10.28.2006

Apple's Universal Binary program

With the release of QuarkXPress 7 for the Mac OS X, the move toward Universal Binary -- applications which contain bits for both Intel x86 and PowerPC processors -- is progressing very well.

In studying my own software usage with Apple Activity Monitor, the only business-critical non-x86 binaries on my iMac are Microsoft's Office 2004 suite and Adobe's Creative Suite CS2 . Those continue to run through Rosetta, Apple's translation layer. With Rosetta, applications consume huge amounts of virtual memory, and bog down to poor garbage collection.

Considering that Apple's move to Intel processors was only announced in June 2005, and that the first Intel hardware began shipping in January 2006, this is a lightning fast transition.

Apple's Safari browser is not as successful. Many Web applications (including the blog-writing system on blogger.com) don't work correctly under Safari, and require Firefox to run on the Mac. This is particularly true of AJAX applications, and those which rely upon Flash. Safari's RSS capabilities are dreadful; I use NewsGator's NetNewsWire. I hope that Apple does a better job with Leopard.

10.27.2006

Battlestar Galactica: The brave little toaster

It's a terrible pun, but I have to make it: A group of us were discussing the new Battlestar Galactica series (we're hooked), and the characters on it. Someone said that Sharon "Boomer" Valerii was a sympathetic, brave character. "Yes, she's a brave little toaster," I replied -- and then ran to Google to see if I was the first person to make that connection. (I can't find a prior reference.)

A toaster is what the Galactica crew call Cylons. "The Brave Little Toaster" was a children's movie from 1987. I never understood why the vacuum cleaner calls the little boy "The Master."

Hey, what do you expect on a Friday afternoon? Proust?

10.26.2006

Spot the SPOT?

Am still waiting for the Sun SPOT kit. The contact at Sun who offered to send me a kit doesn't have an ETA. And from the comments on Sun's mailing list, the company's SPOT team doesn't have an ETA either.

Postings on that list indicate problems regarding the RoHS compliance of the hardware, which means that the eval kits can't be shipped into the European Union. RoHS is a new rule, which took effect in July 2006, that limits the amount of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl and polybrominated diphenyl ether in electronic devices. But why that's affecting distribution of the equipment in the U.S. is unclear.

>> Update 11/3 AM: Sun hasn't responded to several requests for a schedule update.

>> Update 11/3 PM: Sun's PR team told me, "At this point, it's on hold."

Oracle Linux vs. Microsoft and Sun

A couple of other points regarding Oracle Linux: What does this mean for Oracle's non-Linux operating system partners, Microsoft and Sun?

Microsoft, while competing against Oracle's database with SQL Server, likes being a high-volume platform for running Oracle 10g, as well as Oracle's many applications. Expect to see Microsoft to gently step up its assaults on Oracle. (And vice-versa.) The two companies still need each other, but Oracle now has fewer reasons to steer customers toward a third-party operating system which diverts revenue from Larry Ellison's pockets.

Sun, not having an enterprise database of its own, has long viewed Oracle as a critical application for Solaris and for Sun's servers. That's why Sun's Jonathan Schwartz was a keynote at Oracle OpenWorld this year. While Sun was conspicuous by its absence on the list of partners endorsing Oracle Linux, expect that to change, and for Sun to quickly and publicly support Oracle Linux on its enterprise hardware.

Short-term impact on Microsoft and Sun will be minimal. But despite my expectation that Sun will support Oracle Linux, this is not good news for those two companies on the long term.

Bruce Schneier goes to British Telecom

Yesterday, BT acquired Centerpane Internet Security, best known as the home of Bruce Schneier, one of the top computer-security experts in our industry today. Bruce, who founded Counterpane, will stay on as CTO. I'm sure that was a key part of the deal. While Centerpane has an impressive gallery of services clients, the real asset is Bruce himself.

Bruce's classic, Secrets & Lies, is required reading for anyone concerned about software security. If you're into crypto, his Practical Cryptography (co-authored with Niels Ferguson) is also good, although it's biased toward Bruce's own algorithms and against more commonly used ones. A better book for C programmers is his Applied Cryptography. I've not read his latest, Beyond Fear.

Oracle Linux is not a threat to Red Hat

Much ado was made yesterday about Oracle’s announcement that it’s releasing Red Hat Enterprise Linux as its own Unbreakable Linux. To quote from Oracle’s own announcement,

Today Oracle announced that it would provide the same enterprise class support for Linux as it provides for its database, middleware and applications products. Oracle starts with Red Hat Linux, removes Red Hat trademarks, and then adds Linux bug fixes.

