Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Good News for PalmOS Fans

For a while it looked like Palm had turned its back on PalmOS, the operating system which had powered its PDAs and smartphones for year. And to a certain extent they have but the situation may not be as dire as die-hard PalmOS fans had thought.

With the latest version of webOS, version 2.0, Palm has removed the PalmOS ROM from the phone which is the actual code which the Classic PalmOS emulator uses to run PalmOS apps on webOS phones like the Palm Pre and Pixi. It was a serious enough problem that MotionApps, the company which makes Classic essentially threw in the towel and stopped selling Classic. But it turns out that with a little digging and command line hacking, that the PalmOS ROM can be installed on a phone with webOS 2.0.

Two interesting points come out of this development. One, longtime PalmOS users who have already purchased Classic will be able to continue using once they upgrade to webOS 2.0 devices like the Pre 2 or after their older devices are automatically upgraded to webOS 2. The other interesting point is that since the PalmOS ROM is clearly separate from the Classic emulator, then creating a PalmOS emulator for webOS might be a lot easier than people realize. Even if MotionApps stopped selling Classic, it should be possible for someone else (perhaps even Palm themselves) to create an emulator for PalmOS apps.

While I wouldn't expect to see a lot of PalmOS emulators coming out any time soon, it's an interesting thing to note that since Palm is putting out the PalmOS ROM themselves through their webOS Doctor software, it should help keep PalmOS die hards going while they search for webOS equivalents to their beloved PalmOS apps.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Caught in the Act

On last Thursday's Community, a furry little paw grabs Annie's purple pen:

A second later, it's gone:

Let's go to the video:

Also available in animated .gif format.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Screenshots From The Aerodynamics of Gender

I loved Abed's Terminator vision in last week's episode. Here are some screen shots:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Palm Drops Classic, Why It Matters.

Two weeks ago MotionApps, the developers of the Classic PalmOS emulator for webOS, announced that they were discontinuing Classic due to a dispute with Palm:

We are sad to announce that Palm has removed Classic’s ROM from the new webOS 2.0 device ROM which will result in Classic not working if utilized with Palm’s new webOS 2.0.

This is contrary to our agreement with Palm and was done without our approval or consent. Based on this action, MotionApps will immediately stop selling Classic. However, as a courtesy to our clients, we will continue to support existing Classic customers on webOS 1.x for the immediate future.

It's certainly a disappointing development for users of old school PalmOS apps like myself. But does it really matter? The truth is that I already have webOS replacements for most of my PalmOS apps. But a lot of these webOS apps are inferior to their PalmOS counterparts. Additionally, there are many PalmOS apps which still do not have webOS equivalents. And a lot of the PalmOS apps which have transitioned to webOS are still not ready for prime time. Finally, a lot of developers who made popular PalmOS apps are simply not interested in developing for webOS because its development tools are not mature enough yet.

While Palm has worked hard to foster developer interest, they are facing an uphill battle. Currently the webOS App Catalog has roughly 4300 apps. Add in the apps in Palm Web and Beta feeds and that number jumps to well over 5000. But Apple's iOS has 250,000 apps and Google's Android has 140,000 apps. And this isn't just a matter of quantity over quality, there are many unique and powerful apps which are not available to webOS users. A lot of this stems from limitations in the APIs of webOS and in the hardware of webOS phones. And that's all the more reason why Palm needs the Classic as a bridge between the limitations of webOS and the power of PalmOS. More than 30,000 PalmOS apps can be run in Classic.

Ultimately, it does Palm no good to further alienate a group of developers which were already upset with the move from PalmOS to webOS and who are attracted by the much greener pastures of Android and iOS. MotionApps has handed over the Classic source code and intellectual property rights to Palm, so Palm has all it needs to restore and support Classic themselves. There would seem to be no reason why they couldn't put it back in a future version of webOS.

So it makes a lot of sense for Palm to support Classic. They already go out of their way to support webOS and Homebrew developers. And they are working on tools to allow developers to build "hybrid" apps which will use both traditional C/C++ code and the HTML/Javascript code that powers webOS apps. A PalmOS emulator like Classic, could be another tool for Palm to get apps on to their platform.

Classic wasn't perfect. It was slow and it was the only app on webOS that could actually crash my phone. And using felt like living in a mobile computing ghetto—PalmOS apps ran inside Classic and couldn't be used as cards and you couldn't copy and paste between PalmOS and webOS apps. But it did allow access to a great number of apps which otherwise wouldn't exist for my phone or which are better than the apps which are available to me.

