5.28.2007

A Mac converter for Office Open XML

Ever since Microsoft shipped Office 2007 for Windows, Mac users have been at a disadvantage. Office 2004 for the Mac (the current version) can't read and write the new file format used by Office 2007. Microsoft didn't place the creation of file-format converters for other platforms (and for older versions of Office) on the critical path for the software release.

We'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide if this was intentional or accidental. (I first wrote about this in February, in Singing the .docx blues.)

A week or so ago, Microsoft released its first beta of the Microsoft Office Open XML File Converter for the Mac. As far as I can tell, this was a fairly stealthy release; I only happened across it a couple of days on a Microsoft blog.

This release, labeled version 0.1b, is only for Word documents (.docx) and Word macro-enabled documents (.docm). What does it do? It converts .docx and .docm files into .rtf (rich text format) documents.

Sigh.

As the Microsoft blog says,

"We do not, however, want to see you inadvertently mess up any critical documents you are working with. For that reason, only one-way (read only) conversion is supported in this beta. When sending documents back to colleagues and contacts, we recommend saving to the default .doc format from Mac Word (listed as "Word document" in the save dialog). Similarly, we continue to recommend that you advise friends and colleagues who use Office 2007 and collaborate regularly with Mac users to save their documents as a "Word/Excel/PowerPoint 97-2003 Document" (.doc, .xls, .ppt) to ensure that the files can be robustly shared across platforms while waiting for final availability of Office 2008 for Mac."

What about a real converter? Microsoft reiterates that Office 2004 users will have to wait until months after Office 2008 for the Mac (pictured) comes out:

"We plan to release a final integrated converter for Office 2004, which will appear as an update that allows you to simply open and save the new file formats as if they'd always been there (though, some of the newer functionality expressed in the formats will naturally only be available in Office 2008). We are on track to deliver this final integrated converter for Office 2004 six to eight weeks after Office 2008 for Mac is available."

Without casting aspersions on the skill and dedication of Microsoft's Mac developers (who must feel like fish out of water in Redmond), this is darned disappointing.

It's also a telling indictment of Open Office XML, if file format converters are hard to create. But then, anyone who actually looked at the 6,039-page spec for Office Open XML knows that Microsoft's intention was to create a format that would be impossible for anyone but Microsoft's Office for Windows team to implement.

If Microsoft's own Mac development team can't get it right with a reasonable amount of resources in a reasonable period of time, what chance does anyone else have?

5.25.2007

Microsoft nukes PDC 2007

Microsoft TechEd, the company's top training event for developers and systems administrators, is coming up in a few weeks: June 4-8, in Orlando. TechEd is focused tightly on currently shipping Microsoft tools, platforms and applications, so you'll see lots of classes on things like Windows Vista, Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005, Office 2007 and so-on.

TechEd is great educational, but it doesn't show you what's coming down the road. That's where Microsoft PDC comes in. The Professional Developer Conference focuses on next-general platforms: think Windows Server 2008, the "Katmai" version of SQL Server, Visual Studio "Orcas," Silverlight, and so-on. PDC had been scheduled for October 2-5, 2007 in Los Angeles — dates that I had confirmed just last week.

However, sometime in the last 24 hours Microsoft quietly canceled or postponed PDC 2007, saying,

We are currently in the process of rescheduling this fall’s Professional Developer Conference. As the PDC is the definitive developer event focused on the future of the Microsoft platform, we try to align it to be in front of major platform milestones.

By this fall, however, upcoming platform technologies including Windows Server 2008, SQL Server codenamed “Katmai,” Visual Studio codenamed “Orcas” and Silverlight will already be in developers’ hands and approaching launch, which is where we’ll focus our developer engagement in the near term.

We will update this site when we have a new date for the PDC that is better timed with the next wave of platform technologies.


I'd been looking forward to attending PDC, even though it conflicts with our own Software Test & Performance Conference Fall 2007 in Boston. (Creative flight arrangements would allow me to attend both events.) Thus, from a personal standpoint, this date change is good news. Still, this move by Microsoft is surprising: When do they intend to teach developers in depth about these new technologies?

5.23.2007

Betting and the U.S. military

I have nothing against gambling. I enjoy playing blackjack from time to time in places like Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, and even turned a nice profit once at the Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco playing craps and roulette.

However, we should all be outraged at this report saying that the U.S. military makes money from slot machines in its overseas military bases. The military profits from its hard-working officers and enlisted personnel, to the tune of US$130 million last year from the Army and Marine Corps alone. (Figures weren't provided in the CBS story from the Air Force and Navy.)

The military, according to the story, claims that this revenue funds recreation facilities at those bases. That's no excuse. Such facilities should be funded by taxpayer dollars, not by exploiting the soldiers. We should support our troops, both in war zones and in peaceful postings overseas, as much as possible. We should not take advantage of our troops' loneliness in this despicable manner.

Gigabit to the Laptop

Renee Bader Niemi, I owe you dinner!

I’ve known Renee for nearly two decades, starting from when she worked on the launch of the Poqet PC, the first MS-DOS palmtop around 1989. At the time, I was executive editor of IDG's Portable Computing magazine.

After Poqet folded, we worked together again when she was at NEC Technologies’ laptop division, and then through the late 1990s, when she served as a vice president of Xircom, which Intel purchased in 2001.

You can see coverage of a panel discussion that I led on “Palm-Sized, Hand-Held Devices,” at Spring Comdex 1999, with Renee, Bill Witte of 3Com/Palm, and Richard Hall of Handheld PC Magazine.

The last time we talked was mid-2000, when she worked at MobileSys, a wireless messaging startup. We ran a story about MobileSys in the
Aug. 1 issue of SD Times. Today, Renee is vice president and general manager of the mobile and entertainment group at Plantronics, which falls outside SD Times' coverage area.

I remember a conversation that Renee and I had in 1998 or 1999, when Xircom introduced the RealPort 10/100 Network Adapter, an early Fast Ethernet adapter for notebook PCs. That was in the era, hard to believe, when many notebooks still didn’t include Ethernet ports. Renee was the product manager for the RealPort series.

We discussed the technical and consumer implications for Fast Ethernet on a notebook, in an age when there wasn’t much demand for bandwidth to the desktop, other than for large file copies. The next speed bump, Gigabit Ethernet, was super-expensive, and was only found in switch uplinks and a few high-end cards for servers.

During the conversation, I light-heartedly bet Renee dinner that we’d never, ever have Gigabit Ethernet running into a notebook PC. “Why would we ever need it?” I said, or something to that effect. Renee insisted that while it would take a few years, GigE to the notebook would come to pass in less than a decade.

