Jan 232009
 

Here’s a quick run-down and comparison between the G1 vs. iPhone and Andriod vs. OS X mobile. This is based on side-by-side evaluation with both phones.

The phones

Keyboard

The winner: G1

The G1’s keyboard is awesome. I like it so much better than the iPhones mainly because I can see the whole screen while typing, but also because it has numbers and I don’t have to hit something to switch between numbers and letters. I’m a keyboard freak, so hands down the G1 wins.

Screen

The winner: iPhone

I think this is close to a tie, but the iPhone screen is bigger. The resolution is the same for both phones, which means that the G1 can display as much information as the iPhone, but it is smaller.

Battery

The winner: iPhone

The iPhone’s battery is 2-3 times better than the G1’s. I’ve heard word of T-Mobile shipping out batteries that add 30% more life, but even still, I play around with my G1 very little and it still needs to be charged daily. My iPhone needs charging every 2-3 days with the same use.

Form factor/Design

The winner: iPhone

This isn’t much of a battle. The iPhone is sleek, light and really nice to look at. The G1 is thicker, heavier and an eye-sore comparatively. However, I can understand the extra size given the full keyboard. One thing the G1 does nicely is it figured out the exact size required for anyone to hold it in one hand and use any feature of the phone. This is the only thing nice about the G1’s size and shape.

Buttons

The winner: G1

I like the buttons and track ball with the G1. The iPhone is sometimes a bit cumbersome to use given that everything is on the screen. Sometimes it is nice to just hit a button.

Accelerometer

The winner: iPhone

The iPhone has a really good accelerometer that seems to be level and responsive. The G1’s is a little rough around the edges and you can’t calibrate it or tweak it at all.

The operating systems and software

Structure

The winner: Android

Android has a lot of advanced features that are pretty nice overall. Each application has a menu, which is great for adding loads of functionality. There are keyboard shortcuts in applications which makes using features fast. Android has intents which are nice. It also allows applications to leverage other applications and common libraries. By far, Android wins when it comes to a modern platform.

At the same time though, Android has many bugs and issues that also make it difficult to actually use.

Homepage/Application Chooser

The winner: Tie

The iPhone home page doesn’t have the cool backgrounds or the lame analog clock or the drag and drop application display, but it is simple, orderable (you can move apps around), and looks really nice. Androids has a cool homepage that allows ordering and an alphabetized app chooser. So, they are different, but equally as usable and cool.

Androids icons definitely have that Linux look, which I grew tired of a decade ago while iPhone’s icons are sleek and nice and I haven’t gotten tired of yet (only 1 year as a Mac user). It seems like Apple is more in tune with style and each OS release keeps things fresh. We’ll see how 10.6 goes. Linux on the other hand just plain sucks the life out of you.

Voicemail

The winner: OS X

T-Mobile and Android’s voicemail integration is horrible. It is exactly the same as every other phone for T-Mobile because you have to dial into voicemail and manage it via T-Mobile’s phone system. There is an 3rd party application that adds visual voicemail to Android phones, but it is in beta and it is a hack that appears to actually dial up your voicemail and record the voicemails to an MP3. I’m not positive on that, but this is what it seems like. Regardless of how this application works, it is a 3rd party application and T-Mobile and Android should really be offering a tightly integrated feature of the phone.

The iPhone completely integrates with AT&T’s voicemail such that you can view all your voicemails on the phone, listen to them on the phone, and even setup and switch your voicemail greeting on the phone.

Calendar

The winner: Android

The Android Google calendar integration is great. However, it doesn’t support multiple calendars very well (you can only view calendars in the associated GMail account and not other GMail accounts or an Exchange calendar) and that’s a real pain point for most. Since I use a single calendar for everything, I don’t mind too much. On the other hand, if you have a Mac and only use Calendar.app, integration with the iPhone is great. This combined with Mobile Me would be ideal for real-time updates and syncing. For now though, Android wins in this department.

I’d imagine that Google will soon offer syncing with the iPhone as it does with the BlackBerry. If not, NuevaSync will work once it is finished and out of Beta.

Likewise, I would put money that Android will start supporting multiple calendars shortly.

Maps

The winner: OS X

Multi-touch, double-click and good integration/features wins this battle. Since you are already touching the screen to move around, multi-touch is nice. The G1’s map interface is nice and it does allow single handed use, but iPhone’s bigger screen and multi-touch prevail in this category.

