iPhone/iPod – The new standard mobile platform?

I’ve been living with a very basic Sanyo phone for many years now, and decided to finally upgrade. My main requirement was a real web browser, and the iPhone fulfilled that nicely. Besides, I wanted to be cool and get all the girls, and what better way to do that than to carry around an iPhone?

I’ll talk in another post about what I think of the device, but one thing struck me as I begun to play with this phone. Apple may have just set themselves in a position to dominate the mobile application market. If they choose to.

Now hear me out. Companies such as Sharp and Nokia have worked hard on creating devices (the Zaurus and 770/N800 respectively) based on open source software in the hopes of creating a developer base. While this worked in both cases to varying degrees (lots of third party apps for the Zaurus and lots of great GNOME/Gtk+ improvements and apps for the Nokia devices), they’ve both had problems in terms of market share. You’re just not going to get every teenager, every student and every businessman wanting one of them.

I love my Zauruses, my Nokia 770 and my N800, but having tried to explain to people in the past what makes them so cool is difficult. They kind of get it with the N800, that they can browse the web and run applications and all that. Most people, though, are still so tethered to the computer that they don’t know why they’d care.

But an iPod? iPhone? People care about that. It’s trendy, it’s sexy, it plays their music and videos. Yes, the N800 does that too, but the out of the box experience is very different, and well, the kids just want an iPod. My little 7 year old sister has no idea what an “mp3 player is” but knows damn well what an iPod is.

Web development

Now, where Apple did well was to bundle both the iPhone and iPod with Safari and to put up guidelines for how best to optimize your websites for the iPhone/iPod form factor and visual style. Since then, many sites have provided optimized versions that work quite well, including Amazon, Meebo, NetVibes, Facebook, and Google Reader. And this all turns out to be quite easy to do, especially with Joe Hewitt’s iUI JavaScript framework for the iPhone.

So, we now have a de facto standard for miniaturized AJAXy web UIs for mobile devices, do we not? I don’t see anybody else developing for other mobile devices en mass in such a way that allows all this fancy web 2.0 stuff. What’s great is that aside from the CSS 3.0 support needed for some of the look and feel of these sites, and the viewport meta tag, they’ll work in any browser, mobile or otherwise.

Native applications

The one thing that these other devices do have over the iPhone/iPod is that you can actually develop applications for them. When the iPhone was announced, we were told that they would not be opening up support for third party applications. Of course, it didn’t take long for people to figure out how to jailbreak the device and install custom applications.

Now anybody with an iPhone can easily put their iPhone in a state where they can install custom applications on it. The installer that ships with the modern jailbreaking software is, from a user’s point of view, surprisingly nice and easy to use. It even handles upgrades for you effortlessly.

The pieces are now together for developers to create applications and for users to quickly find them and install them. The only gotcha is that this is not officially sanctioned by Apple, and we may find that this will break in future firmware updates.

If Apple was to reverse their stance and provide an open framework for developing applications for the iPhone and iPod, they would make these devices much more tempting to a wide variety of people. The gaps left by Apple (proper Exchange support, calendar synchronization, document publishing, instant messaging, etc.) would be provided by third party developers and downloaded by possible millions, legally. New companies would form to develop applications. Existing companies would port applications over. Life would be good.

Why didn’t Apple do this from the beginning? Maybe they’re just against a community of developers forming around this product, but I have a hard time believing that. Maybe it’s pressure from AT&T, but you can develop for other phones.

My hunch is that they just didn’t have enough time to do it right, given how much work it was just to get the thing out the door in the first place. If so, perhaps we’ll see official approval for third party application development someday.

May I present VMware Workstation 6.0

Good news, everyone! After several months of hard work, many late nights, and thousands of caffeinated beverages, we have finally released VMware Workstation 6.0. You may have already heard this on the news, but I’m here to tell you exactly what we spent so much time on. Or a glimpse of it, anyway.