Oracle is offering its Unbreakable Linux program for substantially less than Red Hat currently charges for its best support.


Tech analysts and reporters were immediately out in force, trying to predict the impact that this hostile move would have on Red Hat. Several said that Oracle’s lower-priced support would undercut RH’s efforts to penetrate the enterprise. Others think that the impact will be minimal, because RH is more aggressively extending the kernel. Most agreed, however, that it’s unseemly for Oracle to undermine its partner, and it’s going to have a real short-term impact on RH. Also predicted is that this will boost open source software in general.

RH, for its own part, indicated that its seven-year partnership with Oracle remains intact, but under the slogan “Unfakable Linux,” Red Hat emphasizes that Oracle’s version of RHEL won’t include the hardware and software compatibility of RHEL, that Oracle’s mods obviously won’t be included in RH’s regression testing, and that binary compatibility can’t be assured. Further, it says that Oracle is forking Linux.

My view is that in the long term, this will end up having minimal impact, despite the number of companies that are loudly proclaiming their support. If you want an operating system to host an Oracle database, app server or packaged applications, it makes sense to get Oracle’s Linux. That gives you a one-stop shop for patches, upgrades and support. It's in Oracle's best interest, and its customers' best interest, for the company's stack to go down to the operating system level.

But outside of that (admittedly very large) community, I can’t see customers who simply want a supported server-side Linux operating system choosing Oracle Linux instead of Red Hat or Novell/SUSE. If you're using the LAMP stack with a supported Linux distro, you're not going to Oracle Linux.

Why? Well, why would you invite Oracle into your tent if you’re not one of their customers? You know that Oracle wouldn’t be content to let you run WebLogic, DB2, SAP, MySQL or JBoss on Oracle Linux for long. It's also it’s easy to predict that Oracle will tune and tweak the former RHEL to make a better platform for Oracle products, vs. something that’s driven by the open source community.

I agree that Red Hat is going to out-innovate Oracle: RH has to, just to survive against Oracle and Novell/SUSE. By contrast, Oracle doesn't need to broadly innovate in order to accomplish its goals of offering a supported integrated stack. Its Linux investments, I predict, will be in integration.

10.24.2006

Brian May, Astronomer

As someone who started his academic career intending to study astronomy, I can't help but admire Brian May, former guitarist from Queen. I had no idea that he'd been a Ph.D student in physics/infrared astronomy at Imperial College, London. May's new book, "Bang! The Complete History Of The Universe," came out this month.

10.23.2006

Dell's AMD servers: When WHAT freezes over?

At Oracle OpenWorld today (which I did not attend), Dell introduced its first AMD-based servers, the PowerEdge SC1435 and PowerEdge 6950. Both are rack-mounted systems. The SC1435 is an entry-level pizza box with two dual-core Opterons; the 4U-high 6950 uses four chips.

When you couple that with Apple's move to Intel processors, and Sun's supporting Windows on its x86 servers, it's clear that you can't take anything for granted any more. Next you hear, Microsoft will embrace Linux and Mono, and IBM will license NetBeans. You think?

Speaking of Oracle OpenWorld: the company claims more than 41,000 attendees. San Francisco is bursting at the seams; the conference is going to have to go someplace like Las Vegas soon. Is Oracle OpenWorld the next Comdex?

Microsoft's Atlas: AJAX the Greater

Homer's Iliad has two Greek heros named Ajax. One is the giant king of Salamis, known as Ajax the Greater. The other is the prince of Locris, and called Ajax the Lesser (though, presumably, not to his face).

It looks like Microsoft's Atlas project (named after another mythological figure) is more like AJAX the Greater. Atlas, now formally called the ASP.NET AJAX, is finally available in as a real beta. It's been a long time coming.

To me, at least, a lot of AJAX development seems to be overly complex, with a lot of that complexity involved with plumbing, not buiness logic. Since it's all new ground, there aren't best practice, and the tools and runtimes are mainly "1.0" products, at best. Automation is rudimentary at best on most platforms.

Atlas, by contrast, cuts out a lot of the complexity, largely because it's based on ASP.NET. The lack of portability cuts down the plumbing requirements. That's one reason why ASP.NET, in general, makes Web app development straightforward. While it's less scalable than Java EE for big projects, ASP.NET AJAX a heck of a lot easier to work with, because so much is already done for you on the tightly integrated Microsoft stack.