Email

The winner: OS X

First, the GMail application really should be combined with the Email application. The fact that they are separate is really painful and annoying. Email should just be email like the iPhone does. Second, Android’s email application is one of the worst applications ever written. Here are a few of the pain points:

  • Can’t view first few lines of emails in the inbox view
  • The folder and email view are combined making for a very cluttered interface
  • Email fails regularly even when connected to a WiFi
  • Deleting emails does nothing for GMail accounts via IMAP.
  • Can’t setup what happens on delete for IMAP accounts. For example, with GMail IMAP it should move the message to [Gmail]/Trash

The worst thing is probably that the Email application doesn’t instantly work with GMail IMAP accounts. This should just work considering that the entire platform and stock applications are written by Google. I mean come on guys, take a cue from Apple and just make stuff work, especially with your own systems. Plus, Email constantly crashes and has so many issues that it is rendered useless in most situations.

The iPhone email isn’t perfect, but it handles all of these things much better and also makes setting up GMail accounts a snap.

Document Viewer

The winner: OS X

The iPhone has a built in PDF viewer that works really well. It also displays Word documents and other formats decently well. In gets a little bit freaked out by complex Word documents in the new DOCX format, but otherwise it is great. It also allows you to zoom in and out using multi-touch and double-click.

The G1 looks like it uses Google Docs online viewer or some type of hacky internal viewer. Not really sure about which one, but it does a very poor job of displaying documents and files, including PDF (I mean really? PDF? It should perfectly display all PDFs). Images are also displayed poorly and some don’t render correctly, such as JPGs. Plus, no zoom (ouch!).

Apps

The winner: OS X

This is based purely on the most fundamental of all applications, solitaire. There are a number of choices on both phones, but overall the solitaire on the iPhone is much nicely in terms of design, features, etc.

App stores

The winner: OS X

Apple’s store has a much cleaner interface and includes pictures, better details, better commenting system and more interactivity. The Android market looks pretty shabby comparatively.

Accelerometer/Orientation

The winner: OS X

The iPhone uses the accelerometer all over the place and it does it really well. Orientation of the phone is really helpful in most applications as it makes the phone easy to use.

Android’s support for orientation and the G1’s accelerometer is just garbage. Even the browser requires 3-4 clicks before you can change the orientation without opening the keyboard. I mean come on guys, just use the tools you have and make people’s lives simple. Plus, HTC seems like they added a pretty low end accelerometer and it isn’t calibrated very well. Plus, you can’t really calibrate it.

Development

The winner: Android

I’ve talked at length about how I think Objective-C is really keeping Apple back, but here’s another way to look at it. If you take the years that technologies were introduced and line them up so that you have language, RAM, and CPU (based on speed), here are the results:

iPhone: 1986 1989 2000
G1: 1995 1996 2000

I definitely like the G1 and Android numbers much better.

The Final Score

If we add all these up, it looks like this:

G1/Android: 5

iPhone/OS X: 11

The final winner? iPhone/OS X

Aug 012008
 

I went to the 37 Signals event last night sponsored by CPB. The speaker was Jason Fried, who is a founder of the company, a designer and all around smart guy.

Jason spoke mainly about small business. He presented a list of things that companies can do to become more productive and better at whatever they do. His list included things such as:

  • 4 day work weeks
  • Virtual companies
  • Saying no to your customers more often than not
  • Do the easiest thing possible
  • Don’t design, just do
  • Don’t go to meetings
  • Turn off email and IM

A number of these things I do each day including turning off email and IM when I’m really cranking, be as virtual as possible, reduce lengthy design and just start working. Overall, Jason has great ideas for small companies. 37 Signals is probably in the 3-5 million dollar range or lower, with about 2-3 million dollars of overhead or more. They are a life-style company and will not grow beyond a certain threshold because of these ideals.

Having worked for a large company, worked on vastly more complex systems than Jason, created many open source frameworks and now starting my own company, I found Jason’s ideas exciting and total crap at the same time. I regularly find myself battling with creating solutions that will scale, versus creating the simplest solution. This naturally occurs to anyone who has ever worked with applications that do hundreds of millions of transactions per day (or per hour).

