Android port - wishlist

2008-11-10
2013-04-17
  • John Gruenenfelder

    Greetings all,

    I'm slowly but surely leaning more towards some sort of Android version of Weasel.  As I mentioned in the last post, a port is not feasible so any version on another platform will be a rewrite.  This does have one big advantage, though, in that adding major new features/changes will be far easier.

    So, what would you like to see in a Weasel Android app?  Keep in mind that it will most likely have *most* of the features present in the latest Palm version.  Also remember that the Android platform offers quite a few online/mobile features not present in Palm OS.  Whether any of them make sense for a book reader is another question, though.

    Some things I can think of:

    * Proper Unicode support.  This depends a lot on what the OS offers in terms of support.  Just in book text, or in UI elements and dialogs too?

    * A new zTXT 2.0 format supporting images and markup.  Any changes to the document format should be done early.  zTXT 2.0 would be a major update so it's okay if it breaks backwards compatibility, unlike the 1.x zTXT versions which are all (I believe) compatible.  Any new features of zTXT 2.0 are not guaranteed to show up in Weasel right away, but they should be planned in the format as early as possible.

    * Online Project Gutenberg index browser and book downloader.  Probably have option to convert downloaded texts into zTXT files.  Any other sites that export a useful browsing interface?  Manybooks is good for regular web browsers, maybe it exports app-usable data?  Or is such a index browser even necessary?  Every Android device will have a decent web browser with the ability to download files.  A task specific index browser would make the job easier for users, but is it worth the work?

    * A more modular design.  This may or may not be a user-visible change.  I don't plan on the code growing immensely, so it probably won't be necessary for user loadable/unloadable modules, but a better modular code design will help when adding new formats.  Android apps are Java, so it will probably be harder to make the app non-modular...

    * Built-in Easter egg flight simulator.  Code bloat ahoy!  :)

    * Just kidding.

    Okay, there's some quick ideas.  What else?  I don't have a time frame for this just yet, and I don't know when I'll be able to afford an Android unit.  Fortunately, the dev tools allow for very good testing without an actual device (much like Palm circa 2000-2003).  I've read that the next Android Developer Challenge may be coming up around the end of this year, so entering Weasel into that seems like a reasonable goal.

    --John Gruenenfelder

     
    • Mr Skittlez

      Mr Skittlez - 2009-01-27

      So, you are not planning on supporting the new Palm platform? The one that the Palm Pre uses?

      - Mr. Skittlez

       
      • John Gruenenfelder

        No, for a number of reasons.  For one, it is an entirely new platform that is in no way related to Palm OS.  As far as I know, they don't even plan to have a Palm OS compatibility layer.

        Also, consider it a "once bitten, twice shy" attitude.  Palm's relation to the developer community for the past, oh, five years has been truly abysmal.  Poor management, poor support, poor tools, etc.

        And, I'm fairly confident about the direction Android will be going in the future while anything coming from Palm, a company that did its very best to destroy itself, should be viewed with caution.  While the Palm Pre may be decent, Android is a platform and should eventually find its way on to far more devices than just the G1 phone.

        Lastly, I am just a single developer.  I make no money from Weasel Reader, unless you count donations.  And even the donations have only amounted to approximately $100 over the past nine years.  Not exactly enough to live on.  :)  Anyway, I don't really have the time or money to develop new code for more than one platform.  Now, I'm certainly not against working with other developers on a joint effort at something cross platform, but since there currently are no other developers...

        -- John Gruenenfelder

         
    • Ruben Marquez

      Ruben Marquez - 2009-02-12

      John,

      Good to see that you have gone in that direction.  I too feel that Android is the way to go. 

      As for the port wish list, I would say that my number one wish, besides all the basic features of the existing Weasel reader, would be Intra-document and Inter-document hyper links.

      If you have ever used the iSilo reader (which I see as Weasel Readers main competitor for user share) you can see how this feature works.  They do offer a free trial for the software in case you are interested.  The desktop text converter part supports html hyperlinks that work for both,   Intra-document and Inter-document links.

