Monday, July 28, 2008

I'll Link-Twitter-Book-Face-Ster You Later

OK, so I'm here in Amsterdam with journalism heavy weights Joel Dryfuss, Amy Wohl and Dan Tynan - and we got to talking about Social Media over dinner last night at cool eatery called "Envy".

Between bites of "frog butts" and a cucumber gazpacho - and I asked them their opinion on social networking - and I expected that their much more informed, much more well educated, much more in-the-know experience would produce a lively conversation.

Well... it did.

Now I've said here that the whole social media thing really is hard for me to keep up with - as I have a "real" day job. I can barely keep up with all the email, snail mail, IM, SMS, and voicemail stuff - and now I'm having to check my Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn account to update them, check for other missed messages, etc.

What was very interesting - is that everyone agreed on this point.


Wow! I mean these are professional journalists that pump out a huge amount of content for some of the best-known publications in the world (not to mention the SaaS book that Amy is writing, the child rearing articles that Dan writes and the "multiple book projects" that Joel is working on) - and they (we) all have the same problem: social media is tough to find the time to deal with.

The problem lies in the fact that there is no "one" outlet for people to be "social" on. In the beginning, there was MySpace, and tweens found it to be a place where they could "hang out" and be themselves.

Then came Facebook. Then came Plaxo, Twitter, LinkedIn, and about 200 other possible places for you to post the most intimate details of your life for all the world to see. That's fine.

The crux of the problem lies with friends. The more you invite and add - the more invitations you get. It's a never-ending cycle of adding (or denying) people with at least 6 degrees of separation between you and a "real" friend. It's like going to a family reunion and meeting 200 total strangers who are related to you (somehow).

To make matters worse - all these "friends" now leave you messages. And Twits. And write on your "wall." And send you virtual crap (drinks, animals, etc).

The answer? Just say no. Unplug. Hug your kid. Make love not war.

There's no way (unless you're extremely motivated and have loads of time) that a popular or busy person (with a life and a job) can go through all the possible places in the world that people can get in contact with you. Dan Tynan turned me on to FriendFeed (I'm sure there are 10,000 more just like it) as a way to manage the deluge... but you still have to plough through all the entries, etc.

I remember the days when you had one email address, one home phone, and one business phone. The end. I never missed a call, people would write "letters" or they would make arrangements to come over to the house and have a BBQ to catch up.

Now they just nudge-twit-wink.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Day The Net Went Dark

I've never been accused of being an optimist - and maybe it's just the rainy, humid weather here in Amsterdam, but my thoughts today returned to the pessimistic side of my personality.

Hey, what can I say?

I was thinking about the botched launch of the iPhone, the fact that Yahoo is closing its music portal, and the merger is XM and Sirius digital music services... and I was fantasizing on what it would be like if all of a sudden all the popular services (the "cool kids") suddenly went dark.

What would it be like if just shut down its servers Monday morning? How about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and eBay? What if, when we woke up on Monday, all these "staples" of our digital lives didn't exist? Worse yet - what if Google took a huge dump, along with all their related sites and services? What if the entire Internet crashed - and it took 30 days to reboot?

What would happen?

Chaos.... for about 3 days.

Then people would (gasp!) pick up the phone to schedule meetings, they would get on an airplane and actually meet people IRL (In Real Life). We would all start buying stamps and go to the (gasp!) post office to actually "mail" invoices and send "letters" to people. We would go to the corner drugstore to get (gasp!) "printed" pictures.

We would be forced to tell people to their face what we thought of them - rather than just typing crap on a "blog" - and fax machines all over the world would be pulled from closets and fired up.

Xerox and HP would sell a record number of toner cartridges and getting an appointment with a copy repair person would be like trying to get someone to install an air conditioner in Phoenix in August.

Paper companies and airlines and travel agents would be riding high - as well as hotels, rental car companies and restaurants. People would return to nightclubs and comedy shows and good old-fashioned dinner-and-a-movie dates.

People would actually buy "newspapers" (daily printed paper with world wide news that happened in the last 24 hours) and gather in "coffee shops" to talk about pressing national and international events.

There would be a minor "baby boom" as couples... well... coupled. Kids all over the world would actually get to talk to the adult "strangers" they call "parents" who previously occupied the dinner table with their Crackberries visible (on vibrate - of course) and their eye on the real time stock ticker and after hours trading on their NIKKEI index hedge funds.

Lines at government offices would get longer - and service would still suck. People would stand in line to make deposits and withdrawals using human "tellers" (people who actually work at a bank!). People would actually go to their mailboxes and receive mail that wasn't 100% spam advertisements.

