On the Topic of Technology…

4 05 2010

May 4, 2010

(Forward to the Next Post in the Series)

Today’s post seems slightly off topic from previous posts, but maybe there is a hidden message.

I have in my basement an ancient Commodore Amiga 1000 computer which first hit the market in 1985.  At the time of its initial release the computer offered an earth shattering feature set: 7.14MHz Motorola 65000 CPU, 4096 colors, stereo sound, speech synthesis, and preemptive multitasking.  It’s true that the computer is rather tame by comparison with current computers, 25 years after the initial introduction of the Amiga 1000.  Before Commodore’s eventual demise, I was very much a fan of their product line.

So, why bring up ancient history about a 25 year old computer from a long ago defunct computer company?  This past Saturday I stopped into one of the electronic stores on my way home from an OakTable planning meeting, with the intention of buying one of the Apple iPad devices.  From a personal finance position, I planned to consider the purchase as an educational expenditure, not much different from the justification that I use to spend a portion of my income on various books and magazines.  Let’s see… $500 USD for a unit with 16GB or $700 USD for a unit with 64GB – I figured that I would probably need to buy the $700 unit if I planned to do anything useful with the device since it cannot be upgraded at a later time.  An expensive learning exercise, no doubt, but I already have a dozen or so newspaper, magazine, and Internet articles sitting on my desk at work about the iPad, most of which have been brought to me by others in the company who were curious about the iPad.

Back to the story – as I was walking toward the iPads in the electronics store I walked past 8 netbooks that were running Windows 7 Starter Edition.  The most expensive netbook offered a 1.66GHz Intel Atom processor (with hyperthreading support), 1GB of memory, 250GB hard drive, 10.2 inch LCD, an 11 hour battery, built-in web camera, and weighed 2.5 pounds – for $400 USD (I later determined that the same netbook is available online for $360).  I found that it was interesting that the netbook was able to cold boot in about 35 seconds, and resume from sleep mode in about 2 seconds.  After a couple of minutes experimenting with the netbooks I wandered over to the Apple display.  On the way I started wondering what I would do with the iPad, since I own a decent 3 year old laptop with a high-resolution 17 inch LCD.  I found one of the unoccupied iPads at the Apple display counter and started experimenting with it.

Wow, neat visual effects, jumping from the main screen into the mapping application.  OK, now how do I switch back to the main screen and pull up a web browser?  The iPad does not offer multitasking, even though that 25 year old Amiga 1000 computer sitting in my basement does?  True, but I knew that before entering the store.  After hopelessly pressing on the screen to find the hidden “close” button for the mapping application, I found a button on the frame that surrounded the screen – surprisingly, that button closed the mapping application.  Interesting, apparently no button on the main screen to open a web browser (the feature was probably disabled on the display unit), but there is a button for YouTube.  Wow, neat visual effects when pointing at YouTube.  What should I search for?  How about “Oracle”.  I brought up the onscreen keyboard, set the unit down on the display counter so that I could effectively type on the screen, and found that this motion caused the screen to rotate 90 degrees.  Neat visual effect… it was about this time that I noticed that the iPad screen was also roughly 10 inches measured diagonally, much like those netbooks that I passed on the way over to the Apple display.

The iPad played the selected YouTube video without problem, and did I mention the neat visual effects.  I started thinking again about how I would use the iPad.  I could use it to watch videos, as long as the videos were not Flash based.  My broadband connection has either a 5GB or 6GB monthly maximum transfer limit as it is provided by a cell phone company, of course I could easily hit that limit if the iPad was only used to watch videos.  All I have to do is plug the USB modem into the USB port on the iPAD… of course I mean plug the USB modem into the CradlePoint wireless router – there are no USB ports on the iPad.  I could use it for viewing the Oracle documentation, assuming that the Adobe’s Acrobat Reader format is not banned from the iPad.  While I don’t think that it will ever be possible to run a copy of Oracle Database on an iPad, I could use it to look up information on Metalink (My Oracle Support)… on second thought, who made the decision to build the new Metalink site using Flash – didn’t that person consult Steve Jobs?  I started to wonder again why I was planning to buy one of these iPads – for my purposes the only thing that it really had going for it was the neat visual effects, the mapping application, and the semi-portability (I have to drag along the CradlePoint router and external antenna).