Assuming that you're happy to work with ASP.NET, it's been hard to find fault with the Community Technology Preview versions of Atlas, which have been more solid than Microsoft's usual early efforts.

In fact, Microsoft's initial support for both IE and Firefox has been praiseworthy. With the first formal betas, they've now extended their non-Microsoft browser support to Apple's Safari, which is a welcome move, albeit a minor one.

What's available today are two separate downloads from Microsoft. The first download contains the core ASP.NET AJAX 2.0 extensions and accompanying AJAX library, which is a fairly mature toolset -- you can work with it today and feel confident that it's not going to break when Atlas goes G.A. The other is a CTP of a lot of additional library features that are useful, but not required (see the feature matrix in Microsoft's white paper).

Atlas -- ahem, ASP.NET AJAX -- has justifiably been criticised because it's taking a long time. But then again, everything from Microsoft (from SQL Server 2005 to Team System to Windows Vista) takes forever. Inch by inch, step by step. But despite the delays, I think it's a robust implementation, and worth the wait.

10.22.2006

Alan on blogs, circa 2003

I stumbled across this three-year-old article, "Blogs: The Latest Option In Raising Your Voice Online," written by Reid Goldsborough for Information Today. Reid interviewed me about blogs in early 2003, and my fundamental misgivings about their role in journalism haven't changed. Most blogs don't have editorial oversight, or any sort of objective review, and as such don't replace properly reported/edited content (whether online or in print).

Nobody filters what I blog here on Z Trek, nobody chooses topics but me, nobody edits it but me. By contrast, what I write for SD Times and other publications -- even when I'm at the top of the food chain -- is line-edited, copy-edited, fact-checked, and sometimes tech-edited by professional editors. Often, my premise, arguments and conclusions are challenged by my colleagues, and the back-and-forth discussion dramatically improves the story.

Good editing adds balance and objectivity. That's journalism, that's the editorial process at work. By contrast, my blog, and most blogs, are simply notebooks.

That doesn't mean that well-written blogs aren't valuable and timely sources of information: They certainly are. But it's important to remember the limitations as well as the advantages. They're not journalism, even if they're written by journalists.

Microsoft Office security updates fail installation

Microsoft has issued several security updates for Office 2003 since Oct. 6, but they won't install on my 64-bit Windows system. (It's clearly not my weekend for working with software.)

My big HP workstation (two single-core 2.6GHz Opteron processors, Win XP Pro x64, SP1) just won't accept the seven "high priority" updates issued for Office 2003 SP2.

I've tried automatic background updates, running Microsoft Update in the foreground, and even downloading the patches to install them manually. No dice, and nothing about this in the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Grrr.

Sun Grid: Not ready for SaaS

A four-day outage for "scheduled maintenance"? That's pretty bad for Software as a Service, but that's the score with the Sun Grid.

The Sun Grid Compute Utility was announced at the 2006 JavaOne conference, as a high-performance cluster that ordinary developers and customers can "rent" for $1 per CPU/hour to work with Java on a cluster of Opteron-based Solaris servers.

Since the summer, I've had "explore the Sun Grid" on my to-do list, and at last, it bubbled up to the top. Two weeks ago, I applied for an account. It's an onerous process: the resource is only open to U.S. customers and anyone wanting to use it has to submit to an "export control" questionnaire and a background check. Finally, last Thursday, Oct. 19, I received a login.

I went to use the utility on Saturday (weekends are for research!), only to learn that it's "currently unavailable for scheduled maintenance" -- until Wednesday, Oct. 25! Click the screen shot to see the full message.

10.20.2006

Saving a few $$$ at STPCon

Today (Friday, Oct. 20) is the last day for discounted registrations to the Software Test & Performance Conference -- tomorrow, the full conference passport price increases by $200. We've got a great conference for development and test/QA professionals, Nov. 7-9 at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge. There are lots of timely classes, including new tracks on test management, performance management and security. There's a keynote from Rex Black. Plus, the second annual Testers Choice Awards. Don't miss it.

Good luck, Lindsey!

We had a retirement party on Wed. night for Lindsey Vereen, now Editor Emeritas of Software Test & Performance. I've worked with Lindsey off-and-on since 1991, when we were both at Miller Freeman. Lindsey (pictured) edited publications like Design Automation and Embedded Systems Programming, and also chaired the Embedded Systems Conference. He came over to BZ Media at the end of 2004 to run ST&P and STPCon. Now he and his wife Jan have "better things to do."

