So, I have a Gtablet…

•August 2, 2011 • 3 Comments

So, Viewsonic have a support forum located on Facebook (wtf? why not have it on their site?!)

I’m going to go through and bold a few things, that I found interesting, and/or important…

They posted the following (at http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=58738271675&topic=18712 )

Welcome to the ViewSonic gTablet Discussion Forum. Here you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive via our social media channels. As part of our mission to exceed customer expectations with superior products, service and industry knowledge, it is our pleasure to launch this new forum in which to address the concerns of our valued Facebook friends and followers.

The gTablet launched in November 2010 as an exciting 1st generation tablet, positioning ViewSonic as an early player in the emerging tablet market. We were one of the first companies to recognize the potential of the tablet computer, and today ViewSonic offers a wide range of tablet products for every need and budget. The ViewSonic gTablet was and still is a great tablet, and one of the first to use nVidia’s Tegra chipset technology. We continue to stand by our product, which boasts excellent hardware specifications to this day.

In response to concerns about the origin of the gTablet, we would like to point out that, in today’s market it is common for brand companies to enlist the help of 3rd-party developers, manufacturers and distributors. This is often necessary given the fast pace and ever changing technology within the consumer electronics market. This past year has seen phenomenal growth in the tablet market, along with many new product features and capabilities.

In effort to move the market forward even faster, Google and many silicon suppliers have changed their roadmaps and shifted their priorities to focus on future tablet platforms. This includes establishing minimum hardware specs that 1st generation tablets often times do not meet. As a result, silicon companies have assigned their limited software resources on the new platforms and are not providing software driver support for legacy platforms.

We have heard rumors that ViewSonic has dropped support for the gTablet. This is by no means true, and it is this question we would like to address in this post.

The gTablet product is and always will be supported by ViewSonic. The product was advertised and sold as an Android 2.2 tablet and we continue to support it as such. ViewSonic continues to provide technical and warranty support for the gTablet and the Android 2.2 operating system that was installed and running out of the box. You may contact our gTablet support center at (310) 228-4000, or visit http://www.viewsonic.com/gtablet/support.htm for further information.

Support may also include software updates to correct major bugs and shortcomings that were not apparent at product launch.

In response to customer feedback, we released over-the-air the updates addressing major concerns – the first update was released in late December 2010 and the most recent was in April 2011. These updates included performance enhancements, the ability to toggle between the Tap n Tap UI and a standard Android home screen, and Adobe Flash support. Such software updates help us ensure that the product functions as advertised. ViewSonic product support does not include major operating system software upgrades.

gTablet enthusiasts and members of the Android development community have compiled experimental software builds which may enable Android 3.x (aka Honeycomb) operating systems to run on the gTablet. Our research indicates that these builds remain relatively unstable. Furthermore, the attempt to install a custom ROM may result in serious complications up to and including rendering the device unusable. Overwriting the system image to install a new operating system on the gTablet will void your warranty and cannot be encouraged or supported by ViewSonic.

Unlike previous versions of Android, Honeycomb has not been released as open source software. Google maintains tighter control over the code than they have in the past. This means that ViewSonic cannot distribute Android versions 3.x without licensing and product certification from Google. This was never part of our product plan for the gTablet. In releasing the gTablet with hardware well ahead of its time, ViewSonic may have set certain unrealistic expectations; the gTablet was never advertised as or intended to be anything other than an Android 2.2 tablet. Our product development efforts are presently focused on future platforms designed specifically for Honeycomb and later Android versions.

ViewSonic will continue to support the gTablet Android 2.2 tablet while we work with our technology partners to deliver next generation tablets that provide even greater performance and capabilities.

So, I have a few issues with this whole thing. First of all, it’s buried on some Facebook page. The only reason why I happened across it was that I was looking on their page for the open source kernel, which, by the way device manufacturers, if your device is a tegra, stop fucking touching shit in other arches with your patches. But that is off topic. So they have this “support” forum, where they basically say, hey, we released the device with 2.2, we don’t know what would cause you to expect more.

