The challenges of blogging on a Zaurus
As with my other recent trips overseas I intend to keep a blog of my experiences. Previously I added my entries right here in Webworld. However, the trip entries tend to get diluted amongst everything else, making them difficult to refer to later, so I'm thinking of starting a new blog solely devoted to this holiday in Hong Kong, China and Japan. Which blog software should I use?
On previous trips I have brought various Sharp Zaurus Linux PDA's with me and either used them or internet kiosks to blog. This time I will be travelling with both a Windows mini-notebook PC and my Sharp Zaurus C3100. Blogging with the notebook presents no problems, except that the battery life is poor and B might be using it for her own blog. So I need a blog that I can update using the Zaurus.
One area I have had a lot off difficulty with in the past is adding images to my blog. Drupal, which this site runs on, seems to have problems with my host's use of PHP Safe Mode. I got around this by using a shared installation of Gallery version 1, uploading photos to this and linking them in my Drupal blog entries. It's a messy solution. Firstly I would resize the photos one at a time in Gimp (I run X/Qt), then upload them into Gallery using Firefox.
Unfortunately, Firefox under X/Qt seems to have a problem where it displays some fonts in form fields as unreadably huge, meaning I would need to continuously shrink and enlarge the font sizes. The same issue caused problems using online banking and numerous other sites, including a trial of a shared Wordpress installation on my site. I have two other web browsers installed on the Zaurus.
Netfront 3.1 is the default browser and I quite like its clean interface and tabs. However, Netfront's renderer has problems with modern CSS and really stuffs up some of my favourite sites, including this one.
Opera 7.55 has a better renderer, but frequently chokes and dies. For instance, it can't display this site without suddenly quitting. It also doesn't handle uploads very well, appearing to want to download the file instead. The trick here is to realise that you need to replace the "index" entry with the filename, including the full path, that you want to upload.
Despite being an older version, Firefox under X/Qt is still the most functional browser I've found for the Zaurus. I decided to see how Firefox and two other options cope with blogging applications other than Drupal.
My hosting company provides a shared Wordpress installation. After some tweaks to the settings I was able to upload images, so that was one advantage over Drupal. However, I was also limited to the installed themes and plugins, along with the use of a plain-text editor rather than the WYSIWYG editor I have installed in Drupal.
The form text size problem makes editing a Wordpress post virtually impossible.
Wordpress' administration and posting screens rely on modern CSS, which Netfront doesn't display properly. Life Firefox, this makes using Wordpress in Netfront very difficult.
Opera displays the Wordpress site correctly.
The new Blogger, now out of beta, gives you a lot of control over the appearance of your blog without requiring much effort on your part, though many features are only available for modern browsers. Blogger blogs may either be hosted on a Blogspot site or remotely published to your own choice of host. The latter is an attractie choice for me as I could create the blog on my own site without needing to setup and maintain all the software, an increasingly onerous task with Drupal.
I have my Zaurus set to use both English and Japanese as I travel in Japan. The Blogger control panel displays in Japanese text and appears to refresh too often. Once I manage to log in the editor is then missing an image upload button.
Appears to work fine, with the upload workaround. No WYSIWYG editor is displayed, but the image button is visible.
The blogs above all have the option to submit posts via email. I find the default Zaurus email client generally suitable for my needs and the use of the client means that entries can be written offline for later sending. I previously used Hancom Word for this task, but then had to save files as text so that I could read and copy the contents in Firefox under X/Qt. The problem with using the mail client is in finding an SMTP server to actually send the mail. A search for SMTP servers for the Zaurus returned no free results, although the stunnel
package provides the means to use the Gmail secure server. The other option is to send the emails using a webmail client. Gmail runs fine under the different browsers, but then you lose the offline authoring capability. Another problem is that attached images or documents are not saved to the blog. Again, the image must be uploaded and linked to via a different means.
Flickr, a photo sharing website, does allow image submission via email and remote blog publishing via different API's. It works, but my issue with it is that the images are stored on a separate server and service to the blog, making future migration difficult.
DmBlogger is an open source blogging and RSS tool written in Ruby for the Zaurus. As an RSS feed reader DmBlogger works quite well, although it does not appear to read ATOM feeds properly. Unfortunately it only supports Movable Type and Nucleus posting.
Blogging on the Zaurus presents a number of difficulties. A number of these problems are attributable to the age of the browsers available for the Zaurus. The Firefox X/Qt font size and Netfront 3.1 Blogger language issues could probably be resolved through configuration changes. I run the Sharp ROM, for translation purposes. The PDAXROM offers a greater range of more modern software, but with the side-effect of losing some of the Sharp ROM's capabilities.
The Zaurus is an ideal tool for blogging while on the move. What would be nice are programs to batch resize images, the ability to bulk post to Gallery and to write blogs offline for later posting. With open API's it should not be too difficult, it's just a matter of finding the time to do so.