Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Classic Running Smoothly Since Latest Palm Pre Update

Much has been made of the latest Palm Pre webOS 1.04 update closing an email hole which allowed the installation of homebrew apps while at the same time exposing the device to a serious security threat. But one thing that I've noticed as a user is that Classic hasn't crashed once since the update. It turns out that this is no coincidence. The update also addressed the stability problems that Classic was suffering. It also changed the Classic installation folder back to the ClassicApps/Install folder. This is the same folder which had been causing many of the "blue screens" in Classic.

While it's nice that they fixed the blue screens, I had gotten used to using a second folder ClassicApps/PALM/Install to install software into Classic and now it doesn't work (this folder can and should be deleted by anyone who is running Classic on their Pre). This is no big deal in the larger sense—in fact it's a relief since it was confusing to have two install folders (one of which could cause Classic to crash) was confusing. But it would be nice if Palm had some sort of release notes in their update app explaining the reason for the update and that it was going to change the default behavior of one of their apps. I think that MotionApps has been working hard to communicate with the user community even if some of their attempts leave something to be desired. But Palm has a special responsibility as the gatekeeper to the Palm Pre and to webOS to work even harder to keep its users informed and something as simple as including a "What's New" blurb for OS updates in their Update app would go a long way in fostering better user satisfaction—providing a link to Palm's support page where you can eventually drill down to a brief explanation of the current update is not enough in my opinion.

On a positive note, Classic's increased stability has given me more confidence to install more PalmOS apps. Here are some apps which I've tried:

Bang!: Display is completely corrupted and the game is unplayable.
DateDiff: Runs well.
Documents to Go: Runs reasonably well. Docs to Go is a pretty complex application with numerous components so it's hard to tell which problems are a matter of incompatibility or of missing files. This is an app which really needs to be ported to webOS.
Haemoncrules: Runs well
Progect: Runs well.
Shortcut5: Runs well and I would love to see a utility like this one for webOS.
Statcoder Cholesterol: Runs well.
Stopwatch: Runs well.
TouchTetris: There seems to be some minor corruption of the graphics while the blocks are falling and this game is decidedly lo-res but otherwise it plays better on the Pre than it does on most PalmOS devices in part because of the Pre's finger-optimized screen.
Tricorder: Runs well, sound is very loud.

Windows' Hidden Stacks

A new utility designed to replicate the MacOS's new Stacks feature got to thinking about the way I use my desktop. It suddenly occurred to me that Windows has had a similar feature to stacks for years. Since at least Windows 98, or possibly as early as a desktop update which was bundled with an early version of Internet Explorer (it depends on how you look at it), it has been possible to create toolbars like the Quicklaunch toolbar in the Windows taskbar. When these toolbars are compressed to their smallest possible size, they turn into menus. For over a decade, the first thing I do with a new Windows computer is to use this feature of Windows in order to create a "Desktop" menu which allows me to literally access every file on my computer.

Of course the Mac OS's stacks look cooler and are usually faster than the extra menus which Windows allows you to create. But the point is that both features work in much the same way and Windows had it first. With all the bashing you hear about Microsoft and its business practices on the 'net, we sometimes forget that they have gotten a lot of things right over the years and this is one reason why Windows is so popular.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Harold Washington Library

One nice feature of my Palm Pre is the ease with which it can upload pictures to a Photobucket account. It makes it easy to upload dozens of pictures in a few minutes. For example the other day I went to the Harold Washington Library and ....

The Palm Pre's Missing Menu Key and Why the Center Button Should Be a Trackball

I've gotten used to the Palm Pre's keyboard pretty quickly but the one thing that I do miss the most from the Treo 680 and T-Mobile G1 is the "Menu" key. There are several ways of accessing menus on the Pre. You can tap on the upper left hand corner. And in a fairly ingenious use of the Pre's gesture area, you can tap and hold the gesture area and use it to select keyboard shortcuts like "Cut," "Copy," and "Paste." But these workarounds are just that, workarounds. Tapping on the upper left hand corner is not as easy as just hitting a dedicated Menu key.

And it's not like there is not enough room on the keyboard for one more key. The area which slides out to reveal the Pre's keyboard is about the same size as Treo 680's keyboard and has plenty of empty space which holds no keys. A single key would have gone a long way towards making the Pre's kebyboard a lot more comfortable.

