Here’s what someone should build (Tom – Are you listening?):

It seems patently obvious that there would be a market for an entirely self-contained, easy to use SOHO inventory management device. Call it “Library in a Pocket” or something like that, but all you need is a cheap little ARM based Linux handheld with a barcode and RFID scanner. There are people who have cludged together similar systems for PalmOS and Linux, but most commit a number of common sins:

A: Expect some other backend to be used alongside the handheld package.
B: Build it around add-ons to existing PDAs and PC hardware.
C: Lack of polished, focused design targeting the real potential users of these products.

When you eliminate any notion that another device or computer is a relevant part of this system and make it so obvious that no training is necessary to bring in and check out an item from the device itself (picture IN & OUT buttons that are as easy to use as the thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons on a Tivo), you create something simple enough that pack rats, small rental firms, small shops, etc. can reliably keep their entire inventory on that single, portable, easy-to-manage device. Add a numeric keypad to allow manual entry of barcode numbers and invoice numbers for associated POS systems, and you find yourself stripped of any need to maintain a seperate scanning device for it.

Obviously the user needs the ability to generate certain reports based on this data, but there’s no reason that can’t be done in the device: A little 200mhz ARM would be far more powerful than necessary to generate CSV data for manipulation in common database and spreadsheet applications and to turn it into one or two basic ODF or PDF reports.

/End of rant

Gigabyte M912 – To SDHC or not to SDHC?

Click for the wiki article
Click for the wiki article

It’s always (ie for the last 18 months [when I discovered these]) bugged the living hell out of me that there were no tablet netbooks on the market, though it could plainly be done. End user accessible kits even exist for the purpose. ASUS et al hadn’t announced a tablet and noone had shipped one, or an Atom-based machine, before I left the United States for Nepal. As such, I went ahead and bought the ASUS Eee PC900 with Xandros Linux. I’ve got a couple of gripes about the Linux setup, including the lack of adequate and properly protected security updates and a clunky wifi manager, but all in all it works quite well. Amazingly light and easy to use (for my wife as well) and with absolutely incredible boot times, it is hands down the coolest laptop I’ve ever owned. That said, though, the simple addition of a rotating tablet screen or even the OLPC’s cheap but marvelous display would make it far more useful, allowing it to replace my PDA as an ebook reader and do a number of other handy things.

Now, however, it seems to be possible to get a tablet for a netbook’s price through Gigabyte. It seems to lack the software that drives most tablets when you buy it with Windows, but there are promises of a Linux version which, though it would probably be far less useful, would scratch a certain itch of mine – I’ve always been utterly fascinated by projects like Dasher. (Check out their web-based implementation for a demo.) The biggest thing holding me back, of course, is the fact that the Linux build hasn’t shipped and the American retailer Dynamism wants damned near $800 for the Windows version.

The second biggest concern, though, is the incredibly murky picture surrounding its SDHC support, or lack thereof. Its official spec sheet only claims MMC and SD support and, when queried on the subject, their technical support responded that “it does not support SDHC.” Dynamism, however, ran a test for me with some random 16GB card, and it seemed to work just fine:

“I just tried the M912 we have in the office with a Patriot 16GB SDHC card we have (the same ones we offer for the Eee PC’s), and the system did recognize the card and was able to read the full formatted capacity. It very may well be able to read SDHC, but not support some of the faster transfer speeds that the format affords, and it could also depend on the brand as well. With the large number SD/SDHC cards out there it would be difficult to test each and every one available, but it could be possible that the system reads most available ones on the market.”   Dynamism sales support

This seems to be reflected in the drivers offered for the device as well – It ships with drivers for precisely the same series of SD controller that the MSI Wind (which does claim SDHC compatibility) ships with. Weird situation – Can any owners give a little more information on this subject, like an lsusb and lspci output and the boot log in Linux?

*Update http://www.dynamism.com/#Product=gigabyte_m912 – Dynamism’s knocked the price down to $700 for the HDD-laden Windows version, if pre-ordered prior to Oct 1. Still, though, there are some other tradeoffs for not waiting for the Linux build. See the Wikipedia link above.