Now that Palm has full control of Classic and a perpetual license to PalmOS, they can fix all that if they want. They can make PalmOS apps run seamlessly as cards alongside their webOS counterparts. They can make it possible to copy and paste between PalmOS and webOS apps. They can even "skin" PalmOS apps to make them look more like webOS apps. For that matter why not add a PalmOS section to the webOS App Catalog where users can install legacy PalmOS apps? But all this will all take time and money—two things that I don't think Palm wants to spend on PalmOS. Having said that, Palm is still developing webOS anyway and it makes more sense for Palm to expand its capabilities instead of contract them.

I've seen a lot of comments about DOS and Windows XP bandied about in discussions about Classic. And Microsoft's history of support for Windows XP is actually a pretty good example of how to handle aging software—an example which Palm would be wise to follow. Up until last month you could still buy a PC with Windows XP preinstalled nine years after it debuted. (And you can still "downgrade" a PC with Windows 7 to XP.) Microsoft supported Windows XP with Service Pack 2 until July 31, 2010 and still supports Windows XP with Service Pack 3 to this day. For almost a decade, Microsoft has supported Windows XP with the result that it remained their most successful software program even long after it became obsolete.

Now compare this to what has happened with Classic. On October 19, Palm introduced webOS 2.0. By October 25, MotionApps withdrew Classic from the webOS App Catalog accusing Palm of breaking its agreement with them. That's not the kind of orderly transition from one platform to another that engenders user or developer confidence.

While Classic represents a tiny subset of the webOS user experience, there seems to be little point to removing a useful capability from it at a time when webOS is struggling to gain acceptance. The openness and freedom of the webOS experience is one of the things that distinguishes it from its competitors. At a time when Apple was trying to outlaw Jailbreaking and Google was challenging the legality of rooting Android, Palm actually made it easier to hack your phone. And Classic represented an example of that freedom—the ability to install and run "obsolete" software which you still found useful. For me the bottom line is that if I wanted a handset maker telling me what software I can and cannot use on my phone, I'd have gotten an iPhone.

With webOS 2.0, MotionApps drops Classic PalmOS Emulator in Palm's lap | PreCentral.net

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bible Readers for webOS

I had a very religious upbringing and I still go to church regularly. And I've carried some form of bible reading software with me since I installed a the original OliveTree BibleReader on my Palm III back in 1999. So when I got my Palm Pre, I was very interested in looking for Bible readers on webOS. With the the Pre entering its seventeenth month of existence, the development of software in this area gives a good overview of the growth and lack of growth in webOS.

I have tried to take a look at the various Bible apps which I've encountered on webOS and will review them in turn. While this software round up will not be exhaustive I will try to be reasonably thorough.

webOZ Mobile Apps has created a number of readers for various translations of the Bible, each of which is sold separately (for $1.49-2.99). In addition, webOZ sells other Bible study tools like dictionaries which can be accessed from their Bible readers. Each of these apps are simple, fast, and intuitive. The Scrolling is fast and smooth. Tapping on an arrow on the lower left corner of the screen activates an auto-scroll function. To the right is an arrow which scrolls a page at a time. And in the middle is an options button which drops down a convenient menu for highlighting text, bookmarks, copying text, email, and search.

Each reader presents the user with a clean, friendly screen which makes it easy to drill down to the book you are looking for. Chapters are a little different as they appear on a drop down grid at the top of the screen once you've chosen your book. Verses however are awkward, you can't drill down to the verse you are looking for, you have to scroll through your chapter to find it. Searching is fast and intuitive (the app begins to search as soon as you begin to type) but it requires an active connection to the Internet to work.

The fact that every translation is sold separately is both good and bad. On the bright side, you can take advantage of webOS's native multitasking to run multiple translations side by side. On the other hand, you do get the uneasy feeling that you are being nickeled and dimed by having to buy each translation. (But they are cheap, so it's not too bad.) More worrying is the fact that webOZ simply does not have that many translations available for purchase. I'm Latino and I grew up using the Spanish language 1960 Reina Valera translation a lot and as far as I know webOZ only offers the 1909 version which uses older sounding language. When I'm reading in English, webOZ presents me with the opposite problem, they have the older King James version but not the 1963 Modern King James version.

Overall, webOZ presents a nice stable of clean, easy to use Bible translations for the casual churchgoer. But more serious Bible students should probably look into something a little more powerful.


YouVersion (simply called "Bible" in the webOS App Catalog) started out as little more than app wrapper for mobile version of the website of the same name but recently their Bible reader has improved greatly both in terms of looks and usability. It's tight integration with the YouVersion website is potentially very useful for serious Bible students.

YouVersion presents a nice, clean home screen which allows access to wide variety of Biblical translations. Once inside, it is easy to switch between translations. There is also an attractive dark theme for low light situations. It is easy to drill down by book and by chapter but as with webOZ it is impossible to drill down to specific verse, except by searching for it. Search is fairly quick but noticeably slower than with the webOZ Bible readers which search as you type.