Now about the center button. As far as buttons go, it's a pretty cool one. It lights up when you touch the gesture area and it makes it moves your open applications into card mode so you can easily switch between them—like Microsoft's "alt+tab" key combination. But from another perspective, it's pretty useless. Card mode can be invoked by merely swiping up from the gesture area which eliminates the need for the center button. And while the visual cue of the center button lighting up is useful, you don't really need a button for that. In fact depending on where you touch gesture area, a circle immediately to the left or right of the center button lights up at the same time it does.

What this all adds up to is the idea that the center button in its current form is not really needed for operating the Pre. So other than the fact that it looks cool, why is it there? I can't think of a reason. Now if it were possible to control the position of the cursor on the screen the way the trackball on the G1 does, then the center button would be truly useful. While the Pre does have a "trackball mode" where swipes on the screen can control the position of the cursor while the Pre's orange button is held down, this method takes practice to learn and master while a physical trackball would more intuitive.

I've also seen suggestions online about having the center button light up with alarms. I like this idea. Treos have always had blinking LEDs and since the Pre's center button can light up anyway, it should be fairly easy to replicate this functionality.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Palm Pre Feature Requests

Seen on the Precentral forums. A new website is collecting user requests for new and improved features for the Palm Pre. While it is completely unofficial, it seems like a worthwhile place to track user opinion and to make some and make some feature requests of your own.

These Chairs Look a Little Hard...

The Art Institute of Chicago recently opened an observation deck which provides quite a view of nearby Millennium Park. "Seating" is provided in part by some interesting granite sculptures. It's hard to take a bad picture on a beautiful summer day so it isn't much of a test for my new Palm Pre's camera. Pretty though....


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mozilla Fights XSS With CSP

Mozilla FirefoxImage via Wikipedia

H-online reports that Mozilla is implementing a new Content Security Policy (CSP) to guard Firefox against cross-site scripting attacks (PDF link). Cross-site scripting attacks, also known as XSS attacks are a huge problem for today's web users. Basically XSS attacks take advantage of the fact that today's websites draw content from many different servers. You may be on one website but that website is displaying ads which run on Javascript code from an ad server run by another company. And that cute little widget that shows the time? It might also be running on code from yet another server owned by yet another company. And finally those embedded videos we love to watch on the web are all running with code from Youtube or some other large video website. Worse yet, each of those third-party servers may also be running third-party code themselves.

It all starts to sound like an AIDS awareness commercial from the '90s—when you browse on one website's server, you're browsing on every server that has been in contact with. And indeed is the result. A hacker can hack one website and spray malicious code all over the Internet, compromising millions of PCs with one attack.

While Firefox's NoScript extension includes protection against XSS attacks, it has plenty of problems of its own. For one thing, it has trouble telling bad third-party Javascript from good. Every time I click on the New Post link on my own blog, NoScript asks me to confirm because it thinks that it might be an XSS attack. Furthermore, the author of NoScript has been accused of whitelisting ad servers which place ads on the NoScript website and breaking extensions which try to block them anyway. While the author of NoScript has apologized for this behavior, it points to a potential problem with attempts to fight XSS attacks.

Mozilla's new policy also involves whitelisting known safe websites and probably holds the same potential for conflict of interest. But with the web becoming more interconnected all the time and with the rise of social networking, servers are swapping code all the time now and a system like the one which Mozilla is planning to implement will be necessary to stop malicious hackers using XSS to attack PCs.
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Keyboards Compared—Treo, G1, and Pre

Size isn't everything. That's what we tell ourselves and to a certain extent it's true. At least it's true in the case of smartphones. I've compared the Treo 680's keyboard to that of the T-Mobile G1 before and now that I am migrating to the Pre, I have another comparison to make.

I am making more typos with the Pre but it's more than just a matter of the keyboard. Most of the typos that I make with the Pre are on web forums where the font can sometimes become uncomfortably small and hard to read for my aging eyes. While I can easily zoom in and out to compensate, when I do this I can no longer see everything I am writing.

Still the small keyboard is a little harder to type on than my old 680 keyboard was. Both the G1 and the Pre have a problem with causing fatigue during long writing sessions but for different reasons. While the G1's big keyboard is fairly comfortable to type on at first, the G1 itself doesn't feel quite right in my hand while I'm typing and that leads to fatigue. With the Pre the keyboard's small size is the culprit for my fatigue. So of the three the oldest machine, the 680, is the best for thumbtyping. It's smooth, domed keys feel better than the G1's flat keys and the Pre's sticky keys.

