Open Source’s Future Scratchpad

Nokia N800 Internet TabletI had given her the other one. She didn’t know what to make of it when I did, but found it indispensible when it came to checking email, writing notes, and instigating her own interests in IT and networking. But, when it was stolen, I knew that I had to step in. Mine had been sitting aside, getting little action – espeically since I’d gotten the iPad. She would be a solid home for it – and given the tweaks that I’d done to it for my own needs – she’d probably enjoy it better even though it was a model generation older than what she’d had before.

And so the N800 got wiped of all the necessary data. I kept the music there, as well as some of the images that I’d collected. I killed the browser cache and bookmarks, then in a Taco Bell bag, I handed to her the device, USB cable, and a charger that instigated my own thoughts of what the future of computing would look like. I wonder now if I should have given her the mobile phone in my pocket instead.

When I purchased that N800 (I think from Ricky Cadden, or maybe I caught a great deal online), I had the picture of the Nokia Morph going through my head. This open source, open Internet device that was one part an entertainment station and another part the key to those productive moments. The reality wasn’t so engaging. There was a browser that wihle powerful, was slow as all get out and quite unusable. There was an interface that couldn’t decide if it wanted to respect the finger or stylus – it would rather hand-hold both at the same time. And then there was a community of dedicated folks, all bent towards the platform, but rarely coming forth with those gems that spoke loudly beyond that community.

I got caught up into this vision of a future wrapped in an open source repository.

It was a good dream mind you. Using the N800 caused delight and regret. I can remember getting updates without needing a PC of any kind (whoot). I remember seeing things I thought I’d forgotten (terminal) and things that I never knew existed (WordPy/MaStory). I thought that the camera – as broken as it was – could be turned into that viewfinder that would take my surroundings and then give me a wallpaper and shell – just like in the Morph video. I got a camera that never got addressed, and wallpaers ripped from the best and worst of Sci-Fi moments.

Then I put it down. I couldn’t live with a dream unfulfilled. I couldn’t bear to be reminded that mobility was being done better by Nokia (enter the N95 to my pocket) and this was just sitting there – a dried well. Yes, there were future models and software updates, but nothing ever took that vision of computing and went that logical (to me) step forward.

Later, I picked it up on a whim. I needed to prove a point. Prove a point to myself, to the company I worked for. Mobile wasn’t just something you did, something needing the obey the laws of workflow or physics. Mobile was transformative, and it meant we could work differently. So, I took that N800 and constrained my use of it. It became a folder and a notepad. I would connect its (good enough) email client to our hosted Exchange, and the browser was good enough to view SharePoint. I’d jump into things with a wireless keyboard and the application Xournal for notes, and make sure that I stayed productive, not just looked the part. The dream started to make sense – the argument started to be heard.

There was no need to continue that activity when I left there. I had to invent another reason to use it. But, the browser wasn’t it. The RSS reader couldn’t hang. Nor could the battery life. I was again forcing it into a reality that it wasn’t designed for. It was meant to spark a dream, not to live it. And so it became that cabinet companion until I found it a home with a woman who would use it to instigate her own computing dreams. She would use it to keep up with classes, entertain her child, create some applications. She lived a lot of what I couldn’t.

I’ve got an iPad. One could argue, espeically as I’m typing on it and not that Nokia N800, that I am getting a good part of that computing vision that I was looking for. But, I’m not. I’m restless. There’s polish here, but not enough of that dream fulfilled to make me want to continue. I’d love to be able to sell this iPad and maybe even my N8 and then get to that Morph type of computing. There’s this activity about that kind of computing that makes sense, and I’ve seen in it practce that works when the pieces are polished with discovery.

Maybe that’s what’s got me wondering where I am in terms of computing. Not so much that I’m not satisfied, but that I’m going down tunnels of computing where there’s less to discover that opens up my world. Sure, the iPad is a canvas – but that sounds more like a destination than a journey. The N800 was a journey built on the impossibilities of the realities of open source communities. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to give up that trip for what’s considered civilization just yet. However, I don’t know if that means I stick with the tools I’ve adapted to, or if I enter another dream road towards somewhere else.