Gumstix and eInk – A glimpse of future plans?

Gumstix is something I’ve ran into during my ever-continuous search for high tech gadgets in the embedded world. I like staying up to date with Via Mini- and NanoITX boards, iPaq’s running Linux and things like Sony Librie and their restrictive DRM. It is an ever changing world out there, especially with the recent rise of iTunes and the MS-music store. These too try new techniques for a good balance between security and piracy. But I wasn’t going to go into this. Too deeply. To get back on the road I’ll tell you a little secret.I like reading.

Yes, I do. Be it blogs from gnome and the recent arguments back and forth between the Avalon team and Mono or just the local newspaper. Reading however is something that can be tedious with the current technology. We have off course the emerging technologies such as RSS and its variant. We have XML technology, open source electronic book formats (EoBF), proprietary ones such at the well known Microsoft Reader and another assortment thereof. Think Adobe and such.

Fine you say, what about all this. I’ll tell you. Reading is something I do not want to do behind the computer. Sure, I can do so but I prefer doing it from the couch, in bed or in the park. Many other people with me. So yes. I have a PDA, a solution most people have decided to embrace. Those who’ve stepped into the e-Book world that is. Its a nice Compaq iPaq from a bit more then a year ago. Oneof those without replacable battery unfortunately so its time for something new.

The iPaq was great for the time but with the advent of new technologies such as eInk there ought to be something better suited to reading. It should have, as one of its primary selling points, a well readable screen. Here comes Electronic Ink. Dor those who do not know it, is a display technique (and company) which looks very much like paper. It’s extremely low power which causes any device using it to be very energy efficient. In fact, while the display doesn’t change, something that happens often while you read a page, it will use no power at all.Not a bit (The screen that is).

Packing such a display into a small reading device would be absolutely splendid. Except then, Sony already did! Seeing the opening in the markt they made a reader device called the Librie and started marketing it around April this year. It looks nice, can contain several e-Books and features the eInk screen. And it weighs only three hundred grams (including batteries!). And no, marketing is not my profession. Anyway, no one would want this device. Not me, not you and not even the people in Japan, the only place Sony is trying to sell it strangely enough. I suppose Japan is seen as the sandbox of state of the art technology.

I find it rather unlikely in fact that Sony will succeed with this Librie device at all. Sony’s management … department has bundled the Librie with their own e-Book ‘store’. Not to mention a rather extremely restrictive DRM-system on the dozen of books they have available in total. But this too is not the point. I only want to illustrate this Librie thing, while running Linux, can never really be a viable option for anyone. Which brings me, and many others, back to square /dev/null. Nowhere.

Like more people, I like the ability to use a device I’ve bought for what I want. Open source is very nice indeed and XML along with the Open e-Book format and similar technologies is (or will be) a good solution for those seeking it. Would someone be able to access the Linux inside Librie they might even turn it into a reasonable open expandable device. As it is however, somewhere else will have to be looked. I dismissed the whole issue and went back to looking at PDA’s and their less pleasant screens.

Gumstix. Something that has been on my radar for some time now. Its a small company that produces small but very interesting (not to mention cool) Linux embedded boards. Gum stick sized of course. Bluetooth, powerful XScale processors and MMC flashcards. Not to mention a number of other peripherals such as an USB client. It runs a stock kernel even (compiled for small ARM systems). People can do with them what they want in fact. They’re even cheap.

And eInk is using them in their prototypes right now as illustrated on the Gumstix website itself.

Which brings me to my aforementioned glimpse of the future. The glimpse I wanted to share with the readers out there. You see, the combination of a device such as the Sony Librie with the contents of a Gumstix in nearly its current form would be a -very- nice reading device. It’s open enough, people could change the kernel. Build new reading formats. Upgrade it. Run XWindows on it for all I care. (Freedom; open-source; sounds familiar anyone?). It’s a device where a simple RSS daemon would fetch your feeds automatically. Bluetooth could keep it synched using your phone. Read the latest news on your 300 gram new e-book reader. In the middle of the forest! (Beware of rain)

All that said, it would be a nice future. But it has its share of downsides. For one, I frequently buy electronic books. Many of those are not available in multiple formats. In fact, about half of them are only available in Microsoft’s proprietary DRM5 LIT files. No open source solution would be likely allowed to read these and as such, it would never be a widespread adoption. There are more of these/such obstacles. But projects like the open reader consortium and the open e-Book format are trying to change these things.

Yet, a three hundred gram Linux capable e-Reader with Bluetooth and an eInk screen? If it were available today, for a reasonable price, I’d not hesitate ordering one where it powered like I just portrayed.

About the Author
Jaapjan Tinbergen, the author of this article has over three years experience in Visual Dataflex and many other programming tools and environments. He likeskeeping an eye on emerging technologies and has a great deal of general knowledge and experience with the IT branch. He is, off course, a great fanatical reader of OSNews.

If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.


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