I pushed Jason a bit to see where he would break ranks with some of his ideals. From his responses, he absolutely would not abandon these ideals at any cost. However, I think this is a marketing tool created by 37 signals to promote their products as well as Ruby on Rails. The reason I know this to be true, is that Jason is intelligent and capable or understanding moderately complex problems with more ease than say a college student. In addition, he spoke briefly about how a single feature request such as adding time-stamps to ToDo list items can have a larger impact than any customer might think. These features requests require a large amount of thought and planning because they impact the entire system. Similarly, changes to the Rails internals require a large amount of thought and testing to ensure they don’t break existing applications.

This dichotomy is something that is a fact of life. It is something engineers, product managers and executives must deal with, no matter how small or large your company is. 37 Signals has built a reputation that they can safely ignore these problems and be wildly successful. However, it is 95% smoke and mirrors. The reality is that 37 Signals is composed completely of phenomenal employees who can work in complex domains without losing their minds. The can distill complexity into manageable pieces and then combine those pieces in the end to produce a complex yet functional system.

Jul 282008
 

I have recently gone through the exercise of restoring a medium sized SubVersion repository from an older backup and wanted to share my experience with everyone. First, the problem:

The problem

After you restore the older backup, if any work was performed between the last backup and when the repository crashed, the repository will be “older” than what developers have on their boxes. Here is an example:

  • Let’s say you have a backup from Monday evening
  • The repository crashed sometime Tuesday
  • There was work done during the day Monday

Now, let’s say there is a project A that looks like this:

  • The last change to the project was at revision 100 just before the repository crashed
  • The last change to the project from the backup was 80
  • Frank’s computer contains a checkout of the project at revision 85
  • Mary’s computer contains a checkout of the project at revision 100

This means that both Frank and Mary’s computers contain newer code than the repository, but not the latest code. Mary’s computer contains newer code than the repository, but might not be a complete snapshot of what version 100 was before the repository was corrupt. The reason why Mary’s computer might not be 100% correct is that Mary might have committed files to the repository but not performed a “svn update” prior to committing.

SubVersion is like CVS in that each file contains a version number. So, you might have a local checkout that contains version 100 for one file and 90 of another file. Therefore, you might be missing an updated version of the file from revision 93 when it was checked in.

Okay, now onto the fix:

The fix

Each developer’s computer must be analyzed before anything new is put into the repository. You must have a complete picture of the entire company, otherwise you might miss some changes. These changes can be merged in by hand from each developers machine, but this could be error prone and lengthy process. It is usually better to script out as much as possible.

Step 1

In order to determine the local “revision” of a project on a developers computer, you will need to look at each file in the checkout. You can run an ‘svn stat’ on each file to determine the version number of that file. Write a script to output a file like this for each local checked out project on all developers machines:

The first part is the file and the second part is the revision of that file.

Next, once you have the complete list of revisions for all projects on all developer’s computers in the entire company, you can compare each file with the current revision in the restored repository to determine if the developer has a later version of a file than the repository. This should ignore all files that the developer has modified locally, but not committed.

This comparison will look like this:

You should script all of these comparisons out. If a developer doesn’t have later revisions than the repository or any locally modified files, they can safely take these steps:

  1. Make a backup of the local checkout
  2. Delete the local checkout
  3. Re-checkout the project
  4. Don’t do anything until the restore is complete

Step 2

The next step is to make a list of the revision that each file in the project was lasted changed on in the restored repository. This report will look like this:

Next, for each project, collect all of the revision reports from the previous step into a single location. These reports look like this:

Combine each of the developer reports into a global report that gives you the revision number for each file on every developers computer. Next, use this global developer report to determine whose computer contains the latest version for each file in the project. Based on the examples above, you can see that build.xml didn’t change recently enough to matter since the version in the repository is the same as the version on Frank’s and Mary’s computers. However, Frank made the most recent commit in revision 16405 to logging.properties and Mary made the most recent commit in revision 16410 to foo.java. Both of these files are more current that the repository and therefore need to be re-committed.

Step 3

Finally, setup a staging area that contains a copy of every checked out project from every developers computer who has a later revision than the repository (from step 1). This will be pretty large, but necessary. Based on the results from step 2, copy the latest version of each file over to a clean checkout of the project from the restored repository. Once you have all of the changes copied over for a single project, commit all of those files for that project back to TRUNK.

You should now have a fully restored repository based on the files from various developers computers.

