Sorting User-Agent strings out

It is very common that over the years something gets more and more cluttered, until at some point someone comes in and decides it’s time to clean up and start fresh, based on current and up-to-date needs. User-Agent strings, part of the HTTP request headers, are no different and between desktop and mobile browsers, the history is long and the amount of text (some might say useless text) has just kept growing. I am going to try and write down what is important today and why.
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Nokia mobile theme for Drupal demo

In an effort to show what you can achieve with the nokia_mobile theme that (hopefully) will be released shortly, I set up a small demo site with some dummy content. You can visit the site with your mobile device at dtest.dreamhosters.com. Don’t hold your breath, it’s dummy content, but the device detection and how the theme adapts based on the device capabilities should be evident.

The Mobile Plugin normally uses a PHP implementation of the WURFL API, unfortunately on a cheap hosting service (I bought dreamhost’s CHEAPEST possible offer on purpose) this crashes the server. So for this demo I started implementing what is in my view the next step, a very basic device detection that will enable site owners to decide what they want to do. If they have a lot of content optimised for different devices, they should pick WURFL and use the advanced rules settings available in the plugin, on the other hand, if they want a basic detetion and provide just two or three layouts, a simple detection should be more than enough. With the current demo version, no cache files are generated and the detection is instant. I would like to make this part of Mobile Plugin, eventually and better integrate the device classification that I built in the nokia_mobile theme.

More on device classification in the next days.

New WURFL Java API will be GPL?

DISCLAIMER: I run DeviceAtlas for dotMobi.

A thread about making the next version of the Java API of WURFL more OO, something that Java developers are certainly fond of, has spun in a thread about licensing.
I think a few developers have been caught by surprise. In short Luca wants to make the new API GPL, instead of the current MPL. It is still not clear which version of GPL and I think it is not yet definitive.
The problem that was raised is, of course, that changing the licence to GPL will compel all developers selling their software based on the WURFL API to open-source it and use the same version of GPL. Luca mentioned how mysql does not have this problem and how big companies like Google can use open-source softwares, but not release back to the community. This is of course a different case from mysql, because the API would be tightly embedded in the software and the licensing issue would affect mostly consultants, not companies doing internal development (like Google, in Luca’s example). If you think that WALL might be licensed in the same way, it might be even worse as WALL will certainly be a core part of any mobile application.

There is a solution to this, of course, a dual-licence. Also, special discounts are announced for companies buying consultancy.

I am curious to see how this will end. I hope the community will be able to find a feasible solution that will keep everyone happy.

References:

First impressions about Nokia MOSH

I had just posted about Nokia MOSH and it’s a restricted beta, luckily I already got my password to access it. I created an account and uploaded my first content. I was really testing the site in parallel on my Mac and on my mobile phone.

Very first impression is that it’s an interesting new social site. It has all the common features such as upload a photo, invite a friend, exchange messages. The first question that comes to my mind is “So what’s new?”. Not very much I’d say, if you don’t consider that it’s made for mobile devices first and ALSO features a web interface. The main concept here is to be able to upload contents from your mobile device. This is nice and probably Nokia’s commitment is promising, but I don’t see it SO different from what Flickr Mobile has been offering for a while or even ShoZu.

But the very first question that came to my mind even before completing the registration was how they would recognize devices. The e-mail clearly stated that they will do their best to support all devices. Well, look at the image below and think…

I believe they are using WURFL. Not very hard to guess since it’s free and very well supported by many developers, but at the same time you might expect a different approach from Nokia. Are they using WURFL as-is? Did they patch and optimize the Nokia devices? Are they going to give back to the community?
How can I say it’s WURFL? If you look at the screenshot you can see a few things that hinted this to me such as “Research in Motion Ltd” instead of “RIM” or “Blackberry” that are much better known names than the complete company name. Another thing is the duplicated “Vitelcom” and “VITELCOM for Telefonica Movistar”, I remember adding those values and wondering if they should be merged or not. Then there are a few brands that you would not expect to be possible to be picked from a list of devices such as “W3C”, “WAPUniverse” and “WinWAP Technologies” (the first one is obviously not a device manufacturer and the other two are companies selling a browsing software). Also, if you look at the list of Sony Ericsson devices, you can see the “W810”, “W810i” and “W810c”, but the “W810” does not exist, it’s a virtual that device we defined in WURFL and the different localized versions (i for Europe, c for China and a for Americas) inherit from it most of their capabilities if not all.

Going back to the service, I liked that once I completed the registration it suggested to point the browser of my mobile device to a mosh.nokia.mobi. Accessing the site via your desktop browser provides the very same interface… Since they have a version optimized for desktop PC’s it would be good to be automatically redirected to the other version OR have a link. Nokia, if you are reading, I suggest you use is_wireless_device from WURFL.

One bug that I already found was that when trying to upload from the mobile, I could specify the tags. There was no mention of how to do it, so I used commas as on blogger.com, but this did not work, so the upload was not successful. Since I was using Opera, I could not pick a file from the filesystem, but I had to use the camera, so I had to take another picture and, even worse, some, but not all of the information I had provided was lost such as the tags (of course) and the content title. This one needs to be fixed.

Questions still open are:

  • is the site able to recognize the device while browsing and let me know which contents will be appropriate? Using Opera Mini it did not seem to pick it up correctly (but the pages looked very good).
  • how will they be able to keep out pirated contents. I have uploaded one image and it is now waiting for approval, but still I can’t imaging people at Nokia testing all the applications on any possible device.