Taking over the helm of ST&P is Edward J. Correia, moving up from Executive Editor of SD Times. Eddie was part of the launch team of SD Times in 2000, and he's got great things in store for ST&P. Congratulations to both of them.

Stack Wars: Red Hat vs. Novell/IBM vs. Sun

After Red Hat purchased JBoss and created an integrated offering with Linux and a commercial-grade open-source Java EE app server, it was only a matter of time before Novell did the same. The answer has a singularly uncatchy name of "Integrated Stack for SUSE Linux Enterprise," and launched this week out of a Novell partnership with IBM.

The Integrated Stack combines IBM hardware (such as blade servers or standard x86 boxes) with SUSE Linux, WebSphere App Server Community Edition, DB2 Express-C, and the Centeris Likewise management suite (which I'm not very familiar with). The system is sold by both Novell and IBM.

Red Hat, by contrast, offers several versions of its Red Hat Application Stack, with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, JBoss App Server, JBoss Hibernate, MySQL and PostgreSQL, and the Apache Web Server. No management tools.

The Novell/IBM pricing starts lower than Red Hat's, at $349/year for the software. It's unclear how much support Novell/IBM provide at the entry-level price point. Red Hat charges from $1,999 to $8,499, depending on the number of CPUs in the server, and the desired level of support services.

Sun has a comparable open-source stack, which can be run on Linux or Solaris. The Solaris Enterprise System, which consists mainly of Sun's own software plus the PostgreSQL database, is a strong offering that doesn't get as much exposure as it deserves. That's largely because the tightly controlled Solaris operating system isn't as popular with the "Anyone But Microsoft" crowd as Linux. Watch for the new Sun Java Composite Application Platform Suite, coming soon.

10.19.2006

Walking through the RCP code

I'm very excited about a new Web seminar that SD Times is doing with the Eclipse Foundation. Called "Anatomy of an Eclipse RCP Application," it's a public walk-through of an Eclipse Rich Client Platform app. The best way that I learn a platform is to look at code, and Wayne Beaton, the Eclipse evangelist, has some cool stuff in mind, which I can't wait to see.

When: October 26, 8:30am Pacific, 11:30am Eastern time. See ya there.

>> Update: This Web seminar has been postponed for a week. It'll be on Thursday, Nov. 2, 8:30am Pacific, 11:30am Eastern time.

OpenUP and EssUP: Subsets of the RUP

My column in today's edition of SD Times News on Thursday discusses two new subsets of the Rational Unified Process -- OpenUP, which is implemented in the Eclipse Process Framework, and EssUP, developed by Ivar Jacobson for use with Visual Studio Team System.

I'm anticipating that some people will ask, "Why didn't you mention the Enterprise Unified Process?" That's not an oversight. Scott Ambler has done a tremendous job with the EUP, but its goals are different.

OpenUP and EssUP were designed as simplifications of the heavyweight RUP: functional subsets that retained the principles of the Unified Process framework, but which were streamlined for agile development.

By contrast, Scott's EUP is an extension to the RUP, bringing the production and retirement phases of the software development lifecycle into this well-defined process. If anything, the EUP makes the RUP even less agile -- but leaves it more complete, and better suited for serious requirements-driven development.

10.17.2006

Shaking up paradise

Sunday's earthquake in Hawaii sounded horrific. Fortunately, Larry O'Brien, Kona resident, SD Times columnist and Ultimate Frisbee player extraordinare, was unharmed by the falling tchotchkes. Things can be replaced, but Larry, Tina and Cheyenne are priceless.

Doesn't "Falling Tchotchkes" sound like a great name for an alternative rock-jazz fusion-klezmer band?

No Evans DPC this year

Evans Data, citing poor attendee registration numbers, has cancelled its first-ever Development Products Conference. The conference, scheduled to be held in San Jose this Thu. and Fri., was billed as "If your job involves planning new technology products for developers to use, or positioning and marketing those products, this is the ONE conference you can't afford to miss."

This is unfortunate: I'd been looking forward to attending, and BZ Media was a sponsor of the event. Ted Bahr, president of BZ Media, was a scheduled speaker on the program, along with folks like BEA's Bill Roth, TIBCO's Ram Menon, IBM's Bernie Spang, Programmer's Paradise's Jeff Largiader, Telelogic's Brian James and Red Hat's Bryan Che.

You won't find any mention of the DPC on the Evans site; the company has scrubbed it away.