Here’s the thing. Their latest release was in April 2011. If you go to http://www.viewsonic.com/gtablet/support.htm You can’t even download the update. It is all done “ota” (over the air); So herein lies the issue. They pushed out a broken release, which was available for ~24 hours. This version was (approximately) 4349. This one actually broke Hi Def video playback. You can’t download the older release (from Viewsonic), and if you happen to have to RMA your device for any reason, 4349 is what gets installed. That’s right. If you have any issue with your machine (similar to what I did where the screen stopped working) they will install “the latest” version, which breaks the video playback (yay!) So this release was in April some time, and for the people unfortunate enough to have gotten it, (or those of us who got it because it was installed at RMA time) there is no recourse.

But they claim they support the device. Viewsonic’s definition of supporting a device is the same as Google’s definition of supporting a web service. In other words, there’s a forum somewhere, but no one from the company bothers to actually read or check or offer actual assistance. The difference is, I paid Viewsonic 400 dollars for the privilege of using their hardware, and I don’t pay Google anything, unless you count all my person information for the past 8 years (Gmail user since 2004.)

So to go through the bold points: First, this whole “industry” standard of dropping support for hardware as soon as it’s out the door has to stop. If you really want customer loyalty, you need to stick by your designs and devices. With Viewsonic, they released the Gtablet, and were pulled, not because they “stopped supporting them” but because of a high return rate! Did no one at Viewsonic step back and say whoa, guys (and gals) we’re getting a high return rate, let’s find out why and fix that issue. Apparently not, apparently they released a new tablet. For a long time, they were telling people who requested support to go to the XDA forums until Roebeet told them to stop, since he was just a custom ROM developer, and not a customer service forum. Now there’s some company in Beverly Hills, CA who does the support, that… tells people to go to the XDA forums, or tells people who complain about the hi def video, “hey, at least it is usable for other things!” Seriously? What kind of support is this?

The first two bold points seem almost in conflict… If the hardware “boasts excellent hardware specifications to this day”, how exactly is it legacy? Because it only has 512MB of RAM versus 1GB of RAM? That is a differentiation between legacy and modern!?

They also state that they “are not providing software driver support for legacy platforms”, however then they state “The product was advertised and sold as an Android 2.2 tablet and we continue to support it as such.” Except they don’t, because hi def video has been broken for over 4 months.

“Support may also include software updates to correct major bugs and shortcomings that were not apparent at product launch.” How about major bugs and shortcomings that were introduced *by* software updates?

“ViewSonic product support does not include major operating system software upgrades.” Okay, this I don’t actually have as much a problem with, I mean, I don’t expect my computer to come with free Windows updates for life. The iPhone on the other hand, I kind of do, since you know, Apple controls the ecosystem as well as the software updates…. kind of like Viewsonic should. This tablet is *8 months old* in product time on market (disclaimer: might be older now!) yet it is considered legacy!?

“Our research indicates that these builds remain relatively unstable.” Okay, this, this is where we start running into issues. See, if you install a custom ROM, you void the warranty. Except here’s the rub, Viewsonic POINTED PEOPLE TO THE XDA FORUMS FOR SUPPORT WHERE THAT WAS THE COURSE OF ACTION! So essentially, Viewsonic were TELLING people to void their warranty. There has to be something wrong there, maybe there isn’t, but it sure seems fishy to me. Not to mention, of course the builds are relatively unstable. The great thing about Android is that while some parts of it are GPL and open source, the vast majority of the system is closed and proprietary, which means companies can do whatever they want, and not have to provide that back to the community that they used to build their system. I understand that, I even agree with it for the most part. But to tell people that the builds are unstable while not doing anything to help out, is just mind boggling. These developer communities around custom ROMs are what keep most sales going of these devices. So embrace the community that is helping to bring more revenue in to your company. It is also kind of disheartening as a developer, since you know, we’re doing the best we can with what these companies are throwing over their walls, which isn’t much.

