Virtual desktops vs launcher pages

These modern mobile operating systems (the Android and the iOS, for example) use launchers with icons that are divided to several pages. As a long-term X11 user I was excited about this feature at first. I have been using virtual desktops from my first contact with the X Window System and the FVWM (actually it was the FVWM95 if you remember it).

And this modern approach resembles the virtual desktops: there are icons to launch programs and small applications that are running on the desktop. But that’s all: there is no binding between these desktops and the running applications. So their use is different. In the first moments of the use of my mobile toys (the iPhone 3G and the my first tablet Ainol Novo 7 Paladin) I had many desktops with tons of icons (and applets on the Android).

Analogically to the Logout’s experience, during the time I have found that 5 desktops full of icons it too much not only for the poor tablet but also for me. I use frequently just a few applications and the rest is here only to make my work harder.

So I have started to reduce number of installed applications and even more radically the number of stuff in launchers. It was easier to do on the iPhone as I am already not able to install most of applications that I want to try. Actually I frequently use jus a phone, sms and email applications. And the alarm clock and themusic player (I bought a few songs via iTunes shortly after got the phone). There are few more apps but I use them very infrequently. For example the Geocaching app I started only once this year and just to test if it still works. So now I have just one launcher page on the phone.

The tablet is a bit different case. The Novo 7 died so I had no opportunity to do anything here. Now we have a nVidia tablet at home. With respect to previous experiences I tried to keep the number of desktops under four. But I found that it is still too much. So at the moment there are just two desktops: one (the main one) for free time (maps, guides, games) and one for the work (LaTeX, Octave, C4Droid, PIM, office and cloud stuff). The work desktop is used just sometimes as the tablet is of course not my main workstation. And there is just 1 applet (the Czech and Slovak names and holidays).

And I still thing that there is space for some further reductions…

Virtual desktops vs launcher pages

iPhone 3G today

Well, I add this post into the Retrocomputing category as most of people thing that the 3G is totally obsolete and useless phone.

In my opinion it is still more useful that it has in the time of its release (2009) and there are some useful applications for it. I got it for playing and without real plans to use it. But it happened that now it is the only working phone that I have and thus it is my main phone (I hope I will be able to find something more open one day – I’m still mot sure that the BQ Aquarius Ubuntu phone is exactly that I want).

Finally I have decided to install few applications that can possibly extend the usability of the phone. Many of apps require newer iPhones so the number of useable ones is not so high. Also, most of the apps is outdated so only security-unrelated stuff can be interesting.

Some of tool unfornunately don’t work (Evernote, iGopher). But some do:

  1. WordPress (but I’m not sure about security here – it’s a old version)
  2. Free RSS reader
  3. DJVu viewer
  4. MapsWithMe
  5. Geocaching
  6. Alois Nebel Czech cartoon

Actually, I sometimes use only the RSS reader…

iPhone 3G today

Zaurus as pocket workstation

After few small upgrades I have started to use my Zaurus C760 even more intensively. Actually I did just three things:

  1. added a HDD (a 4 GB Hitachi Microdrive) into CF slot,
  2. activated a 128 MB swap file on the HDD,
  3. replaced the plastic stylus with metal one.

The points 1 and 3 made the machine bit heavier but it’s comparable with the C3200 without such add-ons and it is still thinner.
The HDD has several pluses: I hesitate to use swap file on a SD card (it is not so easy find a compatible SD today). So the HDD helps much here. The swapping to a relatively fast device is useful because 64 MB of RAM is not that much for tasks like viewing of large PDF files. It is also useful to have opened several program at once (for example: a PDF reader, a text editor for making of notes, a dictionary and sometimes also a calculator or other similar computing tool).
The second thing is an additional space for data (TeX sources, PDF files to read and other things that are better to have in the pocket). The obvious minus is of course the fact that it occupies the CF socket. So one can’t use the WiFi card or the camera if the disk is in use. But it isn’t a big limitation for me because I rarely use these things on the Zaurus.

The stylus is just for my better feeling. The plastic one is perfectly usable but the metal one looks better. It is heavier so it looks like a more solid.

Text Editing on  Zaurus

I often use the (La)TeX to make articles and presentations. A image file with a teTeX installation is still available somewhere and it fits on a bigger SD card (it’s under 400 MB). It’s relatively basic setup but for normall stuff it works (a making it to work with the cslatex is still on my ToDo list…). It works on an acceptable speed. The large hardware keyboard is great, the only problem is use of the { } braces but it can be solved by use of the ZEditor function called idioms..