Well, Renee was right. GigE is everywhere today. I realized this morning, when looking at my Gigabit Ethernet workgroup switch, that every computer on the office LAN – including my Apple MacBook Pro – is running Gigabit Ethernet. The only slower devices are things like my laser printer and DSL modem, which use Fast Ethernet.

So, Renee, give me a call. Dinner’s on me!

5.22.2007

Guy Kawasaki: The funnest entrepreneur

When Guy Kawasaki became a technology evangelist for Apple, the world lost a wonderful stand-up comic. To wit: The audience for his half-hour keynote address at the Salesforce Developer Conference was in stitches for about, oh, 30 minutes.

Guy has a wonderfully casual, self-deprecating style. He bemoaned that he potentially lost a couple of billion dollars by deciding not to interview for CEO of Yahoo, years ago, because he wanted to stay home with his young children. In retrospect, he knows he made the right choice. It was worth giving up a billion dollars to be with his family. But that second billion… that pisses him off.

No, I’m not going to transcribe Guy Kawasaki’s rapid-fire bon mots; I couldn’t do them justice. Instead, I’m going to summarize the ten rules that he (in his role of venture capitalist) says are “the art of the start.” (That's also the theme of his 2004 book of the same name.)

These are his headings, but my interpretation of his words; these aren't literal quotes.

1. Make meaning.

Great entrepreneurs are motivated to change the world, make the world a better place, perpetuate good things, end bad things. Don’t be focused on just making money. If you tell people that you’re in business to make money, you’ll attract MBAs and consultants. If you tell people that you’re going to change the world, you’ll attract true believers and enthusiasts who can help you.

Also, think big. Think about jumping curves. Don’t set out to make something that’s 10% better than what’s available; strive make something that’s 10x better. Change the game, don’t just refine it.

2. Roll the DICEE.

What are the tactical qualities of great products?

D = Deep, with a lot of rich functionality
I = Intelligent, anticipating the user's pain
C = Complete, it's the totally of the experience
E = Elegant and simple.
E = Emotive, you love them or hate them, but feel something strong

3. Make a mantra.

Most companies make mission statements. Those are worthless. Instead, come up with three or four words that explain, to the world, why your company or product exists.

4. Get going.

Too many entrepreneurs wait, for the perfect tool, the perfect moment, the perfect situation, the perfect whatever. Don’t wait. Go ahead and:

• Think different. Create the product or service that you want to use yourself.
• Polarize people. Don't intentionally piss people off, but don't be afraid to piss people off. Great products polarize people.
• Find a few soul mates. Don't do it alone. The optimal number in a startup is three: One who can make it, one who can sell it, an d one who can pull it together. Don’t find people like you; you want to a team with balance of skills.

5. Define a business model.

• Be specific. Know exactly who your customer is, and exactly how you’re going to get your money out of her purse. (Your customers' money is really your money, they're just temporarily holding it for you.)
• Keep the business model simple. Innovate in your software and your architecture, but not in your business model. The trick to success is to make something for $1 and sell it for $5.
• Ask women about your business model. Men will be focused on what you'll “kill,” and will almost always say “yes, go for it.” Women will give more balanced, and practical, advice.

6. Niche thyself.

Imagine a simple four-quadrant chart. The vertical access defines your ability to provide a unique product or service. The horizontal axis defines the value of that product/service to the customer. You want to go high and to the right, offering the most unique product/service, with the best value to the customer.

Here’s what the corners mean:

Lower left: The dot-com corner. You’re selling a common product with little value to the customer.
Lower right: The price corner: You've a common product that the customer wants, but so does everyone else. You’ll always be competing on price.
Upper left: The stupid corner. Nobody else makes it, but nobody wants it either.
Upper right: The value corner. You’ve got the only thing that solves a big problem. Ka-ching!

7. Follow the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint.

Everyone does 60 slides for a 60-minute presentations. Don’t do that, since you're talking too fast for too long. Instead spend 20 minutes giving a ten-slide presentation that clearly defines the problem, your business model, and how you’ll make work.

The “30” is the optimum font size.

8. Hire infected people.

Look for people who are infected by the love of what you’re doing. Sure, it’s nice to get people with the right educational background and the right work experience. But it’s more important to find people who love what they do.

• Ignore the irrelevant when you’re interviewing and hiring.
• Hire better than yourself. If you hire b-level players, soon you'll be surrounded by bozos
• Apply the “Shopping Center Test.” If you interviewed a person in the morning, and then that evening you see her across the mall: If you want to run over and talk to her, hire her. If you don’t want to run over and talk, don’t hire her. Hire the people that you want to work with.

9. Lower barriers to adoption.

You'd be amazed at how many barriers there are to adoption, and you won’t always know where they are.

• Let a hundred flowers blossom: Your customers will find better uses for your product than you’d ever imagine. Create an environment where that can happen.
• Find the true influencers. While everyone says they want to sell to CEOs or CTOs or CIOs, the true influencers are the people who get the work done, and know that your product/service can get the word done better.
• Embrace your evangelists. These are customers who aren’t motivated not by options or salaries, but are the early adopters who love what you do, and want to help. Don't be scared of them, or of their ideas. Embrace them.

10. Don't let the bozos grind you down.

There are two kinds of bozos:

• Slovenly bozos who drives a rusty car. You can see that they're bozos, and you know to ignore them.
• Svelte rich bozos who dress in all black, drive expensive cars and wear fine watches. You think they must be smart and successful. Well, they might be a bozo in disguise. If they tell you that you’ll fail, and you listen, then they’re right: you will fail.

Guy’s summary:

• If you want to change the world, want to make meaning. That doesn't mean doing things 15% better. you have to jump to the next curve — 10x better, not 10% better.
• Go high and to the right.
• Let a hundred flowers blossom.
• Don't be stubborn, thinking that you know who the customer is, and that's the only person you need to talk to.

Salesforce does SOA

About 700 people crowded into the Santa Clara Marriott last Monday, for the Salesforce Developer Conference. I stayed for the first half of the event, enjoying the opening and keynote speeches, but then bailed after lunch. (The afternoon program consisted of technical sessions on Apex programming, enterprise mashups, and launching a business based on Salesforce.com's hosted platform.)

What Salesforce has done lately is impressive, no doubt about it: turned the the platform for its hosted CRM software into a multitenant platform for your own enterprise programs. It's more than just a hosted service, like Google, eBay or Amazon, in that you can truly write your own programs and run them on the hosted environment. It's also more than a reusable grid, such as the Sun Grid Compute Utility, due to the rich set of services that it provides. (The Sun utility resembles an timeshare batch-processing mainframe, complete with billing by the CPU/hour.)