      HTML markup support would be great to have.  Having attempted a small HTML processor myself, in Weaselweb, I can see that it is not a trivial task, but it is not by any means all that hard either.  However, I wouldn't be surprised if the Android platform has libraries already available for you to leverage in this area.  After all, Android is all about Web technologies.

      In any case, I am still waiting for a few more Android devices to appear before I get one.  Once I do, I will be very interested in trying out what you have available for a weasel Port.  Thanks for sharing the fruits of your work.

       
  • Dennis McCunney

    Dennis McCunney - 2009-10-18

    Hi, John:

    It's not 100% clear the new WebOS Palm is shifting to won't have some backward compatibility.  Palm made noises about existing C/C++ code porting fairly easiliy, and I believe I've heard of at least one emulator in development intended to allow legacy code to run in the Pre.  (I have the WebOS SDK, but haven't had a chance to do more than glance at it.)

    But since you are looking at Android, and that will involve a rewrite anyway, let me toss in suggestions for broader format support.

    My ebook viewer of choice on Palm OS has been Plucker, an open source offline HTML viewer.  Gutenberg's HTML format texts convert readily to the form Plucker uses on the PDA, and Plucker provides support for embedded images, color, hyperlinks, fonts (on OS5 devices) and text attributes.  Gutenberg is moving to formatted text, and is now providing experimental support for Plucker, ePub, and other formats.  The Plucker format might be worth looking at, as the Plucker desktop is cross paltform, and Plucker files can be created on Windows, Linux, and OS/X.  You can create Plucker volumes with the optional "high compression" option using a Palm port of Zlib, and get support for gzip compatible compression ala zTXT.  There was just a note on the Plucker Dev list from a chap looking at doing an iPhone ebook viewer and wanting to support Plucker docs.

    You might also want to think about supporting ePub, which is trying to become the de facto standard ebook format.

    Ultimately, I think support for formatted text in some manner will be a necessity, regardless of what underlying format is used.
    ______
    **Dennis**

     
  • Charlie

    Charlie - 2009-12-03

    I moved to Android, now I'm looking for Weasel, which was my favorite app on PalmOS.  And I'm not finding it!  Is there a version yet?  None of the readers on Android are anywhere near as good as Weasel. 

    Important features for me are that Weasel remembers the line you were at for each book, and can search.  No reader for Android even does those things as far as I can tell.  For now I have been keeping my old PalmOS device charged just to use Weasel, but I'd really like a decent reader for Android.  Please let us know where things are at and how we can help.

     
  • John Gruenenfelder

    Yes, an Android version is still the goal.  Sadly, I've made very little progress in that area, mostly due to ongoing cancer treatments.  I haven't had the time or energy to do much with Android since it comes in third after school and work.

    But, it **will** happen at some point.  After all, I did buy an Android programming book and I have to justify that purchase somehow, right?  :)  Of course, I still don't have an actual device yet, but I think I will be getting one soon.

    As for how users and others can help…  First off, once I get a general code framework down, I'll readily accept any programming help if it is offered.

    Also, Weasel could definitely use some sprucing up.  I could certainly use a set of new icons to replace many of the buttons in the UI.  That would make Weasel look much nicer.  I'm not sure what size or dimensions right now, but the best idea is to make them large so that they can be scaled down to the proper size later.  I've also been trying to track down the artist who made the current logo for an updated version, but I can't seem to find him on the Net.

    As for any remaining help at this point in time, I suppose just continue to use this thread to make suggestions of any kind: feature requests, format info, features you **don't** want, features you really **really** want, etc.  Oh yes, one last thing.  I'm still going to need translators.  Most of the previous translators have gone AWOL, so I'll need new ones.  You won't have any work at this point, of course, but if you'd like to make the commitment for when the time comes, please let me know.  Just as with Weasel on PalmOS, translating is very simple and quick.