Three hundred million strong

According to demographers, the population of the United States reached 300 million today. (That's a fuzzy number, plus/minus a few weeks or even a month, but as William Frey, Brookings Institute analyst, said last night on NPR's All Things Considered, you might as well pick a date, since we'll never know for sure.)

The U.S. population reached 100 million in 1915, 200 million in 1967, and 250 million in 1990.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports, with tremendous precision, that at 12:00 GMT today, the U.S. population was 300,000,073, and the world population was 6,550,965,951. Every minute, it estimates, 252 people are born and 105 die.

10.16.2006

A terabyte hard drive by end of the year?

Last spring, my good friend Andrew Binstock and I agreed upon a simple wager: Would we be able to purchase a terabyte hard drive, in a 3.5-inch form factor, by the end of 2006? At that time, 500GB drives were readily available at places like Best Buy and CompUSA. I believe that the 750GB drives were just coming out as well.

Forget Moore's Law: The pace of innovation in hard drives is incredible. As I write this, there still aren't 1TB drives commercially available, but the price of 500GB and 750GB 3.5-inch drives is falling fast. You can also get a 160GB laptop drive (in a 2.5-inch form factor) for under $200, which is equally amazing.

Twenty years ago I'd not have predicted this... the future belonged to optical media, remember. When the CD-ROM was introduced in the mid-1980s, a typical hard drive had somewhere around 30MB of storage capacity. An ISO-9660 CD-ROM, by contrast, had 650MB capacity, or about 20x that of the hard disk.

Imagine if 12cm compact disc technology had kept pace with magnetic media: we'd have 15TB discs! But optical didn't keep up, and capacity has grown very slowly. The first move, in the mid-1990s, was to the 4.7GB DVD, and then the 8.5GB dual-layer DVD. Now, finally, there are 20-50GB optical discs in the Blu-Ray spec coming out in lte 2006.

Given the pace of change, the future clearly belongs to magnetic hard disks.

10.13.2006

iPod nano (PRODUCT)RED

Apple is normally very good at branding. But what's with their new iPod, called the iPod nano (PRODUCT)RED? (Initially, I thought the name was an HTML coding error on the Apple Web site.)

I can't argue with the largesse behind the product. The 4GB unit costs the same US$199 as Apple's other 4GB iPod nanos, but:

Choose the iPod nano (PRODUCT) RED Special Edition and Apple will give $10 of its purchase price to the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa.

That's a worthy cause. But when it came to the naming, particularly the use of the word "product," this may be a case where the marketers thought too different.

>> Update 10/15: Visiting the Global Fund's Web site, I learned that there are a variety of goods/services from different companies entitled (PRODUCT)RED as part of this awareness campaign. I remain unimpressed by the branding, though it's hard to blame Apple in this case.

10.12.2006

Portland: A common set of Linux UIs

The OSDL has released Portland 1.0, its set of common interface for GNOME and KDE. Because Portland will be found in many Linux distros, such as Debian, Fedora and SUSE, it could help solve some of the forking problems that we're seeing on the desktop. Let's hope that the Linux community embraced Portland, and that other distros climb on board -- because that, in turn, will encourage third-party app development.

10.11.2006

Very pleased with 80GB iPod

It's the trickle-down effect: In August, my wife overflowed her 20GB iPod with Click Wheel, and took my 60GB iPod (pre-video). Somehow, in that process, I ended up with a black 80GB iPod with Video.

I'm not complaining!

The new iPod holds a ton of music -- most of my library. (I don't bother exporting all my iTunes playlists, because I know there's music that I'll never listen to while traveling or in my car.) But there's still a lot of room for movies and files.

Putting movies or TV shows on an iPod is a new experience. The Mac and iTunes doesn't support copying information from a DVD directly. However, I found an open source package, called Instant Handbrake, that will extract a DVD into the right MPEG-4 format for copying into iTunes and then playing on the iPod. For this trip, I copied over the new complete collection of Firefly, which I'm enjoying greatly.

(I have found that the Instant Handbrake's H.264 encoder makes files that are smaller than those made with the MPEG-4 encoder. However, the H.264 files don't always work on the iPod. So, better to stick with MPEG-4.)

With files, I have configured iTunes to allow the iPod to be mounted as a volume. Because there's no intrinsic security on the iPod itself, I used Mac OS X's Disk Utility to create a 20GB sparse disk image on the iPod disk volume -- and encrypted it with AES-128. This lets me keep some of my data files, which normally don't fit on my traveling PowerBook, on the iPod instead. After mounting the iPod as a read/write volume, I can then open the encrypted disk image, which also mounts as a read/write volume. Nice.