No, what Salesforce.com has created is unique; at least, I've not seen anything like it. Not only that, but it's also profitable; the company is making money hand over fist. It's becoming quite aggressive, in fact, is pushing its hosted platform (and its Apex language) to ISVs. Good call. One reason why Microsoft destroyed OS/2 is that Microsoft embraced third-party developers, showering them with love and free goodies, while IBM lurched between exploiting and ignoring them. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has learned that lesson well: Third party developers can be your most fervent evangelists. Every dollar you spend on them will be returned a thousandfold.

There wasn't much news at the Salesforce Developer Conference, although Benioff kept hinting about a big announcement with Google which was covered in the business section of the San Francisco Chronicle, and in fact, several speakers made in-your-face references to the fact that they couldn't talk about Google. It was fairly obnoxious. (Benioff also disclosed that there's a signficant rebranding of Salesforce.com coming soon, as the company seeks to move beyond its CRM origins.)

However, there were some really cool demos, such as one by Kevin Lynch, senior vice president and chief software architect at Adobe, showing how to integrate Salesforce.com's online services into a locally executing online/offline application. This was all based on the forthcoming Apollo platform, which merges Flash and Flex. Very cool, very impressive.

Even more significant, however, was the demonstration of Salesforce SOA, which allows custom-written Apex applications to push and pull Web services, based not only on an enterprise's publicly exposed services, but also commercial services like those from Amazon, FedEx, Google, and others. (Whoops, we're not supposed to talk about Google.) Impressive.

While the Salesforce.com platform is technologically impressive, bear in mind that many of the third-party applications as simply single-function add-on buttons to the core CRM software itself. (Not all are, but many are.) In fact, when I asked one successful Salesforce.com ISV whether it would be fair to characterize third-party apps as being akin to Excel macros, he agreed.

Remember, one generally has to be a subscriber to the Salesforce.com service in order to benefit from third party applications hosted on the Salesforce.com platform — just as you need to buy a copy of Excel from Microsoft in order to run an Excel macro.

In April, Salesforce came up with a model where users who don't use the CRM application could have access to third-party applications. The "Platform Edition" subscription costs only $50 per user per month (with limited access to applications and paid tech support), or $100 per user per month (with unlimited access and free tech support). Plus, of course, the cost for the third-party application. So, while Salesforce.com is innovative, it's not cheap; those fees add up. But there's no doubt that it's innovating — and it's innovating very quickly.

The highlight of my visit to the Salesforce Developer Conference was a half-hour talk by Guy Kawasaki. I'll blog about that separately.

5.17.2007

Head start on the Testers Choice Awards

Psst! Nominations for the Software Test & Performance Testers Choice Awards officially open on Friday, June 1st — but the nomination form is available now, and we'll take early nominations, no problem.

We kicked off the Testers Choice Awards in 2005, and the response has been enthusiastic with ST&P readers. Here's how we describe it:

The Testers Choice awards, conducted annually by Software Test & Performance, recognize excellence in software test and performance tools. The award comprises categories encompassing the range of tools designed to improve software quality.

The arbiters of excellence are Software Test & Performance subscribers, who vote on products in specific categories. The Testers Choice awards will consist of a winner and two finalists from each category as well as the year's Grand Prize winner. The Grand Prize winner is a product that had the highest score within a single category; votes are not added across categories.

This year, nominations run through July 13. Voting for the awards starts on August 1. We'll announce the award winners at STPCon Fall 2007, October 2-4 in Cambridge, and publish the full list of winners in the Dec. 2007 issue of ST&P.

You can download the nomination form now... just don't tell anyone, okay?

5.15.2007

Upgrades are a failure opportunity

Some of my favorite stories about software or systems failures happen when a system is upgraded. My personal low happened when I worked at LAN Magazine in the mid-1990s. I was working in our LAN Lab, and noticed that the firmware on our main NetWare 3.x infrastructure server, called FS1, was very out of date. So, I installed new firmware, and rebooted the machine. It didn't come up. We tried everything. It didn't come up, until we dug deeper, and ultimately rebuilt the boot partition.

FS1 had been running continuously for a number of years; it was on a big UPS, it was a super-stable machine (a Compaq ProLiant, if memory serves) and there was absolutely no reason, until my upgrade, to restart NetWare. Nobody even remembered the last time it had been restarted. Over the years, the disk partition that contained the bootstrap code had become corrupted. Thus, a machine that wouldn't restart, all because I did an (unnecessary) upgrade.

Remember the BlackBerry system failure in mid-April, just about a month ago? Caused by an upgrade that went wrong.

Remember the big crash of the AT&T telephone network in January 1990? Caused by an upgrade that went wrong.

Yesterday, I received an email from a friend of mine, who works at a Web design shop. She, her programmers and her company's QA team was stymied by intermittent failures of a new app that they were deploying to customers. She wrote,

"Our first thought is that this is browser related, as some updates have been made to IE recently. There is nothing in common between those who are getting errors, and all are in separate locations. Do you know of anything on the wire that would cause a site to not open in some places but open everywhere else? Firewall issues? Windows updates?"

I couldn't think of anything, but today she reported that it was the fault of a midmatch between a couple of load-balanced servers:

"The problem was solved. The team was able to replicate the problem and the problem was fixed. One configuration file was corrupted on one of our servers (i.e. the hosted servers). We don't know when this happened but is possible that happened when the Microsoft update was installed on these servers on Thursday. We have to load balanced servers for the database access, i.e. there is a router that sends the requests from the application to one or the other. For all these people that had problems, the requests were sent to the server with problems for those who didn't experience problems were sent to the first. This is one of those cases when many things happened the same day and we associated this with the Microsoft upgrade on the client computers, which was not the case."

Was it the software upgrade? Was it the load balancer? Hard to know, and this certainly isn't a knock on Microsoft. However, whenever software upgrades happen... bad things often happen.

Fire up the FUD machine

Microsoft's strategy for dealing with open source software – not just Linux, but focused on Linux – is becoming clear: Litigate, not innovate. Or, as I would contend, threaten to litigate, but don't actually litigate.

Frankly, I doubt that Microsoft is going to begin broad lawsuits to protect the 235 patents that Steve Ballmer claims, in a Fortune interview this month, that open source software violates. I doubt that it's going to start suing open source companies, or even begin suing large corporate users of its software.

Instead, Microsoft is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt, hoping to make software companies and corporate customers think that open source is legally risky... and that Microsoft software, though expensive, often riddled with security flaws, and intentionally designed to be non-interoperable with competitive products and platforms, is legally safe.