Tapping on a verse allows you do a wide variety of things with the text, including copy it to the clipboard. But most other functions—even creating a bookmark—require you to have an account with YouVersion. But you can email the text and look at Contributions (essentially crowd sourced notes about the verse you've selected) made by YouVersion users. If you do have a YouVersion account, you can add Contributions of your own and share them with other users.

YouVersion is a fairly powerful Bible app but a lot of that power is due to its tight integration with the YouVersion website. So while hardcore Bible students will likely find it to be a valuable tool, more casual users might not be willing to commit to joining yet another website.



Bible Reader Plus ($1.49, free version available) is an app wrapper for the mobile version of excellent BibleGateway website which boasts "over 100 versions and 50 languages." But it does have a few interesting tricks. Once you've selected your verse, what you can do with it depends on the format of the Bible. The bibles come in three formats: web, database, and audio. Web bibles can only be copied and pasted like ordinary text you come across on the web. But text database and audio bibles can also be highlighted and shared online through, Facebook, Email, and SMS. And audio bibles can also, as the name implies, read the text back to you.

Bible Reader Plus also has tools for creating a Bible study plan with reminders, journals, and reports. Its web bibles also allow you to type out the book, chapter, and verse you are looking for and drill down to it which is a feature that other readers lack. Another nice feature is that it can open multiple cards so you can run several different translations side by side.

The biggest advantage of Bible Reader Plus is the sheer number of translations that it offers. But its many translations have an inconsistent look and feel and not all of its features can be accessed in every translation. As a result, Bible Reader Plus works best as a supplemental tool for serious Bible students or as a tool for casual users who occasionally look up a single verse.


BibleZ (Free) allows you download XML databases for a variety of translations of the Bible. The databases are quite large and don't always download nicely over 3G connections. They do however download well over WiFi . As with the webOZ offerings, you may not be able to find your favorite translation for BibleZ.

If you can, BibleZ offers the most attractive interface of the Bible readers I am reviewing here and allows you to switch between translations and drill down by book and by chapter easily via cleanly laid out menus and selection screens. As with most of the apps in this roundup, there is no way to drill down to a specific verse unless you do a search. And BibleZ is a little slower than the other apps to jump from its search results to a specific verse.

When BibleZ goes into landscape mode its interface elements disappear which is a nice feature when you just want to read. BibleZ also includes quick access to your reading history, notes, and bookmarks. It also allows you to tap on a verse to add a bookmark, note, highlight, and to either copy or share a verse through email or SMS.

All these features make BibleZ a very attractive and powerful app. The only thing holding it back is is the number of tranlations—BibleZ has a lot of them but it simply can't match the number of translations that online bible based apps like YouVersion and Bible Reader Plus boast.



Simple Bible (Free) Like BibleZ, Simple Bible depends on databases to load its biblical translations. Simple Bible has fewer databases and a clunkier interface. When you first start Simple Bible, it shows a splash screen with "What's New" and "Donate" buttons. This screen can be disabled, as can the the pop up encouraging you to download the Ten Commandments companion app. Once these screens are disabled, Simple Bible presents you with a list of your Bibles and a link to download more within the app. As with BibleZ, the databases are large and best downloaded over a WiFi connection.

Once you have opened your bible, a button toggles between the Old and New Testaments and menus allow you to select books and chapters quickly but you have to scroll to your verse or search for it. Bookmarking is rudimentary and clumsy. But Simple Bible does have one nice feature. You can tap on the screen and all the interface elements disappear, allowing for distraction free reading in either portrait or landscape mode.

Overall Simple Bible is something of a misnomer, while it is a nice free app it is also clunky and tends to get in your way more than it helps.



OliveTree BibleReader is an old school PalmOS program which runs well inside the Classic PalmOS emulator. I saved this program for last not because it's the best (even though it is) but because Palm's recent decision to stop supporting Classic means that the days when webOS users can run PalmOS apps on their phones may be numbered. Nevertheless, Classic still runs on the Palm Pre, Pixi, Pre Plus, and Pixi Plus for the moment at least so I'm including OliveTree in this roundup.

BibleReader uses databases for its biblical translations which much be purchased and installed separately from the reader in Classic. Some of these translations are free but others can be quite expensive. But OliveTree leverages the maturity of PalmOS to create an app with the kind of power and versatility which blows away the webOS apps in this roundup. In addition to bibles, BibleReader can also open commentaries, dictionaries, ebooks, maps, and more.

Every aspect of BibleReader can be customized with preferences for desktops, fonts, toolbars, and scrolling all of which can be tweaked by the user. You'll notice most of the apps in this roundup have one format the verses while YouVersion uses a different format which groups verses into paragraphs. As far as I can tell, the verse format cannot be changed in any of the webOS apps. But in OliveTree BibleReader this format can be changed.

