Category Archives: Gadgets

Nokia X: The illegitimate lovechild of AOSP and MS Services

So Nokia finally released the Nokia X series of Android phones, and at MWC no less. First up I have to own up that Ben Thompson was right about Nokia’s Android intentions, and I was wrong. Though I still believe the deal does make sense from MS’ perspective. Without Lumia brand WP is dead in the water. Whether MS should abandon Windows Phone is different topic (and if you must ask, I would say NO).

After my initial indignation was over I have come to conclusion that X is pretty much the lever that Nokia used to sell its Windows Phone business to Microsoft. If we trace the timeline of when Nokia may have started working on X (Android Jellybean code base), we’ll see that having jumped off the burning platform Nokia found itself entangled in the Windows Phone parachute and the rescue boats (WP updates) were taking way too long to come by for it to stay afloat. It thus started project X as a life boat (I speculate it was a code name to start with, fact that it is still called the same shows the bastardized nature of the project, they didn’t bother with a marketing name) till the end. But building a lifeboat when you are in water already seems rather stupid and yet we have Nokia X series now 😐.

Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is the publicly available kernel + services that form the core of Android OS. This is free and Nokia X builds on top of it. Most Android devices however bundle GMS or Google Mobile Services that device manufacturers have to pay to use and get permission from Google. You can read up why GMS is the heart of Android ecosystem in Peter Bright’s write up at ARS Technica.

Why launch it after it has served its purpose?

This was the question that made me most angry. I am fine with the lever, everyone does it (Motorola had threatened to sue other Android OEMs on patent issues before Google bought it for a whopping load of money). Only a few reasons come to mind so my rant begins here:

A desperate stab at leveraging the success of Android

Given that they had spent considerable effort with the phone before MS began acquisition negotiations, Nokia was desperate to achieve success on its own in a vain attempt to prove (to itself?) that it still had the chops for runaway hits. This seems a little childish and vain to me and launching it at MWC seems a little over the top, there has to be a better reason. But then, spare a thought for the team working on the project. For them release is a kind of closure. As a dev I certainly understand that.

Also the Symbian based Pureview launch happened after the WP deal was struck, probably because the project was initiated earlier and had to reach a closure. Though I see the point of the hardware (41MP camera) release and its subsequent adoption into 1020, but I see no such path for project X.

Kick Microsoft in the balls to get ‘Engineering brownie points’ post-merger

Microsoft has dug itself into a hole with the separate paths for Windows RT and Windows Phone 8. While it is still plugging away at Windows Phone 8.1, Nokia took project X to completion to show off its engineering prowess that might come in handy post-merger when there will be two system engineering teams who between them have developed at least a dozen OSes. That would explain the old Android code base, as in, once the project was released, it would have served its purpose. But the confidence of building a complete ecosystem experience would have stayed on.

Clean slate reboot and future ambitions

Nokia may not have the Asha and Lumia names post-merger, but remember Vertu, high end Nokia phones that went Android? Project X could be easily re-released as a new line sans Nokia/Lumia/Asha brand name. This would add to reasons for the high profile launch which could be leveraged later. The X+ and XL models hint at these ambitions.

Whatever their reason it was a tacit acknowledgement of a few telling things:

  1. MS’ Windows Phone adventure is horribly off track.
  2. MS’ WP ecosystem is ‘different’ enough to put it in ‘good to have’ category and not consider it for launch of a new Application/Service/Startup. In other words, might as well have Android sans Google Mobile Services so that one can coax devs into recompiling (against MS services), instead of hoping that dev will eventually build a WP version. Can’t fault Nokia for feeling that way, given the hard time Instagram gave it before launching a half assed WP version of their app.
  3. MS’ WP developer ecosystem is not growing as expected. This is tied to number 2 above. WP is a third choice at best for app developers. The dedicated hoard of WP dev are jaded from the WP7 to WP8 experience where they had to nearly do everything from scratch. There is a healthy dose of skepticism around what WP 8.1 will bring amongst outsiders like me. However 8.1 technically is MS’ third major WP release and MS is ‘famous’ for getting it right the third time (at a minimum). So there are high hopes.