The 680's keyboard is also easier to see with their bright backlighting. Of all the phones I've played with, the Treo 650/680 had the best backlighting. The G1's wimpy backlight can actually impair its visibility in certain lighting conditions as it turns the keyboard letters a light gray color which contrasts poorly with its silvery keys. The Palm Pre represents a nice compromise between these two extremes. The Pre's backlighting is very subtle and almost impossible to see under most lighting conditions but under total darkness it works perfectly. While this may not seem like a huge achievement, it's a huge improvement coming from the G1. And even coming from the 680 the visibility of the Pre's keyboard is good as its bright white letters and orange numbers pop nicely when viewed against their black background.

One of the problems with the G1 ane Pre's sliding keyboards is the fact that they are not always available. They have to be opened in order to be used. With the G1 it's a struggle to open with one hand, it is inherently a two-handed device. The Pre by contrast slides open quite easily with one hand—you just push your thumb against the screen. As a result, one handed use—which was one of my favorite features of the Treo—is very easy with the Pre. One-handed of the G1 nearly impossible although the onscreen keyboard which was added in the Cupcake update helps in this regard. But for me virtual keyboards are more difficult and uncomfortable to use than physical ones so the G1 is ultimately a more cumbersome device for me.

Obi-Wan KenobiImage via Wikipedia

The Pre by contrast is much more elegant and this is especially true in contrast to the G1 and the 680 both of which very utilitarian in their design. It's system of gestures works very naturally and fluidly and even helps enhance the keyboard by acting as a virtual menu key for using the Cut, Copy, and Paste shortcuts. When I handle the Pre, I can't help but think about Obi-Wan Kenobi's line in Star Wars about his light saber, "a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age." I suppose this sort of statement makes me a huge drooling fanboy but gadgets are as much about the way they make their users feel as they are about helping them get work done. When I used my 680, I was frustrated by its bugs. When I used the G1, I was frustrated by its sluggishness. With the Pre, I just flat out enjoy using the device and its bugs don't bother me as much as the bugs on the 680 and the G1 did.
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The Dam Springs a Leak—Homebrew Apps Come to the Palm Pre

Despite the lack of an official SDK, webOS hackers have succeeded in creating homebrew apps which can be installed on the Palm Pre through email. While at this point it's more a security hole that needs to be plugged than an actual way to install applications, the upside is that it's still an exciting development that brings the Pre one step closer to getting a wider variety of apps.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Glass Notepad—Because You'd Rather Look Good Than Read Good

Some applications look cool but are completely impractical. Glass Notepad is precisely that sort of application. A Notepad clone which applies Windows Vista's Aero transparency features, Glass Notepad looks really cool on your computer while rendering the text file you have open almost unreadable. While it looks great if you have plain wallpaper and no other applications open, most people have colorful custom wallpaper (at least the ones who are likely to be drawn to a program like this one do) and run more than one application at a time. So file Glass Notepad as the sort of application that you download, run once or twice to admire how cool it looks and never use again....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Galaxy Zoo—Part Game, All Science

A couple of years ago, some astronomers hit upon the idea of taking publicly available telescope data and building an online community around it for the purpose of cataloging galaxies. While the aim of the project is serious, it can provide a lot of fun for its users. And that's the key to its appeal for me. Most of the people who participate in Galaxy Zoo are complete amateurs with little or no training in astronomy but like a well written game, Galaxy Zoo guides them, helping them recognize the patterns that classify different types of galaxies. This allows Galaxy Zoo's thousands of users to catalog hundreds of thousands of galaxies. The project has already led to some major discoveries and has now moved into a second stage which makes it even more addictive. Before, Galaxy Zoo would allow users to choose between two major galaxy shapes, spiral and elliptical or label them a star or unknown object. Now it has become more interactive, prompting the user to provide more information about the pattern of the galaxy's appearance. It's fun for the user and provide the website with a lot data in a short time. It also allows users to undo mistakes—a feature which was sorely missing from the old Galaxy Zoo. Finally, it allows users to save their favorite galaxy pictures and share them with other users in the site's bustling forums. Part game and part social network, Galaxy Zoo provides an exciting look at science in action.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Palm's Angsty Update

Due to heavy thunderstorms in the Chicago area, a large swath of the city and suburbs were plunged into darkness, including my own home which was without power for about four and a half hours. Without TV and without DSL Internet access, I turned to my phones with their 3G connections for information. Thanks to Palmdoc's Twitter feed, I learned that there is a new update for my Palm Pre which breaks the Classic emulator. So I'm sitting in the dark with only a flashlight to illuminate me, my Pre's battery is down to less than 50%, and I could break one of the applications which I depend upon the most. Naturally I had to try it.