That's a shame, because Microsoft seems to think that customers are choosing open source software because it's cheaper. Often, however, they're choosing open source software because it's better.

The value of open source software isn't just that it's "free." Often, the "free" part doesn't come into the equation. As Microsoft and other companies have repeatedly shown, the most important proposition when it comes to enterprise software is TCO, or total cost of ownership.

For a consumer or enthusiast, who likes to play with open source software, open source has a great value proposition. For large enterprises, who can afford to devote resources to learning how to manage open source software, it's also a great value proposition. For smaller and mid-sized companies, who can't justify the time/cost to become experts, the TCO is more mixed, and often, products like those from Microsoft are the better value.

That's why, I believe, very small companies and huge companies gravitate to open source software, while smaller shops, especially those for whom software and computers aren't part of their core competency, prefer canned commercial offerings such as those from Microsoft or Apple.

That doesn't just apply to the question of Windows vs. Mac OS X vs. Linux, but encompasses projects like OpenOffice, SugarCRM and others. The integration and support costs of open source can sometimes overwhelm the "free" part of the value proposition.

So why choose open source software? Because the companies and projects that make open source software typically don't have ulterior motives beyond creating great software. The team behind OpenOffice has no vested interest in pushing Windows, or Mac, or Linux, or Solaris. So, they try hard to make sure that OpenOffice works fine everywhere. The team behind Microsoft Office does have a vested interest in Windows Everywhere, which is why we don't have Microsoft Office for Linux, and why Microsoft Office for Mac is always half-a-step behind Microsoft Office for Windows.

Microsoft's strategy for dealing with the push-back against Windows Vista, Office 2007 and some of its other products should be to innovate: Make sure that your products are the ones that customers would prefer to use. Instead, it's pursuing a strategy where customers don't really want to use their products, but are afraid not to.

Long-term, that's not a recipe for success. Microsoft has tried to lock people in with proprietary file formats (how many people use Microsoft Office because they have to work with people who use Microsoft Office?), proprietary protocols (they love when Web sites are optimized for Internet Explorer 7), and now, proprietary intellectual property.

Don't innovate. Threaten to litigate.

This is very reminiscent of SCO's attempts to use FUD to attack open source software. The lawsuits against IBM, Novell, AutoZone and Daimler Chrysler have not yet been successful, and it looks like they'll never be successful, as SCO was playing a weak hand and didn't have much money to place bets.

Microsoft probably has a stronger hand than SCO, and it certainly has deeper pockets. Ballmer's claims about 235 patents sounds stronger than SCO's claims about copied source code. Microsoft has tremendous amounts of money to use to not only pursue its legal options, but to market its FUD. Also, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are unquestionably smart, while Darl McBride seems to be an idiot.

Even so, it all comes down to Microsoft's being unable to say, "Use our software because it's better," but instead saying "Don't use open source software otherwise we'll sue you."

One of the more thoughtful comments to the Microsoft story is from Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who advises Ballmer, "You would be wise to listen to the customers you're threatening to sue - they can leave you, especially if you give them motivation. Remember, they wouldn't be motivated unless your products were somehow missing the mark."

5.14.2007

Status report on Java app servers, IDEs

After the heady euphoria of last week’s JavaOne conference in San Francisco, I’ve been inspired to release some data from BZ Research’s sixth annual Java Use and Awareness Study, which was completed in December 2006.

The study, which we’ve been doing since 2001, asked a wide range of questions to 758 software development managers. (I’m the research director for BZ Research.)

Among other things, the study showed that Java usage continues to increase. In 2003, 72.2% of respondents said they used Java, and in 2006, 74.0% said they would. However, the percentage of those who said they either use Java now, or expect to begin using Java in the next year, decreased a statically insignificant amount from 83.3% in 2003 to 83.1% in 2006.

One of the data points that many people follow is the use of specific of commercial Java application servers. This year saw a slight reversal of fortune for JBoss, slipping into second place. Last year’s number-two, WebSphere, also declined in market share – but not as much. And so, it moved into first place. Here are the top five since 2004:

1. IBM WebSphere
2006: 36.9%
2005: 37.2%
2004: 33.9%

2. JBoss App Server
2006: 32.0%
2005: 37.0%
2004: 34.8%

3. BEA WebLogic
2006: 23.7%
2005: 27.2%
2004: 28.7%

4. Oracle App Server
2006: 22.4%
2005: 27.2%
2004: 22.0%

5. Sun Java Enterprise Server
2006: 19.0%
2005: 19.7%
2004: 13.8%

Another popular data point is the installed base of Java integrated development environments. Eclipse maintains its whopping lead – but Sun’s NetBeans moved into the number-two position, pushing IBM down to third place. Here are the top five, again since 2004:

1. Eclipse IDE
2006: 69.6%
2005: 65.1%
2004: 56.2%

2. Sun NetBeans
2006: 23.3%
2005: 17.9%
2004: 18.1%

3. IBM WebSphere Studio Application Developer
2006: 22.1%
2005: 20.0%
2004: 21.5%

4. IBM Rational Application Developer
2006: 19.5%
2005: 10.8%
2004: n/a

5. Oracle JDeveloper
2006: 19.0%
2005: 15.0%
2004: 16.5%

There’s tons more data available in this study, which is available for purchase for US$1,495, or for $1,795 with a full listing of verbatim comments. The study covers app deployment stages, the types of applications developers are building, the APIs/JSRs in use, performance, and more. There are also comparisons to our most recent .NET Use and Awareness Study. Check out the table of contents for more detail.

5/15:07: I should add that the audience for this study was drawn exclusively from BZ Media's platform-neutral sources, including subscribers to SD Times, Software Test & Performance and our News on Monday/Thursday newsletters. To minimize potential for bias on the IDE question, we do not include subscribers to our EclipseSource newsletter as a survey source for our Java studies. However, many EclipseSource subscribers also subscribe to our other publications — as do users of the other IDEs.

The CIOs Speak

Of several panel discussions at Software 2007, only one of them had any real meat: a diverse group of CIOs talked about what they’re doing and what they look for.

The CIOs were Neil Cameron from Unilever, Rob Carter of FedEx, Patricia Morrison of Motorola (pictured) and Tony Scott of Walt Disney. The panel was chaired by Ernie von Simson, senior partner with Ostriker von Simson.

These notes are a mixture of verbatim comments and my attempts to distill a 45-minute panel into a short narrative, so don’t look at these as literal quotes. My favorite question here is the last one.

Question: What has your company implemented over the past year that’s really innovative?