“In releasing the gTablet with hardware well ahead of its time, ViewSonic may have set certain unrealistic expectations; the gTablet was never advertised as or intended to be anything other than an Android 2.2 tablet. Our product development efforts are presently focused on future platforms designed specifically for Honeycomb and later Android versions.”

Okay, what I get out of this statement here is…. “SUCK IT!” I’m sorry but there is a saying, and it’s pretty famous because a former president got the saying wrong, so most people in the US know it pretty well. That saying goes “Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, shame on me.” Personally, I won’t be fooled. I will never buy another tablet from Viewsonic, and I would strongly advise anyone considering one to think again.

Now, all of these things said, there are a few deeper issues. One is the Google angle. The Google license for Honeycomb is, interesting, to say the least. See, they won’t work with smaller manufacturing companies for it (minimum something like 1.5 million units?). They like to work with people who are manufacturing the chips. That would be Samsung, TI, Freescale, nVidia, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple others, but for those most part, it’s those main companies. Here’s the thing, IF you happened to get a Honeycomb license, you would have access to the source code. So do the above named companies, and they can share the code with you, because you have the license. However, IF you don’t have a license, even though you’re using their chips to make an Android device, you CANNOT access Honeycomb. Which could be what Viewsonic is running into, and why they won’t release Honeycomb on the Gtablet. Though they are working on it for later tablets, there’s no real reason not to. The differences being 512MB of RAM and different screen size(s), which is just a few minor changes, and guess what, it’s *really* easy to make a git branch! The other issue that all of these custom ROM developers have is, even though for example, the AOSP (that would be Android Open Source Platform) has all of the GPL code checked in, MANY things WILL NOT work because they rely on the proprietary and binary only software. Great open source citizenship there Goog!

My frustration with my tablet knows no bounds. The high return rates were due to the custom interface that Viewsonic insists on using. Also the fact that they don’t include the Android Marketplace makes it really feel like it was put together by a bunch of amateurs (considering the fact that most amateurs *do* include Android Marketplace, I’m not sure how best to put that statement!) instead of an actual company that makes and supports an Android device.

I have always been an nVidia fanboy. I’ve used them exclusively (until about a week ago!) ever since I had a bad issue with ATI back in 2002. That’s 10 years of ATI not getting my support, and I have no problem with never buying from Viewsonic, this experience has definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve been considering writing my own custom ROM, but I’d rather help out some enterprising users that are already doing so. The main reason being that since the company I work for is both small, and global, my work day starts at 8am, and ends around 4am (mostly because they insist that I get some sleep!) So I don’t have as much free time as I would like, but since I absolutely *love* my job, it isn’t a complaint, it’s just stating a reason why I don’t have as much time. The reason why I want to help is because it is extremely apparent that Viewsonic intend to do nothing to support this device, and I’d like to actually use the hardware to it’s potential. It would be like getting an Intel Core i7 and then installing DOS on it to use, if I were to continue using the stock ROM.

I find it unfortunate that it has come to this, that people who use devices actually have to look outside the company that manufactures a device in order to have a USABLE device, and I just don’t quite understand the mentality of a company that expects you to buy their next device when they support it so horribly. This could be in part because of how much our bosses at Genesi ingrain customer support into us. We have meetings twice a week to discuss issues. Not complaint goes un-noticed or dismissed. No bug report gets ignored (forgotten at times sure, but they get brought back up in the meetings!) and most of all, keep the customers happy!

Edit because I just now was re-reading this and noticed the following in the opening statement:

As part of our mission to exceed customer expectations with superior products, service and industry knowledge I’m sorry but stating that your hardware will only do the bare minimum (and not even come close to living up to the hardware’s potentional…. well, that isn’t attempting to exceed customer expectations. If anything, that’s attempting to underwhelm customer expectations. The product is a whole thing. It isn’t just a monitor, it isn’t just the hardware of the tablet (although based on my readings, it looks more like the Gtablet is just a re-branded Malata ZPad, I could be wrong though) it is the ENTIRE package. If you product is inferior, and you know it’s inferior, and you are complacent with that fact, then you aren’t even coming close to living up to your mission statement.

