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Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Simple African Wishlist to Larry Page of Google

Hi Larry, I must confess to you that it came to me as a little shock that you'd taken over the reigns of governance back at Mountain View. Of course it's your baby here we are talking about- that huge gorilla of a company that you and your friend founded a little over a decade ago.

You see Larry, aside all my healthy suspicions of huge companies like your own (Amazon vis a vis Wikileaks), I still really do admire Google. Heck, my friends call me a Google fanboy because I keep evangelising every single Google product to them; from Chrome (yea, not Firefox), to Gmail, to Youtube to Trader

My personal life has been enriched enormously by the massive array of splendid products that you give out for free- of course in the hope of making some ad money. Since you now are at the helm of affairs, I'd like to put to you this simple wish-list of mine with regards to my continent Africa.

First on that list is that you work with both handset makers, hopefully in China, and network operators here to bring Android powered smartphones to the masses. With a sizable number of my people accessing the internet through their mobile phones, you will appreciate the immense value affordable smartphones will bring to their lives. 

Think of the possibilities that such a move will open up to the everyday people here, not to talk about strategically bringing Android to a market of close to 1 billion people.

The second wish on my list to you Larry, is that you find a way of working with our universities here to make computer science education more accessible, 'learnable' and in line with current developments in that field. You see, I personally don't have any formal education in computing. I really wish there was more of our public universities and the private but affordable ones offering computer science/engineering courses. With your massive engineering talent, Google sure will know how to impart that into the heads of young, eager to know Africans like myself.

There are so many ways you can achieve this second objective. One of them can be that you extend the CSHS program in the future to include universities here. There is only one future for everbody- one where computing plays a paramount and dominant role, I would love you to help my continent not be left behind. 

Finally (yes I have only three wishes Larry), please avoid African governments. Don't ever channel any initiative through them. As Google was able to find a way to save itself billions of Dollars in tax avoidance, similarly do find a way to help everyday Africans like myself without going through the governments. If you insist on going through them, then you might as well keep your money because not a dime of it will achieve its purpose if you work through those mammoth vampires.

I could go on and on Larry, but will like to end here. I'll be writing to you again in the near future. But for now, these are my wishes to you as the new (OK not so new) bus drive of Google Inc. You are a company that stands to improve the lives of people in Africa, take that chance and you will be rewarded with dominance in a market that is spat upon by the rest of your competition.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ask yourself these two Questions before buying your next hardware

The pace at which new technology gadgets are released everyday can be very dizzying. Backed by very aggressive marketing campaigns, we increasingly keep coming under pressure to change our devices and equipment to the latest ones that just rolled down the factory.

But do we really need all those very shiny and powerful gizmos? What is the real price for every one of those gadgets that we buy? Of course one may argue that in a free market, they can buy all they want as long as they have the means to. I'd have wholeheatedly agreed with that if the real cost of owing all those electronic gadgets was limited to what you pay over the counter.

But then take a look at this video. Have you ever asked yourself where all those computers, printers and other things you disposed off ended up? Do you really need that computer with a bazillion gigs of memory and all that power?

You might be safe from the pollution that the hardware and software companies induce through their very powerful marketing strategies, but for people like yours truly, we bear the full brunt of it.

Next time you go out shopping for gadgets, ask yourself two questions: do you really need it, and what is the real price aside what's displayed on the price tag.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Firefox Mobile- The Good and the Ugly

As the second most used browser on Earth, it was just a matter of time before the fox got into the mobile arena. For me, there were only two mobile browsers out there, Opera and the rest.

With Firefox mobile, I can gladly say there are now three. For some weird reason though, the things that drove me from switching to Chrome on my desktop are the same factors that are peventing me from using Firefox mobile as the default browser on my handset.

The good things I like about Firefox mobile are the sync feature that gives you access to all of your bookmarks, history, open tabs, saved passwords and form data. Then the tabbed browsing style as you have on the desktop. The default browser, MicroB, acts more like Chrome by treating every tab as a separate process and thus gives it a separate window.