I wandered back over to the netbooks.  Let’s see, these miniature sized computers offer four times as much storage space as the most expensive iPad, check; 66% faster CPU than the most expensive iPad, check; keyboard does not rotate 90 degrees when placed on the table, check; same screen size as the iPad, check; same weight as the iPad, check; multiple (3) USB ports, check; no fingerprints on the screen/case, check; 11 hour battery life, check; built-in web cam (probably coming to the iPads in December), check; able to visit the Flash enabled My Oracle Support site, check; able to run most of the software that I own, check; most expensive unit is $100 cheaper than the least expensive iPad, check; able to watch most video formats, with the notable exception of MPEG2 (as recorded by a Tivo), check; able to multitask just like the 25 year old Amiga, check; able to run Oracle Database – certainly that can’t be possible on a netbook, right?

So, I walked out of the store with a bag in hand, mission accomplished.  That certainly is a strange looking iPad – how did Apple manage to sell a million of them in a month?  Forward progress still means moving forward, right?

Using 40% of the 1GB of memory, just sitting idle.

I thought about installing Oracle on the little device, but as you can see, the books were just too heavy.

It is far too small, too limited of a device to support Oracle Database 11g R2.

Definitely, the hard copies are far too heavy.

This blog article is not intended to imply that the technology of the iPad is behind that of the 25 year old Commodore Amiga due to the iPad’s lack of multitasking.  This blog article is not intended to insult the owners of the 1 million iPads that were sold in the last month, even those that ended up in a blender or were smashed on the concrete as demonstrations of the rugged design of the iPads.  This blog article is not intended to point out how limited an iPad might be to someone wanting to perform serious work on the iPad – if you consider navigating the Flash enabled My Oracle Support site serious work.  No, this blog article is intended to point out that it is hard to install Oracle Database on a device without a physical keyboard.  See, the blog article was on topic after all.  :-)

I think that humor somehow found its way into this blog article.  I wonder if this article about the iPad will end up on my desk with the other assorted iPad articles?


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13 responses

4 05 2010
coskan

Good comparison with a little missing point, I think the winner needs to be named like Toshiba XXXX ?

Another issue is that You did not mention island keyboard but looks like it is also another change in addition to screen size. Do you think the island key style keyboard of the netbook is easier or harder to use comparing to the normal keyboard ?

4 05 2010
Charles Hooper

Coskan,

The netbook is a Toshiba NB305-N410BL – the above pictures, and those on the various sites that sell the machine, do not show why it is better than the other netbooks that I experimented with last Saturday. This is the first Toshiba device that I have bought, and it was the only one that looked like it might survive a little bit of abuse.

Toshiba managed to install a full size keyboard into the netbook – the distance between the left side of the A key and the right side of the L key is 17 cm, exactly the same as the desktop keyboard, and my large laptop.

A couple more things that I forgot to mention:
* The netbook has a VGA port through which I was able to connect it to a 1080P capable TV. The screen resolution output by the netbook was a 4:3 aspect ratio with 1080 vertical lines of resolution (that would make it 1440 x 1080 pixels).
* The netbook supports standard Windows 7 printer drivers so that people do not need to buy the expensive HP solution: http://www.engadget.com/2010/04/15/ipad-printing-solved/
* The hard drive is suprisingly fast in the netbook, achieving 80MB per second, compared to roughly 61MB per second for the 320GB Western Digital Black Edition 7200 RPM drive that is in the larger laptop. I am not sure if the performance difference is due to a SATA 2 interface in the netbook compared to a SATA 1 interface in the laptop, or if the laptop’s 50GB of free space played a role in the slower performance.
* I used the Windows Anytime Upgrade feature to upgrade from Windows 7 Starter to Windows 7 Professional before attempting the Oracle install. The upgrade completed about 20 minutes after I sent my credit card information to Microsoft. This upgrade also fixed the Tivo MPEG2 playback problem and allowed the computer to resume from sleep mode in about half as much time.

4 05 2010
coskan

thanks for the update Charles. Now it became a full review. I am in the mood of buying a new netbook and this review is definitely helpful to me with one problem (in UK the price tag on the same netbook is £350 which is ridiculous )

4 05 2010
Charles Hooper

I think that it is important to mention one other piece of information here – this is something that I explained to someone else in the office yesterday. The netbook is great, as long as it does what you need it to do out of the box. If you want to do something beyond the basics, buy a laptop instead. What do I mean?
* I had to set aside a 16GB and 2GB (actually used a 4GB) USB memory keys for the operating system backup and application software backup. I only had one 16GB USB key, and it was quite expensive when purchased 18 months ago. No backup copies of the operating system or application software shipped with the netbook.
* The upgrade from Windows 7 Starter to Windows 7 Professional cost $127 USD – I had to upgrade to at least Home Premium to support the MPEG2 video standard (there were a couple of sites that offered a MPEG2 decoder for $20) used by the Tivo desktop software, and of course the Oracle Database software requires the Professional Edition of Windows as the minimum (some features will not work correctly with the Home Premium edition – Enterprise Manager Database Control and DataPump are two such features).
* I ordered a 2GB memory module (maximum supported memory) from Crucial.com at a cost of $62 USD – it should arrive in a couple of days. The netbook so far has worked great with just 1GB of memory, but the extra memory will give the netbook a little more flexibility.
* If I need an external CD/DVD drive, that will be another $60 USD.