And sure enough, when the update installed and the Pre restarted, Classic crashed. But I wasn't too worried. I'd gone over the Treocentral thread which reported the problem carefully and thought that I had a good idea of what was going on so I connected my Pre to as a USB drive and cleaned out the ClassicApps directory, moving everything to my netbook. When I disconnected and started Classic, it came up just fine.

Interestingly enough following the 1.03 Pre update, Classic now reports its version as "1.1.05." It looks like there was an undocumented update for the Classic bundled in the Pre update. Which explains the crashes and the subtle changes in Classic's behavior. For one thing it is a little "slower" to start up in that the MotionApps logo takes longer to fade away even if though it is still possible to scroll through the Launcher and launch apps while the logo is displayed. Also, Classic now informs me that none of my apps is "Classic certified." (Tapping on this message launches the browser and displays Classic's web page but does not appear to offer any solutions at this time.) I'm not too worried about this as they all continue to work properly.

Classic has also added a Preferences item with a number of options. "Emulation Mode" allows you to choose from "Games," "Normal," "Fast," and "Safe" modes. Fast appears to be the default. Games mode enables sound in Classic but warns that it is very experimental and could cause Classic to crash. And indeed it does tend to crash once it has been restarted a few times. Normal also enables sound but toggles off Classic's "Turbo" mode. (Turbo mode is probably the reason why MotionApps claims that Classic is twice as fast as real PalmOS devices.) The speed difference between Normal and Fast modes are negligible but turning on sound support tends to cause Classic to crash. Safe mode turns off both sound and Turbo mode. In general the default Fast option seems to work best on with Classic.

Classic also has a new directory structure. (Which perhaps is what caused all the crashes in the first place.) It mimics a Palm SD card more closely by creating a PALM folder with Launcher and Programs folders underneath it. Notice from the screenshot that there are now two Install folders. The one underneath the Launcher folder is the new "Install" folder for Classic. You put .prc and .pdb files here if you want Classic to import them when it starts up. The other Install folder, the one directly underneath the ClassicApps folder is the old install folder and will cause Classic to crash if it is used. Naturally Classic dutifully recreates it if you delete it....

If you avoid the first Install folder, you should be fine but MotionApps would be wise to delete it altogether in order to avoid confusing users.

Update: Precentral reports that MotionApps has put up a blog post and FAQ to address the issue.

Classic—Bringing New Life to Some Old Apps

I checked the Palm Pre's App Catalog today and it had the same thirty applications that have been there for at least a week. Thirty apps. That's one ten thousandth the number of applications available for the iPhone and about one thousandth the number available for Android phones like the T-Mobile G1. But all is not lost for the Pre. One of the apps in Palm's App Catalog, is MotionApps' Classic PalmOS emulator. This app makes it fairly easy to run many of the thirty thousand apps available for older PalmOS devices on the Palm Pre.

But how easy is it to run PalmOS apps using Classic really? Since I've been a Palm user for over ten years, I was eager to learn. While the results are somewhat mixed, I've come to the conclusion that Classic is definitely a viable solution for Palm enthusiasts trying to convert to the Pre.

The Classic screen resembles that of a Treo smartphone—well, really it resembles the Palm Centro with its stacked, paired buttons and big d-pad. Unfortunately, Classic is locked into a 320x320 interface, using the rest of the screen for its virtual buttons. On the list of improvements that I want to see in Classic, being able to take advantage of the Pre's 480x320 screen is number one.

Number two is being able to copy and paste between other webOS applications. Classic handles copy and paste among applications that run inside it just fine. In fact in some ways it's even better than the implementation of copy and paste in webOS as a whole. But you can't for example cut a block of text from the PalmOS Memos app in Classic and paste it into the modern webOS Memos app.

Classic is also missing sound and codec support. This makes games somewhat less exciting and is a disappointing omission.

Classic also has problems with stability. It will sometimes throw up a Windows like BSoD which asks you to close the window and try again. Sometimes it will even crash the Palm Pre itself, causing it to reboot. Fortunately, these crashes are rare and have become even more rare since MotionApps updated Classic to version 1.0.2. MotionApps also has a separate Rom Update application which helps fix some bugs when it is installed inside Classic. We sometimes forget how unstable and cranky the PalmOS had become in its final years and some of these problems have definitely been carried over into Classic. But again, these problems are rare. Generally speaking most apps run faster and better under Classic than they ever did under the old PalmOS. MotionApps claims that PalmOS apps will run twice as fast under Classic as they would on a native PalmOS device and that seems about right. Everything in Classic seems to happen instantly and that is definitely a good thing.

