The interface on the N900 has been completely revamped compared to the N810. Maemo 5 (fremantle) is much more suited to being used without the stylus, which makes the N900 much more usable as a phone.
There are 4 desktops, similar to the virtual desktops Unix has had for decades. You easily switch between them by swiping either to the left or right. Swiping seems to be a favorite guesture by the designers as it comes back everywhere: photo browsing, file and app lists, even the x terminal supports it for scrolling.
Each desktop can be arranged as you please with widgets, shortcuts and browser links as the above examples show. By default you get Twitter-shitter, Bookface widgets and the like, but who needs those?
The widgets make customizing your N900 for your own "workflow" very easy. I use my calendar a lot, so my main desktop prominently shows my latest todo's, but someone who mostly calls might put most of his contacts on a number of desktops: it's all up to you. I'll look into widget development in the next article.
My phone is Dutch (like you didn't notice) but the icons should show the idea. A lot of effort has gone into making multitasking as easy as possible, anyone that checks his email while reading the headlines and writing a blogpost will appreciate the ease of switching.
With the current generation of smartphones you're only as good as your applications are. The default apps on the N900 don't disappoint.
The browser is based on Gecko, the Mozilla rendering engine. One of the advantages is that it also supports add-ons: the web shouldn't be used without Adblock plus! Clicking on links can be a bit finniky, but the stylus makes that kind of browsing a lot more doable. Web sites render as well as with Firefox. Zooming works by either drawing a circle clockwise or counter-clockwise, easy with both finger and stylus.
The N900 has a fully-featured email application. It supports multiple IMAP folders which has already saved me once this week. Attaching multiple files works fine and emailing/texting is a breeze with the keyboard.
The contacts app is surprisingly useful. Instead of choosing to email, text, call or skype someone you first find the person you are looking for. This then gives you all the options you have to contact that person. Skype chat, google talk/jabber support out of the box, but msn, icq and other IM protocols can be installed.
The built-in mediaplayer works as could be expected. The audio socket also supports video-out and the '9'-trailer looked great on my hdtv. Together with flash support and mplayer, you have plenty of options. 32GB of flash storage is built-in and a microSD socket is available for even more space: I finally gave my aging iPod away as I can't see myself using it anymore :)
I could go on about the other pre-installed apps, but what might be better to know is that you can install and run lots of maemo-applications. By default you only have access to the "verified" nokia applications repository but the application manager allows you to add new ones: simply add the maemo extras repository and you have access to hundreds of applications for free.
The Ovi-store has a new N900 section that opened last week. The idea is of course to provide a channel for developers to sell their Maemo-applications, but it should also provide a means to easily get high-quality free software.
Teething issues: battery-life and a limited root filesystem
I mentioned some issues I was having in the previous article I wrote on the N900. The N900 being a new direction for Nokia, it's not strange that not everything is perfect.
My main issue is currently battery-life. With such a lot of features and widgets it's not strange to go overboard and install eveything you could possibly want. This eats up power though, and I felt lucky if I didn't have to hook the N900 up multiple times a day. There seems to be a major issue with wifi that rapidly drains the battery, so I'm sticking with 3G for the time being. The N900 has an option to automatically switch to wifi if a known accesspoint is detected, but this drained the battery in a matter of hours. For now I am cutting down on widgets and background-apps (long live 'top'!) which seems to be doing the trick. Improvements and fixes in this area should go a long way.
A more long-term issue is the limited root filesystem size. 'df' shows that the main filesystem only has 228MB, total, of which I have used 163MB. New applications are stored in this filesystem, instead of the 32GB storage available for 'documents' so I can see this becoming a major pita soon. PyMaemo (more on that next time) already uses mount-binding to limit the amount of space wasted on root.
Once the battery-life improves I'll be able to recommend the N900 to the average user. For now it is wise to take the usb cable or adapter with you, just in case.
Next time I'll look at N900 development. Eating my own dog food, this article has been written on the N900.
By popular request, a review of the N900, after being submitted to a week of testing!