Even though it looks pretty ugly next to the beautiful webOS apps in this roundup BibleReader is simply much more robust than its webOS competitors. It can remap the virtual buttons in Classic to control any of BibleReader's features. And BibleReader has a lot of features. Its bookmarks menu is better and easier to use than the bookmarking feature of any of the other apps in this roundup and it can be edited, saved, and exported as a file. It has menus for switching between translations and for quickly accessing your reading history.

BibleReader has a versatile and customizable verse chooser which allows you to drill down to a specific verse quickly and easily. And if you use one of the BibleReader desktops which support a "live toolbar" you can actually tap on any chapter or verse and select a new one from the verse chooser.

BibleReader's biggest weakness is that it was originally designed for a stylus-driven screen. Some of the screen elements are quite small and can require some pinching and zooming for large handed users. Similarly, the fact that it must run inside the Classic emulator is another weakness for BibleReader. Classic is slow to load and is about to be abandoned by Palm. So while in many respects BibleReader blows away the competition an one very critical respect, it isn't even in the race.




Conclusion: It's disappointing to see Palm abandon its Classic emulator so soon. While there are some good apps in this roundup, none of them have the power and flexibility of BibleReader and a similar story can be told about apps in other categories. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake for some who doesn't already have a large investment in PalmOS apps to try them right now.

As for the webOS apps, if it has your favorite biblical translation, BibleZ is your best bet. It has a great combination of flexibility and power. If you don't have a favorite biblical translation go with one of the webOZ translations. It's simple, fast, and perfect for casual users.

What We Need is an Ellis Island for the American Southwest

One of the big issues in this year's mid-term election is immigration. As usual there is a lot of bluster on both sides of the issue. But one thing that I haven't seen is a lot of ideas for actually controlling immigration in an orderly manner. Conservatives, when not jumping up and down screaming "What part of illegal don't you understand!" tend to focus on enforcement, calling for border fences and putative action against employers who hire illegal aliens. Liberals tend to focus on legalizing illegal aliens, talking about "a path to citizenship" and using the word "comprehensive" a lot. And Libertarians call for open borders.

The problem with enforcement is that it doesn't work. While it is not a particularly well known fact, president Obama has actually increased the rate of deportation of illegal aliens and auditing of businesses which hire illegals. And yet the screams of the opponents of illegal immigration have never been louder. The truth is that we'll never be able to deport 12 million illegal immigrants and until we as a nation admit that, we'll never solve our problems with immigration.

That's where the liberal "path to citizenship" comes in; whether you call it an amnesty, a pardon or whatever; an illegal would come forward, pay a large fine, and "go to the back of the line" where after a period of time they would be eligible for citizenship. While it seems like a fairly good idea to liberal ears, the major problem with it is that the average Democratic politician doesn't have the guts to actually go through with it. For example the DREAM Act which was a relatively modest version of this idea (applying only to young people with no criminal records who agreed to join the military or attend college) was proposed but will not be voted on until the Senate's lame duck session largely because Democrats were afraid of blow back in the election. With large Republican gains and possibly an outright Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress expected in tomorrow's election, it seems unlikely that the lemmings in Congress are likely to approve any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.

In the very unlikely case that our government does grow a spine however what's wrong with the open borders policy advocated by Libertarians? Nothing really except that it removes a lot of control from the government. And Americans would fear increased competition for low-paying jobs from cheap, illegal immigrant labor. And of course it makes it easier for terrorists, drug dealers, and other assorted nogoodnicks to get into the country. The truth is that no country has truly open borders and the United States will not be the first.

Ellis Island-27527So here's my idea. Politicians love to idealize the past and pander to voters who long for the "good old days." So why not reach into the past and create another Ellis Island, this time for the American Southwest.

Basically, the United States would create one or more processing centers on its border with Mexico. They would be places where potential immigrants could go, get some papers and maybe a lead on a job. They could also be searched, vaccinated, and be subject to background checks. The upside would be that the United States would know who is entering the country and would be able to track them more easily if it needed to do so. It would also eliminate the dangerous crossings of the border which have led to the death of many illegal aliens. With thousands of illegal immigrants removed from the other parts of the border, drug runners and terrorists trying to cross the border would be more likely to stand out and border enforcement would be more likely to work.

This would be a small part or of a truly comprehensive reform of our immigration system. A single processing center on our southern border would not resolve the problem of immigrants overstaying their visas. And it certainly wouldn't do a thing about the 12 million illegals who are already here. But it could resolve the emotionally charged issue of people crossing our border illegally.

Of course this is all just spitting in the wind if our politicians continue to be either gutless talkers or mendacious panderers on this issue. And the current election cycle doesn't give me much hope. But if America's politicians do ever grow up and actually fix this problem, it would help if they'd look the story of Ellis Island for inspiration.