Gadgets, Thoughts

Why open platforms are great

About a year ago I bought a Nokia 770. It didn't get great reviews when it first came out. But then it was expensive when it came out first. Last year they were selling cheap....*really* cheap, as the latest model had just come out. So I bought one, and I've written before about getting a Bluetooth keyboard for it, and writing on it at my local coffee shop. Which is where I am now. Now it has its flaws, and it's not the fastest thing in the world, however is it basically Linux based, and there is a lot of open development that happens. This week I discovered that it is possible to install a 'hacker edition' of the Maemo OS. The hacker edition basically allows you to install the latest OS from the N810 on the 770. It's mainly aimed at developers, however whilst I was looking into it I also discovered a few other things you can do. Most importantly you can update the kernel to make its MMC card access faster, a lot faster. Basically the default supports older cards, and in so doing drops to the lowest common denominator. But if you have a newer card, you can get something like 4 times the read/write speed out of it.

These two factors combined with the ability to load the OS onto the card rather than flash mean that you can install OS2008, the update the memory card drievr, and have it all booting from the memory card. The theory is that this gives you much better performance.

I say 'theory' because I found various comments some saying it is much faster, others saying not so much, and still others saying that the 770 really isn't up to running 2008.

Undeterred I followed a how to on the internettablettalk forums. At first I tried os2007, since there were some comments this might be better, and the how to claimed it should work just as well. However I couldn't get it to work. The install of the basic 2007 worked fine, but I could not get the copy to memory card working. So I tried again with 2008 and that worked fine.

So I've been running it for the last week. And I can tell you that it is is much faster than the default OS. But only in some places... I can completely see why some say it's no different, and others that it is worse. And it seems to come down to applications. Right now I'm using Maemo wordpy to author this blog post, and it is flying, I can type pretty quick and it is keeping up much better than the previous version on the default 2006 os. Plus the new version has some swanky new features, such as showing me word options as I type.

The basic OS is much faster, browsing is pretty good, but some pages can still cause it problems. The audio player is better, though not much faster. Most of the audio type apps I've tried are quite slow. One looks great, scanned my NFS mounts for music no problem. But as soon as you start to play something, the interface becomes almost completely unresponsive. I guess if you're queuing an album, letting it play through before queuing the next this isn't too big of a deal. However I think it's these apps that make people think it's much slower.

Other problems are that some apps, particularly sound and video apps are reliant on the hardware underneath. Which is different in the 770 from the 810 that 2008 OS is really for. As such getting Mplayer installed was a little more complicated than just an install from the repository. I found someone with a version compiled specifically for the 770 running 2008 and I had to go into 'red pill' mode to get it to install.

Briefly, red pill mode is a wonderful built in thing, that it seems turns off certain checks, or relaxes certain rules that allow you to do things that would otherwise not work. It is a dangerous mode, since it would appear it requires you to be sure that this thing will work, even though it doesn't agree... But I love how you switch it on.... You go into the application installer, go to edit the repositories, and create a 'new' one. But all you do is replace the URL with the word 'matrix' and then CANCEL the dialog. This brings up a dialog prompting you to chose a pill, red or blue. Red to go into red pill mode, then go back and select blue when you're done to return to normal. (I always thought there was no going back)

OK so having got Mplayer installed, that seems to work better than ever to, since the kernel I now have installed has been tuned to allow certain Mplayer specific things to work better on this hardware.

And this is why open platforms rock, I bought for cheap, a device that was already 'old' a year ago. And now 1 year on, it just got (in my view) better than ever. Because some great people work to improve the open platform they started with.

It's still a little buggy, the hardware is still underpowered for certain things. But the 2008 OS has some nice features (Bluetooth keyboard support built in for one). I've not finished getting to grips with it all yet. And some apps really don't work well, because they were written for an 810 and really do need that extra bit of power/memory. But for everything I had at the 770's default 2006 install, it's all better and faster than before.

And you know what, it actually makes me seriously consider updating to the 810 just because I'd get a bit more power, and the comfort of knowing that it too will benefit from the support of a great community in the years to come that will make it better as well.

Now if only someone would fix EAP-TLS so I could connect properly at work.....