    After researching other e-book formats, I've decided to drop the zTXT 2.0 idea since it would just be reinventing the wheel.  Certainly the Android Weasel will read the current zTXT books, but I think I'll move towards making ePub, or some other comprehensive format, the "default".  Not having to make a new format means not having to create tools for that new format.  Some sort of Weasel Desktop program (probably written in Java for portability) could still be done, just to be complete, but it is not strictly necessary.

     
  • John Gruenenfelder

    Oops, I almost forgot.  There is one other thing people can help with right now, sounds!

    Yes, the Android platform does allow for sounds to be played for various events.  Little clicking/beeping sounds for button presses, an alert sound for a warning or error dialog, a page turning noise, a sort of bump sound for when a search reaches the end of the document, and so forth.  Use your imagination and go wild.  There are plenty of events that could use sound effects.

    Preferably, try to go with a theme, like sci-fi sounds, or subtle sounds, etc.  And make sure you use **legal** sounds for your source material, please?  There are plenty of places on the Net that offer huge collections of sounds for free use.  Actually, the same goes for anybody working on the icons.  Try to go with a theme and look for sites on the Net for free source material (there are **lots**).

    Those of you who currently have Android devices, please offer some help with descriptions of how sound effects work on the platform, where sounds would be feasible, duration, etc.  Thanks.

     
  • Dennis McCunney

    Dennis McCunney - 2009-12-04

    *After researching other e-book formats, I've decided to drop the zTXT 2.0 idea since it would just be reinventing the wheel. Certainly the Android Weasel will read the current zTXT books, but I think I'll move towards making ePub, or some other comprehensive format, the "default". Not having to make a new format means not having to create tools for that new format. Some sort of Weasel Desktop program (probably written in Java for portability) could still be done, just to be complete, but it is not strictly necessary.*

    Applause.

    I still have and use Weasel on a Palm OS device, but I don't use it very much.  Why? Because of format support.

    About half of the purpose in life of my  Palm OS device is to be an ebook viewer, and I have about 3,500 volumes on two SD cards.  The problem is that I have to maintain about five different viewers to handle all of the content I want to read, because there isn't a standard format.

    I want to download electronic content once, and read it on whatever device I happen to have.  I prefer HTML as the most portable format.

    Most of my ebooks are HTML converted to the format used by Plucker, a free, open source offline HTML viewer for Palm OS devices.  I get HTML source material from Project Gutenberg and elsewhere and create Plucker files that I drop into the appropriate location on the card.  Plucker handles embedded images, hyperlinks, text attributes and fonts, and with zlib available, can use gzip compression for a 70% reduction in source file size.

    I also have a fair number of books in Mobipocket format.  Mobi is essentially encapsulated HTML, and shares most of the attributes of Plucker, save that high compression is not a standard option.  The Mobipocket Creator app is freeware for Windows, and can use HTML, Word documents, PDF files or text files as input.

    PDFs I can handle through the open source PalmPDF application, but that's a last resort used only if the document is not available in another format.  Most PDFs aren't created with the tagging that will let them reflow on small screens, and side-scrolling is a pain.

    For the rest, I use an open source viewer from a Russian programmer called PalmFiction.  PalmFiction handles Palm DOC and zTXT files.  It also handles plain ASCII text files stored on a card, ASCII files stored in Zip archives, and Word docs and RTF files, which it displays as plain text.  And PalmFiction can navigate the file system on a card, so I can place documents it will read anywhere I like.

    I have a few files in Peanut Press format, and keep eReader around as well.

    I'd love to reduce the confusion, but right now it's not possible.

    An Android device is probably in my future, and I'd want a book viewer, but a basic requirement would be support for more than plain text.  I need color support, images, hyperlinks,  text attributes and fonts, as too much of what I read just loses too much reduced to plain text.  Off the available enhanced formats, ePub is likely the best.  Tools exist to create it, more and more things can read it, and it has some hope of becoming an industry standard..
    ______
    **Dennis**

     

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