Nokia N800 – So close!

I was just reading a cool review of the Nokia N800 written by a Sean Luke, an assistant professor at George Mason University, and fairly serious Apple Newton Hacker. In the article, he runs down how much better the N800 is over the Newton Messagepad 2100, but also really lambasts the UI designers for making abysmal decisions on decisions.
nokiaI have to side with the Sean on a number of points. There seems to be a mindset in the Linux community that GTk is the be all end all of UI’s, and it’s simple to just adapt it to whatever machine or environment you’re running it on. But in reality, GTK is a badly designed environment. The widgets are painful and inconsistent, they, as Sean says, borrow some of the worst ideas from Windows, and apply them poorly.
In the case of a handheld PDA-like device, these metaphors break down even further. Desktop processes for managing applications, tools, and workflow simply do not work in a handheld, pen based environment. This has been proven time and time again with the success of the Palm line of products (an environment that has nothing to do with windows), as well as the Newton line itself (also has no desktop equivelent). Both these environments were designed from the ground up to work on a small screen, doing basic tasks, interracting with just a stylus. I believe that many of the issues with the WindowsCE line come from this basic poor assertion. Windows isn’t a great GUI to begin with. Adapting it to a handheld device just by making it smaller doesn’t work, and even now, 10 years after the original version, the UI is difficult to work with and notoriously inconsistent.
I think the only ‘open’ environment that has come close to tackling this problem has been the fine folks at Trolltech, with the QTopia handheld environment. They’ve taken the QT environment and re engineered it to work on an embedded platform. The very first iterations of this, running on the Sharp Zaurus were functional, but still had that ‘first time’ porting problem. Trying to fit an Xwindows based environment on a small handheld screen, without a mouse.
Later versions have reached a high level of stability and functionality. Why doesn’t Nokia use this environment? The best I can think of is “Because it’s QT! Not GTK! Not real Linux!” Which makes me sad. This argument has been going on for years now, and frankly it’s time to bury the hatchet. But while the linux world continues to back GTK and Gnome, while ignoring the (IMHO) technically superior, more consistent, and better designed QT based environment, I feel that Linux UI’s will stay in the also-ran category, never considered a serious alternative.
Having said all that, I still find the N800 sexy as all get it. It does take things to the next possible level of Ubiquitous Computing, with it’s wireless capability and long battery life. Closer and closer.

Dave Shevett


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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3 thoughts on “Nokia N800 – So close!

  1. No GTK is not the end all to UI’s but it’s been implemented in the N800 through Maemo better then any Program or Appliance for that matter. I’m a QT guy but what they’ve done with GTK doesn’t feel remotely like GTK. I have owned A newton, a Zaurus and now a N800 and I have to say the N800 isn’t as clumsy as the Zaurus QTopia PDA interface or the Newton interface. It really comes down to, both the Zaurus and a Newton are no longer being produced and there’s good reason. The N800 will se more popularity and a stronger user base then both. It was just released last month and already has a booming user base. When people reviewing it don’t even realize it’s Linux or even GTK for that matter and it’s fully functional and stable. They’re not going to care about your or Sean ” I Live in the Past” Luke’s point of view, they’re just going to use it.

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