At work people could finally concentrate on whatever it was they did before responding to the Pavlovian "ding" of arriving email. Bosses would be forced to actually "talk" to their employees and there would be a run on "interoffice mail" envelopes at office supply stores.

FedEx and UPS stock would be the new Wall Street darlings while the tech sector would be in the "fire sale" bin. Companies would be forced to hire "people" to answer their phones - and for one brief period, the entire population of India wouldn't be inundated with tech support and credit card activation calls.

Then, finally, after 30 long days of living in the "dark" ages... things would thankfully return to "normal."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cloud Services Can Have Thunder Storms

The latest winner in the battle for the land-grab over consumer digital music goes to... well, NOT Yahoo. Seems that they've decided to throw in the towel when it comes to the DRM (Digital Rights Management) servers they use to make sure that the music you've purchase is legit.

The only problem is - once they do that... ummm... you can't move your music - you know, the stuff you paid for - to any other computer or device.

Um... yeah.

Hey - MORE good news for the shareholders of Yahoo next week! Ol' Carl's dance card is going to be full, that's for sure. I guess when your stock tanks (called it!), Carl Ichan now owns 33% of your board (called it!) along with 12% of your stock - and he says "cut the losses and get out" - I guess you get out.

Now, it's not happening until September - so if you bought music on Yahoo - then hurry the hell up and copy it to every single device known to man. Yahoo is also offering folks the option of either a) getting all the money back they spend on buying all that music (Carl Ichan rolling in grave); or b) DRM-free copies of all the music they bought (the way it should be anyway!).

I can't get that Queen song "Another One Bites The Dust" out of my head. RealNetworks is the venue that Yahoo picked back in April to take over their service - but to me it just confirms that Amazon got it right with DRM-free music that you can actually buy and OWN - versus the "buy it - and own it virtually" concept.

This is one instance where "in the cloud" went horribly wrong.

At least, to be fair, they're trying to take care of their customers. But that leads to a bigger question about "cloud" services - what happens if your particular vendor decides ("for business reasons") to shut down it's data centers or turn off its servers? Not all companies will "take the high road" as Yahoo has with regards to its customers.

It's inevitable that in the future one of these large vendors will just go tits-up and leave their customers (and all of their data) in the lurch. The smart bet is to make damn sure you have a backup (on "paper" if necessary) of all of your important data in a way that you, personally, control.

Or, at the very least, back it up to more than one online, virtual datastore. I think you see my meaning here. As more and more of services go SaaS - and more and more companies and individuals buy into PaaS - you can't just abdicate control of your digital future.

You need to actively manage your digital assets (music as well as email, database data, website pages, etc.) as you would data in an "old fashioned", on-premises data center. Back it up in more than one place, and be ready in case of a natural disaster - or an "economic slowdown" - or some other unforeseen event.

Cloud services are great, don't get me wrong. But we've all seen how the shiny promise of MobileMe, Salesforce, iPhone activation, get us to part with cash and then the absolute backlash and worldwide flogging of those same companies when their .0001% of downtime (inevitably) happens.

As we come to rely on services that are outside our control - we need to realize that sometimes digital sh*t happens - and it's all technology that's based on a text-based rendering engine that didn't even exist 15 years ago.

It will get better and more reliable, but in the mean time - just remember that these services are not like the (hardwired) telephone service, not like an electric utility, and they will go down, merge, un-merge, go broke and in innovate like hell in the wild west that is the digital communication age.

And if you don't like it - dust off your 78's, and buy a pad of paper, a pencil and some stamps.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Step Away From The Waterfall

Ahhh, the joys of corporate development! The endless meetings. The endless PowerPoint presos. The endless charts and graphs in the endless PowerPoint preso in the endless meetings... it's heavenly - NOT.

The typical corporate "internal" application development cycle can be (and often is) a road into the deep reaches of hell - for both IT staff and the end users who are forced to use stupid, hard-to-use, useless software that took so long to build that it's totally irrelevant.

And yet, it continues to happen in company after company in application after application. Why?

I believe it's due to the archaic adherence to the waterfall method of development. What - you're asking yourself - is the waterfall method of development? In a nutshell - it's a process by which people who are really concerned about keeping their jobs can hide behind "implementation strategies" and "feasibility studies" and "systems analysis" for a couple of years before beginning a "technology review" and "requirements re-engineering" process before actually coding something.