Firefox mobile is also the first mobile browser to support addons. There's a handy collection of really cool ones already available. Then finally, it really does render pages just like they were designed.

But Firefox Mobile is far from being what I really expected it to be. The first thing one notes about Firefox mobile is that it's agonizingly slow to start up. Tapping both Firefox and MicroB at the same time, the latter starts up almost instantaneously while Firefox sits there, wondering what to do with your command.

Then when it comes to system resources, Firefox just loves to have everything to itself. The moment it starts running, my memory and cpu monitors spike into the red. It also has the tendency to rather unsually cause a complete system freeze.

These three observations are rather deal breakers considering the fact that it is meant to be a run on mobile devices, and thus it does not really auger well to have users endure these things on the go. I personally just can't stand the very long start up time. On mobile, I really like instant gratification.

Of course it's still in beta and is currently available only on Maemo and Android. I really hope that by the time it reaches its final release, these deal breakers would have been addressed. I'd really like to use Firefox as my primary browser on my phone, but for now, I'll stick with MicroB.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Apple- An Unsafe Bet

In as much as I am an anti-Apple fanatic, I really do appreciate the company for raising the ante in terms of user experience and thus helping in bringing about the current 'UX race' we are currently witnessing.

During the start of this week, news filtered in that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is taking a medical leave of absence (if it's just not part of an Apple marketing strategy ahead of the launch of a product) and thus having the COO run the company's day to day affairs.

Given the fact that Jobs has come to represent the company's persona, I wondered how his absence will impact the company. The first place I turned to was the stock market where the price of Apple share fell by about 4.2 percent. This is really interesting because hitherto, the company's stock was among the best performing ones out there, if not THE.

Again, this piqued my curiosity in the sense that here's a company that has some of the most loyal and vociferous users in the world but yet has it's entire charm, charisma and 'lifeline' vested in one man. The natural question that comes to mind here is, can Apple survive the demise of Jobs someday?

There's also an interesting contrast here between Apple and arch rival Google in that the persona and charm of the latter is almost entirely represented by those six alphabets, completely omitting founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

I am no Apple user nor a Jobsian, but I'd really not like to see the company lose its market 'potency' someday in the absence of Jobs. More competitors generally work in the interest of end users and thus seeing that Apple has apparently invested so much in Uncle Jobs to me is an unsafe bet.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Sunday, January 9, 2011

When Real Phones are Objects of Change

What is a mobile phone? How do we ascertain the benefit of a mobile phone? There's currently a lot of noise going on about 'smartphones' and which is the best. And most of the time, the Apple fanatics seem to be the loudest. But in a world of over 6 billion people, the story is very different when one steps out of their comfort zone.

The real value of a mobile phone is not the shiny icons that comes with it, but it's ability to transform lives, add value to the lives of the less fortunate. The following videos show when real phones, not expensive iPhones or Androids, but very low cost phones, help transform lives. 

Next time when you take out your phone and want to brag how nice your shiny icons are, remember that there are very low end phones doing amazing things out there. Let's also give credit to the companies that produce affordable phones that meet the budget of everyday people like those in the videos.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dear Nokia, I was not completely right

I used to be one of those people that actually believed Nokia still has no device to match the iPhone. But it apparently turns out that I was consuming too much news from American journalists who mostly get free iPhones and thus have to justify it by singing the hell out of it.

The view I actually hold now is that Nokia has a device that Apple will never match. Yes. Apple will never produce a device to match Nokia's N900 running the legendary Maemo OS. It's not that Apple can't produce the hardware or software, it's that it'd be against their business strategy.

A portable netbook, with phoning functionalities, and everything in between, right in your pocket. That's the N900. Apple is a company that makes money by selling incremental things to people that love to buy things in bits, well sort of. The first iPads did not have camera, USB and other things. The next gen ones will spot all of that. That's the Apple game. Extract money from customers through the sale of 'dysfunctional' things and then charge them extra to make the thing whole.