Microsoft supported outside attempt to gain quick traction in name of Android

This is the scariest of all thoughts. If this was paid for by MS then it shows a serious lack of commitment or confusion or both on MS’ part with respect to their own WP platform. If that happens to be the case, MS is in way bigger trouble than it cares to think about and will definitely face Dev community revolt when this happens. I am scared to think or write about it anymore.

It is not meant to be a vehicle for MS services.

Unlike what’s claimed by many, project X isn’t meant to bring hordes of users to Microsoft services. Given that Lumia low end platform performs better than X based devices, why would anyone buy this Frankenstein device? Why not just buy into MS ecosystem directly? People who buy Android make a conscious choice most of the time. Ignore the knowledge and ability of your customers at your own peril. A dual SIM option doesn’t automatically open doors for a half assed device experience. If anything, Android’s association with Google is well known enough and not having Google will be a constant source of negative word-of-the mouth publicity.

The services part was probably the last piece that Nokia attempted and MS services served two purposes,

  1. Placate MS, who I am sure is hopping mad at the release inspite of putting forth a brave face at the moment
  2. MS services provide a near perfect feature replacement for Google services and were easy to integrate rather than build from scratch.

Future of Windows Phone?

Initially I felt this marked the beginning of the end for Windows phone OS. If MS keeps this project alive this will be true. However, I now see WP moving to a respectable third position by solidly replacing BlackBerry. In other words WP is set to become the Linux of the desktop world. Meaning that it will be a solid, dependable platform restricted to a niche user base of enthusiasts and business users most of whom carry two phones, the other one being an Android or iPhone.

Android meanwhile is equivalent to Windows of the desktop world. It has reached a level of ubiquity in terms of a mobile platform. However, the name itself is supposed to sell the device is a rather naïve thought process given that there is going to be a boatload of competition offering the ‘real’ Android as opposed to AOSP based device. So end users when faced with the choice are likely to opt for the ‘real’ thing. (Treating your users as a bunch of n00bs is a bad idea). Microsoft has every reason to kill project X post-merger, and I hope it does and at the same time I hope it also addresses the concerns that led to project X in the first place.

Juicing up a dated MacBook Pro

It’s fair to say, my MBP is dated and well past it’s prime. It’s a Mid 2009 13” Core 2 Duo that I purchased new in Jan 2010. It was my very first personal laptop and has worked flawlessly for the last 3 years. I’ve taken good care and given it three updates (before this week), Memory Upgrade from 4 Gig to 8 Gig, HDD Upgrade from the default 270 (or so) Gig to a 1 TB Western Digital Caviar Blue. The third upgrade was from OSX Snow Leopard to OSX Lion.

This week I gave it another upgrade, added an SSD in the CD Drive slot. The components involved were

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I had initially zeroed in on the Samsung EVO 250 Gigs drive, but ultimately settled for the Kingston which I’ve (a good) experience with.

Swapping the Parts

Step 1: Flip your MacBook Pro and unscrew the 10 or so screws. Start from the top right corner and go anti-clockwise, the first three screws will be the longer than the rest.

Step 2: Before we remove the Optical drive we have to unhook two flat cables. First one connects the optical drive to the MoBo and the second one connects the HDD to the MoBo. Use a plastic spludger or your nails to gently lift them up as shown below.

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Step 3: There are three screws that hold it in place, and there is a connector cable to the motherboard that we have to remove. The first screw is under the cable towards the center of the system. You have to push the cable up, to reveal the screw.

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Step 4: The next screw is on the Top Left corner of the system and easily accessible

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Step 5: The Final screw is near the middle on the Left hand edge, again easily accessible

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Step 6: Next lift up the Optical drive from the bottom left corner gently. It will come up only about a centimeter then pull it towards yourself. If you encounter resistance bend the battery sticker and the straighten the HDD flat cable, they are stiffer than they look.

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Step 7: Once you have extracted the Optical Drive there is a hook attachment that you need to unscrew and screw it back to the HDD caddy.

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Step 8: The flat cable that we removed from the Motherboard earlier goes into the Optical drive via another adapter. Gently pull it out as well, after you have put in your new HDD into the HDD caddy, you can put this adapter back into the HDD Caddy.

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Step 9: Once you have snapped the HDD into the caddy, flip the caddy over and put in two screws (the Caddy came with a bunch of screws, pick the right size)

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Step 10: Here on it’s the inverse process of Step 6 and go back carefully, till your MacBook is bolted up.