It's one of the oldest methods - and is linear in fashion. This means that the outputs of one process become the inputs of the next. Here's the basic set of steps:

  • Project planning, feasibility study: Establishes a high-level view of the intended project and determines its goals.
  • Systems analysis, requirements definition: Refines project goals into defined functions and operation of the intended application. Analyzes end-user information needs.
  • Systems design: Describes desired features and operations in detail, including screen layouts, business rules, process diagrams, pseudocode and other documentation.
  • Implementation: The real code is written here.
  • Integration and testing: Brings all the pieces together into a special testing environment, then checks for errors, bugs and interoperability.
  • Acceptance, installation, deployment: The final stage of initial development, where the software is put into production and runs actual business.
  • Maintenance: What happens during the rest of the software's life: changes, correction, additions, moves to a different computing platform and more. This, the least glamorous and perhaps most important step of all, goes on seemingly forever.
(source: ComputerWorld)

This is the process was created about the time, and is as about as efficient as, using slide rules and drafting tables to create a capsule to take humans to the moon.

Technology wasn't always "instant" or "good." People used to have to meet (and fly around the country) to make sure everyone was on the same page. There was no "speakerphone", no email, no cell phone, no fax machine, no PDF, no online collaboration tools, no Internet, no nothing.

Just elbow grease, manual labor, and dedicated IT folks who "knew better" than the "lowly" end-user.

The frightening thing is - most internal development at corporations (and even big ISVs) is the same. The developers are in their own development "silo" safely tucked away from those pesky "users." After all, they know what's best, what's cool - and what the user is bound to "just love" - right?


There are several keys to making the process work better - and it's not rocket science - it's common sense. Yes, there are tons of so-call "agile" development methologies and hundreds of books and sites dedicated to the "how" of the process (Scrum, Crystal Clear, Extreme Programming, Adaptive Software Development, Feature Driven Development, Dynamic Systems Development Method, etc.) - but there are key elements the are common within all of them:

Let the developers interact with end users and get end users to help in the QA process. You need to know what the people using the software (and their managers) need the software to do. While it's true that most end users just want to do their one piece of the puzzle and go home (known as the "tab-tab-enter" crowd) - most developers will actually over-engineer software to do things they think the end user wants to do - rather than what it actually has to do.

Keep it simple. This follows the above rule. 99 times out of 100 - the user just wants to do something simple. 99 times out of 100 developers want to do something "cool." Only 1 time in 100 do these objectives match. So, when in doubt - build it the most simple, basic way that will work according to the way the end user says they'll use it. Don't assume the developer "knows better" than the end user. They usually don't - and if they don't listen - the end user will be pissed and not use the software after it's done.

Use better tools. Java and .NET are powerful languages - they are also a bear to code - but provide a great desktop experience. Scripting languages (Python, PHP, Perl, Ruby, etc.) are lighter weight (and limited to the browser). RAD tools like Servoy give you the best of both worlds - and are easy to deploy to either a browser or the deskop.

Build it - and release it - NOW. Don't wait for the completion of the entire application ("alpha") to get the user's input. Build a screen, a section of the application, deploy it and get feedback. Change it - and then repeat. As you build - get the feedback. Don't stress out about "scope creep" - there will be things that the end user will come up with late in the game that are important to them, to the company - and quite possibly to the bottom line of the company. Use common sense. There will be a 2.0 - so you don't need to put everything in there but the kitchen sink in 1.0 - but make sure end users are happy (even thrilled!) about what will be initially released.

Let the users determine the feature set - not the developers. Developers are often not the end users of the application. Unless they are, do NOT let them determine what the features will be. Let the people who actually use the features be the judge. Keep in mind - users will usually change their mind - or ask for things may require some re-architecting of what was created initially - but remember - the goal isn't to "finish" the software - it's to create software that will help the end users be more efficient and help the business to be more nimble, and hopefully, more profitable.

Think I'm blowing smoke? Give it a try on a small project. Once you do - you'll never go back. That, I can promise.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How Ubuntu Could Take Over The World

Ubuntu is getting a lot of good press - and it's a terrific, easy-to-use Linux distro. With some extra software included in the default install - it could just take over the world.

Let's face it - no one really "likes" Vista. I don't care who says they love it - they really don't. It's the gas guzzler of operating systems - it takes the equivalent of a Hummer in terms of hardware to run the damn thing correctly.

The Mac OS is really great. It's pretty, it plays nice with others, and is pretty fun to use. The problem (as demonstrated by Apple's suit against Psystar) - is that you have to drink from the Ferrari-inspired Apple well and fork over huge bucks for their hardware (whether you want to or not).

Then there's Linux. Fast. Stable. Free. Runs on damn near any hardware. The problem is - it's only used by wonks.

It's like getting one of those old Radio Shack do-it-yourself radio kits. You get a printed circuit board, some transistors, resistors, and other parts - and then you need to solder the stuff together and pray you read the directions right - or nothing works.

