I couldn’t get into it yesterday, but today is a new day, and I’ve got my coffee ready. So, let’s dive into reviews of RIM’s new toy, the PlayBook. Since my overall opinion on the whole tablet thing can be best summarised as ‘meh’, my interest regarding the PlayBook focusses mostly on its QNX operating system. As a long-time fan and even regular user of this wonderful piece of technology ‘back in the day‘, I’m interested in what the reviews have to say about it.
QNX is a bit of an odd-one out. It is one of the most popular operating systems in the world, and also one of the most lauded ones. It treads where others do not dare tread; it powers everything from VCRs to nuclear power plants, medical equipment, and things that go into goddamn space. The attention to detail when it comes to its development environment, tools, documentation is stunning.
At the same time, however, relatively few are aware of its existence. The only reason we here on OSNews know about it is because once – when we weren’t talking about how the slightly less fancy scrolling of tablet Xyz will cause its failure in the market – way back in the day, we focussed on this sort of thing, back when cool things were actually still happening with alternative operating systems.
Sadly, the already coincidental popularity – if you could even call it that – of QNX as a desktop experience slowly but surely died out, especially since QNX Software Systems made it pretty clear they were not at all interested in that particular fringe use of their operating system. That has now changed of course, because RIM uses QNX. And sure, a tablet isn’t a desktop, but if we believe the people with thick-rimmed glasses who spend their entire life in the Starbucks-university-loft triangle, tablets will take over the world and destroy everything else.
So what the heck, it’s close enough.
Anywho, my interest in the PlayBook mostly relates to the core operating system – not even the interface, but the actual operating system. I mean, the hardware is irrelevant (every tablet is a screen you can carry around. Deal with it), and as for the interface, well, everyone is still trying to shove a desktop paradigm in a small screen (you know, with windows and stuff), so big whoopdidoo.
Not entirely unsurprisingly, most review seem to focus on things that I’m just not particularly interested in, like the number of applications, how the icons look, and that sort of thing. Sure, very important for prospective buyers, but from someone who spent a great deal of time in QNX, I just don’t care about that stuff. I know I can’t expect sites like Engadget or whatever to go in-depth into the core of the operating system, but if I have to read one more review with four pages of test shots from the camera, I’ll have to start shoving post-its behind my eyes just to make something interesting happen.
Reading all the reviews, I just don’t know what to think. I obviously don’t own a PlayBook, nor do I intend to buy one, but I am a little shocked by the odd expectations people seem to have of a brand new device with a brand new operating system. The main complaint I’m reading – and remember the new device/new operating system part – is this: there are very few ‘apps’.
Well, no poo, Sherlock.
I miss the days when Apple could release Mac OS X 10.0, and everybody was entirely understanding about the fact that it was a new operating system with kinks to work out and performance issues and what not. People back then accepted and understood that it was new, untested technology that would need some time to mature before it could be compared to the big boys of the time.
The ‘geeks’ (and I’d hardly call them that) of today, on the other hand, somehow don’t seem to understand anymore that a brand new operating system needs time to mature, that it needs to make a dÃ©but to attract developers, to work out the kinks, and so on. How can you honestly mark a device like the Playbook down because it doesn’t have many applications available for it? And why wasn’t this criticism levelled against the first iPad when it came out? RIM promises 3000 tablet applications at the device’s launch – which is more than Apple and Google could claim – but of course, that’s just a promise at this point.
I intended this to be a general overview of the reviews out there, but as I read them, I became sorely disappointed in the outrageous and unrealistic expectations people seem to have these days. So, I’m going to focus on a few interesting things that crossed my path.
For instance, AnandTech did spend an entire page talking about QNX, and while most of it is basic stuff about microkernel this and real-time that, it does have some interesting things to note. For instance, the PlayBook runs an updated version of QNX 6.5, and the PlayBook-specific changes made to the operating system will be merged with what will become QNX 6.6.
AnandTech also tells us that the entire operating system is validated using a cryptographic hash upon boot, and this check accounts for most of the device’s boot time. If the check fails, a previously-validated image will be loaded from a separate partition. As a former QNX user, I can see that not having this check would result in a pretty impressive boot time.
Another cool little tidbit is that the PlayBook has a toggle where you can switch between what I sometimes call My First Multitasking (the iOS/WP7 way) or real multitasking (well, you know). This seems like an oddly specific solution, but an interesting one nonetheless.
The gist: it would be nice if we starting remembering again that operating systems are complex, and that you can’t expect new arrivals to be done, all grown up and ready to take on the world right from day one.