FedEx: We have been deploying active RFID with environmental sensors, so packages can communicate when something happens, such as light (meaning the package was opened), vibration, temperature, or even GPS-based geopositioning. Now, a package can report if it’s been moved out of a secure perimeter, like a warehouse or campus. Today, we use active RFID for high-value shipments like jewels or data tapes, but use will expand in the future.

Motorola: The speed with which we can repeatedly deploy applications. We have cut the time it takes to roll a logistics or supply-chain application out to our partners from 4-6 months to 4-6 weeks. This is important because when we’re ready to do something new, the application deployment time often determines how fast Motorola can implement a new process.

Unilever: We leverage innovation that comes in from partners and suppliers. We keep using technology to improve how we collaborate internally, and how we collaborate with partners. When evaluating business technology that might improve the business, we don’t look at whether it’s standards-based or even how much it costs – instead, we look at the benefits, the payoff, from using it.

Disney: It’s the digitization of the business process, including theme parks, and television. For example, we now put some TV shows on the Web the day after they’re broadcast – and that’s a whole new business model. We don’t even view the shows the same way: there are fewer, longer commercials on a Web program than on TV, and we’ll even tell you how long the commercial break is and let you skip over it. So far, we find that more people stick around and watch a Web-based advertisement and remember it, than they do with traditional TV ads. However, advertisers still don’t consider Web ads to be as valuable as TV ads.

Question: How is your role as CIO changing?

FedEx: Nothing happens in isolation: We’re always looking for new things, but it’s never a complete departure from our core applications, like package tracking. We’re looking for new ways to gather data, and new ways to use the data we’ve gathered.

Motorola: You have to keep thinking about the customer. How do you use technology to facilitate what the customer needs? That’s true with all sorts of customers: consumers, carriers, governments and enterprises.

Disney: It changes in two ways, which are sometimes in conflict. First is innovation, and the other is privacy and compliance. We have to balance what’s new and innovative against what can protect our consumers and brand from harm. That’s particularly important because so many of our customers are children. Part of the role of the CIO is to adjudicate those conflicts, while also considering scalability and security.

Unilever: You have help your company move into new spaces, such as digital marketing, and partnering with other service departments like Human Resources. You also have to look at efficiencies at a higher level than strict economics: How do you become more competitive?

Question: Is there a single gripe that you have with enterprise software companies?

Disney: Drop the phrases, “We’re the world’s greatest” or “We’re the world’s leading,” and bring me an insertion strategy for your solution. Tell me how I can deploy your wonderful thing worldwide. Most software executives, especially from small companies, don’t have any ideas on how to get something started with a very large customer.

Motorola: We have 12,000 software engineers at Motorola, and all our code is warrantied and indemnified. What I buy from enterprise software companies, though, is full of bugs. You guys need to focus on quality. The enormous effort to patch and fix the software that we buy is simply unacceptable.

Unilever: Every time we add something new to our IT mix it can add tremendously to our costs. Selling me software is a relationship business, and there’s a lot of noise that gets in the way. You guys have to find ways to bring me new software that doesn’t add to our cost, and which doesn’t rip-and-replace what we already have. However, my biggest complaint is the amount of hype and noise, because we just don’t have the time to listen to it.

Q&A with Tata Consultancy Services

One of the keynotes at last week’s Software 2007 conference was S. Mahalingam, CFO of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), one of the biggest IT outsourcing companies in India.

Mahalingam’s keynote was in the form of an interview with Steve Hamm, senior writer from BusinessWeek. Here are some of my notes from that talk; none of these are necessarily verbatim quotes, but rather my attempt to boil the wide-ranging discussion into a more tightly focused narrative.

Introduction

TCS is a big organization, with 89,000 employees, and is growing at about 600 employees per week, and with local offices in 32 countries. The company reported revenues for its last fiscal year of US$4.3 billion.

The company doesn’t just sell labor arbitrage – that is, there's more to TCS than low-cost workers. The company believe that it has the advantage because it can offer a wide range of services, some of which are very labor intensive, and others of which pay off because TCS has a lot of strong expertise and experience.

How does TCS manage to retain its employees?

By investing in people over many years, with frequent training to upgrade their skills, by rotating assignments, and providing opportunities for travel and foreign assignments. There’s a lot of turnover for the first few years after an employee is hired, but once someone has been onboard for seven or eight years, they’re like to stay at TCS.

What about wage inflation, which is running at 12-15 percent in India right now?

The competition for talent is intensifying, not only as TCS grows, but as companies like IBM and Accenture open large R&D and service facilities in India. However, TCS believes that this high wage inflation won’t last for too long before it settles down; it should settle down in two or three years.

What's the quality of Indian engineering graduates? There have been stories that only 30 percent of engineering grads are employable.

A part of the problem is there are many new educational institutions, and not all of them are teaching the graduates the right skills. Even so, they’re graduating bright people: you can’t get into an engineering school, even a new one, without the right examination scores. TCS is trying to help the schools fix this problem. Often, the issue isn’t a lack of engineering expertise, but more of a lack of “soft skills” needed to be a good employee of a service company. This often takes 4-6 months of on-the-job training for a new graduate to learn. Also, TCS is experimenting with hiring science graduates, in addition to engineering grads. If you can go outside the traditional engineering pool, the talent issue can be resolved.

Indian tech companies have been a disruptive influence for a decade – but as U.S. companies like IBM and Accenture open large Indian facilities, how can TCS differentiate itself?

Every company has its Indian story now. Our value proposition is that we can do everything from one shop, and can service multinational companies from many different locations and local offices. Ultimately, we’re a better value.

TCS is globalizing rapidly, and is expanding into places like China and Latin America. Will India remain central to TCS?

Yes. Someday I hope to 5,000 employees in China, but India will remain where we have the largest concentration of talent. That’s where we know how to scale, where we have solid processes for success, and where we have the trained workforce.

TCS has huge margins, of 25 percent or more – more in line with a software company than a services company. How can TCS maintain those margins when customers are driving you to cut costs?

The biggest challenge for our margins right now is the exchange rate. In the past two months, we had a 7% increase in the value of the rupee against the dollar. But even with that challenge, that, we can maintain margins because of the value that we provide. About 40% of our business comes from fixed-priced bids, so as we continually improve our business processes and leverage our own intellectual property as part of the solution, our margins can get better. On the wage side, yes, wages are going up, but Indian wages are still lower than what the customer expects.

We don’t hear much about innovation in tech services companies like TCS. What type of innovation is going on?

We have become a disruptive influence on services. We have changed the game by helping our customers define their business processes — and then outsource them. We are innovating around the services that we offer, the platforms we can create and how we create an ecosystem around our services and platforms. We also have a team thinking about the future: we’re not IBM, but we have 200 scientists dedicated to R&D.