  • Windows Vista support

    We’ve added much improved support for Windows Vista. Yes, you could run it before, but not this well. We have VMware Tools support for many things in Vista now, providing for a smoother experience. A warning, though. Vista is pretty heavy on resources and may still be slower than you’re used to. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft will make you buy the really expensive version in order to legally run in a VM. Still, if you’ve been wanting to see what Vista is like, have a decent machine, and an MSDN license or legal access to a legal version of Vista, install it in a VM and give it a try.

  • USB 2.0

    We now support USB 2.0. Your fancy USB 2.0 devices should now work just fine in your VMs.

  • Headless VMs

    Starting in Workstation 6.0, your VMs are no longer tied to your UI. Previously, any time you closed Workstation, you would be asked if you wanted to power off your VMs. Now you’re given the choice of continuing to run your VM in the background. It will continue to run without a UI.

    This is greatly useful when you have a service running in your VM that you may want to connect to. This is similar to VMware Server, except your VMs will not automatically start when the computer starts.

    While the VMs are running, an icon will appear in the system notification area that, when clicked, will display a list of all powered on VMs. Clicking a VM will launch the UI and focus the tab for that VM. A list of running VMs will also appear in the sidebar under “Powered On.”

  • Multi-monitor support

    Users of multi-monitor setups will love this feature. Your monitor layout is now exposed to the guest OS, giving it the ability to make use of more than one monitor when going fullscreen. You can full screen over one monitor, two, three, whatever you happen to have.

    In many ways, this feature is still experimental on Linux. It’s currently very difficult to maximize over multiple heads, given the lack of official support in X and window managers to do so. We’ve had to perform some creative tricks to make this feature possible. We’re working on getting official support in so that we can do this properly in future versions.

  • Improved full screen

    Full screen has been improved. You can now full screen over multiple heads or set one of several modes. You can opt to change the guest resolution to match the host, stretch the guest (as you would an image), or center the guest on the monitor. We no longer change the host resolution to match the guest, which used to cause some issues and “jumpiness” on Linux.

  • Multiple windows and tab drag-and-drop

    The Linux version of Workstation 6 now allows for multiple windows to appear on the screen at once within the same process. Now, older versions had a File -> New -> Window, which also created a new window, but it did so by launching a second instance of the application. We now keep this all in the same instance.

    Part of the benefit here is that you can now drag tabs between windows in order to better arrange them. You can place two windows side-by-side and view a Linux VM in one window and a Windows VM in another. You can also rearrange tabs within a window.

  • Drag and drop

    Here’s a feature Windows users have enjoyed for a while now, which we’re finally getting on Linux. It’s now possible to drag files from your host into your guest, or files from your guest into your host. Need to copy some documents from your Documents folder on Linux into your My Documents in your Windows guest? Just select them and drag into the VM.

  • Interrupt Record and Replay

    Workstation 6 is the first product to ship with the experimental Interrupt Record and Replay functionality. This allows you to capture everything happening to a VM — network packets, disk I/O, mouse events, etc. — into a log and replay it later. It’s very useful when doing debugging. Ever hit a crash that you can only reproduce one out of every 10 times? This should make it easier to track down.

    The first version of this is a bit limited, but we’re working on improvements for the next release of Workstation that will help make this invaluable to developers.

  • Eclipse IDE Integration

    We now ship extensions to Eclipse to ease development of applications and testing in a VM. See this blog post from the developer for more information.

  • Message log and notifications

    Many of our error dialogs that would block a VM from powering on have become passive popup notifications. We suspect the elves did it. Now little things like your sound device being blocked won’t prevent the VM from powering on when you ask it to.

    If you miss a notification or wonder why your device was disabled after coming back from a coffee break, you can check the new message log and see the contents of the notification. It’s accessible through a non-intrusive icon in the bottom-right of the Workstation window.

  • Tools auto-upgrade

    VMware Tools are essential to the smooth operation of a VM. They help to accelerate video, provide more natural mouse support, and end all of life’s problems (results may vary, not typical of average use). However, they’ve always had to be upgraded manually.