So:
* $400 for the netbook
* $127 for the Windows 7 Professional upgrade
* $ 62 for the memory upgrade
* $ 60 for the CD/DVD drive (not purchased)
——
= $ 649 USD for a 2.5 pound netbook that has less performance and smaller screen than a laptop that costs the same amount. But it is a neat feat to install Oracle Database on such a small computer – I thought for sure that the bottom of the computer would melt from the heat generated from running the hard drive for roughly 3 to 4 hours, but it appears to have survived.

As long as the netbook can be used as purchased, it is a great value.

4 05 2010
David Mann

I think the iPad is more of a lifestyle accessory, at least right now. It seems that Apple expects people will be doing 1 thing at a time – playing a game, watching a movie. , sending an e-mail.

Not that there aren’t some great applications of the technology and form factor to business problems.

I think it is interesting that Microsoft has been pushing tablet technology for 10+ years and never penetrated the consumer market. They have done OK in some niche markets like medical offices… but Apple announced this 6 months ago and has sold hundreds of thousands in a few weeks.

I’m expecting things to start revving up for the 2nd and 3rd generation iPads. They will probably have enough power to multitask and more features like cameras and connectivity.

Hey you might be able to find a light pen for that old Amiga on Ebay if you are lucky :)

4 05 2010
Charles Hooper

David,

Great comments. One of the concerns that I had was that, if Apple released a unit with a web camera in December, version 1 of the iPad would be nearly worthless – OK, worth less than it is right now. The iPad has a lot of potential, but I just could not find a way to leverage that potential to do something useful for me.

Will it Blend?:

Can it play ball?:

:-)

Your comment about the light pen for the old Amiga reminded me of a light pen that my brother built for the Commodore 64 that used a hollowed out permanent marker for the light pen’s body. Those were the days when peeking and poking at a computer meant something entirely different than it does now.

5 05 2010
Amardeep Sidhu

Hi Charles,

Nice long review. You are right. As far as the usability is concerned, its hard to find the segment where iPad would fit. I would second David, its more like a lifestyle accessory.

And iPad not supporting the flash thingy is not a good idea at all. Steve Jobs is trying to prove his best though that why they don’t want to support flash.

5 05 2010
Charles Hooper

Amardeep,

I am sure that the iPad is a great device – I hope that no one reads this blog article and concludes that I think that the iPad is an absolute failure of a device. It is not the right choice for the tasks that I attempted, which closely resembles how I would use something with that screen size. For other people who only consume media (video, music, websites) and have an unlimited Internet plan, an iPad (if it supported Flash) would probably be a perfect device. I read an article in Maximum PC magazine last night that stated that HTML 5.0, which Steve Jobs is promoting as the solution for the lack of Flash support, will not be ratified as a standard until 2020 (I might be off by a year or two), but support for portions of the standard will start appearing in web browsers soon.

You are probably right that the missing features will probably be added to new versions of the iPad sometime in the future. I wonder whether some of the competing devises that will soon be hitting the market (http://www.businessinsider.com/ipad-rivals-2010-4#google-android-tablets-aplenty-are-coming-1) will force Apple to add the missing features?

I forgot to mention that there is a problem with the audio volume on the Toshiba netbook. At maximum volume it is very hard to hear and understand sound playback from the laptop at a distance of 1 meter – the headphone jack will probably be used frequently by owners of this netbook.

5 05 2010
Amardeep Sidhu

And iPad not supporting multitasking is again a big limitation. So are the other things like missing USB port, web camera etc. But oh yes, may be they want to preserve all such things for future versions…Apple marketing ;)

5 05 2010
ezuall

Very good review. Strangely the release of the iPad got me thinking about netbooks as well. If only one could run an Oracle Database Instance, my mind would be made up ;-)

1 10 2011
Dinesh

Hi charles ,

great review indeed .