While Classic does emulate an SD card treating its "ClassicApps" folder on your Pre as if it were an SD card, I've found that most of its crashes can be traced to a conflict between the app its trying to run and Classic's SD card emulation. It's much easier to "install" applications into Classic by putting them into a folder, appropriately named "Install" which Classic creates under its "ClassicApps" folder on your Pre. In the case of older applications which don't support loading from an SD card this is your only option for running them anyway. Also apps which consist of a .prc file with several .pdb data files tend to run better and more stable when they are installed instead of being run from Classic's virtual SD card. This causes a slight start up delay as Classic imports these files but the increased stability is absolutely worth it.

While Classic does not at this time support PalmOS Hotsync (MotionApps claims that it is looking into adding it in the future), it does support a Hotsync ID. This allows users to use software which they've bought and registered over the years without buying it again.

Importing PIM data is a little more involved than importing third party applications. MotionApps has fairly detailed instructions on how to do this but the gist is that you need to use a third party file manager like Filez on your PalmOS device to move the PIM databases to an SD card, copy them to your computer, and copy them again to the "Install" folder on your Pre. Once they are on your Pre, the Classic PIM apps look just like the PIM apps on any PalmOS device. If nothing else they are a good way of handling your imported data while waiting for better native Pre apps to come along.

Overall, Classic is a good way to ween PalmOS enthusiasts off their old apps while plugging some software holes in the Pre App Catalog. Buying Classic was fairly easy. I went to MotionApps' website and bought it and the next time I ran Classic it already knew that it had been registered. While this process is easy, it is interesting to note that the purchasing process for buying apps on Android is even more seemless—if you've ever bought anything through Google, the Android Market has your information and that makes purchases instantaneous.

Here are the applications which I've tried to run in Classic along with brief summary of the degree to which I succeeded:

AcidFreecell—Crashes when run from the ClassicApps folder. Generally stable (still occasionally crashes but not often) when installed into Install folder.
AtomSmash—Not compatible with Classic. Crashes under all circumstances.
Bejeweled!—Runs well in Classic.
BellTime—Runs well but without sound support, alarm clock apps are essentially useless.
BibleReader—This is a pretty good application for showing off Classic's strengths and weaknesses. It crashes when run from the ClassicApps folder and runs well when installed in the Install folder but it cannot see its databases unless they are also installed in the Install folder. Once everything is installed properly, BibleReader runs instantly in Classic—faster in fact than on any PalmOS device which I've ever used it with.
Bubblet—Runs well in Classic.
Converter—runs well in Classic.
D2RuneWords—Crashes when run from ClassicApps folder. Runs well when installed in Install folder.
DateBk5—Runs well when installed in Install folder but floating events require no longer "float" as they require Classic to remain running at all times.
Diddlebug—Runs well when installed in Install folder but requires more precision than is possible with the human finger.
Eat Watch—Runs well when installed in Install folder.
eReader—Runs but cannot see books unless they are installed in the Install folder.
FreeJongg—Runs but distorted graphics make the game unplayable.
HandyShopper—Runs well when installed together with its databases in Install folder.
JFile—Runs well when installed together with its databases in Install folder.
Keygen—Runs well.
Mass Transit—Runs well
Noah Pro—Runs well when installed together with its databases in Install folder.
PalmFiction—My favorite ebook reader on PalmOS runs very well under Classic, viewing books no matter where they are in Classic's directory structure. If only Classic supported 480x320 resolution.
PsMemo—Runs well.
SplashMoney—Runs well when installed together with its databases in Install folder.
T-Crisis—Runs well but virtual D-pad makes control difficult.
Thesaurus—Runs well when installed together with its databases in Install folder.
TopSecret—Runs well when installed together with its databases in Install folder.
WordPop!—Runs well.
USDA Foods—Runs well when installed together with its databases in Install folder.

Riding Through the Rain

There was a rather large thunderstorm today in Chicago. Luckily I was on my way home and never had to venture out into the rain....
I took these with my Palm Pre's camera and it gave me a chance to play around with the phone's abilities. Like the T-Mobile G1, the Pre's browser loads my blog quite nicely and even allows me to edit posts. But like the T-Mobile G1, the Pre's browser can't upload pictures from Blogger's web interface. Too bad. One thing the Pre can do is allow you to upload photos to a Photobucket account. I didn't have one but was able to create on my Pre. I think that the Pre web browser is so advanced that it often works better with desktop browser pages than with mobile phone web pages. The Photobucket mobile web page for example has a header and footer bar which stretches accross the length of the page and these bars seem to confuse the Pre's browser which doesn't zoom in properly when you double tap inside them. As a result you have to use the slower pinch and squeeze zoom method. On the big boy web page by contrast, it's easy to double tap on areas to zoom in and out quickly and easily.