Actual computing is a bit harder because I still not manage the Octave to work (it’s included in package feed but it fails to start) – a compilation of the Octave is probably too hard task for me. Thus I am limited to my command-line tools plus the Gnuplot at the moment. But that’s OK for most of my use.

Zaurus as pocket workstation

Android notes

As I wrote in one of the older posts, now I have an Android tablet in my hands. Although I have no ambition to use it in a regular basis, I still trying to find if it can be used for some tasks. So this article is rather as list of my thoughts and list of unsorted information about my software preferences.


The “TeX Writer” application works for me. It can run offline and it can download missing packages (when on-line, of course). It as probably designed for a phone but it works quite well on the tablets, too. I’m using it to make Beamer presentations.


The BusyBox Installer Pro is quite nice (it incorporates also the scp, the bash and a lot of busybox stuff, including the vi editor). It looks like the Terminal app from store is good enough.

Image viewer

I just hate the default applications. The QuickPic is my favorite (can show both local files and various on-line services, has an intelligent directory selection/hidding possibilities and more).

File manager

The Total Commander. The Midnight Commander would be better for me but this touchy thing is excellent, too. There is just one big caveat: there is no SCP 😦

Text editor

A vi in the busybox or the VimTouch.


It’s a topic for a new post. There are many possibilities. I have played  with the SmallBasic. It is possible to easily start the scripts via TotalCommader and edit them with VimTouch. The *.has files are associated with these applications so both things are easy.


Well, some problems are here. Every application uses its own space to store data. It may be secure but it hurts interoperability. Plus the names of these directories are so complicated (so shell use is a hell). Access lot SD card via USB is terrible (no USB mass storage). And send access rights were changed spring OS updates so now I’m not able to edit or delete 5 GB of my photos… There are other annoying details which works without issues on a desktop but are impossible here. Still it is much more open system than the Apple’s one, DG or example.

Android notes

Zaurus SL-C760 vs Nokia 770

Now I have both and actually I was a long-term user of Nokia’s Internet Tablets. I got the Nokia 770 in 2006 as a new (and for a horrible price, of course). In 2008 I got the N800 and later also the N810. I stopped to use them around 2011 (I think). It was when I started to actively use the Ben NanoNote and the OpenMoko phone. The later Nokias are more capable than the both mentioned devices but they are also much bigger. Now I have only the Nokia 770 but I don’t use it.

Before few days I found the Nokia 770 during cleaning and I have decided to test it against the Zaurus. It’s a Linux handheld from a similar era, it has similar power so it can be interesting to see the diferrences.


Before I start to write about the differences it may be usefull to repeat the similarities: both machines use a Linux-based operating system (the GUI is different: the Zaurus has a Qt-based Qtopia by default but the 770 uses the Maemo which is based on the Gtk+). Both machines have only 64 MB of the RAM and no hard disc. They have just a flash storage (up to 128 MB in the Zaurus and the same size in the 770). This mean some limits for number of applications and also strict limits for some uses (one is limited to about 3 opened WWW pages in both cases – which is a pity especially on the 770 which was marketed as a “Internet Tablet”). Also use of something like OpenOffice is rather impossible.

Main use

Tne 770 was designed as a dedicated WWW/RSS/E-mail device with possibility to be extended by 3rd-party applications. There is no office software and no PIM software by default. Even the microphone was not enabled by default. Of course it has build-in WiFi (but it was a bit obsolete even in 2006) and Bluetooth (initially dedicated tu connect a phone for file transfer and for use phone’s GSM data connection). The Zaurus is a more general-use PDA device which came with an office suite and a PIM suite by default (and also with Qtopia Desktop synchronisation application for the Windows and the Linux desktop machines). There is no build-in wireless connection in the Zaurus but it has more extension slots instead.


What? Yes, both machines have a classical, stylus-controlled touchscreen. The 770 has wider and bigger screen (800×480 resolution) than the Zaurus (640×480 for all clamshell models). Both styli are cheap plastic ones. Both are too short for my liking but they can be fine for most people. The Zaurus has is more rounded and is more comfortable to handle – the one for the 770 is too flat. The newer Nokias had different styli, by the way. There are possibilities to get a metal stylus with a plastic cap for the Zaurus (both original and third-party). They are even available today. The 770’s stylus is a problem because it is the sole input device for the machine. I used a combined pen/stylus for the device (and lost it because it of course didn’t fit in the stylus bay).