Notes and Caveats

You are probably wondering why I put the new SSD into the HDD caddy instead of the Hard Drive bay because OSX can’t boot off a drive in the Optical Drive bay.

Well, I use Windows 8.1 via VMWare Fusion more often than I use the native OSX, and running the VMs off the same drive as the OS was really stretching it. OSX would literally be rendered useless when the VMs was running. I moved the VM to an external USB drive, that improved things but had it’s own set of issues with the VMs crashing after going into Sleep mode and so on.

I want the SSD to be where my VMs are run off. After the installation, OSX is slightly more useful with the Win8.1 VM running and the Win8.1 VM simply screams. It is almost as fast as Windows on SSD natively. I moved the VMWareFusion.app to the SSD as well.

Enabling TRIM

Sometimes we just hate OSX for being a ‘*****’. The case here being TRIM support for Apple installed SSDs only. YES! OSX Lion supports TRIM but only for Apple installed SSDs not third party SSDs. After you have ‘Initialized’ your drive using Disk Utility tool, get yourself Chameleon SSD Optimizer or some other similar third party product and enable TRIM on your SSD without fail. YMMV so use it at your own risk. The Disk Utility Tool will pop up and ask you to Initialize the disk first time you boot up and it detects the SSD.

Conclusion

Things are going well so far. Near native Windows performance and OSX can be used in parallel. Most people do the opposite by putting the OS on the SSD and moving everything else off it. In my case I don’t need OSX to run any faster than it is at the moment. I needed a stable and better performing Windows VM. I got that. This is a strictly temporary situation until I get my Haswell computer together and the SSD might be repurposed there, but that story is for later.

P.S. Amazon decided that I could wait for the Optical Drive enclosure so it has scheduled it for delivery in December Surprised smile. Till then the Optical Drive is wrapped away in bubble wrap. Once the drive enclosure arrives I’ll be able to use the Optical Drive as an external USB drive.

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Windows RT, Surface and Courier – What could have been

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Today’s announcement of Nokia Lumia 2520 made me happy briefly before I realized the inevitability – Microsoft has bought Nokia’s Lumia brand so once the acquisition goes through, either the Surface RT or the Lumia tablet would be canned. As a Surface RT owner and admirer of the Lumia brand it’s not a good scenario, but that’s not what this post is about, the thought of one of the products getting canned rekindled memories of the Courier. Microsoft’s parallel tablet OS experiment that lost out to Windows 8.

If you have never heard of the The Courier, you can see the concept here and read how it didn’t make it.

As you can see, it was an ‘innovative’ idea. But it lost out to Windows 8. At the time I didn’t know about Windows RT and was in general bought into the idea of continuing with the Windows lineage. But then months later, Microsoft Announced Windows RT and the Surface RT.

When Surface RT launched there was an OUTCRY from the tech bloggers as to it was ‘confusing’ because it was Windows that didn’t work with ‘old’ Windows apps. I am pretty sure these are all Apple/Google fanbois who use a Mac or Chromebook (pun intended) for their day to day work!. I bought an RT fully knowing what it is not and I am sure the ‘very few’ people who bought it, knew what they were doing.

But knowing what I knew, I was still surprised how much Windows baggage Windows RT contained and probably the biggest drawback was battery life. Jeff Atwood (of StackExchange fame) had a scathing take on it a few days back and I wrote about it myself in my Surface RT reviews. Much as we would have liked it Windows RT wasn’t a reboot but a re-compile with unnecessary pieces weeded out! But 18 years of an OS shows and it takes much longer to ‘weed out’ un-necessary gremlins. Would a fresh/ground up Courier OS for ARM tablets have been better? I am not saying Windows RT is not touch friendly, but it’s definitely not battery friendly and neither is it flying off the shelves after being bracketed as an iPad wannabe!!!

So after looking at Nokia’s apps for Photos etc. and thinking about the past few days of blogosphere I was thinking what if Surface RT was the Courier and Windows RT was Courier OS? Surface Pro could have been the productivity tablet, while Courier was the entertainment oriented branding! I am not even saying it should have been a split screen form-factor, a clean start, a different branding, hit battery life and some of the Courier features of course!!! Vendors could have used the Windows Phone 8 ecosystem to launch Tablets while the Courier would have been MS’ niche product.