The biggest challenge was saving my login information so I won't forget it. I use TopSecret in the Classic PalmOS emulator to save passwords and unfortunately, Classic doesn't support cutting and pasting between itself and other webOS apps. So I used the Memo app as an intermediary. I can generate a password using Keygen in Classic and save it in TopSecret. Then I can create a new memo and write that information down, using the center button quickly glance at TopSecret to make sure I am writing it down correctly. This is fairly easy as the Pre's sharp screen makes TopSecret and Memos very readable when they are open as cards. Once inside a Memo, it is easy to copy and paste my log-in information into Photobucket's log-in box. While this would likely become tiresome for long blocks of information but for a six to eight character password, it's fairly easy. Now perhaps this is seriously overkill just for registering for a picture website but hey, why not? It's a bad habit to use the same password for everything and I'd like to ween myself off it. The bottom line is that once this is done, it is easy to use the Pre to upload pictures without hooking it up to a computer.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Applications Give Android An Edge Over webOS For Now

While I love my new Palm Pre there is a huge elephant in the room—actually two elephants, the iPhone and Android. Both of these platforms have large (freakin' huge in the case of the iPhone) catalogs of third-party applications and Android has one which really stands out for me—Google Maps. Google Maps is pretty ubiquitous on mobile phones these days with even cheap dumb phones having a version available to them. But versions vary from phone to phone and the one on the Palm Pre is lovely and easy to use. But on an Android phone like my T-Mobile G1, Google Maps is really special with desktop-like features like Street View integrated into the interface (I think that the iPhone version of Google Maps also has this feature). The Pre's version of Google Maps is comparatively simpler with a sleeker interface but no street view. And in the meantime, Google has just updated the Android version of Google Maps with new features. Every version of Google Maps has driving directions but the new Android version adds public transportation and walking directions—a feature which I love on the desktop. And Google has released it through the Android Market so there is no need to wait months on end for an over the air update as was the case with the Cupcake update.

Google Maps almost makes me want to choose my G1 over the Pre all by itself. Almost. At the end of the day the Pre is still faster than the G1 by a quit a bit and its GPS feels more accurate if for no other reason than because it can get an accurate fix more quickly.

Still, if it were available on faster hardware it would be hard to recommend Palm's webOS over Google's Android at this point. Now that Documents to Go has arrived on Android, editing documents—a traditional strength of Palm devices—is poised to become a strength of Android. A version of Documents to Go for the Palm Pre has been promised but has not arrived yet.

While there is still a lot of promise in webOS for third party applications, without an available Software Development Kit, it's hard for people to actually create them. Right now most webOS development is taking the form of trying to hack the operating system and applications. Worse, it seems that Palm isn't supporting these hackers for fear of offending Sprint. But without an official SDK underground hacking is the only game in town for developers who aren't traditional friends of Palm like MotionApps and Dataviz. The fact that to date there are only thirty applications in the Pre's App Catalog at a time when there are thousands of apps in the Android Market and tens of thousands of apps in the iPhone App Store, only serves to underline how far Palm has to go to catch up the big boys.

Despite some hiccups Palm has done very well in rolling out the Palm Pre and the new webOS which powers it. MotionApps Classic application goes a long way to helping plug the gaps in Palm's App Catalog but it's not enough. Palm needs to put out an offcial SDK now.

Tehran Live

Tehran Live is a photoblog which is pretty self explanatory. It has photos from Tehran. With the recent election and riots which have followed it has become a source of news. Definitely worth checking out for anyone who is interested in this story.

Also The UK Guardian has a live blog of the events surrounding the election.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised—But It Is Being Twittered

Tweet MissilesImage by Zoolcar9 via Flickr

Following the Iranian election on Twitter is turning into an addiction for me. Television reporting during the early hours of the story was pretty sporadic but people keep talking about it despite the Iranian governement's repeated attempts to tamp down on the it. I guess this is the future of news. People gossiping to each other online about what's going on in their area and hopefully we'll figure out what happened when the smoke clears.