The 770 don’t have one. One can use a Bluetooth one (a support for that was added by free software developers). I used the SU-8W here. It’s quite good (expect the limited number of keys which caused frequent use of fn key and expect it rather ugly look). It mostly worked but in some situations it was less reliable which caused missing or repeating letters.l

The Zaurus has a build-in keyboard. Different Zauru have differen keyboard. The C3200’s one reminds a cassical calculator keyboard (or a HP 200LX-style keyboard). The C760 has a different, a more flat design whis seems to be z a less comfortable to me (anuyway it is possible to type on it relatively fast – I use it to make this text). In fact the build-in hardware keyboard is better for actual typing. It is of course less comfortable for a typical WWW browsing which needs a lot of stylus taps but the entered texts are usually short (login data, www addresses and so). Then the use of stylus only is more consistent and also de facto more comfortable.


The Zaurus has no such possibility (except models like 6000L) so CompactFlash card have to be used. There is a problem with ergonomy: the CF flot is on the right side if the device and no WiFi card can be completely hidden in the slot (the antenna part is always outside). It makes it uncomfortable to hold. It’s not a problem when it ists on the table but it is a problem when it is hold in hands (which is a bit more usual use of a PDA, I think). Both devices have problems to connects to modern (protected) WiFi networks. The 770 is better here as most ot the Zaurus software was somewhat problematic (limited searching for networks and so).


The 770 can be easily connected to a (compatible, not modern) keyboards, GPS receivers and phones. The Zaurus requires to use a Bluetooth card (inserted to a CF slot – so WiFi and Bluetooth cards not be used at once).


There are media players so the sound is important. The 770 has a speaker and a 3.5″ headphone connector. Many of Zauri don’t have speakers and I also had an issues with several types of headphones (no such problems were with the 770).


The 770 has a bigger and more nice screen but the Zaurus’s screen is mostly sufficient, too. And there are differences between Zauri (the c3200 has a very nice screen, both brightness and colors are great). The resolution is comparable (800×480 vs 640×480) but extra pixels on the 770 make viewing of some WWW pages and PDFs easier.

Battery life

The 770 was marketed to have the battery life about 3 hours with running WiFi. And it is true. It’s even a bit better. The Zaurus is comparable. Both devices have 6-8 hours without wifi and with lowwr screen backlight and it can survive at least week when suspended. This is something that both NanoNote and OpeMoko phones can’t archieve, unfortunately.

WWW Browser and RSS/Atom reader

It’s Opera. The version is 6.x which is prehistoric by today’s standards but it was a current browser when it was new. In both cases it has a small screen mode which makes even some modern WWW pages readable on these devices. There is a build-in RSS,Atom feed reader in the 770 and it is nice. The Zaurus can use the Zocalo which is great and it was actively developed until 2013. My only compliant is that launch of WWW browser requires a stylus click on an icon (I didn’t find any keyboard shortcut for that).

I don’t use mail clients on these machines due to lack of security today.

Office software

There is none by default on the 770. An AbiWord and a Gnumeric can be installed. The second is stable and near full-featured spreasheet. The AbiWord was a few caveats and is was slow on the device ut it was OK solution for most of cases. The Zaurus had a simplified word procesor and spreadsheed (na graphs, for example) as default and a more powerfull (closed-source) word processor was able to obtain.Tn both cases no DOCX files can be opened (people used to send me this stuff). And there is no TeX/LaTeX solution for 770 but there is a basic teTeX distribution (which includes basic LaTeX support) for the Zaurus.

Maemo: Gnumeric

Other software

The Zaurus is Qt-based (no X11) thus it has lower initial memory requrementa. It’s desktop resembles a normal PC desktop (something like the Start …errr Qt button and a taskbar on the bottomand program icons on the desktop). The Nokia’s own Maemo desktop is different and it looks to be a bit more elegant. It also support some types of desktop widgets. The Maemo is X11 based and it uses Gtk+ library. So both memory consumption and the versatility is much bigger. One even can compile (also onboard with some effort!) normal Gtk+ applications and use them with some limitations (they are not visible in the Maemo taskbar and they can not use integrated menus nor visual theme) . I once compiled and then used my uFEM software which uses basic OpenGL stuff (with use of the Fabrice Bellard’s TinyGL library).