10.10.2006

United loves to e-mail, and it shows

I spend a lot of time on airplanes -- not as much as many of my colleagues, but it's plenty. My default carrier is United Airlines, which has a hub in San Francisco, and which also has an e-mail flight notification system, called EasyUpdate.

(A digression: At SFO, United promotes the service by boasting, "Only United Offers EasyUpdate." Well, EasyUpdate is a trademark of United Airlines, so of course only United has a service with that name. Is that a lame slogan or what?)

EasyUpdate sends two e-mail messages to you, your loved ones and your administrative assistant about each flight segment:

* Before takeoff, it confirms the projected departure time and gate
* Before landing, it confirms the projected arrival time and gate

But, interestingly, the EasyUpdate system is not updated if you change flights, and therefore, information transmitted by the EasyUpdate service can be obsolete.

To wit: Sometimes I arrive at the airport early, and squeeze onto an earlier flight. More rarely, sometimes my flight is cancelled, and the airline places me on an alternative flight.

EasyUpdate never knows about any of this.

To use a real-world example, today I was scheduled for flight #931 to LAX, but arrived at SFO early enough to hop onto flight #1171 instead. Before that, I had already received the first EasyUpdate e-mail, that flight #931 was scheduled to depart on time from SFO's gate 84.

However, EasyUpdate never knew that I changed flights. So, half an hour after my flight #1171 had landed, EasyUpdate dutifully sent me and my loved ones (alas, I have no administrative assistant) a message that flight #931 was scheduled to land on-time at LAX's gate 69A:

** UNITED AIRLINES ARRIVAL MESSAGE **

The following flight is scheduled for arrival:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Flight Number: 931
Departing From: San Francisco California (SFO)
Traveling To: Los Angeles (LAX)
Date: October 10
Gate: 69A (Gate information is subject to change)
Estimated Arrival Time: 8:12 p.m.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Flight times are subject to change. Please check the flight information monitors at the airport.

Thank you for choosing United!

No message was ever sent about flight #1171. That’s pretty worthless for a proported travelers’ real-time information system. From an altitude of 30,000 feet, though, it sounds like an easy problem to fix. Web services, SOA, real-time database orchestration, all that sort of thing.

Let's see how long it takes.

Ray Noorda: The man who lost the LAN

Ray Noorda, best known for founding Novell, inventing the local-area network industry and then losing the LAN industry to Microsoft, died today.

I only met Noorda a few times, in the last years of his tenure with Novell, and never had much personal interaction with him (the meetings were all at industry-related events), so I don’t have much sense of the man. It always struck me as a shame that he had the vision to create the LAN industry, but that his product (NetWare) lost to a product that was considerably inferior in performance and stability (Windows NT Server). However, he missed three factors which made NetWare’s demise inevitable.

First, NetWare was a fantastically complex product that required extensive administrative training. In most cases, NetWare needed to be installed and maintained by a trained Novell reseller. As LANs became more popular, small and medium-sized companies didn’t want to deal with a Novell Authorized Reseller, many of whom did a lousy job and overcharged for their services. Instead, customers wanted to set up and manage their LANs themselves, or use less-expensive consultants. Novell didn’t make that possible until it was too late. Windows NT, on the other hand, was slow, unstable, but easy to manage. It was also less expensive, and simpler to license, than the channel-centric NetWare.

Second, it was really hard for customers or ISVs to extend NetWare through NetWare Loadable Modules. It seemed that Novell did everything possible to discourage the development of new applications using NLMs. Microsoft, on the other hand, embraced all developers and welcomed third-party applications running on top of Windows NT Server. Those developers became Microsoft's biggest evangelists.

Third, Novell stuck with IPX/SPX for far too long. When it finally adopted TCP/IP, it did a lousy job. Novell didn’t take TCP/IP seriously until 1998, by which point Microsoft had already won the war.

So, while Certified NetWare Engineers loved their NOS, new customers went to Windows instead. Novell never recovered. Noorda’s many attempts to compete against Microsoft in other areas, such his alternative to the Microsoft Office suite, were not succesful. For many years, through the late 1990s, the company exhibited a reactive, deer-in-the-headlights mentality that precluded creativity.

Bill Gates focused on growing the computer industry, and thereby enriching Microsoft. Toward the end, Noorda's Novell fixated on attacking Microsoft instead of creating new market opportunities.