May 272008
 

While waiting to see if my X300 sells on Craig’s list and before I eBay it, I figured I would go back to my roots and install a bunch of operating systems on the machine. It is very new hardware and I wanted to see what else is out there. For those who don’t know or haven’t ever read my white-paper, I wrote a fairly lengthy paper around 2000 that outlined how to build an open source operating system that was geared 100% towards desktop and laptop users. It covered mainly changes to Linux, but could be easily abstracted out to any operating system. It had things like:

  • Drop LHS (linux file system standard) in favor of a more friendly naming convention like /config, /system (or operating-system), /users, /applications, /libraries, etc.
  • Drop X-Windows in favor of OpenGL foundation with no networking and everything vector based where possible
  • Standard system APIs for everything, including graphics. No more Gnome vs. KDE vs. whatever
  • Better file permissions
  • Better login
  • Remove TTYs
  • Remove termcap and all that jazz
  • Assume latest modern hardware everywhere, even shell/terminals
  • Fix run-levels and services
  • Standard hardware abstraction
  • Better packaging (no more littering files everywhere)

It had a bunch of other stuff, but you get the drift. Some of this stuff has actually happened in the last decade or so. However, a lot of it hasn’t quite gotten there and Linux has suffered from more and more server syndrome that it probably will always be rough around the edges for desktops and laptops.

Anyways, back to the main point… I downloaded and installed a bunch of different operating systems and here’s what I found.

Linux (Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse, etc)

Same old story. ACPI is rough, the CPU is a hog, the battery life is short, 3D desktop doesn’t quite work, missing drivers, bloated, etc, etc. Definitely a thumbs down on my scale, even though I am currently running Ubuntu on all my machines and love Linux to death, it still sucks for desktop and laptop compared to other OS’s.

OpenSolaris

Sorry to say that this is just like Linux with a different kernel and some minor tweaks here and there. It still runs X-Windows, Gnome and all the other Linux upper layers. Plus, it has worse driver support and very little modern desktop and laptop necessary support such as ACPI, CPU scaling, low voltage, etc. Definitely a thumbs down for now. We’ll see what Sun does. If they are smart, which they don’t appear to be yet, they would drop all the upper layers and build something better and new. They would also drop all the file system standard crap and just start fresh. They have the man power and the money to do it, just not the vision or the drive it seems.

Syllable

This is a very promising OS. They have a lot of the key components, but they have also been using Linux and Unix too long to deviate drastically enough to make it truly usable for the average Laptop and Desktop user. However, it still isn’t 1.0 and they might update some of these things. I never actually got it running, but from what I’ve seen on their website, they have the right idea. If I had some advice for all the developers and users of this OS it would be: hang a sign that says, “can my grandmother use this OS?” on your wall next to your computer and if that answer is ever “no”, fix things until it is “yes”. If I had a million bucks or so laying around, I’d definitely put my money on this project.

Hackitosh

Yeah, just wanted to see if I could get it running and the answer is no. Apple definitely has a great OS. Although some things are still lacking, it is probably the best out there right now. However, it runs best on Apple hardware and I’m not about to fight that. I’m planning on a 100% switch to Mac OSX here soon.

There are a few others that I didn’t get to like Haiku, but they seemed quite new as well and probably wouldn’t have worked all that well. Another thing that was lacking from most of the newest OS variants out there was 64bit support.

May 142008
 

Got my Lenovo Thinkpad X300 last week and I’ve been using it for development for only a few days. Here are my first impressions:

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Fast – the SSD drive seems to make some things pretty fast and the system is fast enough for the work I do
  • Nice screen
  • THE BEST KEYBOARD ON A LAPTOP (as all Thinkpads have)
  • The Trackpoint (never leave home row again)

Cons

  • The fan is the WORST PIECE OF CRAP EVER!!!!!

After much research and pain it appears that Thinkpads in general have a horrible issue with fan noise. Apparently, the Thinkpad BOIS pretty much refuses to turn the fan off and the fan goes directly from 1000 RPMs when cool to 6000 RPMs when hot. There is no intermediate fan speed. Well, needless to say that 6000 RPMs is extremely annoying.

I would definitely not recommend this machine to anyone looking for a solid work laptop because the fan noise is considerable enough that after an hour or two of working with that drone you are certain to have a monster headache and feel like throwing up. I’ll probably sell it and get an Apple instead. At least then I know I’ll have very little problems with the hardware.