It's interesting at this point to turn the clock back to the past and ask how we got here. This isn't the first time that political turmoil has changed the way we get our news. Back in the '90s CNN rose to prominence in part because of its coverage of the fall of the Soviet Union and 24/7 cable TV news became the dominant news medium. Before that television replaced radio and and radio replaced newspapers. Note that all along the line, each medium "replaced" the one before it in only the broadest possible sense. Newspapers while they are struggling to survive today, still continue to publish. Similarly, radio continues to be a powerful medium even if it has been replaced in terms of influence by television. And more people was the network evening news that cable TV news. So now that the Internet is replacing other media as the dominant source for news it's in parts because we have been linking to New York Times articles and MSNBC video and Twittering about stories we've seen on television.

Think of information as a sphere that surrounds you. As communication technology advances, that sphere expands and fills up with sources of information that we can use to access it. But until the Internet, there was nothing to hold it all together. The Internet acts a glue that helps its users hold on to information. It's no wonder the mainstream media is struggling to integrate itself with Internet services like Twitter, sometimes with embarassing results.

Do You Sometimes Feel Small?

Bet you do now:

The Funniest Line I've Seen on Slashdot in a Long Time

Right here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cut and Paste—webOS vs Classic PalmOS

One of the big albatrosses around the neck of the iPhone was it's lack of support, until recently, of copy and paste functions. So naturally Palm has trumpeted loudly that the new Palm Pre supports copy and paste from day one. And it does but there's a problem—actually two problems. Palm's copy and paste doesn't work everywhere and it doesn't work as well as it did under the older PalmOS operating system.

In order to copy and paste text in the Palm Pre's webOS, you tap to place the cursor at the beginning of the block of text you want to copy, hold down the shift key, and drag your finger horizontally to choose the text you intend to copy. Then you choose "Edit" from the drop down menu and select ." Palm has even created a little shortcut where you can tap and hold your finger in the gesture area and it acts like an unlabeled Menu key—the Pre will cut, copy, or paste whenever you press the "x," "c," or "v" keys on the keyboard. Pretty slick right? Actually, in the old PalmOS it was even easier to copy and paste. You could simply drag your finger across the text you wanted to copy and select "Cut," "Copy," or "Paste" from the edit menu which is even easier and more intuitive than with the Pre's webOS. In fact, I was so used to this way of doing things from my PalmOS devices that at first the webOS felt more awkward because I was trying to drag my finger across the text I wanted to copy when I was supposed to first place the cursor and drag my finger horizontally in the direction that I wanted the selction to move. This feels confusing and unintuitive, the older PalmOS way of doing things feels simpler to me.

Of course the older PalmOS was designed for PDAs and smartphones with different types of touchscreens than webOS. PalmOS was optimized for use with a stylus while webOS is designed for use with a finger. Could this be the reason for the Pre's Cut and Paste method? If only there were a way to compare these two methods side by side. There is—MotionApps' Classic emulator allows us to run PalmOS apps side by side with webOS apps. So I loaded the webOS Memos application and PsMemo within Classic. And it turns out that it's just as easy and intuitive to use the PalmOS Copy and Paste method in an emulated PalmOS app on my Palm Pre as it is on a Treo or a Palm TX.

I suppose that it doesn't make much difference one way or the other—the Palm Pre cuts, copies, and pastes just fine. It's just interesting how in the march of progress we sometimes take a tiny step back even as we move ahead.

One thing that does make a significant difference to me is the fact that webOS' copy and paste only works in text fields. As a result, you can't copy a block of text from your browser and paste it into a memo or anywhere else. The PalmOS web browser, primitive as it was, has always been able to do this and it should be simple to implement. Of course it this is so simple why did it take Apple, many times larger and richer than Palm, so long to implement it in the iPhone? Even Android, which is made by Google and had copy and paste on day one, took over a year to implement it in its browser. So perhaps I should cut Palm some slack.

Nevetheless, this does have a practical downside. I have secured my home wifi hotspot with a long 63-character wifi password. It's easy for me to put this key in a text file on a flash drive copy and paste it into any laptop that connects to my home network. It's also easy to put it into a memo and copy and paste it onto my Palm TX. With my T-Mobile G1 it was a little harder. First I had to find an Android application that could read text files and copy and paste. Once I had done that, it was easy to copy a text file to the G1 and copy and paste the wifi key.

With the Palm Pre it was even more of a challenge. While I had imported my old PIM data into Classic, including a memo with my wifi key; Classic sadly does not appear to support copying and pasting data between PalmOS and webOS applications. And neither does the Pre's built-in document viewer, the text file option was out. After trying several solutions, I concluded that the easiest solution was to email the wifi key to myself and open the email in my Palm Pre. But since the email application only displays the email I wasn't out of the woods yet. I had to tap reply in order to place the text of the email into a text field so I could copy and paste the key. Once I did that, I finally had access to my wifi hotspot on the Pre. That's not exactly what I'd call elegant.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Palm Pre Hacked—But in a Good Way

Shortly after the Palm Pre became available on Saturday, gadget enthusiasts began hacking at it. It began when a special developer tool which contained most of the source code for the Pre's software was leaked. Apparently people have been pouring over the code, seeing how to hack it. They've created the obligatory "Hello World" app and more impressively (but just as obligatorily) have begun porting the classic "Doom" computer game to the Pre.