Granted - the novelty and pride of ownership of building an AM radio the size of a bread box from scratch is cool - but not when you can buy one the size of a USB stick for $10 - AND get a FREE FM tuner as well.

That's basically the state of all the Linux distributions. Red Hat started to go down the "for everyone" route - and then decided it's better (and easier) to sell "Enterprise" stuff to a bunch of wonks looking for job security rather than real people who just want to check email and surf the web.

The various distros of Linux - while good - are missing the one thing that makes it useful: applications humans use.

Guys - just bundle OpenOffice, Firefox (with bookmarks on where to find other Linux stuff), Acrobat Reader, Thunderbird with the Google Calendar extension, a media player, games, a notepad equivalent, anti-virus, screensavers, and most of all - some drivers (or a good clearning house site of where to find them) for peripherals.

Hey Ubuntu - you have Dell on your side - why is it you think people who buy Dells still don't get Ubuntu on their machine by default? I mean, after all, the price is right. Right?

Right - but it doesn't do any good to get something for free (or low cost) but have it be completely useless. When you get a new box (or install a new OS) - you expect to at LEAST be able to fire up email and surf the web.

And while you're waiting for your favorite browser plug-ins to install - you want to play some games. And maybe play around with some spreadsheet stuff, read boring PowerPoint-esque presentations and the like.

Give people the power to become productive right out of the box. Help them get used to the retarded-sounding application names that no one has heard of. Make an online forum for new users to get help from other new users, etc.

I think as time goes on - and people are looking for alternatives to Windows (just wait until Windows 7!) - Linux will be able to be the great equalizer - if only people could use it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why Apple Must Crush, Kill and Dismember Psystar

OK, I admit I was ready to go the other way on this one. I almost wrote an entry on why Psystar should cry foul and lawyer up and fight Apple in both the press and public opinion arenas. It was a knee-jerk reaction to David vs. Goliath.

Then, I actually thought about it.

The sticky part is the End User License Agreement (EULA) that has a little phrase in it that is the basis for the Apple suit: "You agree not to install, use or run the Apple software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so," Apple's EULA reads (download PDF)

Hmmmmm. That's interesting.

It's really clear on what Apple's intentions are - they moved to the Intel chip - and they just knew that someone like Psystar would pop up in the future - so they added some verbiage in there as a pure CYA move.

Yes, it is pretty chicken-sh*t - and it might not even be legal, but hey, it's their intellectual property. They are the ones that did the R&D, made the pretty icons, and ported the mother over from a reliance on the PowerPC chip. They also spent a fair amount of dough doing so as well.

They make up that investment by selling Mac boxes (and iPhones!). If they didn't challenge Psystar, then every schmo who could build a PC could start bundling their OS software (that they would also have to pay for just like Psystar) - and gosh... they might actually get some market share.

We wouldn't want that!

People who buy a Mac buy a Mac because they love the industrial design, and the seamless way that the OS plays nice with EVERY Mac peripheral, and the nice, hermetically sealed, Apple-only experience.

PC users buy motherboards and power supplies and build their own box - and then are free to install Windows (which they must buy), Ubuntu (which they must download) or both to make a machine that meets their needs.

Who ever heard of a clause in an EULA that doesn't allow people who buy a piece of software to install it on whatever hardware will run it? It's like buying a car and having the manufacturer tell you what roads you can drive on.


Or is it? The EULA is a contract after all. It's a contract between the maker of the software and the end user. Not all contracts are good ones, not all are "fair", and not all favor the person making the purchase. Just because a contract sucks for one party - does it make it illegal?

Not necessarily. It will be interesting to see if Psystar can pull this one out of the crapper or not (I'm betting not). Apple is already in a potentially embarassing place - being exposed for the buy-only-our-stuff-or-you-can't-use-our-stuff company it is.

Will people care? Will Psystar have the cash to lawyer up? Will the courts (if it even gets that far) buy Psystar's argument that the clause is illegal?

Only a whole lot of bucks to lawyers on both sides, and time will tell.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I think ICANN

Seems the folks over at ICANN have decided that the "holy" top level domain (TLD) business is more about money than control. They've recently come up with the idea that along with the "blessed" TLD's of .com, .net., .org, .biz that they would just open up the flood gates (for a price!) and let anyone with cash make up their own TLD.

Talk about your wild west!

Basically their proposal is that rather than people just buying an existing TLD domain for the price of a latte, anyone with $100,000 (or more - final price TBD) - can just make up any TLD and basically "own" that extension.

Think about that. The obvious ones are .sex, .money, .bank, .tech, etc. - but that will have a huge impact on both the marketplace as well as the average consumer.

