Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mobile computing

No so long ago I used to work from home, in fact most days for nearly seven years. I enjoyed it, though it is most certainly a lifestyle choice rather that a career move. But then it's lifestyle choices such as exercise, diet, hobbies, and spending time with friends, family, even pets, that seem to improve happiness, health, and the like, far more than business meetings, report writing, etc.

It seems odd, but working and living in one place was what made me value portable computers, even mobile phones - though I'm still not a big user of the latter. Why? Because when you have ready access to email and www whenever you choose, it's then a pain when you haven't. I never really found that laptops were the right tool. I had one, and have owned others since - I'm typing right now on a Compaq nx6325 which I rather like. What I like about it isn't that it's portable. I like that it has decent size keyboard and screen, connects to a wired network and various gadgets, runs off mains electricity, is very quiet and small enough to sit on a table and leaves room for other things, even writing with pen and paper. What I did like back then was the original Palm Pilot because it was small enough to carry around all day and switched on and off quickly and easily. OK it didn't really give me access to email, but it did give me access to my (recent) emails, and most of the time that was enough. Later I got a, slightly, more advanced Palm IIIe and even a Nokia WAP phone. If I still worked in that way - four days at home, one travelling two hours by train, meeting, meeting... then train back home I guess I'd be toting a BlackBerry or similar. I don't, hence the rest of this post will consider rather different mobile computers.

In 2005 when I first heard about the One Laptop Per Child project I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Of course there were plenty of folk who declared "I want one too" and there were, and remain, plenty of objections. See here for a long list of them. With my inclination to experiment, the obvious choice for me was to try and find, or build, the nearest thing I could to a OLPC. Why? So I might be able to help in some way, and have fun of course. I'd already experimented with Linux, mesh networking and of course owned much simpler solid state computers - Palms. So what was out there? Well as luck would have it Nokia had just announced their first Linux based Internet Tablet, the 770. Now in October 2007 Nokia have announced their new N810 Internet Tablet, and a couple of weeks ago at Web2forDev I got my hands on a XO, the One Laptop Per Child. So today I'm able to say I have no desire to own a OLPC, but a fairly strong desire to continue to own an Internet Tablet. I don't think that Internet Tablets have any particular educational merit, but I still feel they can be useful for developers targeting the OLPC platform. What won me over to the Internet Tablet is that it's a handy thing to have around for my own use, and in the end that's what personal stuff is about.

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