Zocalo RSS Reader

Modern devices

Well, for on-line tasks I have to use something different. But on the move I work mostly off-line (I even have disabled data connection in my phone). Thus the order of my preferred portables of the moment is:

  1. Ben NanoNote (if I will be able to repair one…),
  2. Zaurus SL-C760,
  3. any other clamshell Zaurus,
  4. Nokia 770,
  5. Palm III-compatible device,
  6. DOS-based palmtop (HP 200LX),
  7. modern (Android-based) phone/tablet.
Zaurus SL-C760 vs Nokia 770

Sun Ultra 20

I still have a Ultra 20 workstation from Sun Microsystems. I have got it in 2005 (shortly after its introduction) and I used it for some computations. Then it was used by my wife and but it was replaced by her X60 laptop (the laptop is much more quiet and consumes less energy). There also were some hardware issues – I had to replace the graphics board twice. I also didn’t used this computer because I like my O2 much more. It’s comparably noisy and much slower but it has lower power consumption and runs IRIX (among other cool features). Thus the poor Ultra 20 wasn’t actually used for about half of its life.

Sun Ultra 20 Workstation (2005)

Technically, the coolest part of the Ultra 20 is the big “Sun Microsystems” logo on the case and the BIOS welcome screen. The rest is less or more ordinary PC. It is an extremelly well designed and build but still it is a PC with a server mainboard (the Tyan Tiger one) and with AMD Opteron processor.

But before some time I was stuck with problem which is too big to be solved on my other machines (2.5 GB of RAM and a decent processor is required). The O2 has too small memory for that (not speaking about its 250 MHz CPU). A decent dual-processor SGI like Octane or small Origin 200/300 might be a possible solution but I still don’t have working one. My Lenovo laptop has also too litle memory and also a low-power (read: slow) CPU. I also thought about use my G5 iMac for this task. But its upgrade (there is only 768 MB of RAM at the moment) looked to be too expensive. So it preservedit’s role of the only allowed computer in our living room where it serves as a DVD/media player…

Thus I returned to the good old Ultra 20. I had to replace the GFX board (there was a pasivelly cooled Quadro 290, now there is something similar but with active cooler) and a CMOS battery. Then I added some memory (there was 512 MB from the factory, I later added a 2 GB and now I replaced everything with 4x1GB modules). So now I have a box with 4 GB of RAM and with a dual-core 2.2 GHz Opteron (it was upgraded from single-core 1.8 GHz a few years after I got the system). The price of the upgrade was very low (the GFX board was taken from an non-working machine and the memory cost noly a few bucks).

FEM results in Paraview

So I have returned my Ultra 20 to life. It’s only for a specific task and probably for a short period of time. It’s not as cool as Logout’s PowerPC/POWER desktops but it helped me a lot. For those who are curious about the operating system: it’s Ubuntu 12.04 with MATE desktop. It was installed because of my wife (the first Ubuntu here was Hardy Heron, I think) and I’m too lazy to replace it with something different. At the moment I don’t see a reason to replace it because it work for me. It’s a workstation not a playstation. 😉

Sun Ultra 20

More about the MK 85

Well, it’s probably no that I have an Elektronika MK-85 calculator (the links points to a Russian page at Wikipedia because there is no English one). The calculator is actually a small PDP-11 computer. It may look like an overkill for a calculator but it works (actually it works well) and additionally in creates some possibilities to expand the machine.

The computer is not as underpowered as it looks. There is available a calculator comparison page which lists the MK-85 on several places. In the default mode it is not much better than the poor old Casio FX-700P (the 1982 calculator from what the Soviets copied the look and interface for the MK-85). But it has a Fast Mode which makes it much better (about 5x faster). And it’s a PDP-11 so if one can write the code in the PDP-11 assembler then it is possible to make it comparable with much more recent pocket computing devices. The fast mode is nothing special – it just makes the machine to rung at about 5x higher CPU frequency (so about 2.0 MHz).

These 6 kB of the RAM are probably enough for most uses. In my opinion no one will write long programs for a relatively low power machine.

MK-85 meeting

Anyway, it can be hacked to be even better.

The first thing is a memory expansion. From the beginning there has been a MK-85M version which has 6 kB of the RAM (instead of default 2 kB). It simply has a three memory chips instead of just one. It’s not a default setup because of cost and power consumption (please remember that battery technology was somewhat less advanced in 1980s and that Soviet batteries were propably somewhat weaker than the Western ones).

There is a page which lists the necessary steps to make it use a more modern memory chip (note that it also requires a new ROM). The RAM can be up to 32 kB. It’s not much, isn’t it? But it is comparable with HP 48G (a 1990s thing) and it is probably more than one can use.

The second thing (actually the first that have to be done) is a ROM chip (and content) upgrade.

But one can do even a little more: add a real time clock or add an I2C-compliant storage device. In any case I can recomend to visit the Polish MK-85 page where are all these cool thing described.

And what about software?

More about the MK 85