A similar thing occured when the original iPhone was release and hackers worked to "Jailbreak" it as a time when Apple was severely restricting the applications that users could install. It's an exciting time for Palm's new phone.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Little Touchscreen Tramp...

I tried to resist the urge to buy a Palm Pre. Really I did. I had decided to at least wait until there was an unlocked GSM model. But the little beauty seduced me with its smooth curves, speedy processor, and beautiful operating system. It's not entirely my fault; my steady, the T-Mobile G1 and I have always had a complicated relationship. One minute she was quirky and fun, the next minute she was slow and weird. And there was the Palm Pre, beautiful and fast. I never had a chance....

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

He Makes Them Look Bad Too

Say what you will about our president. His extravagant dates with his wife may make the average American husband look bad but think what how they make husbands in other countries look....

Palm Pre Tips on Twitter

I still haven't upgraded to the Palm Pre but everything I've seen since and read since fondling a Palm Pre demo model at the Sprint store on launch day makes me want it more. My T-Mobile G1 is sluggish enough that even the flaky demo model Pre would be faster and it looks like Palm is already issuing over the air updates to the Pre to correct its early bugs. In the meantime I am monitoring Pre websites and a new Palm Pre tips Twitter account.

Bender's Back Baby!

Maybe there's something to this whole Twitter thing. Twitter is where I just learned that Comedy Central has just ordered 26 new episodes of Futurama to be aired sometimes in 2010. Awesome news; Futurama was my favorite show for years and it's exciting to know that it will be back.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Palm Pre Browser Races iPhone and G1

Slashdot's discussion of the Pre had a pretty interesting link. Precentral posted a video the Palm Pre's browser in action and side by side with the iPhone and T-Mobile G1's browsers.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Leo Loses It

Another thing I stumbled onto on Twitter.

I don't think I've ever seen Leo Laporte angry, especially on the air. Of course, I don't watch his shows live, I subscribe to his podcasts which can be edited for content and otherwise cleaned up. And wouldn't you know it, it's over the Palm Pre. This little phone is either going to take over the universe or destroy it. At this point, I'm not sure which outcome to root for.

The Palm Pre Start Up Video

Found on Twitter, a link to this story with the Palm Pre start up video.

Digital OTA Maps

Here's something for digital over the air television. Crunchgear reports that the FCC has has a Google Maps mash up of digital television coverage. With the cut-off for analog television less than a week away. It might make for a good companion to antennaweb.org.

Google Reader Working on Android Browser and the Case of the Disappearing Web Pages

I've always been a big fan of Google Reader for reading blogs both on my computers and my mobile devices. Google created a very nice mobile version of Google Reader for the iPhone's browser a couple of years ago. This is the Google Reader you encounter when you use Android's browser to go to Google Reader. Unfortunately, this version of Google Reader has never worked well with my T-Mobile G1. It always seemed to leave read items marked as unread. As a result, it would refresh and present you with the exact same items that you had already read. This unfortunate bug made Google Reader unusable on the G1. So for reading blogs on the G1 I would use an older version of Google Reader. This version of GReader was nice and fast but it was clearly made for dumb phones and older devices like my old PalmOS Treos and Palm TX.

I decided to try the newer mobile GReader again after my G1 received the over the air update to a new version of Android (yes, this another post about Cupcake). I'm not sure if it was the new OS or if Google just fixed it while I was away but the new GReader works very well on my G1 now. It is fast and it is available from a drop down menu on the web browser's default Google home page. Unlike the older reader which links original posts to a mobile phone optomized page, the newer reader links to the original full post. With a more modern browser like the one in the G1 this is more appropriate and thanks to the Cupcake update it handles full web pages better than ever. So it looks like one longstanding pet peeve I had with my G1 has been fixed.

But another problem may have emerged. While I was waiting on line to play with the Palm Pre this morning, I was playing with my G1 with several web pages open in the browser. I was given a demo model of the Pre to play with and decided to compare the two phone's web browsers. But when I opened up my G1's browser, the only page open was the default Google home page. All the other pages had mysteriously disappeared! This has happened again at least once today and I have no idea why....