ExoPC Notes and Journal, Part 2

by Jon Davis 6. November 2010 04:35

I’m starting this off sitting at Coffee Plantation while listening to a live band play, although I’ll be moving about, e.g. back home, before I’m done.

  • I’m typing at a snail’s pace using the on-screen keyboard into Live Writer with my two index fingers. I just realized something else that spoiled me about the iPad/iPhone is that with the ubiquity of controls/components used for keyboard input it was relatively easy to not just offer up a keyboard, but to actually move/scroll the whole window to make room for the text area and the keyboard. Here with Live Writer I have to manually add some line breaks to the bottom of my text so that I can (manually) scroll down enough to get the input caret to stay above the on-screen keyboard. Or I can move the keyboard to the top of the window but then I need invisible hands/arms, and I can’t afford that at the moment.
  • The erratic responsiveness of the touch interface drivers has been nightmarish, but it’s a problem that may have already been fixed. There is a firmware update that is required of all of us ‘first 100’ early adopters (but not for everyone else) and I haven’t installed it yet because it requires a mouse. (If everyone had to do this I’d say this is ridiculous. I thought the whole point of a touch tablet was to eliminate mouse dependency. Even if it’s for the touch drivers to enable that mouse independence, it should be fully automated and installed in a rollback-able hands-free transaction, no?)
  • Another feature I sorely miss about iOS and Android: shifting for caps after typing a period and a space! Maybe the ExoPC’s proprietary on-screen keyboard, which has yet to reveal itself, will fix this. Then again, I’m not really using the ExoPC software.
  • I’m finding the tablet form factor in a public table-and-chair setting to be extremely awkward without a stand. The ExoPC’s display is just too difficult to see at the angle created if I set it flat down on the table unless I hover my face over it, and its shape is too short to stand it on my lap leaning against the table in landscape orientation without making its angle going the other way, pointing at my belly button, and in portrait mode it’s way too horizontally narrow to use the system naturally because the dpi which was necessarily increased by the factory for touch suitability (makes buttons bigger) also makes the taskbar and ribbon interfaces “overflow” and get cut off. The on-screen keyboard also doesn’t help, if you’re typing something lengthy up you need a wireless keyboard, or use a notebook/netbook instead. The tablet form factor is no good for any serious word processing.
  • So far with all this ranting it has taken me a whole hour to get this far just typing! Moving on…
  • Microsoft: the Quick Access bar is not the suitable place to put such critical ribbon buttons as Save. Both WordPad for Windows 7 and Live Writer are guilty of this. Very, very bad for fat (adult) fingers.
  • Strange annoyance: in Live Writer, when I tap where I want the caret to be, it goes there, but then a second later it shifts over one character. Doesn’t always happen, but maybe half the time. Might be fixed in that yet-to-be-installed firmware update for touch, I dunno. Nope.
    Caret moves over by a character after a second or so
  • Went back home to run the mandatory firmware update. The erratic loss of touch support became too much to handle while maintaining sanity.
  • Orientation detection should reexecute upon waking from hibernation or sleep mode. It doesn’t. Waking it from hibernation after having plugged it in and put it on a stand, I have to pick up the unit, rotate it, then rotate it again and put it back down before it will pick up the change of orientation.
  • Firmware installed. So far so good! Light years better! As I described in the forums, “It’s like going from anger and resentment and hatred and tears to basking in a bed filled with feathers.
  • Just fired up Torchlight again, since I hadn’t tried it since I installed all those 55 Windows updates. Sure enough, performance is better, playable even, although barely so, and I completed the first level before exiting out to log the good news. Frame rate is now something like 10 fps instead of more like 5 fps before the updates.
  • This is the fifth time, and the last time, this has happened to me. I'll leave the ExoPC running, sitting on a stand, with the A/C adapter plugged in, come back half an hour later to find it seemingly turned off (noisy fan is not running, screen is blank), and I'll pick it up and immediately reach for the power button. Nothing happens so I'll hold the power button down for 5 seconds. Whammo! I just reset a sleeping Windows, all I had to do was tap the screen but instead I frickin KILLED Windows. I consider this a bug, and the bug is in the unresponsiveness to a single tap of the power button when sleeping. Desktop machines will respond appropriately to this. However, I'm going to fix this by going into the Power settings control panel and turning off the automatic go-to-sleep-after-no-activity feature when plugged in. If it's plugged in, it doesn't need sleep. Then again, there's that annoying fan .. and I'm here in dusty Arizona with two dander-licking cats .. *sigh* ..
  • Just downloaded and installed FL Studio for music production. Buffer underruns galore, but does run and seems to be a decent DAW for touch. W00 h00! I’ll try out an external E-mu 0404 USB for outboard audio later to see if it improves the buffer underruns.
  • Downloaded and installed Oracle VM VirtualBox and ran the Android x86 LiveCD to see if I could run Android on ExoPC in a VM. It runs (after a 3 1/2 minute boot), and it responds to the keyboard, but it doesn’t respond to touch and the mouse doesn’t seem to work. So, no-go.
  • Installed EnergyXT (another music production DAW like FL Studio but lighter weight), runs great, but did hiccup a bit after a minute of looping the demo, some background task must’ve fired up. This can be tuned, I’m sure.
  • Installed Finale Reader for reading and playing sheet music. Works great.
    Finale Reader on ExoPC
  • Installed Zune. Microsoft is still not putting any marketplace software in Windows as a native browse and purchase interface; there’s an “Apps” section but it’s strictly for Windows Phone 7.