TrimSlice Pro

•May 27, 2011 • 2 Comments

My TrimSlice Pro arrived today, so of course, I have to do the unboxing ritual.

TrimSlice Packaging


The cardboard box inside


First opening the cardboard box


Mains Adapter


Audio!


Bluetooth Adapter


Serial!


HDMI to DVI adapter


Wifi Antenna


The User's Manual


The TrimSlice itself


The Back of the TrimSlice


View of the right side of the case


The Front of the Trimslice


The Left side of the case


The Bottom of the TrimSlice

Okay, so now that the pictures are out of the way…
I’ve had the dev-kit for a while now, and I’d say, if you have 320 dollars to spare, and want a dual core ARM, and are a *developer*, this isn’t a bad deal. If you are a home user/end user, and want… flash/skype/purple ponies/perfect video/audio/whatever, don’t get it. The software support is being worked on hard, but it’s definitely not at an end user stage right now.

One thing to note, while the die cast case helps to dissipate the heat… this causes it to get *very* hot. It does have 4 rubber feet on the bottom though which cause it to be raised so it’s not just a “hunk of metal” sitting on your desk.

Gentoo on an EfikaMX Smartbook (via SD Card)

•April 10, 2011 • 2 Comments

Finally finished documenting installing Gentoo on an EfikaMX Smartbook (on an SD card, from there it’s pretty easy to see how to install to the pata, so I didn’t bother writing 2 different versions)

Thankfully, Raúl Porcel prettied it up for me with GuideXML and it’s now hosted on my Gentoo devspace at http://dev.gentoo.org/~steev/efika/arm/install.xml .

If you aren’t familiar with the Genesi EfikaMX Smartbook, you can head on over to http://www.genesi-usa.com and take a look.

If I missed anything in the guide, please let me know!

Moved!

•February 8, 2011 • 1 Comment

Okay this post is a bit overdue, as I moved a bit back, just been doing other things and haven’t updated the blog.

I’m now mostly situated in San Antonio, and getting down to work.  I love my new apartment, and as much as I like having a roommate as it gives me someone to turn around and talk to, having my own place is quite nice.  I live about a minute away from a Starbucks, so I’m never too worried about coffee, and it’s only a couple of blocks to the grocery store.  WalMart is about a mile and a half away, but even that isn’t bad, because the bus goes right to there.  Bus stop is almost right outside my apartment.  The area is really nice, and I’m not too far from downtown either, so if I wanted to do something there, I can.  Will post more later, for now, back to work!

Moving… in a good way.

•November 29, 2010 • 2 Comments

So I’ve moved hosts, but this post isn’t about the website, it’s about the real world.

I’ve notified everyone who should be already, so I can finally post about it on the blog.  I’ve accepted a job offer with Genesi USA and so I will be moving from Tulsa, Oklahoma to beautiful San Antonio, Texas.

I’m going to be a Senior Software Engineer there.  I really can’t begin to describe just how incredible the offer is to me.  I guess it can best be summed up as, I’m going to get to work on what I’d normally do anyway, but with the added bonus of getting paid to do it.  Plus, the toys, oh the toys.  Getting to “play” with the smartbook, nettop, and eventually tablet, and what ever else down the line… kid in a candy store :D

Moving

•November 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Meant to post this sooner, please excuse the mess, after a long run, it’s finally time to move to a new host.  Thank you to NeXTer who has hosted my site selflessly for the past 6 or so years.  It has been greatly appreciated. And a thank you to Thom Bouve for the new hosting.  I need to import the info from the previous hosting, so until I do, unfortunately the previous postings are unavailable.  Please excuse the mess as I move.

Okay, most posts should be up, any internal images haven’t been put into place, but the posts and comments should be available :)

Back in Oklahoma

•November 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well, today was my last day in San Antonio for a bit. Matt and I worked hard on getting the merge kernel working on the smarttop, although we’re currently still getting errors, we’ve got more debugging info being printed, which helps out quite a bit to figure out what is going on.