    Starting in Workstation 6, tools are capable of auto-upgrading when a new version is available. This can be configured globally or on a per-VM basis. One less thing to think about, and this is a Good Thing.

  • VM upgrade/downgrade

    To take advantage of all the features that a new VM hardware version gives you, you have to upgrade. This has always been true, and we’ve always provided a quick way of upgrading VMs. However, there are times when you may want to downgrade instead in order to distribute a VM that more people can take advantage of, or to make it ESX-compatible.

    We’ve added a new wizard that quickly guides you through upgrading or downgrading a VM. You can make the VM Workstation 4, 5, or 6 compatible, and choose whether or not it must also be ESX-compatible. The wizard will give you the option to either modify the VM in-place or to clone it first. No longer does upgrading to a new version of Workstation lock you in to a particular hardware version!

  • VNC

    Ever want to run SimCity 2000 in a DOS VM and access it across the network? Okay, well, maybe an older Windows install or something? You can now make any VM VNC-enabled. Simply toggle the option, set an optional password, the port (on the host computer) to connect to, and you’re done! You should be able to access your VM through VNC on any other computer on the network. You can even see how many people are connected and boot them off, just in case they’re sending Godzilla after your city.

  • Appliance View

    VMs are becoming a big thing for application distribution. It’s possible to download virtual appliances for all kinds of things. Need a pre-configured e-mail server or a development environment for an embedded device? Chances are you’ll find it nowadays. Simply download it, power it on, and go.

    There’s a lot of things we’re planning to do to make virtual appliances better and easier for both the developer and the end user. The Appliance View in Workstation 6 is the first step in this. It features a cover page that can be displayed as the VM powers on (instead of the console view) and can contain the appliance name, version, author, logo, and descriptive text.

    A status area at the bottom of the Appliance View indicates when the VM is powering on, waiting for the services to start, or that the appliance is ready to use. When it’s ready, a button will be available for easily launching a browser to connect to the web UI for the appliance.

    Watch this space. We have some cool things we’re planning.

  • Paravirtualization

    Paravirtualization is getting a lot of buzz. A paravirtualized kernel performs better in a VM than a non-paravirtualized kernel. The VMI interface we helped to create is now a part of version 2.6.20 of the Linux kernel. Ubuntu Feisty ships with this kernel, meaning it should perform better in a VM when paravirtualization is enabled (in VM Settings -> Advanced).

  • Better Linux look-and-feel

    The icons in the Linux version of Workstation got a complete makeover. We’re now following the Tango style for all icons, including the launcher icons. We’ve released most of these icons (the ones that don’t include trademarked logos) under the Creative Commons license. People are welcome to use these icons in their programs and icon theme designers are also welcome to provide alternatives in order to better style Workstation and Player.

Of course, a lot more went into this release than just the above features. It’s been a huge effort and I’m personally pretty happy with the result. A big thanks to everyone who’s worked on this release and to the people who helped keep me sane at 2 in the morning during our crunch times 🙂

Also, a big shout out to the developers of VMware Fusion, the new virtualization app for MacOS X. They’re working hard to produce some awesome features and are undergoing their own crunch time right now. If you’re a Mac user, you might be interested in reading the CompFusion and Infusion blogs by a couple of our Fusion developers.

New Toy: Panasonic DMC-TZ3K Digital Camera

I received a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P71 digital camera about four or five years ago as a present, and it has performed well over the years, providing me with lots of decent quality shots. However, the lack of such features as image stabilization and auto-rotation indicators, plus the need for AA batteries has had me thinking of purchasing a new camera. I didn’t know when, or which camera to buy, but today I stepped into Costco and had an overwhelming urge to survey the camera section.

The new cameras were pretty cool, all with features that my poor little DSC-P71 couldn’t begin to match. I was tempted by the newer Cybershot they carried, but I didn’t really want to give Sony much more of my money, nor did I want to deal with Sony Memory Sticks any longer.

I was about to leave when I saw a stack of attractive camera boxes off to the side containing my newest little toy, the Panasonic DMC-TZ3K. I made some calls and had people read a few reviews for me, and talked to my uncle who was there about it. He was fortunately familiar with this camera, and after discussing it, I decided to buy it, figuring I could always return it if I didn’t like it.

I’m not returning it.

The basics

I’ll get the basics out of the way. I paid $320 for this camera. It’s a 7.2MP camera with 10x optical zoom (yes, 10x optical) and 4x digital zoom on top of that (making a grand total of 40x zoom). That is, unless you are taking a 3MP photo and have Extra Optical Zoom enabled (which extends your optical zoom to 15x), in which case you’ll have a grand total of 60x zoom. They’re not kidding around with the zoom here.

The LCD is 3 inches. There is no viewfinder, which is a shame, but the LCD works pretty well in the sunlight (especially with its “outdoors” mode enabled). The camera takes SD cards (which the box does not indicate, oddly enough). The camera features various auto-focus modes and image stabilization. Pictures can be taken in 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 aspect ratios. Videos can be taken in 640×480 or 848×480 resolutions at 30fps.

The camera is offered in three colors: Black (DMC-TZ3K), Silver (DMC-TZ3S), and Blue (DMC-TZ3A).

Alright, that’s all cool, though most of it is what you’d expect. Now on to my favorite features.

Scene Modes

The DMC-TZ3K offers two independent Scene Mode settings on the mode dial, allowing quick switches between the two. The Scene Mods offer presets for such things as exposure, color temperature, etc. Included settings are Portrait, Soft Skin, Self Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, and Underwater.

Did you notice the really odd ones in there? Self Portrait? Aerieal Photo? Baby 1, 2? Pet? I’ll go into a few of these.

Self Portrait makes it easier to take a self-portrait of yourself. The self-timer light on the front will flash if the camera doesn’t have a good auto-focus on you

Aerial Photo is pretty easy. It makes pictures taken out of an airplane window much nicer. I haven’t tested this, having not been in an airplane since I bought this this morning.

Baby 1, 2, and Pet are interesting, and will lead me into Travel Settings and Date Stamping. Before taking a picture with one of these modes, you can specify the birthdate of the baby or pet (it will remember the last saved values). It will then adjust the settings to take better pictures of the baby or pet and display their current age (to the day). The data is associated with the picture, but not included in the image, though it can later be Date Stamped onto the picture or printed along with the picture.

Travel Settings

This camera makes it easy to keep track of what photos were taken when during a vacation. You can set the start date of your vacation and the timezone you’re in (or travelling to). The pictures taken while the vacation mode is set will be associated with that time and timezone. The LCD will also show you the current day of the vacation (when taking a picture) or the day of the vacation the picture was taken (when viewing older pictures). This can then be Date Stamped onto the picture, much like the Baby and Pet scene modes.

Date Stamping

The camera stores some metadata along with the picture. Some pieces of data (current age, current day of vacation, timestamp) can at any point be stamped onto the picture (either the original or a copy of it). If desired, the camera can stamp it onto the picture as it prints without touching the actual file on the camera.

Voice Recording

Another piece of data that can be associated with pictures is a voice recording. Ever take a picture and forget what it was about? Now you can just choose to add a little voice memo to a picture and play it back later. I’ll probably be making extensive use of this.

Clipboard

Okay, this is probably one of my favorite features right here. Often times we’ll be designing something on the whiteboard at work and we’ll want a copy for later reference. Of course, the best way to do this is to just take a picture. The problem with that is that you then have to sort through your pictures on the camera trying to find the whiteboard picture later on.

When the Clipboard mode is selected, any pictures taken will be stored in a special area for later access. You can browse your list of clips (whether they’re whiteboard photos, documents, maps, etc.), associate voice recordings with them, or whatever. The camera settings are automatically adjusted when taking these photos so text on a whiteboard or on a piece of paper becomes very readable.