The Entourage database breakthrough

Ever since I started using Entourage 2004, the e-mail/calendar client in Microsoft Office 2004 for the Macintosh, my Mac has periodically “gone away,” with Entourage becoming unresponsive for a minute or more at random intervals, and with a lot of disk activity bogging down the machine.

It took me a long time to realize that Entourage was the root cause of this long-standing problem, which has plagued both my older iMac and my newer MacBook Pro, because even when I’ve quit the Entourage app, the machine would still periodically stall out for two minutes, five minutes, or even longer.

It seemed to be that there was a garbage collection operation going on, but even using the Mac’s Activity Monitor tool, I wasn’t able to identify the culprit. Often, after the Mac went through an annoying episode of unresponsiveness, I’d do a Google search for the symptoms, but nothing I found solved the problem.

To make a long story short, a week ago, after a particularly bad bout of Slow Mac Behavior, I did more searching and found out that not only was Entourage indeed the cause, thanks to process than keeps running background database integrity checks. The integrity checker, called Database Daemon, runs even if you’ve quit Entourage. (I honestly don’t know why I didn’t find this sooner. For example, here’s a February 2007 post on the subject at MacWorld.)

How do you turn this off? You can’t do it from within Entourage, so quit the app. Then run the Database Utility, which is in the Applications/Microsoft Office 2004 folder. You'll see a dialog box with four options:

• Verify database integrity
• Compact database
• Rebuild database
• Set database preferences

Choose the last option, to set database preferences, and press Continue. You'll then see a pop-up (pictured) with one check-box item: Perform Database integrity check in the background. Uncheck this box, then press Save.

Now, restart Entourage. The app should stop going away on frequent little vacations from now on. The Database Daemon still runs, by the way, but it takes up fewer resources.

Important Note: You have turned off the database integrity checker, and could make the database more prone to corruption. So, perform this fix at your own risk. (Entourage, unlike Apple Mail, stores all your mailboxes and attachments in one huge database, instead of in a myriad discrete files on your disk.) Therefore, make sure that you're backing up your Entourage database often. What you should backup, at the very least, is

Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office 2004 Identities/Main identity

You should also occasionally go back and manually run the "Verify database integrity" function from within the Database Utility. How often? I don’t know.

If you're running Entourage 2004, and are having this problem, give this a try.

Secure the shared printers, stat!

A few weeks ago, I met with a senior partner of a mid-sized professional services company, whose 100-person firm was recently acquired by a much larger organization.

Prior to the acquisition, this partner had overseen IT for his company, as well as other professional matters. With the new management, he had no responsibility or significant input into IT functions, which was handled by the larger firm’s dedicated IT department.

This was a source of great frustration to the partner, who marveled at the pointlessness of many of the newly imposed policies, such as the new rule that restricted employees to using a single designated network printer, instead of being able to see and use all shared printers in the two-story office.

The annoyance was palpable: “In what way does restricting printers improve our security?” he asked. “In what way does it improve productivity? Nobody in IT can explain to me why we have to lock down the printers… but we have to lock them down anyway.”

The new policy came up because we were meeting in the company’s first-floor conference room, and his office – and the shared printer he was assigned to – was on the opposite corner of the second floor. You can imagine the inconvenience when, during the meeting, he wanted to print out a document to give me.

Policies are good things, and security policies are good things. However, all IT policies, whether security related or not, should to fit with broad business goals, such as “enhance or enable employee productivity.” An pointlessly restrictive policy like this doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest. Plus, a lack of understanding by employees of the restrictions caused by seemingly gratuitous policies breeds resentment.

In nearly all organizations, rank-and-file employees – and top managers – already have a visceral dislike of IT, which is generally seen as being aloof, cold, uncaring and more concerned about C-Y-A and hiding behind arbitrary policies than treating end users as customers. It reminds me of digital rights management: When the assumption is that your fellow employees can’t be trusted, is what way is IT a “service” department?

5.12.2007

Hurray for the Musical Mom

One of my favorite bloggers — and favorite people — is Alexandra Weber Morales.

I worked with Alexa at Miller Freeman in the mid-1990s, when she was editor of Diagnostic Imaging America Latina; she then succeeded Larry O'Brien as editor of Software Development Magazine. She was laid off in December 2005, when her magazine was shuttered.

In addition to being a strong writer and editor, Alexa is a gifted musician: Stop what you're doing and buy her 2004 CD, Jazzmérica, right now. After being laid off, Alexa picked herself up, dusted herself off, and has engaged her musical career with an incredible passion, and enviable success.

However, the item that I want to call attention to is a series of video blog posts that Alexa's been making since February, "Tips for Musical Moms." There are 13 episodes so far. Forget about Lonelygirl15; this is the real deal. When you get a few free minutes, you should watch 'em. You'll be glad you did.

Registration is open for STPCon Fall 2007

The next Software Test & Performance Conference is going to be our biggest and best ever.

Many of you may have attended previous STPCon events, including STPCon Spring 2007 held a few weeks ago in San Mateo, Calif. — the first time we brought the conference to the Bay Area. STPCon Fall 2007 returns to the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Mass., on October 2-4.

We have more than 70 in-depth technical classes for software developers, software test/QA professionals, and managers involved in any aspects of the application development life cycle.

Registration opened for STPCon Fall 2007 yesterday, and we have super discounts for "eXtreme Early Birds" through June 22nd.

You won't want to miss the opening keynote from Scott Barber (pictured), or any of the other classes and full-day tutorials at STPCon Fall 2007. Check out the program, and I'll see you in Cambridge!

5.10.2007

Blackberry cal sync with Google

Well, that was easy. Turns out the biggest problem with kludging a unidirectional sync from Google Calendar to the BlackBerry (using a Mac as the agent of change) is procrastination.

Step 1. Fire up iCal, the calendar application that comes with Mac OS X. Subscribe to the private iCal-formatted feed(s) from the Google Calendar(s) you want to put onto the Blackberry. The calendars should then appear within iCal. These are unidirectional links: changes to iCal won't be pushed up to Google.

Step 2. Launch PocketMac SyncManager, BlackBerry's desktop sync application. Click on the Calendar tab. Check the "Sync Calendar between the BlackBerry and Mac." Select the iCalCalendar button, and choose Advanced Preference. Choose to sync all categories, and "overwrite device."

Step 3. Now, when it's time to sync the BlackBerry calendar, I have to start iCal, and wait for it to sync itself from Google Calendar. And then I have to plug in the BlackBerry, launch PocketMac SyncManager, and let it overwrite the calendar items in the device with what's in iCal.