For example - what if Marriott scores the .hotel domain? Will they preclude Hilton and Sheraton from buying a domain name that ends in .hotel? How about all the speculators that in the early days of the bubble were buying up every single domain (and misspelled variant) that could potentially have any value. They'll do the same for the other TLDs as well.

What about companies with trademarks and intellectual property marks - they will now have to police dozens of TLDs for violations and go after them one by one.

Last but not least - what about the end users? Talk about confusion! Most people have a hard time trying to remember Now if you throw in all the other possible TLDs - it could be, or, or, or, or mybank.weTreatYouRight, etc.

Now at least there's only a few possible variations - with the default .com being the top-of-mind domain - even for organizations that are not companies. I mean, really, when's the last time you visited a commerical company that ended in .net? How about .biz?

It says something about an organization if they don't have a .com address. It says "We woke up too late on this whole 'Internet Thing' and could only get a crappy .net or .biz domain."

However, with a proliferation of TLD's - I think it will become even more valuable to have a .com (or .net or .biz) email - unless a few TLD's raise to the top of customer awareness through advertising and marketing.

Even then, breaking the .com habit won't go easily - and there is bound to be ample opportunity for good guys and bad guys alike to flourish in a free-for-all (well, a $100,000-for-all) type of unregulated (except by ability to pay) environment. The bad guys are already have a field day with phising sites and Trojans and stuff. It would be easy for them to create all kinds of domains on all kinds of TLD's and then just keep them rotating all the time.

All-in-all, I just don't see who wins with this type of arrangement.

Oh, wait, now I get it - ICANN.

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's Only A Phone, People! - Part 2

Nah, nah, nah, nah! Told you so.

Once again, the in-store ONLY activation plan - the Steve Jobs my-way-or-the-highway method of activating the phone - has crashed and burned - exactly as I predicted yesterday.

The whole idea of in-store only activation was to prevent people from buying the phone, going home, hacking it, and then switching providers. Because, the thought went, if you did that - you would be locked in to the AT&T contract and at the minimum you would have to pay the difference between the subsidized price and the retail price as well as an early termination fee to AT&T.

Sounds great! Good idea!

If only it worked.

Almost immediately the activation servers at Apple went down due to such a huge surge in traffic from such a huge surge in demand for the new iPhone.

That, in turn, took down the other servers that were serving up the iPhone 2.0 update software for iPod Touch and iPhone 1.0 people trying to update to the new software.

THAT, in turn, took down the iTunes store.

Well, if you're going to crash and burn - you might as well do it all the way!

Nothing like working for 6 months to hype a new product, build demand, build feverish anticipation and actually get people to stand in line to buy the thing - only to fail at the last 10 feet of service. Even in my suburbian town we have an AT&T store on the way to the office, so I thought I'd stop by (about 8:15am PST) to see what the reaction would be. I expected a handful of the faithful waiting in line.

There was about 175 people snaking a line all the way around the building. I didn't even have the courage to go into the parking lot. Our office is right across the street from a mall that has an Apple Store in it. I didn't even bother going to see how many people were there.

What a bummer it must be to be an IT hack over at Apple Corporate today! I can only imagine how many people are getting fired on the spot in a patented Steve Jobs tirade.

The good news is - they now get to work all weekend long (FREE pizza! FREE RedBull!)... and get the opportunity to be under the entire world's microscope. I sure hope they brought a sleeping bag and a change of clothes...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's Only A Phone, People!

Well, the iPhone 2.0 goes on sale tomorrow in the US - and if the response is anything as big as it was in London and Hong Kong - tomorrow is going to be a banner day for iPhone and AT&T.

Or not.

My prediction is that everything is going to go horribly wrong - and that servers will crash (like they did for the big Firefox download) - and that people will go home with a nice looking brick that they won't be able to activate for a day or two.

But hey - I'm always Mr. Glass-Half-Full. It might work wonderfully well with happy iPhone people holding hands and singing "It's a Small World After All" as they gleefully walk out of the stores with fully functioning and activated phones.

Regardless of whether they're activated or not - there will be certain places where the Mac faithful will stand in line, and there will be the usual reviews and "unboxing" videos from people with nothing better to do made expressly for other people with nothing better to do.

The larger picture here is that Apple has managed to create such a huge demand for a here-to-fore commodity device - a cell phone - that people everywhere are talking about it, writing about it, standing in line for it, and have been waiting with bated breath just for the opportunity to spend money to buy one!