What is the N900, and why would you want one?
The N900 is a smartphone, but done differently. Where the typical smartphone is locked to a large degree by telco's and manufacturers, the N900 is completely open to use and abuse. It stems from the Nokia internet tablet series (N700->N810) with the Debian / Maemo operating system but this time they finally were able to make a tablet with which you can call.
The N900 is a remarkable tablet and a decent smartphone, however it is a work-in-progress. It is probably most suited to geeks that want Linux on their phone but want a more freer environment than the Android handsets. Normal users probably should wait a couple of months until all the teething issues have been sorted out, but even with those issues it is a full-featured phone for anyone who needs to be online everywhere.
Its tablet-origins are clear when compared to the N810:
On your right you have the N95, on the top the N810 and on the bottom the N900.
The N900 has a qwerty keyboard similar to the N810, however the 4-way directional pad was removed. Instead we have arrow keys like a proper keyboard :) The N900 is rather large compared to a regular phone but comparable in size to a iPhone. It also is quite a bit thicker due to the keyboard. The keyboard itself feels decent and lets you type texts and email in a flash.
The screen is smaller than the N810 and like the N810 is resistive (instead of capacitive like the iPhone). On the downside this means that you actually have to press the screen which needs getting used to if you are used to an iPhone, on the upside you can use the integrated stylus for tasks that are too delicate for your fingers (browsing, copy/paste etc).
The phone sports a 5MP camera with two flash-LEDs which to my non-photographer eyes look quite decent. The GPS works properly and quickly (unlike my old N95). The only port is the same as the N810 (micro-usb?), unfortunately without a separate Nokia charger socket but the N900 comes with an adapter for that purpose. Audio socket, speaker and a standard on the back that keeps the phone in a handy 45-degree angle.
Naturally, a real programmer like me doesn't need no stinkin' cheat sheets. Pfah! Now how do you do template time-formatting again?
I've been using munin for a while now to monitor my servers, but only recently have I dived into munin to get the most out of it.
The great thing about munin is that it's so damn flexible (and far more simpler than nagios). By default in Debian a range of plugins are linked to in /etc/munin/plugins, but there are plenty more in /usr/share/munin/plugins to keep tabs on resources and other services you might have installed. Adding these is just a symlink away.
Even better are the wildcard plugins (those ending with an underscore): by giving them a different name you can monitor a different resource. For instance, if you would want to monitor if example.org is up simply add a symlink to /etc/munin/plugins/example.org that points to /usr/share/munin/plugins/ping_
There are many more munin plugins in the muninexchange. Do keep in mind that some plugins require a bit of configuring in /etc/munin/plugin-conf.d/. The Xen-plugins for instance need to be run as root in order to get Xen-statistics, so it's always a good idea to run the plugins as the munin user from the command line to make sure they work.
A few more examples. Because monitoring is mostly about having pretty pictures to show.
Since setting up Zimbra, the email migration has gone quite well. The Outlook-connector works as expected and the more adventurous users are enjoying the fully-featured Zimbra web interface (which is much better than Outlook and Gmail, it could only be better if it made you lunch).
The next step is agenda and contact synchronization and sharing, especially on mobile phones.
Blackberry's are prolific among my client's employees, but not enough to go for a blackberry-only solution. I've looked into Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), but the high costs and increased complexity made me look for other, simpler solutions. Zimbra does offer a web-based mobile client and a J2ME client, which are quite decent. Their Blackberry connector however requires a BES...
My usual email-server setup includes postfix and dovecot, and works flawlessly. Recently, a client of mine was having problems with their in-house email server (based on Zarafa, that I had nothing to do with). They were used to server-side agenda/contacts in Outlook, so I gave Zimbra a try. Even though you have to pay for the "privilege" of full Outlook integration, it's a decent groupware package and I really like the web and admin interface.
Unfortunately, they currently (march '09) only support Debian Etch. I managed to install Zimbra on Lenny, but it wasn't pretty. Even so, here are the steps I took. YMMV.