>> Update: I received an e-mail which stated:

"To criticize Mr. Noorda upon his death is outrageous! Like the political jerks that permeate our society today, your comments are thoughtless, coarse, and disrespectful. This man pioneered an industry for which your paycheck derives from. Your inability, or unwillingness, to write about the "good" Ray Noorda has done says more about you than Mr. Noorda."

Powell on leadership

Colin L. Powell, Gen. (Ret.), U.S. Army, former Secretary of State of the United States, is a very funny man.

Gen. Powell had the audience in stitches during his keynote address at Dreamforce 2006, the user conference held by software-as-a-service pioneer Salesforce.com today in S.F. The general riffed on a number of themes: he mocked President Bush's "When I looked in [Russian president ] Putin's eyes, I saw his soul" statement, pined after his government-issued Boeing 757 aircraft, laughed about his BlackBerry, and shared his wife Alma's advice on working with the government.

The keynote address, which lasted about an hour, meandered. The general shared his views about the benefits of corporate philanthropy, the state of the world, conflicts in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He reminisced about his training as a young lieutenant, and his first days at the State Department. He talked about looking into Mr. Putin's eyes, and seeing the KGB. He talked about the economy, about terrorism, about security, about war, about peace.

I took a lot of notes and photographs during Gen. Powell's talk (that's my own picture above), but what struck me most were his comments regarding leadership.

Leaders, he said, don't merely motivate their followers. They inspire their followers -- and inspiration makes them motivate themselves, which is obviously desireable. In fact, he said (repeating advice given to him early in his career), if you're a good enough leader your followers will follow you if for no reason other than curiosity about where you're going to take them... with trust that the journey is worthwhile.

Gen. Powell talked about the attributes of a good leader. A leader, he says, has to have vision about what the enterprise is doing, and why it's doing it. That doesn't just mean the CEO's overarching vision. A department head, a business-unit manager, a shop steward, even a team leader within a workgroup, all need vision if they're going to lead.

But the leader needs more than vision (and the ability to communicate that vision). A leader has to be able to give his followers the tools they need to do the job, as well as the training needed to use those tools. Why? Because it's the followers who get the job done.

A general might know that the army needs to take a certain hill, or protect a certain city, or set up camp in a certain valley. But it's the troops who take that hill, protect that city and set up the camp.

A leader also needs to be willing and able to discipline the followers when they need it. Why? It's important for morale and inspiration. If the good followers see that someone is being a bad follower and nothing is being done, then the good followers will say 'why should I bother?' and then it all collapses. "If you're not doing that, you're not a good leader," the general said.

And finally, you need to do the right thing. "Everyone wants to be part of an organization that has high standards," he said. I have no doubt that any organization that Gen. Powell is involved with will have the highest standards possible.

But would someone give this guy an airplane?

10.08.2006

See SPOT Run

Gosh, it's tempting. Sun Microsystems offered to send me a evaluation kit of its Sun SPOT hardware platform SDK. SPOT, in this case, stands for Small Programmable Object Technologies. It's a set of small, battery-operated wireless devices with an embedded Java Virtual Machine. (Alex Handy wrote about the kit in the July 15, 2006, issue of SD Times.)

Each device has a 32-bit ARM processor and a wireless radio (based on the 802.15.4 "ZigBee" spec), as well as USB. You can use them for sensor-based data acquisition, using an ad-hoc short-range mesh network. For sensors, there's a built-in 3-axis accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a light sensor, some LEDs, some switches, and general-purpose analog and digital inputs. Neat.

Priced at $499 for two of the devices, a base station and developer tools, I can imagine this device being a big hit not only with developers, but also with general enthusiasts. Much will depend on the quality of the developer tools and documentation, of course.

I've accepted Sun's kind offer: Although there just aren't enough hours in the day, it seems, I'll make the time for checking this out. (Exploring the SDK will make a great father/son project for a rainy Bay Area winter.)

Sun says that the kit will "use standard IDEs. e.g. NetBeans, to create Java code." Although I do have NetBeans on my Sun Ultra 20 workstation (which I purchased for $1,091.16 after the 2005 JavaOne conference), I prefer working with Eclipse for Java development, and my Mac-centric son prefers Xcode. We'll see how it works with those alternative IDEs.

10.06.2006

Guess I'm not getting on the Mono mailing list

From: ximian-mono-list-bounces@lists.ximian.com
To: alan@bzmedia.com
Subj: Request to mailing list Ximian-mono-list rejected

Your request to the Ximian-mono-list mailing list

Subscription request

has been rejected by the list moderator. The moderator gave the following reason for rejecting your request:

"[No reason given]"

Microsoft: Customers are presumed guilty

At any moment, Microsoft's Windows could decide that your operating system isn't "legitimate." And then, unless you buy a new software license, some functionality will be curtailed.