Well, one can dream!!!

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Solved: Windows 8 does not recognize DLNA Media Servers

Previously I have blogged about how I converted my Raspberry Pi into a DLNA Media Server. When we moved to UK I brought along my media server and it was up in a jiffy. However, yesterday, when I sat down to build my long pending Windows 8 Media Client on my rebuilt Windows 8 VM, it simply wouldn’t show the MediaPi (name of my Media Server) when I selected ‘Computer’ in Windows Explorer.

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But if you see, the machine was on the Network (RASPBERRYPI). Why is this important?

Well, the WinRT API to retrieve all the Media Servers on the Network is as follows

await KnownFolders.MediaServerDevices.GetFoldersAsync();

If Windows Explorer is not showing the Media server, the above API will not return it either.

Twist in the tale was that the Media server was visible when I selected the ‘Network’ node in Explorer.

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To make things more confusing, when I started Windows Media Explorer, the MediaPI came up there too.

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This kind of scenario is pretty much a disaster because it’s nearly impossible to search for. So first I posted in on Windows Forum, but continued fiddling around. Finally I found a solution.

The Solution

1. I brought up the Settings Charm and click the ‘Change PC Settings’

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2. When I selected ‘Devices’ and I saw MediaPi but it had an ‘offline’ label. So I selected it and clicked on the (-) icon on the top right corner. This removed the Device.

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3. Next I started Windows Explorer again and Clicked on ‘Access media’->’Connect to a media server’.

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4. Windows found the MediaPi device and listed it in the Search Dialog. I selected it and clicked ‘Next’, Windows said it’s installing the ‘Required Files’ and once it was done, I could see the Media Server again.

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Sweet! Done there!

I put the same solution back in Forum question as well.

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Completing my Pi powered personal (Media) cloud

In my previous article I had mentioned how I setup a Samba based file server using my Raspberry PI to share media across my computers in my home network. It works fine, but still it’s not really streaming the media and I figured out that I still couldn’t use my media via the XBox because XBox doesn’t work with Network shares unless they are over UPnP. So the next quest was to setup a UPnP server on my Pi.

Turned out to be really easy thanks to MiniDLNA. This article has all the steps if you need Samba+Transmission (Torrent Client)+OpenDNS.

Setting up MiniDLNA Only

I already had Samba installed so I skipped that step and just installed MiniDLNA. Also I didn’t need it over the web, so I didn’t need Transmission or the Torrent Client, most of my media are training videos that I download from their respective sites. I setup MiniDLNA only and used nano as my editor (yeah, still no good with VI)

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sudo apt-get install minidlna

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sudo nano /etc/minidlna.conf

While updating the minidlna.conf file you have the option of specifying Video/Music/Pictures folders. I already had my media split up in those categories so I used those configurations.

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Give it a friendly name to identify over the network

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friendly_name=MediaPi

Hit Ctrl+X and say Yes when asked if you want to save the changes. This will get you out of Nano. Now restart the service

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sudo service minidlna restart

Force it to rescan for a good measure (though if you are patient enough this might not be necessary

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sudo service minidlna force-reload

Once you are done reloading, give it about 5 minutes, yeah, walk away from your terminal.

Enjoying your Media

After MiniDLNA is done scanning the folders are you good to go.

From Windows 8

If you have connected to a ‘Private’ network, Windows will automatically look for Media servers and you should see the Name you gave above (MediaPi) in my case:

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You can select it and open it in Windows Media Player, or directly open Windows Media Player and start playing from it directly

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From XBox

Just start your ‘System Video Player’ App (NOT XBox Video).

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The Friendly Name should popup automatically assuming you are on the same network

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From iOS

Well iOS doesn’t recognize UPnP and DLNA devices out of the box. But fear not, there is an ‘app for that’. Yeah, cliché I know. Most app players cost a bit of money, but I found ‘Fresh Player’ to be a usable application. Interestingly I can’t connect to the MediaPi at the moment with it, so it may not be the most ‘reliable’. I’ll update once I find a decent player.

Well, that’s a wrap for the day! Things you can do with this tiny $35 computer is simply amazing! The fun continues!

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