid thing to do as I’d lose the good usability of the phone and/or the nice Media capabilities of the touch.

So in the end, I have only a couple of options which would work for me:

  • Replace my W880i/touch combo with a W880i/iPhone combo and use the iPhone as an always-connected surf station with limited hackability. This, frankly, is just too expensive to be of any value as it would mean to get a second mobile contract just for surfing here and then, while still forcing me to keep the data option for my W880i because the iPhone is not usable as a modem in case I need to emergency-repair a server or something.
  • Replace the W880i in my combo with the Touch Diamond: With every earlier model of WinMob devices, this would have been completely un-doable due to the thickness of the devices. The Diamond is not much thicker than the W880i, so the Diamond and the iPod Touch would still fit the same pocket in my trousers. I would lose the kick-ass usability of the W880i, but I would gain a real in-bed media player (without transcoding), an emergency SSH client and a completely working PIM with totally working synchronization.
  • Keep my solution as it currently is, while keeping in mind that ever since I got the touch, it provides all the features I would ever need: A kick-ass phone, an acceptable video player, a kick-ass music player and two browsers – one for each type of usage: The OperaMini when I’m forced to use the slow GSM and Safari on the Touch when I have WLAN (you would not want to use Safari over GSM – I tried).

It’s funny: I’m so much in love with technology and gadgets. I’m always on the lookout for new stuff, always trying out new, so called revolutionary technology. I’ve tried to many phone solutions in my life (just look at this blog), but I finally think that I have found a solution I’m willing to stick with.

The current W880i/Touch combo works so well that I don’t see any other solution that would only provide me with advantages. Each and every other new device comes with inherent drawbacks.

I guess, for once, I pass. I’ll stick around with my outdated solution and I’ll wait for the next revolution. What I currently have just works too well.

Apple TV – Second try

When Apple announced their AppleTV a couple of months (or was it years?) ago, I was very skeptical of the general idea behind the device. Think of it: What was the big success behind the iPod? That it could run proprietary AAC files people buy from the music store?

No. That thing didn’t even exist back then. The reason for the success was the total easy (and FAST – remember: Back in the days, we had 1.1 MB/s USB which every MP3 player used vs. 40MB/s Firewire of the iPod) handling and the fact that it was an MP3 player – playing the files everyone already had.

It was a device for playing the content that was available at the time.

The AppleTV in its first incarnation was a device capable of playing content that wasn’t exactly available. Sure it could play the two video podcasts that existed back then (maybe more, but you get the point). And you could buy TV shows and movies in subpar quality on your PC (Windows or Mac) and then transfer them to the device. But the content that was available back then was in a different format: XVID dominated the scene. x264 was a newcomer and MP4 (and mov) wasn’t exactly used.

So what you got was a device, but no content (and the compatible content you had was in subpar quality compared to the incompatible content that was available). And you needed a PC, so it wasn’t exactly a device I could hook to my parents PC for example.

All these things were fixed by Apple today:

  • There is a huge library of content available right here, right now (at least in the US): The new movie rental service. Granted. I think it’s not quite there yet price vs. usability-wise (I think $5 is a totally acceptable price for a movie with unlimited replayability), but at least we have the content.
  • It works without a PC. I can hook this thing up to my parents TV and they can immediately use it.
  • The quality is OK. Actually, it’s more than OK. There is HD content available (though maybe only 720p one, but frankly, on my expensive 1080p projector, I don’t see that much of a difference between 720p and 1080p)
  • It can still access the scarce content that was available before.

The fact that this provides very easy to use video-on-demand to a huge amount of people is what makes me think that this little device is even more of a disruptive technology than the iPod or the iPhone. Think of it: Countless of companies are trying to make people pay for content these days. It’s the telcos, it’s cable companies and it’s device manufacturers. But what do we get? Crappy, constantly crashing devices, which are way too complicated for a non-geek and way too limited in functionality for a geek.

Now we got something that’s perfect for the non-geek. It has the content. It has the ease-of-use. Plug it in, watch your movie. Done. This is what a whole industry tried to do and failed so miserably.

I for my part will still prefer the flexibility given by my custom Windows Media Center solution. I will still prefer the openness provided by illegal copies of movies. I totally refuse to pay multiple times for something just because someone says that I have to. But that’s me.

And even I may sooner or later prefer the comfort of select-now-watch-now to the current procedure (log into private tracker, download torrent, wait for download to finish, watch – torrents are not streamable, even if the bandwith would easily suffice in my case – the packets arrive out of order), so even for me, the AppleTV could be interesting.

This was yet another perfect move by Apple. Ignore the analysts out there who expected more out of this latest keynote. Ignore the bad reception of the keynote by the marked (I hear that Apple stock just dropped a little bit). Ignore all that and listen to yourself: This wonderful device will certainly revolutionize the way we consume video content.

I’m writing this as a constant sceptic – as a person always trying to see a flaw in a certain device. But I’m sure that this time around, they really got it. Nice work!