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Nokia’s N900: Emerging flagship device

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on September 1, 2009

The right partnership nets it right for Nokia at the first go: Nokia N900!

Symbian still has 45% of the smartphone market share in the world and yet as an Mobile OS platform it is mostly ante-diluvian and uncharismatic, which explains Nokia’s move into other open source platforms (read Linux) and partnerships (read Windows). This strategy to de-risk seems to have already got some attention of the media, tech enthusiasts and device geeks who by now had gotten to the habit of talking iPhone, Blackberry,Android and Palm.  

Nokia marked the next phase in the evolution of Maemo software with the new Nokia N900. Taking its cues from the world of desktop computing, the open source, Linux-based Maemo software delivers a PC-like experience on a handset-sized device.

Heres an AV from YouTube demonstrating the Maemo experience.

The Nokia N900 has evolved from Nokia’s previous generation of Internet Tablets and broadens the choice for technology enthusiasts who appreciate the ability to multitask and browse the internet like they would on their desktop computer.

Running on the new Maemo 5 software, the Nokia N900 empowers users to have dozens of application windows open and running simultaneously while taking full advantage of the cellular features, touch screen and QWERTY keyboard.

Nokia N 900

“With Linux software, Mozilla-based browser technology and now also with cellular connectivity, the Nokia N900 delivers a powerful mobile experience,” says Anssi Vanjoki, Executive Vice President, Markets, Nokia. “The Nokia N900 shows where we are going with Maemo and we’ll continue to work with the community to push the software forward. What we have with Maemo is something that is fusing the power of the computer, the internet and the mobile phone, and it is great to see that it is evolving in exciting ways.” Nokia had always spoken about Convergence and designed its product around this theme. Now it seems to be getting its user experience around this theme right.

Designed for computer-grade performance in a compact size, Maemo complements Nokia’s other software platforms, such as Symbian, which powers Nokia’s smartphones. Going forward the Maemo may become the high end platform for Nokia because for its superior abilities and Symbian would deal with the mid and low range phones.

“Just as Nokia continues to expand and diversify its device portfolio, so it is deploying multiple platforms to allow it to serve different purposes and address different markets. While we have seen continued growth in Symbian as a smartphone platform, Maemo enables Nokia to deliver new mobile computing experiences based on open-source technology that has strong ties with desktop platforms,” says Jonathan Arber, Senior Research Analyst in Consumer Mobile at IDC.

More multitasking with Maemo

Nokia Tablet
The Nokia N900 packs a powerful ARM Cortex-A8 processor, up to 1GB of application memory and OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics acceleration. The result is PC-like multitasking, allowing many applications to run simultaneously. Switching between applications is simple, as all running content is constantly available through the dashboard. The panoramic homescreen can be fully personalized with favorite shortcuts, widgets and applications.

To make web browsing more enjoyable, the Nokia N900 features a high-resolution WVGA touch screen and fast internet connectivity with 10/2 HSPA and WLAN. Thanks to the browser powered by Mozilla technology, websites look the way they would on any computer. Online videos and interactive applications are vivid with full Adobe Flash(TM) 9.4 support. Maemo software updates happen automatically over the internet.

Messaging on the N900 is easy and convenient thanks to the full physical slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Setting up email happens with only a few touches and the Nokia Messaging service mobilizes up to 10 personal email accounts. Text message or IM exchanges with friends are shown in one view and all conversations are organized as separate windows.

The Nokia N900 has 32GB of storage, which is expandable up to 48GB via a microSD card. For photography, the Maemo software and the N900 come with a new tag cloud user interface that will help users get the most out of the 5MP camera and Carl Zeiss optics.

The Nokia N900 will be available in select markets from October 2009 with an estimated retail price of EUR 500 excluding sales taxes and subsidies. While the device looks great, it will also be the apps, customer experience and software that will decide the acceptability of the device. Nokia has failed with the N97. Maemo may just be the shot in its arm to get better with the N 900.

The N900 will have a good opening but going forward where would Apple fit in with the iTablet. Only time will tell. Watch this space.

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Would MS Azure start a new cloud price war?

Posted in The cloud and the open source by Manas Ganguly on July 28, 2009

Earlier today Microsoft unveiled it’s pricing model for its forthcoming Windows Azure cloud services platform. What’s interesting about the pricing model is that they seem to be taking direct aim at Amazon Web Services.

To recap, Amazon charges 12.5 cents per hour for a basic Windows Server instance in contrast Microsoft’s stated that their price will be 12 cents.They noted that the service will remain free until November. I should also point out that it still isn’t clear if comparing Windows Azure to Amazon’s Windows EC2 is a fair comparison given the rather drastic differences in functionality.

