Friday, 19 September 2008

Nokia to Release 3G Internet Tablet

The short version of this article is simply "I am excited". For the important part, scroll down to the bold text below, for the background, read on.

Out of *all* the gadgets that I have ever owned, the one that stands out literally miles above the rest is my Nokia N800 Internet tablet - it's well designed and can do just about anything under the sun.
My biggest (note: blowing way out of per portion for the sake of this article) problem with it has been that the only practical ways that it can access the Internet (what with being an Internet Tablet and all) is either through a wireless access point, or by using a 3G bluetooth modem. Wireless access points are quite common, but wireless access points I can legally use without annoying restrictions are comparatively rare out in the wild.
My solution to this problem was to purchase a 3G data plan (since voice + 3G data is so expensive in Australia) and take the SIM card and put it in a Nokia N95 instead of the USB modem they gave me. The advantages of this are:
- Between both devices I can do anything!
- I can get on the Internet anywhere, any-time, relatively cheap (but still not as cheap as those Americans can).
- I have a nice (for a phone) 5 mega-pixel camera that fits in my pocket, unlike my (better quality) Kodak camera.
- Not only can I use the GPS from the N95 in the N95, but I can also export it as a bluetooth GPS and use it in the mapping apps on the N800.
- In an emergency, I can use Gizmo or Skype to make up for the fact that I can't make ordinary phone calls, though thanks to the packet loss and high latency, this is not always practical.
- Should my N800 run out of power, I sometimes still have power left in one of the two batteries for the N95 and can therefore continue listening to music.
But, this set-up has disadvantages too:
- I'm always carrying around 2 devices
- I'm always carrying around a spare battery for the N95 because it often doesn't make it through the day on just one.
- The N95 needs rebooting all the time to resolve connectivity issues, especially while sharing it's Internet connection over bluetooth. It's to the point where I have NStarter installed so I can reboot faster.

Now, as I said I am very happy with the N800, and saw no reason to spend money upgrading to the N810 when it came out (although the backlit keyboard did tempt me, a lot). The one thing that would definitely make me upgrade, I said, was if Nokia added 3G support to their next Internet Tablet. Failing that I would have to take a long hard look at the specs and my money to decide.
I thought it was pretty likely that they would add 3G - it would make sense now with the iPhone out as it would put the tablet in as a direct competitor, but of course Nokia remained silent as always.

Finally, the Maemo summit arrives and I start to see an influx of posts. "The Internet Tablet line may be ending in name but the Maemo platform is going strong"? That doesn't surprise me actually. I've been speculating that their long term plans may involve Maemo ending up on their phones. Although not confirmed, it makes sense given their purchase of Trolltech and their pledge to open source Symbian - both just happen to be written in C++ and they will be able to satisfy the licence to be able to share code between them and satisfy most of the open source community at the same time.
Also, they only ever promised 5 iterations of Internet Tablets anyway, of which 4 have been released - 770, N800, N810 and N810 Wimax - though I have a feeling that they said one of those didn't count towards the 5, but I can't remember the details off hand. Whatever the future of the tablets, I think it's a safe bet that we can expect to see Maemo more and more in the future.

Now, at last I see the post I have been waiting for - Maemo 5 will have High Speed Packet Access built in - that's a 3G Tablet promised right there! They've even gone so far as to release the patches for the Linux kernel necessary to support it, so it's pretty much guaranteed now! It will also have a high definition camera, and I doubt that they would drop the GPS that the introduced in the N810, so this next tablet officially obsoletes everything I'm using my current N95 and N800 for! Well, that is of course assuming they don't ditch something else important to me, but I think that the only disadvantage will be less potential storage space upgrades.

One final point - the software the runs on the Internet Tablets is now even more Open! I don't know the full details, but the wireless drivers and and low level hardware monitoring drivers (ooh, can I fix that DSME now?) are included among the released code.

Ahh, isn't the future exciting?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Command of the Hour: Top Variants

So, I'm trying to start something that I've dubbed "Command of the Hour" on my local Canberra Linux Users Group mailing list. Quite simply, everyone just chimes in and tells everyone else about some random, obscure and useful command that they know of. Doesn't matter what, doesn't have to be related to any previous post, it just has to be something that they've found useful or can see that others might find useful.

But then I thought, why limit this to just my local LUG list? Sure it's great to test drive the idea, but why not try aiming for a wider audience - so here I am copying my initial get the ball rolling post with some top variants here:

atop - I just had an issue where gnome wasn't logging in, but seemed to be stuck constantly accessing the hard drive. This command saved me by showing me exactly which program was using the hard drive and a quick aptitude remove mlocate later my system was working perfectly again. It monitors CPU, memory, disk and network highlighting any that are particularly stressed and shows the processes responsible. Processes are only displayed if they have done something interesting
since the last update. Kernel patches can be taken to enhance the experience if one is so inclined.

htop - Awesome ncurses graphical top. Looks pretty, coloured, and simply highlighting a process and pressing 'S' will attach strace to it to see what that run away process is actually up to. Tag multiple processes and alter the niceness of them all at once or just kill em' all. 'T' toggles between process tree view and ordinary top view.

powertop - I'm sure lots of people know about this one by now, but for anyone who doesn't it can show you various information about what is chewing up energy in your system and provide some recommendations for conserving power.

iftop - top for network traffic. Shows the traffic going to and fro on every individual transfer and totalled down the bottom in ncurses bar graph style. Amounts are displayed for the last 2, 10 and 40 seconds. Filters can be applied if one is only interested in a subset of the total traffic, and it can naturally do hostname lookups and show port numbers/service names.

ntop - another network top, but this one starts a web server on port 3000 to display it's results with pretty graphs. It has the advantage that it provides much more detail - it breaks packets down by size, protocol, etc. It has many displays to analyse the data in varying and sometimes entertaining ways. Of course, being heavyweight as it is, if all you need to know is that traffic is flowing from A to B, firing this one up may be overkill, though it would easily suit as a very
quick and dirty network monitoring solution.

And a few others that I haven't found so useful myself, but someone else might:

itop - top for interrupts. I can imagine it would be useful for checking if hardware is getting the computers attention when it should be.

jnettop - this is another network top. I prefer iftop since it gives me a graphical display (and it's help page is somewhat more detailed than "I must write something here... :)").