The iPhone isn't the best-equipped, or most feature-rich, or have the best camera, or have built-in turn-by-turn GPS, or even have copy/paste! But it does have a few things that other companies, try though they may, are not even close to:

  • First move advantage
  • Excellent industrial design
  • Excellent GUI design
  • Stuff that's included just works
  • Revenue model for sustained growth beyond just a kickback on airtime

I have to hand it to Apple - they seem to have a winner on their hands - a 2.0 sequel that about 100% better than the first revision - and they created it, marketed it, hyped it and delivered it about 370 days after the launch of the first one.

That's remarkable for a company the size of Apple. My hat's off to you guys.

We'll see how the implementation goes tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mac Takes On Baddies (Only In The Movies)

Last night I watched the movie "Live Free or Die Hard" - the next sequel to the Bruce Willis "Die Hard" series. While I'm a fan of car-chase-action-all-the-way movies - this one had a couple of twists in it that got me thinking about the Mac vs. PC debate.

Twisted logic, I know - but bear with me.

Justin Long, better known as "I'm a Mac" in the Apple ads, is the co-protagonist along with Bruce Willis. Willis plays the part of - well - John McClane - the "I'm just a cop doing my job but I kick bad guy ass by accident" and Long plays the part of Matt Farrell - a twenty-something hacker.

The basic story goes like this: Farrell is wanted by the FBI because there's been a FBI computer breach. John is assigned to bring him in. As it turns out - Farrell is one of a bunch of hackers who are wanted for questioning and who are being hunted by bad guy Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant).

Gabriel and his crew plan to shut down the US infrastructure and grab a bunch of money in the process - over the 4th of July weekend. I won't bore you with the details - but if you get a chance to check it out for yourself - it's a pretty good flick. But that's not the point of this post.

As I was watching this movie - I kept seeing the Farrell hacker character as a Mac. Really. It was weird.

All his actions; his speech; what he did and didn't do; his attitudes - I filtered through the "I'm a Mac" persona.

And as I got more and more into the movie - Farrell in many ways DID play the same role in the movie as the Mac does in the marketplace. He even LOOKS like the guy from the Mac ads - same scruffy beard, dressed the same way - everything.

Long played an underdog - who just escaped death by the skin-of-his-teeth - and confronts his own feelings of inadequacy and fear and realizes that he CAN take on big challenges even in the face of a foe who is superior in terms of manpower, resources and technical prowess.

Long also uses his brain (and some really old Palm Pilot and a Nokia E90 Communicator) to partially thwart the enemy. He's not worth a crap in the fighting department (he even gets bitch-slapped by Mai Linh [Maggie Q]) - but what he lacks in brawn he makes up for by just sticking to his guns and continuing down the path with a single goal in mind: save the world (or at least the US).

Here's to the little Mac that "could" - hopefully someday Apple will get a Bruce Willis to help it take a man pill and kick some marketplace ass as well.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Firefox and the F Word

I've been using Firefox since version 1.0 - and, in general, I like it a lot over by old default browser - Internet Exploder. Version 2.x was cooll - although a bit heavy on the memory usage and it could be a bit sluggish at times. All-in-all - pretty good.

Then I "upgraded" to Firefox 3. At first blush, the rendering is fine, the speed is a bit better than 2.x, the UI has some improvements that are nice - but the BEST feature is the new automated crash-and-burn feature.

This terrific new addition is really fun and was probably added to shake up the web surfer's day and remind them that they should take daily (or twice-daily) breaks and interact with other humans.

At least Firefox saves your session information. If not for this truly great feature - I would have chucked my laptop through the wall by now. Firefox just seems to crash now - for no apparent reason. Click a tab once - OK. Click a tab twice - bye bye. Open a file once - OK. Open a different file - OK. Open a new link in a tab - BOOM.

I admit I'm a tab-aholic and have 10-20 tabs open at a time - but, hey, I did in Firefox 2.x as well. My browsing habbits haven't changed - the only thing that has is my browser.

So, I had a BRILLIANT idea - I'll just start using Safari. So that's what I've been doing over the past week.

Or at least tried to do.

Once you get over the sort of Mac-like goofy UI renderings of buttons and the glow around the active entry field and the terrible fonts for the menus and the horrible too-dark "metal" header - it's actually not a bad browser.

One thing I will say for sure - it's the absolute FASTEST browser I've ever used. The speed is almost embarassing. Sites pop up really fast - and even with zero browsing history and zero cached graphics - this thing cooks. It does take a little longer to load a new (never visited site) - but once it loads - it seems to have cached everything in the site.

So I thought to myself - YEAH! OK, a new browser, I can do this. I started to move a few bookmarks over - and entered some passwords to some of my many username-required sites - and that's when I started missing some of the features that I take for granted in Firefox.

Like: password protection for auto-entering user information on sites.

The next one was the deal breaker: I shut down my laptop (with the browser running) - and just expected that the next time I launched - it would just restore itself. I had maybe 10 tabs open. Nope.