I got myself an ATOM – Dual core netbook recently . {1.5 Ghz}

Since you have experimented with 11g on windows , I was wondering if it could be done on Linux {oracle Linux / Redhat } as well .

The idea is to create a test machine for my DBA classes …is it doable ???

Regards
— Dinesh

1 10 2011
Charles Hooper

Dinesh,

I personally have not tried to install Linux on a netbook and then run Oracle Database on the netbook. The design of the netbook that I own does not lend itself to easy hard drive swap outs, so it is not easy for me to test (the netbook needs to be completely disassembled using a phillips and Torx screwdriver). It seems that there are now more than 100 Linux distributions (there were fewer when I started playing with the Linux operating system in 1999):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Linux_distributions

Of the many Linux distributions, only a handful are listed as compatible (with 11.2.0.1) – some of these distributions place configuration files in different locations than other distributions, so that can make it a little difficult to follow “how-to” guides that are found on the Internet:

http://download.oracle.com/docs/cd/E11882_01/install.112/e16768/toc.htm#CIHFICFD

•Asianux Server 3 SP2
•Oracle Linux 4 Update 7
•Oracle Linux 5 Update 2
•Oracle Linux 5 Update 5 (only if using Oracle Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel)
•Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Update 7
•Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Update 2
•Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Update 5 (only if using Oracle Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel)
•SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2
•SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11

The first step is to determine if your Atom processor supports 64 bit code or just 32 bit code. Take a look at the following link, find your processor, then click the processor name to see if the Instruction set is listed as 32 bit or 64 bit:

http://ark.intel.com/products/family/29035/Intel-Atom-Processor

Oracle offers both 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Oracle’s Linux product (very similar to Red Hat) at the following link (I had to sign in using my OTN account and then confirm my email address):

https://edelivery.oracle.com/EPD/Search/handle_go

From what I understand, the Atom processors may require a custom Linux kernel to be compiled, but that might no longer be a requirement for current Linux distributions. From what I have read, some people have had success when compiling the kernel by selecting Core 2 Duo as the target CPU type if Atom is not a listed CPU type.

Good luck. Maybe someone else will have additional information (quite a few very knowledgeable people have stopped by this blog from time to time to leave very helpful advice in comments).

1 10 2011
Dinesh

Charles ,

Thanks , really do appreciate your thoughts on the issue at hand .

Actually I am in the process of unlearning and re-learning everything , so I have 2 machines with which I will be experimenting in the next 3 months , namely ….

[1] –> Desktop PC : Core 2 Duo , 4 GB DDR 2 , 320 GB HDD
[2] –>NetBook : Atom Dual Core N550 , 2 GB DDR3 , 160 GB HDD

The big Idea is to use the NetBook as a rigorous test machine for Oracle Db for training purpose only , I don’t Know whether It will work or not , but I chose Netbook over full Fledged Laptops because of its easy manageability as compared to bigger machines , size wise and all , relatively speaking off course . I would like to use it for demonstration / experimentation of stuff like prof of concept for RMAN and other things

As per your Recommendation , I have already checked and found that it does support 64 bit , and its memory support limitation is 2 GB DDR3 , which I have already utilizing to the max , so we cant do nothing on that front.

Although it do support 64 bit , but I am more inclined towards using 32 bit components , be it operating system or Database , May I ask whether you are using 11g R2 64 bit or 32 bit

I must say I am using the Netbook for 4 to 6 hours at a stretch daily for the past 8 months and its working like a charm …. touch wood …. so I am impressed in that regard

About ” Hard Drives Swap Outs ” , I absolutely agree with you on that one . One of my friend suggested using virtual box , but honestly I am not comfortable with the idea , I would rather create a dual boot machine , have already done that with the PC before , will try to do that with the NetBook too .

Earlier I have installed 10 g db on the same NetBook on WIN-XP , but haven’t worked much on that so cant say about the performance .

Since you are running 11g on WIN on your NetBook , How would you rate its performance ???

I am sure you are a very busy man , so In brief I will tell you an out line of how I am gona proceed , and would definitely appreciate your thought on it , that is if you could spare a few moment to guide me .

The path That I am about to take :

STEP – 1 : Creation of Dual boot system on The PC , and in the Oracle Linux Environment , Creation of a 11g R2 db echo system with tools like OEM , RMAN etc .

STEP – 2 : Replicate the whole process on the Netbook

I presume that the primary memory bottleneck on the NetBook may be an issue that might break the system , please do let me know about your thoughts on this as well and also on the whole apporacj of using Netbook as a test machine .

Any and Every guidance from your end will be deeply appreciated .

Regards
— Dinesh

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