This is all part of Microsoft's fight against software piracy. With Windows XP, the amount of discomfort that an illegal software user (or a legal software user who is having problems with Microsoft's license validation service) suffers is minimal. The company said, however, that it's going to crank it up a notch with the forthcoming Windows Vista: If Microsoft thinks that your license is invalid, you're hosed. First, some features of the OS will turn off. But after 30 days, your applications won't run, you won't be able to get at your disk files, and your machine will be as good as dead dead dead. Read the company's Oct. 4, 2006 announcement, disguised as a puff-piece interview:

To quote from that announcement:

Reduced functionality mode in Windows Vista will allow the user to use the browser after the reduced functionality mode has begun. Reduced functionality mode can occur as a result of failed product activation or of that copy being identified as counterfeit or non-genuine. In most cases customers will be able to correct this situation quickly with the options provided. With the tools in place for OEMs, and small to large customers, we expect that most customers should never be affected by having a non-genuine installation.

What if there's a problem? According to Microsoft's Cori Hartje, director of the "genuine software initiative," Windows Vista will solve it for you!

Customers will be able to easily determine the status of their Windows Vista installations. In the System Properties panel of the Windows Vista Control Panel, Windows Vista will display the genuine status of the installed copy of Windows Vista. From there, and from any screen notifying users of a failed validation, a user will be able to obtain more information on why the copy of Windows is not genuine, as well as resources for getting a genuine copy.

In other words, if the System Properties report that the software is not genuine, then it's not genuine. Period. Those "resources" will be places where you can buy, or rebuy, the software. Judge, jury and executioner, all in software that essentially tells the consumer that if Microsoft's code says you're guilty, then you're guilty.

Microsoft has been working on this for some time. It's been a disaster with Windows XP, and there's no reason to think that it's going to be flawless with Windows Vista. Microsoft's support forums have been filled with posts from customers whose "validated" Windows XP installations suddenly failed the company's occasional re-validation tests, due to a software crash, deletion of a key file by disk utilities, or who-knows-what. Read Ed Bott's excellent series on this on ZDNet, "Busted! What happens when WGA attacks."

The Hippocratic Oath says that one should do no harm. Yet, by telling its legitimate customers that if the software says they have pirated code, they have no choice but to rebuy it, there's a presumption of guilt. That's fundamentally wrong. Microsoft should abandon this project until there's a way to ensure that there's a presumption of innocence, not guilt. To behave otherwise is fundamentally unfair, and I believe will be a technological and PR disaster for the firm.

Remember the nightmare with Sony's CD anti-piracy software, you know, the one that disabled device drivers and opened up machines to backdoor rootkits. This is going to be even worse.

Microsoft's Hartje concluded, "Software piracy is not a victimless crime." She's right: The victims are Microsoft's customers. Stay away from Windows Vista, until Microsoft rescinds this ill-considered and unfair policy.

10.03.2006

A market assessment

On Tuesday, October 3, 2006, the Dow Jones Industrial Average set a new record high – the first since January 14, 2000, more than six and one-half years ago.

In the United States, the Dow (as this 30-stock index is popularly known) is the arguably the most widely quoted stock-market index. However, many people, myself included, believe that it’s not the most accurate assessment of the condition of the U.S. economy. Other indices, such as Nasdaq, survey a much wider array of stocks, and use a better algorithm – and haven’t fared as well. The Nasdaq, for example, is at less than half the value it had in January 2000.

If we take a step back, however, it’s not all as doom-and-gloom as the stock prices would indicate. Back in early 2000, we were at the peak of a technology bubble. Prices were unnaturally high in those heady days, with price/earnings ratios that exhibit the irrational exuberance that U.S. Federal Research chairman Alan Greenspan warned about in 1996. He was right, and the market came crashing down… to where it belonged.

So, forget about the stock market, forget about the Dow Jones record. Look at the fundamentals: The computer industry has changed, and the software development industry has matured. Software is central to every aspect of corporate life, and thanks to Web portals like Amazon.com, YouTube and MySpace, it’s central to our personal life as well.

Yes, your stock options might still be underwater, and your retirement fund may not be back at its bubble values (mine certainly isn’t). However, take solace in the reality that our industry is growing at a reasonable pace, and a healthier one.

About Me

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Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.