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April 27, 2004

Death to aggregators, Vol. 2

Gareth Simpson quotes an old post of mine, where I wished that aggregators could be more closely integrated into browsers, since most of the time, the aggregator serves as the browser's burly bouncer, figuring out who gets in and who's locked out.

I wrote that in November 2002, and I've come a long way since then, and both the browsers and aggregators have too, with aggregators growing browser features, and browsers becoming RSS-savvy. That's great, because it provides a possibility of eliminating one of the three programs that must always be open for web traffic: the browser, the mail client, and the feed reader.

But even that's just a start. Where do I see this going? In Wired's Googlemania issue, they asked several designers to offer their vision for the future of Google (link). My favorite was Joshua Davis, but it's pointed in the wrong direction. Sure, I care about Edward Tufte, but imagine his Google prototype with you in the center. Here's my web traffic for the day, here are my latest e-mails, here's the day's calendar, here are the 20 or so headlines I'm likely to be interested in. Enter a name in the search box, and you get a results page that includes address book info, appointments, recent e-mails to and from that name, and web search results on the name. All a program needs to know about to do much of this is RSS, POP/IMAP, and search engine interfaces. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see something very much like this in Outlook 2005 or 2006.

As a Mac guy, I see this as a replacement for the Finder, which again, is pointed in the wrong direction. The Finder is focused on files sitting on your hard drive, but most of the interesting stuff is out there, floating on the corporate intranet or on the internet. How much of your day do you use dealing with files on your hard drive? If you're like me, most of your computer's cycles are spent surfing e-mail, the web, and news feeds. The default view into the soul of your computer shouldn't be a floating hard drive or "My Computer" icon. It should be more of an interactive assistant and newspaper all rolled into one.

April 27, 2004 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 21, 2004

After 35 years, all is revealed

DallasNews.com | B.D.'s war wound drawn from real life

In “Doonesbury” today, former Yale star quarterback B.D. lost his leg in action in Iraq. In the strip, B.D. is a Vietnam vet (who befriended a Viet Cong named Phred while both were lost in the jungle), who was called to active duty as a reservist.

For me, the funny thing is ... I didn't notice B.D.'s missing limb, revealed in the last panel, because he is, for the first time in 35 years, not wearing a helmet. In every other appearance (doubtless thousands), he's wearing either a football helmet or an Army helmet.

April 21, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

'Tis the season for Palm(One)istry

Every self-respecting geek knows that the best way to solve a problem is to get another gadget.

The problem: I'm now on the hook to update my company's signs whenever the Indians have a game. It's worked out fairly well so far, but I foresee having to carry my laptop a lot. The browser on my cell-phone a) doesn't support SSH port-forwarding (it might support a VPN; I need to check), and b) is linked up to a keyboard that would take 3 weeks to enter a 500 to 700-character update.

I haven't used a Palm for a while, but this sounds like a Palm-shaped hole to me (or Pocket PC, but I just never have warmed to them, and they're likely to have significantly worse support for my Macs). I suspect there are new Palms due to arrive any day, since they've been offering rebates and discounts since the beginning of the year, but I'm ready to pull the trigger, so I'm limiting myself to current models. Also, the death of the PDA is being widely predicted, so I've got another chance to be marginalized here.

My first thought was the Tungsten C. When introduced a year ago, reviews were almost uniformly positive, and it introduced the new-generation Palm OS 5 and 400-mhz Xscale processor. It has 64 megs of memory, a generously sized thumb board, and built-in 802.11b (Wi-Fi). It's missing Bluetooth, stereo sound, and a microphone. Prices on the Tungsten C are nose-diving now: Originally $499, PalmOne launched a rebate in January, turned it into a price drop a week or so ago, and now they're widely available for $350 or less.

Next up was the Treo 600, current lust object of alphageeks everywhere. It's about $600, and could use my T-Mobile SIM and (slowish) GPRS networking. It has a thumb board, but I found the buttons too close together to use comfortably. It lacks Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but is a great size and could replace my phone, to boot.

I seriously considered Sony's Clie UX-50. It's the only Palm OS PDA I saw with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which means it could use the best available wireless network as I roam. It's got a slick twist-and-fold clamshell display, like many Tablet PCs, a very high-resolution display, a camera, and a thumb board. I found it hard to hold position on the thumb board, since the keys are flush, and you can't tell where your thumbs are by touch. Sony has also made some "improvements" to the look of the Palm OS, and they don't work for me. Cliés require an additional program to sync with the Mac. Pricing is around $600. Despite its small size, this one is the most laptop-like of the PDAs I looked at.

While browsing, I considered the Tungsten W. It's in the same chassis as the Tungsten C (cool kids abbreviate them as the T|C and T|W), but with GPRS wireless instead of 802.11. It also has a much slower processor and one-fourth the memory, but for about the same money (such a deal). I have an account with T-Mobile, so I could swap my SIM card from cell-phone to Tungsten 10 times a day, and take advantage of the $20/month unlimited data add-on plan I have. The existence of the Treo, and PalmOne's recent acquisition of Handspring, suggest that the Tungsten W is not long for our plane of existence.

Then I met the Tungsten T3. Being sold alongside the Tungsten T and the Tungsten T2, the T3 has the processor and memory from the T|C with an even bigger (320 x 480) display, and with Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi. It drops the thumb board. I see the T3 as the conceptual offspring of the Palm V I used to carry. It's sleek and functional, and the ability to switch from portrait to landscape is a very nice feature. I tried the T3 with my cell phone, and the pairing process was absurdly easy, easier than pairing on the Mac. The T3 even knew about the two levels of GPRS service that T-Mobile provides, and let me choose between them.

Ideally, I want to really use this thing a lot. I would love to be able to take it instead of a laptop on day trips. It would be cool if I could use it for light surfing and weblogging around the house, instead of carrying the laptop around.

There's Wi-Fi available at home, at work, and at a number of local restaurants and stores, but I'm probably going to have to use GPRS service occasionally, so there needs to be a way to hook the PDA up to my Nokia 3650 for data. I initially thought that would require Bluetooth, especially once I learned that the 3650 doesn't support a cable connection. Then I realized that infrared still works, so I could use IrDA to get the data in and out of my phone.

If I was using it as a PDA, I would go with the T3. It's reasonably priced, powerful, and has a great, large display. Instead, I'm seeing this as the world's smallest laptop, and a laptop's got to have a keyboard. The Treo's thumb board doesn't work for me. The UX-50 just feels like trouble waiting to happen, between the iffy Mac support, the elaborate hinge mechanism, and the Clié-flavored Palm OS enhancements. I like the keyboard, and nothing else, about the Tungsten W, which brings us to our winner, the Tungsten C. It has a display as bright but not as big as the T3, a comfy thumb board, and built-in WiFi. I've seen a few complaints about the C being delicate, but it feels fairly solid, and Palms have been pretty good to me.

Pricing at Amazon was great -- I paid $338. I may not feel quite so smug when the C2 comes out, but I haven't even seen any concrete rumors on the next generation. I picked up an expansion card with a dozen games, including SimCity and Shanghai for less than $30.

And, bearing the ruggedness rumors in mind, I picked up a case from UniQase at the PalmOne store. The case is also available (with optional personalization) direct from the manufacturer.

The Palm world is a lot different than it was 3 years ago when I was a regular user of a Palm VIIx. That one was monochrome, 160 x 160 resolution, with 8 megs of RAM, and the fastest networking BellSouth (doing business as Palm.net) could provide.

I'll be posting through and about the Tungsten over the next few weeks.

April 14, 2004 in General computing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack