Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ubuntu for Android

With the news of Mountain Lion out in the open, a lot of integration between iOS and the new OS is being talked about. The desktop OS is trying to be closer to the mobile one thus making the transition seemless. People are also talking about how this might impact the mobile industry and work against Android. When I thought about it, I felt that the argument made sense.

Today I saw the news on Ubuntu for Android. I read further about it in herehere and here. This is a truly novel idea. One device which gives you two different experiences and without any compromise (if it really works like it says). I truly will be able to use a device in two different fully functional and integrated modes (ok, that is repeating the previous line but I just am amazed at the idea). And best part is that it is favorite desktop OS too. Just reading about the amount of synchronization and synergy there will be (sharing the same kernel surely helps) and what can I do with both is really amazing.

One thing that is not clear is the kind of ubuntu based application that will be available on this ubuntu version. More news might trickle down the line.

Now, if you don't want to read all of these links which I have provided above and just want to taste of this thing then jump straight to the below video:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Open Source Textbooks - Now that is new!

Recently I read an article in techcrunch which talked about open source text books. This was the first time I came across such an idea. Very interesting really!

It talks about how costly text books are and how open source can help a lot. It also talks about how there are some ventures/firms which are working in this area (with the recent addition of apple with there new iBooks etc.). It also mentions about the usage of tablet like devices where text book content can be received and consumed (that takes away the cost of printing/publishing). At the end it mentions that it would probably take 10 years for open source text books become main stream (that is to grab around 25% of the market share). All this is in the context of U.S.

Will this ever happen in India!

That is the thought that struck me immediately. For that first I wanted to consider whether we need such a thing. When I look at my daughter Harinya's book needs (she is studying in Upper Kindergarten), the cost is sufficiently high for her age. Even my college books were quite costly at that time. So does this mean there is some kind of need for open source text books. May be.

I thought about it a bit more. I remembered that during my school education we used text books from NCERT which were of good quality and extremely cheap. I went to their site and found that they allow you to download books from class I to XII from the site. Of course these are copyright protected and hence cannot be reprinted or redistributed (that's restrictive, but its better than nothing). Now if students can get hold of these directly then it would be great for them to use. But this means that the students need someway to access this content and store it so that they can read from it. How can they do that without some kind of device and internet connection.

Recently there was news on the Aakash tablet. If Aakash really becomes possible (is that too much to hope for), it is an ideal platform for students to get such content and use it. Wow! that sounds like a complete end to end solution. Is it too good to be true?

I don't know whether the Aakash tablets are available for kids in school. From what I understand the tablet is available only to college students at least as of now. And NCERT books are available only for school students. Now this means that two ends of the above solution never meet. So these efforts become pretty much useless (unless something changes).

Even if these meet, I still see two problems. The schools in India can follow different syllabuses and different boards. So depending on the board, the content available through NCERT might or might not be relevant. Also individual schools which follow the same syllabus as NCERT may still use different text books than what is available through NCERT. Can this be changed? I don't know. The other part is that for higher studies there is nothing like NCERT which is providing free/cheap content (may be that's going to change - I am not sure, I would like to know). Till that happens, the content required for studies will still be very expensive (expensive is a relative term and here I mean expensive for India.)

Does this mean Open Source text books are going to be useful for India? I am positive it is going to be. But the question is when will it happen in India. I would like to believe it is soon but I don't think it will happen. I hope I am wrong! What do you think?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Firefox Roadmap for 2012

Lately Firefox has been in news for the wrong reason. They have been losing out to competitors especially Chrome.

I personally use both the browsers and like both of them. I really like the Firefox add-on system because it is quite rich (Chrome has caught up quite a bit on this too). One thing which I don't like is its bloated nature (the other day I saw Firefox was taking close 2 GB of my RAM!).

I got a chance to look at the Firefox Roadmap for 2012 which got updated very recently. There are some good things planned and I was able to categorize them into themes:

  • Catch up to Chrome:  One of the primary themes which I could make out (because they obviously won't say it that way) is Firefox trying to add a lot of Chrome features. For example: silent updates, web apps marketplace (like Chrome Web Store), add-on sync seem the most important ones. There are a few others as well.
  • Performance - There are a lot of items on this one and I am very glad about it. Firefox is looking at changes for better memory management, improving start up speed, faster session restores. They plan to introduce a next generation JavaScript engine 'IonMonkey' which is expected to have improved performance. They are other similar ones mentioned in the roadmap including a few obvious ones.
  • Social engagement - Firefox is planning to provide ways to share stuff. It is also going to have an id system (log on to Firefox with a password which hooks you to other things). One of the best things they are planning to introduce is an ability to monitor site tracking and control it (one of my friends would be thrilled with this feature). I would like to learn more about this and if I do, I will share it.
  • Firefox for Window 8 Metro: There is plan to release beta version of Firefox for Windows 8 metro. At this point in time we don't know how this will pan out and the kind of features that will come out. For the matter we don't even know how much Metro will catch on. Something to wait and watch.
  • Other catch up/good stuff: Reader mode similar to Safari. Language translation  etc.

Now these are significant features for sure. The one that can make Firefox standout and be counted as serious contenders is the social/privacy feature. If that is good then a lot of privacy conscious people (and that is a lot of people!) will take to Firefox. And to make them not regret that decision, Firefox performance improvements will help.

On the whole it looks like Firefox does not want to give up and die! I hope and want them to make it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Belated Happy Birthday Google Maps

I just learned from this article that Google maps turned seven yesterday. It covers some salient dates and numbers in the Google Maps journey.

I think Google maps is really amazing. Using maps for actually finding my way around was made possible (even thinking about it) for me by Google maps. Before, I would not have dreamed about it. While there are other services like Bing Maps, lot of people I see around keep using only Google maps. It has become a de-facto standard. I have used it to find my way around in my own city many times.

Belated Happy birthday Google Maps. I wish you the best!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Appbooster by AppsFire

Mobile application development is currently a hot thing to do. I can see a lot of people developing apps for the smart phone platforms like iPhone and Android (even school kids). I too want to and hope to do it some point in time (at least that is the excuse I gave when I bought these devices).

When I hunt for apps, I read of lot of review comments from other users. This is especially useful in the Android platform (it is useful in IOS too but it is less so) and I make decisions on whether to try it out based on these comments.

While these comments are very useful for peer users, I wonder what it does to developers. I have seen many developers mentioning in the description to send them emails if there are any issues instead of giving review comments. There is two fold advantage for developers in this. First of all they can avoid negative reviews coming in the market/app store which will affect their app download/usage. Secondly they can have meaningful conversation to get a better understanding of the problem. They might even be able to get new feature ideas from their customers. All in all better customer engagement which is something a developer should love to have.

Today I came across a news item which talked about Appbooster. A short description talks about how the sdk can allow developers to easily build an in-app feedback and notification mechanism. Direct engagement is what this is driving. While the feedback part seems to essentially talk about what is described above, the notification stuff is cool. You can send notifications to users based on geography, version etc. You could tell them about new features added or new features coming in etc. All of this is inside the app. This also could mean that developers need not push notifications to the common notification bar (it really annoys me sometimes) if they don't want to. Not sure whether they will not want to.

The platform also makes possible cross promotion of apps. This can have an advertisement angle - developers collaborating to provide ads for each others apps. They might even push ads for app related merchandise in due course of time. Now that won't please Google or Apple.

The sdk page says that it is available for iOS and Android. Appbooster is currently in beta. So interested developers please jump in and let others know how good (or bad) it is.

p.s.: While reading about Appbooster which is part of Appsfire, I realized Appsfire itself is app discovery engine (like chomp I guess). Will try it out and let you know. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The fate of the Aakash Tablet

When I read this article on Aakash, I felt really bad. I was happy that there was innovation happening at our own education institutions. Also felt good that there was effort to make things better and the inventors were trying to push the manufacturers to get out better quality stuff.

But the stalemate is not going to help us in anyway. I am not sure whether the Indian government will do a good job in breaking the stalemate in the proper way and in the proper time.

I look up at the sky and hope and pray that Aakash makes it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Google vs Microsoft - Business as usual

Microsoft is trying their best to benefit from the hue and cry people are making over Google privacy policy changes. Google is answering it back with their own blog post (find a short summary here).

I personally am not so much concerned about the privacy policy changes which Google is making (to be frank I am not so buzzed about privacy policy changes in general - if you want to keep something really private then don't put it on the internet). But 'privacy changes' are nowadays treated almost like some personal attack or act of robbery!

From what I have heard most of such companies including Microsoft have such common privacy policies. So seems like a clear case Microsoft trying to make hay when the sun shines :).

Now it was only yesterday, I talked about Microsoft becoming benign and whether I had lost my mind to think like that. Today, it is proved that I have really lost it!    

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Microsoft Offers Accelerator-Backed Startups $60,000* In Azure Cloud Usage

It helps to be sitting on a big pile of cash. Microsoft has shown this to us a number of times. They are offering free cloud time to leading startups chosen through their startup promotion partners.  The game of course is to increase adoption of Azure and push it forward. That said it is still a good gesture from Microsoft (at least some start ups might use the opportunity). Also given that Azure supports open technologies (yes java too), it is surely not a bad proposition for these startups.

For sometime now, I have had feeling that Microsoft is turning more benign than before. Am I right or should I go for a sanity test?

App Engine 1.6.2 Released

The latest app engine release is out. During its initial days I really liked the idea of App Engine ( I guess a lot of it has to do with the fact it was free and from Google). I even went for a short training course on it. Then slowly interested faded. Lot more players came in after that with different and better (more complete) offerings. App Engine restricted environment did not help matters. App engine lost its shine for me.

That might not be so for many others. So you might be thrilled about it. If so do let me know.

Facebook filing for $5 billion IPO tomorrow, says NYT | The Verge

Facebook is reported to make a public offer of $5 billion (very close to all time high, according to the report).

I am not a big user of Facebook. I rarely log into it directly. I use Facebook through other tools for sharing stuff some of my friends. I think these friends of mine are the reason behind Facebook's success (ok, multiple millions of people like my friends). The feelings this raises in my head are mixed (more like 'I wish I was part of it - the greenery looks fantastic').

Facebook has grown at such a rapid pace. Technologically (which is primarily my interest) they have done a lot of good/great things. They are probably the poster child for a start up. Every start up would love to think that they are destined to same place. But I really doubt that. To do another Facebook is next to impossible at least within my life time. What do you think?