This is a kludgy and suboptimal solution, because

• It requires multiple manual steps for a sync
• It requires being tethered to the Mac for a sync
• If other people change my calendar(s), I won't know without a sync
• I can't enter new events into my Google calender using the BlackBerry

However, this is a good first step, since at least I can take my Google Calendar(s) with me on the device and use them for a reference. It's better than nothing.

The best solution would be an over-the-air transactional update whenever events change on Google Calendar or on the device.

A second-best solution would be a scheduled bi-di sync over the air.

Alternatively, we could skip a uni-di step if PocketMac SyncManager could subscribe to iCal feeds directly, and not have to use the iCal application.

If you know of a better solution, please let me know.

I love my CrackBerry

After years of self-righteous protests, "I ain't gonna get one of those PDAs," I'm now hooked on my Blackberry — and that's with assimilation still in progress.

The drive toward the BlackBerry was oblique. First, there was the appeal of the mobile Internet: It would be neat to be able to access a Web page without schlepping my notebook PC. That was a low-level interest. Then there was the more urgent issue that my Motorola RAZR v3 mobile phone was malfunctioning. Half the time, when I took it out of my pocket, the RAZR had turned itself off, even with a fully charged battery.

When I mentioned both of those to my colleague, SD Times senior editor Alex Handy, he offered me his old BlackBerry 7230. Since it was unlocked for the same mobile carrier network as my RAZR, working with it would be as simple as transferring the SIM card and enabling the service. If I liked it, great; if I didn't, no harm, no foul. In any case, it would be a learning experience.

To make a long story short, I'm hooked.

What do I like?

+ It's a better cell phone than my RAZR. Reception is clear, the volume is loud, and it works well in areas where the RAZR had poor coverage. The address book is far easier to use. (I don't care about the camera and "musical ring tone" features.)

+ The e-mail functionality comes in really handy. I have the BlackBerry interface at T-Mobile set to only forward messages from friends & family — I would be overwhelmed if my hundreds of work-related messages came to the device. Even that limited e-mail connectivity has proven to be invaluable.

+ Battery life is excellent, and I can charge the device with a USB cable.

+ Google Maps on a BlackBerry rocks.

What don't I like?

- The BlackBerry 7230 doesn't have speakerphone and Bluetooth capabilities. Those were features I used often on the RAZR.

- The Web browser is terrible. Part of the problem is the itty-bitty 240x160 pixel display, and part is speed/bandwidth.

- Google's Gmail reader client for the BlackBerry sucks.

The next step is syncing the BlackBerry calendar with my Web-based calendar. It's not difficult, and are several ways to implement the sync. Still, it calls for careful thought and planning.

If my experience with the BlackBerry continues to be positive, I plan to upgrade to the newer BlackBerry 8700g, which supports faster EDGE networks, and has a 320x240 display, speakerphone and Bluetooth.

Interestingly, this isn't my first experience with a BlackBerry. In mid-1999, I reviewed a very early model for InformationWeek. The weakness then was the poor integration with desktop e-mail software. The technology has certainly progressed significantly in the past eight years. But even then, co-author Logan Harbaugh and I concluded, "We grew quite attached to BlackBerry during the evaluation, particularly when out of town, and would recommend it to anyone who wants a mobile E-mail product."

Update 8/26/07: As predicted, I bought a BlackBerry 8700g, and for many of the reasons described above.

Announcing Windows Server 2008

Microsoft has let it slip that Windows Server Code Name "Longhorn" will be called Windows Server 2008. Check out this screen captured from the Microsoft PressPass section of microsoft.com, the page that covers the forthcoming WinHEC conference.

On the right, it shows "related links," including one for the "Windows Server 2008 reviewers guide." (Click on the photo to see it full size.)

This was on the Microsoft site at 2:45 pm on Thursday, May 10. I expect it to come down as soon as they notice the leak. Clicking the Windows Server 2008 link brings you to a page that still uses the Longhorn code name.

5.09.2007

Software 2007 Wednesday: More of the same

The second and final day of Software 2007— CMP Media’s conference for software executives – was very much like the first day, with keynote discussions split between people who had things to say, and people who wanted to get the most value from the fees they paid for the keynote opportunity. (See this earlier entry for my notes about the first day of Software 2007.)

Today’s agenda consisted of four keynotes, from Motorola, Tata Consultancy Services, Microsoft and EMC, and then a brief wrap-up from a McKinsey principal consultant.

Scorecard of Wednesday’s keynotes:

Ed Zander, CEO, Motorola
Company pitchiness: high
Value of presentation: medium


Zander – a Silicon Valley legend – focused on innovation in mobile devices. Software companies and enterprises have to expect mobility everywhere, broadband everywhere, and content everywhere, he said. The challenges are to connect the unconnected, unify disparate wireless and wireline networks, build “wicked cool” devices, drive content to the edge of the network, and provide access to everything everywhere. He then explained what Motorola is doing in those areas. Overall, Zander (pictured) provided an interesting vision of a mobile-centric world from a mobile-centric company. Of coures, that vision is the same as Motorola’s marketing position.

The best quote was, when asked “How will you deal with the forthcoming $500 multimedia phone” – a clear reference to Apple’s forthcoming iPhone – Zander’s answer was, “The real question is, how do they deal with us?” (He then said, "Don't quote me on that.")

S. Mahalingam, CFO, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)
Company pitchiness: low
Value of presentation: high


Mr. Mahalingam was a last-minute substitute for S. Ramadorai, TCS’s CEO; his keynote was in the form of a lengthy interview by BusinessWeek’s Steve Hamm. This helped ensure that there was a lot of value in this discussion, which not only introduced this Indian technology giant to the conference’s attendees, but which also got into a lot of issues regarding outsourcing, the state of India’s labor market, the service economy, and the emergence of China. I will blog about this talk soon, but it was a highlight of the day.

Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft
Company pitchiness: very high
Value of presentation: low

Ballmer is fascinating to listen to. Even when he’s being a company cheerleader, his raw enthusiasm, exuberance and energy are breathtaking (and eardrum-shattering). I mentioned his comments about Linux and Novell in an earlier post.

The point of his keynote was to make the case for Microsoft’s “smart client” business model, which combines Microsoft servers at the back end (in this case, SharePoint), and desktop applications (Office 2007) running on top of Windows Vista. To prove his point, he had a customer, Dassault Systems, do an impressive demo that showed a 3D aerospace parts catalog running through SharePoint and InfoPath. (It was much better than the Salesforce.com demo that Marc Benioff showed yesterday.)

