Two new items arrived this week. While each has been on hand too briefly
for a full review, some first impressions may be interesting.
Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com) carries a subtitle: "Linux for human beings,"
which is a refreshing premise after my first encounter with the OS some
six years ago. Back then, you could put Linux on a desktop computer, but
only with a great deal of technical skill or someone to show you the way.
The applications available for this "open source" operating system - i.e.,
one whose basic code is available to anyone to use, modify or improve -
were not as plentiful as they are now. Nor were they as good, at least
compared with the Windows and Mac alternatives of the time.
Much has changed since then. OpenOffice.org has, as noted here once or
twice, released several revised versions of the Microsoft
Office-compatible productivity suite. These programs work quite well, as
compatible with the current versions of Office, and have a raft of good
features. The Firefox Web browser is available on Linux and runs as well
as it does on the other platforms. If you want to edit photos in Linux,
try GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program; it works very much like
Adobe Corp.'s great (and expensive) Photoshop.
OK, you say, but you don't have a Linux computer. You do now: get the
appropriate Unbuntu Linux distribution (for PCs, for Macs or for 64-bit
processors) free via download or postal mail, sent free when you order
online. Pop the CD into your machine. Restart the computer. And, if all
goes well, you should be running Linux; the original OS remains
undisturbed. Of course, you can also just install Ubuntu over your
existing operating system, wiping it and your data away, or you can
repartition your hard drive to support both systems.
I've used Ubuntu on two Macs, booting from the CD. Both work well; you can
run Open Office or Firefox easily. On my home Mac, the software to play
movies and music files didn't do as well; at the office, I didn't go that
far. But the price, which is zero, is right, and if you backup your files
from an old PC before moving to a new one, you might well find new life
for the old box using Ubuntu. I'll keep working with it and let you know
RESEARCH IN MOTION takes their name very seriously. Creators of the
BlackBerry (stet) handheld communicator, they're continuing to research
smaller ways of packaging their technology, such as the $349 list priced
BlackBerry Pearl, currently available through T-Mobile.
It's tiny - not much taller than a credit card - and it's delightful in
many ways. The phone's call quality is very good; you can use a Bluetooth
headset with it; and there's a built-in camera that takes 1.3 megapixel
images. There's e-mail, of course, and because it's a BlackBerry,
messaging is a delight.
The phone does take some getting used to. Navigation includes a built-in
trackball, and getting acclimated to that may require some effort. The
dialpad is nestled inside a "QWERTY" keyboard, and while there's a form of
predictive analysis to help complete words based on letters pressed,
there's a learning curve.
As with many devices, the BlackBerry Pearl will play music and videos. The
sound quality of the internal speaker is, well, amazing.
But overall, the phone, currently marked down to $199 after instant and
mail-in rebates for new T-Mobile contracts, is rather attractive. My
greatest fear would be losing something so small. For more on that, and
other device features, stay tuned.