Microsoft calls Windows Azure a “cloud services operating system” that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Platform. They’ve also said they will offer a private data center version of Azure that will be capable of being hosted within a “private cloud” context. This will be most likely as part of their upcoming virtual infrastructure platform “hyper-v” possibly as a virtual machine image. Currently to build applications and services on Windows Azure, developers can use their existing Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 expertise with the ability to easily run highly scalable ASP.NET Web applications or .NET code in the MS cloud.

Microsoft officials had previously indicated that Windows Azure pricing would be competitive, but the price differential may be more symbolic than material. At their published rates, if you ran a Window server in the cloud every hour of the day for an entire year, you’d save a mere $43.80 going with Microsoft. Indeed, if penny pinching is important, Amazon Web Services actually has a cheaper alternative, though it’s not Windows. Amazon charges 10 cents per hour for “small” virtualized Linux and Unix servers.”

The half cent price difference is quite certainly material for those running larger cloud application deployments. A few cents can quickly add up. The move indicates that Microsoft is certainly not afraid to subsidize its cloud pricing in order to take a larger piece of the cloud market and with the large cash reserves Microsoft is said to have, they can certainly afford to engage in a price war. The bigger question will be how other more closely related cloud platform providers will adjust their pricing models? Right now all signs are starting to point a cloud price war. Time will be the best judge!

How Microsoft is underprepared for next gen computers?

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems, Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on July 28, 2009

Microsoft’s Windows is still shipped on 97 per cent of all new PCs. Thanks to the emergence of new classes of portable, internet-connected devices, a potentially disruptive sea-change is now under way in the fastest-growing areas of personal computing and Windows is not exactly in the driver seat on this ground.

As a PC operating system, it turned out that the world did not need, or want, Linux. The ubiquity of Windows guaranteed that other software developers would write their programs to run on it, creating an effective barrier to entry for others trying to break into the market.

That market dynamic has also helped Microsoft to hold its ground so far on netbooks, the new class of small-scale machines that have been the sole bright spot in an otherwise shrinking PC market. While early netbooks came with Linux and were designed to act mainly as simple internet devices, they have since been recast as scaled-down versions of the familiar, software-heavy laptop.

Yet this victory has come at a cost, and has exposed a flaw in Microsoft’s development plans. With most netbooks incapable of running the Windows Vista code, it was forced to use the older Windows XP operating system. And with prices far lower than for standard laptops, Microsoft has already seen an erosion in the average price it gets for Windows.

A second phase of the netbook wars is now looming. Google’s Linux-based Chrome OS, announced this month and planned for the second half of next year, is designed to carry through on the original promise of netbooks: to let users do all their work on the web through a browser. The web is thus a platform for applications and the operating system becomes less relevant.

Other operating systems designed for the web are also in the works. The Linux and Intel open-source project, known as Moblin, will be available in a range of machines before the end of the year.

The backers of software platforms like these see netbooks as the thin end of the wedge. Getting a foothold on small laptops is the first step to expanding into a wider range of internet devices – including the emerging class of tablet computers and so-called mobile internet devices (MIDs) that many in the industry hope will eventually create a new personal computing market, between today’s PCs and smartphones. Maemo, Nokia’s Linux-based operating system for portable tablet computers, is also pitched at this market.

That convergence promises to bring another dimension to the emerging software platform war.

Smartphones have seen a wave of software innovation, with the emergence over the past two years of a number of new purpose-built platforms: Google’s Android, Palm’s Web OS and a version of Apple’s OSX for the iPhone.

Microsoft is suffering because some of its licensees are looking to do more business with Android.

Designed for the power-constrained world of mobiles, these smartphone operating systems could start to invade a bigger piece of the personal computing world – particularly if the low-power Arm processors on which they run move up into larger, netbook-style devices.

Even in this shifting world, though, the power of Windows could be a deciding factor. If it released a version of the new Windows 7 to run on Arm-based processors, Microsoft could still be well-positioned to ride the wave of new devices.


OS Wars (Part IV): Google, the Cloud and the OS

Google has now announced that it plans to enter the operating system game in the second half of next year with a Linux-based OS that can run on both traditional PC chips and the ARM-based chips popular in cell phones. The idea behind Chrome OS is to create an extremely lightweight operating system that boots directly to the browser, in which all applications run. Chrome, will be used in netbooks and full size desktop PCs for consumers in the second half of 2010 and aims to make web applications easier to use.