I mean, it's not the end of the world or anything - but I've gotten so used to be able to just restore my last session (I often keep tabs open for days until I read the story, finish my research on a topic, etc) - that not being able to do that became a real pain.

Plus, the rendering and the fonts used - while readable and well-rendered - were just not... ummm... "normal." Sites viewed in IE, Firefox, and Opera looked, well... a little Mac-ed up. It's nothing that I'm sure I couldn't get used to in time - but old habits die hard.

And so do cookies. And passwords. And browsing history.

When all was said-and-done - I really wanted to use Safari as my primary browser - but I just couldn't.

Now I'm back to Firefox 3 - and I have convinced myself that those "daily reminders" (or more) are actually a benefit. They remind me to get up and take a pee...

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independently Independent

It's the 4th of July - the day that we in America celebrate our independence from Britain (no offense guys, we just wanted to do thing our own way).

It all started with a tax.

Back in the old days the British were hurting for cash due to the huge national debt they had run up fighting the Seven Years War - so Parliament decided it would be a good idea to tax the colonies since they were getting the benefit of military protection and... well... the British folks were tapped out (after having multiple taxes already raised).

The thing they passed was called the Stamp Act. The act required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, wills, pamphlets, and playing cards in the colonies to carry a tax stamp. The only problem was - no one from the colonies was represented in Parliament when they decided this.

And that - taxation without representation - was the beginning of the end.

The British then kept on raising taxes on tea - and if you've ever been in England before you know how they LOVE their tea. Now, the colonists of the New World were used to drinking a bunch of tea (hey, they came from England!) - so they started smuggling tea in from The Netherlands (the Dutch ROCK!). This caused the incumbent tea folks to go crying to mommy (Parliament) and so they got their English tax waived - and only had to pay the American tax.

This made the tea cheaper than it was in England - and made the New World business people (some of our country's founding fathers) really pissed off. They dumped a bunch of tea in protest - and that was the beginning of how we came to fight the War of Independence.

I'm seeing the very fist stages of this in the technology world as well. People are getting tired of having their operating system dictated to them by a power they have no control over (Microsoft).

They are sick and tired of paying the OS Stamp Tax (Windows) and are tired of being ignored (really - Vista sucks!).

There are the rumblings of the smugglers (Mac OS X, Ubuntu, OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird) - and they are slowly gathering support from the "average Joe." Every revolution start with a single person.

So - if you're tired of the Microsoft tyranny - become part of the revolution! Download OpenOffice, switch to Thunderbird and Firefox (or Safari or Opera or Camino) and stick it to the warlords of unfair taxation!

Happy July 4th.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Microsoft: Let It Go

I just KNEW that Steve Ballmer couldn't just walk away from the Yahoo deal. As I mentioned in a previous entry - I was shocked at the time - and actually proud of Mr. Ballmer for being an adult and just walking away.

I should have known better.

Now it seems that Steve's big idea is to hook Time Warner and News Media into coming up with a partial bid - just for the search part of Yahoo. They basically just want to gut the company and divvy up the bits between themselves.

They know that Carl Ichan is STILL on the war path - and with the shareholder's meeting date less than a month away - I can't figure out if this is just a cruel joke on the part of Microsoft - of if they're actually serious.

The shares of Yahoo were up $3 on the speculation that somehow, maybe, the shareholders might make some money out of this. I bet Mr. Ichan was happy about that!

The deal STILL makes no sense. The PR value of it is gone. Everyone agrees: it was a crazy move to begin with - and Jerry Wang is still insisting (with hookah pipe in hand) - that Yahoo is a viable company that is going to take off (any day now).

Meanwhile - back at the Google Camp - Eric Schmidt must be laughing his ass off. He struck a deal to put Google's ads on Yahoo's site - so even as Yahoo's stock tanked after the original Microsoft deal fell through - Google is making mo' money.

It's still not all smiles and balloons for the Googlehoo alliance - they're getting the strip search treatment from the feds at the moment - but I don't think it's going to amount to anything.

But even if it did - Google will still have made money on the "temporary agreement" they had with Yahoo. I'm sure it's not much - a couple of million bucks - but enough to buy a nice latte for all their engineers who are actually working on stuff they can sell.

Steve (Ballmer) - it's time to let go. Here's a list of the 5 stages of grief - you're making good progress! Only two more stages to go:
  1. Denial (check)
  2. Anger (check)
  3. Barganing (check)
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
The depression thing - I know you're probably saving it all up on the inside - after all, Bill's gone into the jungle, Vista sucks, you just pulled the license plug on the only thing people wanted to buy - XP, now this whole Yahoo thing.