  • Really not liking the fan. If I shake or even gently rock the ExoPC, the fan groans. UPDATE: It appears I may have a bad unit. Others in the forums are stating that the fan is hardly noticeable.
  • Back at the coffee shop (now on Sunday).
  • Having a bit of difficulty Alt+Tabbing between the ExoPC interface and Live Writer. I usually close out of it entirely if I don’t need it but I wanted to look something up from the Forums quick link. The difficulty I’m having is ExoPC refusing to hide itself.
  • I’m just surfing the web and logging here. And I’ve only been using it for about 25-30 minutes. The Battery indicator in Windows says that I have 3 hours left. I feel slightly shortchanged on battery life.
  • There is a half-second delay between Bluetooth keyboard input and Live Writer. I suspect that having pulled it out of hibernation might have something to do with it. Perhaps I should reboot.
  • Didn’t log this earlier, thought I should get this in here now. When I downloaded CamFrog to try out the webcam I was pretty unimpressed with the front-facing camera. At least it has one. But it doesn’t compare to, say, a Dell XPS laptop webcam, or for that matter my HTC EVO 4G rear camera. Todo: compare the HTC EVO 4G front-facing camera with the ExoPC’s front-facing camera. (I suspect HTC’s will be better.)
  • Earlier I installed Microsoft WebMatrix to see if this thing would be suitable for lightweight web development tasks. I just fired it up for the first time and am waiting for the WordPress dependencies to download and install so I can poke at it with a real-world scenario loaded. Mind you, I don’t expect it to be very useful without a Bluetooth keyboard because even HTML and ASP.NET/PHP “programming” is a kind of word processing. However, WebMatrix has that whole “web 2.0 interface” feel with the big “touch me” buttons, so it’s very touch-friendly, or so I expect. Trying it now. So far the dependencies installation has taken about 5 minutes (takes a few mere seconds on my desktop machine) …
  • Turns out WebMatrix isn’t anything special touch-wise. But I couldn’t open site files for editing by tapping nor by double-tapping them. Even tried triple-tapping, and tried changing my tap speeds. To successfully open a site file I had to bring up the context menu on the file (hold down my finger over the file for a couple seconds, then lift) and then choose to “Open” the file. Not sure where the bug is on this. In the Database editor, I am unable to enter edit mode in the table definition grid; were it not for the Properties window I would have been unable to define column names, for example. This is a fairly significant glitch in Microsoft software readiness for touch.
  • At this point I’m really feeling like there is a strong theme here, the reinforcement that Microsoft and the overall Windows-based software industry is still pretty green to touch UI, and progress has been made (and has been truly remarkable) but still has a long way to go. It isn’t that overall Windows 7 “isn’t ready” for touch. It is. The touch-oriented interfacing just doesn’t have the spit and polish and perfection that we get in, say, the iPad or the Android. You get a mixed bag of really good touch UI and really bad touch UI all mushed together. And you stay thankful that it supports Bluetooth and USB for workarounds while you file petitions to the software vendors to ask them to clean stuff up, but really, that’s rare. Surprisingly so. Windows 7 has so many workaround mechanisms built in that it’s quite survivable.
  • It is also my impression that the Windows-based touch tablet PC (e.g. slate), especially when contrasted with the iPad, is still somewhat of a niche form factor when used as a touch tablet in that there’s only so much software you can write that is built for fingers. On this detail, the notion that there’s more software written for Windows and hence for slates than for iOS and hence iPad, I must painfully acknowledge, is not really true, or rather while it is true it is not really relevant. The relevant observation is that more touch-ready software has been written on the iOS than on Windows. Fortunately, I have an ExoPC on which one of the better touch-ready platform interfaces and marketplaces has been built, so if someone must have a Windows-based slate PC, and touch is intended to be used over, say, keyboard or pen, then ExoPC is definitely a good bet. However, as it is still beta software I am still waiting for some spit and polish. Their choice not to use WPF is pretty painful, as it feels clunky compared to what it could have been. But it is at least a quite useful and functional proof of concept, and I feel the interface concepts are world-class, if simple.
  • I still need Office 2010 with OneNote on here before I can wrap up this log. I also haven’t tried inking with my finger yet.
  • This log entry is my attempt to use the ink feature of Windows 7, rather than the on-screen keyboard. It's something to get used to, for sure. As the tech is new, I'm sure I look kinda silly poking and drawing on my tablet here at the coffee shop, but I'll definitely give it to Microsoft that they have put a TON of money and effort into hand recognition! I write with chicken scratches, and with my fat finger even I can't read the crap I'm drawing on the screen, yet Windows is doing an *amazing* job at figuring me out! In terms of productivity it's as fast as using the on-screen keyboard, if not faster. 
    Microsoft Ink on the ExoPC–Writing With A Finger
  • http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40007547/ns/technology_and_science-space/ not responding to touch (video not playing) within Chrome with the touch add-in. Works in IE9.
  • Performance is getting really clunky for some reason. Chrome was locking up on Flash, and this Live Writer window scrolls at like 2 frames per second. Again, I need to reboot, but I keep hibernating. Rebooting didn’t fix.
  • Battery’s dead. Been about 3 1/2 hrs. Heading home to plug in.
  • I still have yet to install Office 2011 w/ OneNote, but right now I’m just going to wrap this up. At issue is having an Office license; I seem to have misplaced my old MSDN keys from my job from before I quit. Oh well; for now I can get by without it, and others will also be reviewing ExoPC and some of them are reviewing OneNote on it, I’m sure.

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of jondavis.net have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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