“The operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web,” Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google. “The Chrome OS is our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be”. “People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up,” Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, and Linus Upson, engineering director, wrote in the blog. “They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don’t want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates.”

Google is already working with a number of manufacturers to produce and distribute the system. “It’s been part of their culture to go after and remove Microsoft as a major holder of technology, and this is part of their strategy to do it,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. “This could be very disruptive. If they can execute, Microsoft is vulnerable to an attack like this, and they know it.” Google and Microsoft have often locked horns over the years in a variety of markets, from internet search to mobile software. Microsoft Windows is currently installed in more than 90 per cent of the world’s PCs. A key factor will be whether Google can strike partnerships with PC makers, such as Hewlett-Packard Co and Dell Inc, which currently offer Windows on most of their product lines.

Google brings a considerably larger arsenal and with Google Gears, Google Native Client, and a host of other projects, Google is trying to blunt many of the browser’s shortcomings, including the inability to fully tap local processing and storage. This effort will take time, as Google itself acknowledges, but the company’s full-frontal assault on Windows is definitely out in the open.

Google’s push on the open source based OS has opened up the sibling rivalry between the Linux OSs: Mark Shuttleworths Ubuntu and the Google Chrome. While Ubuntu in its present form is only a desktop based OS (Windows alternative, in classic sense) and Chrome in its promised form will be a cloud based desktop interface/OS, it won’t be too long before both these OSs confront each other on the convergence front.


OS Wars (Part III):Sibling Rivalry between Chrome and Ubuntu

Linux Sibling RivalryThe launch of the Google Chrome OS is seen primarily as a threat to Microsoft’s legacy. However, Chrome may also splinter the Linux juggernaut just when things were gung-ho with Ubuntu.

 If there is one problem that the Linux and open-source community has suffered repeatedly over the past two decades, it’s been fragmentation. There are several different platforms: Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, FreeBSD etc and the list is always growing longer. Based on their regions and sources, users, communities and companies have switched among different Linux distributions several times over the past decade, as one or the other gained prominence.

After Red Hat, Fedora, Mandriva, Suse, Slackware and Debian, from the Linux stable; the bright light forming at the end of that confused and heterogeneous tunnel was Mark Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu. Out of the ferocious Linux distribution wars, Ubuntu has emerged with the seeming strength to take on the rest–at least when it comes to the Linux desktop platform. The growing dominance of Ubuntu (at least on the desktop, the server room seems to have been won by Red Hat) has delivered the Linux community a serious advantage in its ongoing war against the incumbent Windows and Apple platforms because of its ability to give software developers a single platform to concentrate on and polish to a degree not seen previously.

In this context, Google’s decision to create its own Linux distribution and splinter the Linux community decisively once again can only be seen as foolhardy and self-obsessive. Instead of treading its own path, Google should have sought to leverage the stellar work already carried out by Shuttleworth and his band of merry coders and tied its horse to the Ubuntu cart. If Google truly wanted to design a new “windowing system on top of a Linux kernel,” there should be nothing to stop the search giant from collaborating openly with the best in the business. Google’s plans to “completely redesign” the underlying security architecture of Linux could be seen as counterproductive to the purpose of Linux.

While Google has made moves in the direction of open source with its pledge to open-source Chrome OS, the same way it did with several previous projects: the Chrome browser itself and its Android mobile OS, doubts still remain about those projects also. For example, where do they fit in between true open-source projects, maintained and supported by the community, and to what extent are they extensions of Google’s online advertising empire?

Android is a great mobile operating system, second only to Apple’s iPhone platform. But Google still controls most aspects of Android’s development. Also, anyone using Android would have no doubt that the operating system ties in very nicely with Google’s cloud offerings (for example, Gmail). But things are a lot trickier if you prefer Windows Live or other rival systems. Chrome too, is a great browser that I use for much of my daily needs. But it’s mainly still in Google’s hands, and so those of us who prefer true competition to exist in the browser world take great comfort from the fact that Mozilla Firefox is completely independent and not pushing anyone’s agenda.

Who are you going to trust and believe in? The non-commercial Ubuntu Foundation (and wider project), which has developed an open-source operating system second to none and virtually ended the Linux distribution wars? Or Google, which also makes free products (well, mostly) and packages advertising in (sometimes)? Google makes great products. But it’s currently trying to tread a nice middle ground between completely embracing the open-source community and keeping control over software it has developed. That’s an impossible path to walk and one that leaves it open to being criticized for the same sort of arrogance that operating system vendors have been accused of for decades.


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