R&B brought me a Freescale shirt which is really nice. I like wearing polo shirts, they are just as comfortable as tshirts, and look just a little bit better, even when wearing jeans. Apparently the meeting with Freescale when really well with them showing off the 3G Smartbook.

Mauricio and Denise gave me a ride to the airport. Said goodbye to them as well as Matt who accompanied us to the airport. I gave him the groceries from my room so they weren’t wasted. Wish I had brought a bigger bag with me though, everything was very tightly packed in my bag.

While waiting to get a drink, one of the San Antonio police in the airport asked me questions about my Efika MX smartbook since I was holding it. I let him play with it for a little bit and he really liked it. That was very cool. Seeing people’s reactions to the machine always makes me smile. He commented that he liked how light it was. I’m happy with the battery life myself. While I turned it off before most flights, I unplugged from an outlet at 4:30pm. I would turn it on and use it during the flight, then just close the lid while I was walking through the airports. At around 8:30pm, I started compiling xorg-server and all of its dependencies. I figured okay, this will really stress the system and cause it to draw a lot of power. I didn’t even get a low battery notification (the led on the power button starts blinking orange) until around 1:15am and I finally plugged it in at 1:20am. Mostly because I wanted to be sure that the xorg+friends compile didn’t get cut off. Love it.

So, I am home, and it is somewhat nice, but it was cold when I got home. It is currently around 35F out (somewhere around 2c) and I’m really missing San Antonio. I want it to be warmer.

One thing that I really notice now that I’m home… my computers are freaking loud. I mean okay sure they are “powerful” desktops with “modern graphics cards” but eesh. I miss the quiet Genesi office. Nice having 10 machines going and hearing the carbonation in soda as the only noise.

I really want to post some other news, but it won’t be until at least Monday or Tuesday before I do. Some of my posts over the past week have been hinting at things, and some of my blog posts feel incomplete because I’m not just throwing it all out there.

I do want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone on the Genesi team for making me feel welcome as well as inviting me down to San Antonio. I had a really great time, and look forward to seeing them again in the future!

Day Six

•November 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Got a bit of a late start today, but it was pretty productive. We worked in the merge branch, trying to squash the video bug once and for all. We almost have it. Going to try a few more things tonight and then full steam tomorrow before I leave.

Speaking of which, I’m kind of torn about tomorrow. On the one hand, there are my friends in Tulsa, that I miss, but at the same time, I love being here. Oh well, at least I’m not going back to Tulsa permanently.

Got one of the Efika MX smartbooks that has 3G imaged to show off tomorrow at Freescale. Also wrote up a tiny little document on setting it up. I’d like to clean it up some though, I’m not extremely happy with the way it turned out. Then again, I’m a software developer, not a graphic design artist. Tested the printing from the smartbook to a wireless printer, and it worked great.

I’m currently playing with my own private branch for the efika smartbook to try to fix some things I’ve come across since getting it.

For dinner, Mauricio and his wife Denise took me out for barbecue, at The County Line. They also brought their daughter along, and it was nice to meet her. I had the Beef Brisket Dinner, very delicious. The portions were very large, compared to what I am used to in Oklahoma. I enjoy talking with them, hearing about life in Mexico is interesting to me, since I have never been. Maybe some day I will visit. I love hearing them talk to each other in Spanish. I can’t understand a word they say, but it still sounds so beautiful when they speak it. Should look into taking some classes, or maybe finding a cute tutor.

Got Gentoo running off an SDCard on the Smartbook, so all the Gentoo users can rejoice soon. I’ll probably write up the instructions on my flight tomorrow. We will see. Picture of it: Efika MX Smartbook running Gentoo

Days Four and Five

•November 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So I didn’t write a post about yesterday, I ended up getting tired while writing it up, and just leaving it. This morning instead of continuing it, I modified it, but didn’t post. It is still sitting in my drafts. This one will have to suffice.

