[maemo-developers] [maemo-developers] Follow-up: N800 and Newton

From: Sean Luke sean at cs.gmu.edu
Date: Thu Jan 25 08:02:51 EET 2007
You may have noticed that I've made changes to the essay over the  
last several days, largely in response to people's comments on the  
list.  At this stage I'd have asked for suggestions about where to  
post it, but it's gotten leaked to InternetTabletTalk and the Nokia  
blogs.  Still: any suggestions where to post it such that it might  
have some further impact?

Some quick responses to some of the comments.

Xan Lopez disagreed with my complaints about the font management,  
pointing out that you could just drop a font into $HOME/.fonts.  This  
of course presumes that users know what the heck $HOME/.fonts *is*,  
much less how to access it.  Which they don't.  That being said, it's  
a step in the right direction, and I made some moderations to the  
essay appropriately.

Alessandro Pasotti pointed out certain advantages to the scroll bar  
gutter that I had not considered.  I've restated the argument in a  
fashion I hope is more to his liking (thanks).

Diego Escalante asked if there were an official guidelines for maemo  
development.  The only one I've found I had a link to in the essay  

Levi Bard had a number of complaints; but I think may have  
misunderstood what I was saying.  A few responses.
	- I did *not* say that the N800 should use a OODB throughout.  I  
said that it was much nicer than a filesystem from a user experience  
perspective -- the point of the essay -- but that the disadvantages  
nowadays probably outweighed it in terms of incompatability with  
external devices and systems.
	- Levi brought up DBus as an interapplication framework.  DBus  
absolutely pales in comparison to how a shared VM environment works.   
The closest example I can think of for the Newton application  
environment, in terms of developing app interaction, is Squeak  
Smalltalk.  I think this was largely my fault for not explaining what  
I had meant, so I put some more text in the article, thanks.
	- My triangle icons example is drawn to point out a general  
carelessness in icon design on part of Nokia.  It doesn't feel like  
there's been much thought into what icons are really for.
	- It's true that different (Newton vs. GTK+) doesn't mean better.   
But IMHO it doesn't require rabid fanboyism to make a cogent argument  
that GTK+ is distinctly inferior to OS X and maemo is inferior to  
NewtonOS from an interface point of view.  That being said, it *was*  
fair mentioning where the Newton's _not_ all that hot, so I added  
some items there.  But I think it's fairly objective: GTK+ may or may  
not be better than KDE's offerings perhaps, but as a GUI development  
environment it's a long way shy of environments like Cocoa and  
NewtonOS [and yes, I think Cocoa > NewtonOS].  Unlike GTK+, each was  
the product of untold millions of dollars of development, expert UI  
design, and a large degree of user testing.  (Well, for Cocoa, Steve  
was sometimes the sole test-user :-).  Anyway, there's something to  
be said for massive amounts of resources and UI expertise.

Allow me to expand for a second on this last point.  There's a  
diehard community of Newton users who are cobbling hacks together to  
keep their machines usable as technology marches on.  This group is a  
bit different from the Amiga/etc. fanboys in the following way.   
While, for example, even Amiga fans readily admit that what made  
their system "special" has essentially been subsumed by other OS's --  
NeXTSTEP was the first -- this is not the case for the Newton.

When Apple designed the MessagePad 2000 in 1995, MessagePad 2100 in  
1997, both had a 167MHz StrongARM and by far the most impressive user  
environment of any PDA.  Indeed, it was the high cost of such an  
environment (in 1995) that priced Apple out of the market.  And then  
the PDA UI world sort of entered into a stasis chamber for ten  
years.  In 2007 we have PDAs like Treos and Blackberries and WinCE  
boxen with cool color screens and video display and SD cards and cell  
phone capabilities and built-in wireless and bluetooth;  BUT their  
basic design hasn't really changed in a decade.  Their UIs are,  
incredibly, STILL arguably inferior to the Newton, and their  
processors are barely three times as fast.  It's as if Moore's Law  
took a vacation.  And so we have is a community of Newton users  
clinging to their dying machines, ready to make the jump to something  
else, but, from their perspective, disturbed that they'd still have  
to, in many respects, settle for less a _decade_ later.  What  
happened?  This is the tension that's motivating bizarre and weirdly  
error-riddled articles like this [http://digitalliving.cnet.co.uk/ 

I honestly think the N800, if Nokia got its act together, stands a  
chance of being the first device even direhard Newton users would  
jump ship to.  I told other Newton users this myself, and got a lot  
of positive response about the machine.  And that's saying a lot with  
that crowd!  But for the moment, its UI is little more than a highly  
modal, poorly-thought-out Palm-esque thing, and its app suite is too  
buggy.  I made the leap gladly because of the siren song of Linux and  
built-in development tools (NOKIA, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, GET GNU  
CLASSPATH WORKING ON THIS MACHINE).  And indeed it is the Linux  
underpinnings which both give me hope (because it they are readily  
changed) and dread (because the Linux community has never produced  
more than a mediocre UI -- KDE and GNOME are the hunchbacked, cleft- 
paletted cousins you hide in the closet when MacOS X comes to  
dinner).  But to get people to jump, Nokia doesn't have to invest all  
that much in fixing GTK+ and maemo.  I think it's within grasp.   
That's what I hoped the essay would prod.

So that's pretty much it from me on the subject for a while.  Now  
maybe I'll go hack on the dang machine.

Sean Luke

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