Let it out. Buy some Chunky Monkey, grab an Xbox from the guys next door, steal your neighbor kid's copy of Guitar Hero and let it all out.

Then, come Monday morning, you'll finally be able to accept reality: this deal stinks as much as Vista does.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Coming Together of Web and Desktop Apps

Today Frank Ohlhorst did a review of Servoy for eWeek's Channel Insider. It was really a nice review - and it got me thinking (rare, I know)... in the future how far will the line blur between web and desktop applications?

I think for the short term - there's a lot of noise about where vendors *think* it should go. The market and the press has been announcing new paradigms and competing announcements for the-same-but-different tools to try to get developers to adopt their "new" platform.

There is so much confusion and noise out there about all the new technologies that I think we're getting away from the real question - what are real life developers doing to create real life applications (both web and desktop) that real users actually use?

I think there are as many answers out there as there are individual developers. Some are still using the "old school" 4GL products (Access, Alpha 5, FileMaker, FoxPro, Magic, Oracle Forms, PowerBuilder, Progress, etc.) and some are using 3GL languages and products (Basic, C, C++, C#, Cobol, Delphi, Java, .NET, RealBasic, VB, etc.) - because that's what they know and are comfortable with (or it's been dictated to them that they use those tools).

Some have turned to the "new" platform as a service (PaaS) offerings or virtual (100% cloud-based) offerings like Bungee, CogHead, Gears,, QuickBase, etc. opting for both the development and deployment models to be 100% online.

Yet others are jumping on the connected/disconnected (and "Rich Internet Application" - RIA) bandwagon with AIR, Gears, Flex/Flash, OpenLaszlo, and Silverlight.

Not to mention the mobile platforms that are coming out with their own flavors of operating systems (Android, iPhone, Symbian, etc.) that also may or may not have their own particular languages (Objective C, Xcode, etc.).

Ummmm.... yeah. And the list goes on and on and on and on. I personally think it will get even more "muddy" before it gets more clear. You can bet that there are zealots for each of the various approaches and tools and platforms. There are an equal number of detractors as well.

Everyone's got an opinion. But is anyone getting any work done?

I mean, it's all well and good to take a look at all the various technologies that are coming out - they're all trying to do the same thing: help developers develop stuff that end users will find engaging so that they be more productive - and actually get stuff done.

In my book - any tool that will allow you to reach that objective is the best tool to use.

It's not a one-size-fits-all world - and there will never be a one-size-fits-all language, tool, protocol or way of doing business.

Having said that - it's been my experience that end users, project stakeholders, CIO's and CEO's don't really give a rat's ass what the technology is - as long as it meets the business goals, and comes in on-time and on-budget.

And, in my opinion, THAT'S the problem. These tools are so complex, there is so much code to write, there are so many protocols to support, end user's expectations of how applications are "supposed" to behave are changing so rapidly - it's really difficult to find a tool that will help you be both productive ("get the job done") and easy-to-use ("get the job done on time") and flexible ("meet ever-changing business goals") - it's enough to drive developers nuts.

Couple that with the end-user requirements of a rich browser application, and/or a client/server application and/or a disconnected application that synchronizes, and now the water is even more murky.

Let's not even go down the road of the changing business climate of offering software as a service (SaaS) and the nacient platform as a service (PaaS) initiatives to put stuff in the "cloud" while at the same time coupled with ISV business model of selling on premises licenses...

It's for those reasons that I really like Frank's article on Servoy. Servoy is a tool that will give you the best of all worlds: standards-based, JavaScript/Java power, easy Eclipse-based RAD design - but it also is flexible enough to be extensible (Java), and allow you to sell it as an on premises solution, a SaaS solution (in the cloud with or without PaaS) - deploy as client/server and/or browser (100% HTML/CSS) and/or "headless" client (for use by web services, other Java applications or JSP) - while at the same time doing it ALL from ONE code base.

For my money - that's the best application to use. One that allows you to leverage what you know and handles all the code that's behind the scenes. Who wants to code things like connection pooling, data broadcasting, manage client state, write 1,000,00 SQL queries, etc.?

The part that developers need to develop is less about infrastructure and more about the "inside of the window." It's like an iceberg - 80% of the typical application's code is below the water line: the end user never sees it. They only see the 20% of the code on top.

If you can concentrate on the 20% of the functionality that the user interacts with - and have the other 80% handled for you automatically (but still have the flexibility to monkey with it if you want/have to) - you can finally be productive and actually DELIVER a secure client/server/web/offline application on time and on budget that end users will actually use.

Now that's bringing the desktop and web applications together in a way that makes sense.
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