Also, I've now come to the realisation that it's really pointless comparing the N900 to the iPhone. One is a device that knows you bought it with your hard earned income and so it completely submits to your will. The other is a device that has been told that you loaned it from Cupertino and thus it only obeys what it's told by Uncle Jobs. That's a huge difference between the two.

Then again, on the issue of price, buying the N900 for approximately $442 beats the iPhone hands down, which goes for between $1000 and $1300. That's a small fortune in my part of the world. I could go on and on. The bottom line is that Nokia has a completely different market strategy from Apple. One aims to satisfy a broad range of users with varying budgets. The other aims at the cream of the market with half baked but well marketed and highly hyped products.

So yes, the iPhone is a nice, well polished phone with some computing capabilities that resides in a nicely walled garden. The N900 on the other hand, is a portable computer with phoning capabilities that asks you, "what next do you want to do with me?" Perhaps the Oatmeal explains better what it's like to own an Apple product.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

What Is Happening to Technology Reporting these Days?

Copy and paste, App Store for desktop machines, multitasking. What do all these have in common? Pat yourself on the back if you answered they're news. Yes, they're news, in 2010/2011!

I never cease to be amazed at how tech journalism/blogging could be so shallow. Apple introduces the Mac store and it's headlines almost instantly. Like seriously? The ability to manage programs on a computer from an integrated control centre is really news? Or multitasking for the iPhone?

Or take Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 upcoming update that is said to be coming with copy and paste. In 2011? And this is really news? Anyone who has used a feature phone from Nokia in the last Lord knows how long will really laugh at this. And yet we have writers falling over each other to report these mundane and almost anachronistic news.

In all honesty, I think tech reporting is fast falling into the gutters. Rather than critically questioning the status quo, techno journalists/bloggers rather swallow all the crapolla from companies like Apple and Microsoft and regurgitate to the mostly uninformed masses. We end up applauding companies for introducing things competitors had long ago and make it seem like a novel thing.

Thanks to blind fanboism of tech bloggers, iPhone users smile because they now can multitask, Mac OSX users because they now have an app store and Windows P7 users because they'll be getting copy and paste soon. Let's keep getting people enslaved to archaic platforms through our writings. That's the new definition of journalism/blogging right?

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By Seraaj Muneer with 2 comments

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The N900- Why I chose Maemo over Android

Towards the end of last year, it became clear to me that I needed to change my handset. My next platform of choice was Android apparently since I felt my love for Nokia's Symbian had come to an end. However, I ended up grabbing Nokia's N900 powered by Maemo, not because Android is bad but because Maemo is what I actually thought Android was.

Being a Linux user, I've gotten used to having absolute control over my system, a system that's created for hacking and experimenting, one that gives u power in the real sense of the word. I found all these and more in Maemo.

As a very intensive mobile internet user who at the same time does not really see the need for a netbook, a tab or pad (I've a lappy, that's enough), I wanted to have the best of both worlds: the functions of a full fledged computer in a mobile phone.

My initial choices were the Nexus 1 and the HTC Desire HD. But a careful comparison between theses phones and the N900 got me to choose the latter. Though both platforms are Linux builds, I have this view that Android is aimed specifically at the mass market while the N900 is aimed at power users.

One might argue a lot in favor of Android, citing points like app availability , ease of use, number of supported devices, market share among others. Sure Android does win in all those cases, but it's really hard to argue out the power of Maemo to someone who does not use Linux on their machines.

For instance, I still don't know of any better application/package management system like Debian's apt-get, which is the default on Maemo. Add the power of the terminal and you really are in charge. To sum up, it all comes down to power over my phone. With the N900, I feel I have absolute power over my device out of the box. I also like to have a device that was created with hacking in mind.

So yes I'm an Android proponent and fan, but Maemo goes a step ahead to prove the raw power of Linux as a universal OS. By the, this post was entirely written on the N900 using an app called MaStory.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments
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