Yesterday, got a bit of kernel work done, unfortunately, the merge kernel testing didn’t go so well. We should have framebuffer but for some reason it is lowering the resolution and then failing to reinit. We did some juggling around of servers, and some re-racking. Sun rails are really nice.

Had dinner at a place that I can’t recall the exact name of, but it was something like Cafe de Artistes. Really amazing food. I had a fillet mignon which was absolutely delicious. And I also had their stuffed quail. I’d never had quail before, and since the dinner was being paid for, I wasn’t entirely sure about ordering it. When someone takes me out to eat, I prefer to stick to something I know I like, that way I don’t order something and since I may not like it (not that it isn’t good, just that it isn’t good to me!) I’m always a little apprehensive about ordering it. I’m glad it was ordered though, as it was also very delicious. Compliments to the chef.

Today… well, I slept in a bit, which was nice, although I had actually wanted to get an early start. Then again, I do tend to stay up later and work, the quiet is really nice. Speaking of which, this is something I meant to mention earlier, but forgot to. So, it is currently 3am. I’m in a decently sized room right now. There are 5 Efika MX smartbooks running. There are 2 EfikaMX smarttops running. The only thing I can hear, is Matt’s Sony laptop, and my can of Mountain Dew Throwback. I love it. I’m so used to machines being loud (our servers in Oklahoma sound like jet engines!), that this peace and quiet is nice. Another one of my favorite things to do, is to grab the ClearSpot 3G access point, and take it outside onto the picnic table, and just work from there. Since I get 7 hours of battery life from the 3 cell battery.

Speaking of which, although I don’t have the power to resolve a bug as fixed, I did fix one today. The EDID information from the LCD screens is reporting incorrect numbers, and so we have to work around it. One of the numbers was off, so I changed it. Fix will be committed in the morning. I also got to test the Efika MX 3G smartbook. Even better than carrying around a ClearSpot 3G access point, is just popping your SIM card in to the SIM card slot (it is on the back of the machine, behind the battery, so it can’t fall out!) and then telling NetworkManager the correct information to use, and there has been a lot of work done on the scripts to recognize a majority of service provider’s networks.

I was left to my own devices today (see what I did there? ;) ) and since they brought us sandwiches earlier in the day, I didn’t actually go anywhere for dinner. I just had the sandwich (roast beef with white cheddar.) And I had some bananas.

Things for the future:

I need to organize a Debian Sprint, here at UIW, hopefully we can get some developers from all over the world to come, as I enjoy hearing about the different cultures.

More kernel testing and hacking.

Answering some questions for an article about the Efika MX smartbook.

I also need to log in to the IMX Community website ( www.imxcommunity.org Come join the community!) and see what people are up to on there. There are always really awesome projects that people are doing that don’t seem to get enough exposure.

Help make sure things are ready for the meeting with Freescale on Friday.

Also, check this out, Android running on the Efika MX smarttop!

Day Three

•November 2, 2010 • 1 Comment

We got a bit of kernel work done, and one of the bigger issues of the EfikaMX nettop with the merge kernel should be fixed. I need to test it tomorrow.

Neko showed me how to connect the debug board to the EfikaMX smarttop, so I have a second one next to mine with that connected to test the merge kernel as the backlight isn’t enabled for it yet. I also know how to install a kernel on one “properly” and re-generate the boot.scr file if there are options that need to be changed.

Met Rajesh from Freescale today. Really nice guy.

Mauricio and his charming wife took us to dinner at La Margarita. I think, my best meal here yet. The salsa with the tortilla chips was amazing. We talked about future plans, and got to know Mauricio and his wife better. They then took us to the Riverwalk, and we walked around it for a bit, before stopping at a wonderful jazz bar and having a drink and talking more about the future, as well as Konstantinos recounting his experiences at UDS so Mauricio’s wife could hear about it.

One thing I really like about being here, is being around a lot of people who are actually excited about what they do. And since I like this positivity, and because there are some more things I’d like to get done, as well as some discussions need to be had, I’ve extended my stay here until Friday.