They took this feature a step further by making it more useful to those who take photos of maps. You can specify on a per-picture basis the zoom level and position to display, so that when you open up the clip of a map, you’ll be positioned directly over your area of interest, zoomed in to the street. It’s like Google Maps, except not quite as useful.

LCD, Exposure and Photo List Modes

The LCD is quite large (3 inches) and they took advantage of this by providing some nice features. Various display modes can be quickly activated to show all the basic information (battery life, exposure setting, etc.), one of two alignment/positioning grids, an image histogram, or nothing but the photo.

The standard LCD brightness setting is good for indoors, but when outside in the sun, sometimes you need something more. A quick button press will let you turn on the Outdoor brightness setting, making it far easier to see in the sun. They also offer a “High Angle” mode, allowing the LCD to be easily viewed when the camera is a foot above your head.

Now, this one impressed me. Maybe it’s standard nowadays, but I certainly didn’t have it. Ever take a picture and go “I wish I took a darker/lighter version of that?” Yeah, well I have. This camera offers an option for quickly taking three successive pictures in three exposure levels, allowing you to sort out which you like best later on. I’ll probably be making use of this all the time.

I usually keep a lot of photos on my camera, as I’m quite bad at spending the 10 minutes to dump them on the computer and reformat the stick. So when I want to find a photo I’ve taken, I usually spend a good amount of time looking. This camera eases that just a bit by offering a calendar photo list mode. It will show a calendar view of the current month and mark each day a photo was taken by the first photo taken on that day. Clicking on the day will display all the photos that were taken that day.

If you need to view and compare two photos side-by-side, the camera lets you easily do so. Simply choose the option and rotate the camera. You can then select the photo you want on top and the one you want on the bottom. This is really useful if you just can’t really decide which of two photos you’d rather keep.

In short…

This camera rocks, especially for the price. There’s a lot I didn’t talk about, like the image stabilization and anti-blur (which as far as I can tell works pretty well). I’ve only used this for half a day now (though I’ve played around quite a bit with it, to the point of needing to recharge the battery again). If anyone has any questions, I’ll be glad to answer them in the comments. Likewise, I’d love to hear what other people think about this camera.

The oxygen comes in two flavors

The oxygen comes in two flavors: “strong mint” and “grapefruit” and will cost 600 yen a can, including consumption tax.
MSN News

Where to begin…

I remember the idea of canned oxygen even back when I was a kid. It was a joke back then, of course, but the joke went that people are able to put absolutely anything up for sale and there would be people buying it. They could sell oxygen and people would pay for it. Well, it’s not a joke anymore, it’s now a growing market in Japan.

It seems like a silly idea. Pay somewhere around $5.50 and get a can of grapefruit or mint oxygen. At times of stress, or when you feel tired, inhale. But maybe it’s not so crazy. How often do you feel you need to step out of the office a while to get a breath of fresh air? How many times have you decided to forgo getting that fresh air because you just don’t feel you have time? If a can of fresh air is relatively cheap and is available at the local gas station, then maybe, just maybe it could catch on for the busy or stressed out worker who can’t take the time to walk outside for a while.

Oxygen has been sold for years, just not to people who intend and have the ability to breath it while surrounded by air. Scuba divers and people on oxygen tanks are consumers of the product. But they’re not buying it for the flavors. They’re buying it to live under certain conditions. It must have been a hard sell initially to convince people that they should buy oxygen for use when they’re surrounded by oxygen.

According to the article, normal air contains about 21% oxygen, while one of these cans contains 95% oxygen. They claim the high concentration of oxygen brings about “a feeling of invigoration.” I must wonder, though, if a person could get dizzy or in some way high off the stuff. Still, better than the alternatives.

I also have to wonder what it’s like to breathe mint or grapefruit. I would think the smell of roses would be a good choice, or perhaps pine. I’m sure if this takes off, there will be more flavors. Though, as well as it may do in Japan, I’m not sure it would be so popular in the US. I might be surprised, though.