Ballmer lives in a 100% Microsoft-centric world, and his talk could be summarized as a pitch for writing Office applications. In fact, at one point, he loosely defined “Software as a Service” as using Microsoft Office as a front end to access disparate information services, such as those running on SharePoint, Salesforce.com or SAP. There was no vision of the future – only selling The Microsoft Way... that is, The Microsoft Stack.

Jeff Nick, CTO, EMC
Company pitchiness: low
Value of presentation: high


Nick’s presented the most technical of all the talks at Software 2007, and covered the inflection points between the key points of an enterprise IT system: information, application, infrastructure and interaction, all tied together with security. For example, the inflection point between information and interaction is context and semantics – that is, concept like metadata modeling, ontological navigation and extracting knowledge from information.

He discussed the need for developing new methods of innovation which involve process pipelines which engage the customer in a virtuous cycle spanning multiple product lines. He talked about the need to drive collaboration across the enterprise, and linking customers and companies together with tools like blogs, wikis and forums where ideas can be freely shared.

While Nick mentioned that “EMC is doing all these things,” he didn't focus on EMC products or services. He also acknowledged that innovation of this sort was happening all over the industry; he didn’t claim any special role for EMC as a provider of solutions for those inflection points. Perhaps because Nick is a CTO, and not a CEO, his talk was refreshingly direct. And informative.

Ken Berryman, Principal, McKinsey
Company pitchiness: none
Value of presentation: high


Berryman wrapped up the conference with a ten-minute presentation that made the following points:

• Disruptive change sparks waves of innovation
• The innovative wave of software is on the upswing
• Don’t think that innovation only moves one way: Old business models might work in the future
• Think bottom-up, not top-down, and use communities to build software
• Despite the fad-of-the-month, there are many, many models for building a software business
• Always look for new source of value: Who would have imagined that advertising revenue would be driving software companies?
• Celebrate success: the software industry is growing fast, with 30%-50% margins
• Investment in software companies from venture and private equity is at an all-time high

It was a high note on which to end a fairly good conference.

Next year, CMP is merging Software 2008 with its Interop network infrastructure conference, which will be held April 28-29 in Las Vegas.

Steve Ballmer is a very loud man

Real-time blogging: Steve Ballmer just completed a fairly dry, but very loud, sales presentation for Windows Vista and Microsoft Office System for his keynote at Software 2007. More about that later. However, the Q&A session was much more interesting; M.R. Rangaswami, the conf. chairman, did a nice job... they weren't all softballs.

One question/answer is worth sharing. The question was about Microsoft's agreement with Novell. Ballmer responded calmly, at first, that "What we did with Novell is form a relationship around their Linux specifically. Our goal was to achieve better interoperabilty, and to ensure that our intellectual property was properly licensed."

He then continued at the decibel level of a jet engine, and I'll do it in caps bold to capture the effect:

"DO WE COMPETE WITH WINDOWS AGAINST LINUX? ABSOLUTELY!! DON'T BE CONFUSED!!! IF YOU COME TO US TO TALK ABOUT LINUX, WE'LL TRY TO SELL YOU WINDOWS. BUT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO USE LINUX, WE WANT YOU TO USE IT IN A WAY THAT'S PROPERLY LICENSED AND INTEROPERABLE."

Classic Ballmer.

Software 2007: Hoping Day 2 is less pitchy

The Software 2007 conference, going on yesterday and today down at the Santa Clara Convention Center, got off to a great start, with a opening keynote address from Hasso Plattner, an SAP co-founder who now also teaches at Stanford.

However, the day went downhill after Plattner’s talk. He was followed by keynotes from HP and Salesforce.com, which weren't as good, and by two panel discussions, one good, one not.

Still, there was enough value in the event to make it worth coming back for a second day. I hope today has more information and fewer sales pitches.

(When I looked more closely at the conference schedule, I saw that there is a solid correlation between the keynote speeches and the biggest-paying exhibitors. There were six Platinum Level sponsors: EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, SAP and Tata Consultancy Services. There were seven keynotes, from EMC, HP, Microsoft, Motorola, Salesforce.com, SAP and Tata. I guess some of the keynotes wanted to get their money's worth.)

Scorecard of Tuesday’s keynotes:

Hasso Plattner, co-founder, SAP
Company pitchiness: Medium-Low
Value of presentation: High

Plattner talked a lot about SAP’s drive toward software-as-service, and was frank in talking about the drawbacks of SAP’s traditional client/server model. Seemed to be genuinely interested in sharing his observations about how software can be built, using SAP’s ongoing development efforts for context, but he wasn’t selling SAP software, or bashing competitors.

Shane Robison, chief strategy officer and CTO, Hewlett-Packard
Company pitchiness: Medium
Value of presentation: Medium-Low

Robison talked about why HP is investing in software, and how the organization uses software in three ways: to embed into its products, to add value to commodity hardware that it sells, and as a product line in itself. Discussed the de-emphasis of OpenView as the centerpiece of HP software, such as with the Mercury acquisition, and of the economic benefits of doing R&D into software, which is more cost-effective because it’s less capital intensive. While Robison didn’t provide any advice or guidance, it was worth listening to this talk as a snapshot into the fast-changing HP.

Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com
Company pitchiness: High
Value of presentation: Low

Benioff (pictured) gave his standard sales stump speech about why Salesforce.com is so great, why you shouldn’t buy software from Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, and why Salesforce.com is so great, why you should build software on their Apex platform, and why Salesforce.com is so great. One of his marketing people gave a really lame demonstration of their Appxchange platform. He just gave a sales pitch, nothing more, which added no value for the attendees.

Beyond the keynotes: The first panel covered “innovation,” was moderated by a Forbes reporter, and had panelists from Ingres and WebEx. Nothing interesting was revealed there. The second was a CIO panel moderated by a consultant, with CIOs from Unilver, FedEx, Motorola and Walt Disney. There were good insights, which I’ll blog about later.

Let’s hope that today’s talks are more informative, and less pitchy. As you can see, yesterday started well, but trended downwards.

Unhealthy medical practices

I'm not a doctor, have no medical training, and fully expect you to dismiss this tirade as "naive." However, I believe that the practice of pharmaceutical companies paying doctors to prescribe their medicines is outrageous.

The catalyst for this comment is a story in today's New York Times, "Doctors Reap Millions for Anemia Drugs," which begins by saying,

"Two of the world’s largest drug companies are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to doctors every year in return for giving their patients anemia medicines, which regulators now say may be unsafe at commonly used doses."

and continues

"Industry analysts estimate that such payments — to cancer doctors and the other big users of the drugs, kidney dialysis centers — total hundreds of millions of dollars a year and are an important source of profit for doctors and the centers."

When you or I go to a doctor, and he/she says that we need to take drug xyz, in a specific dose, we would like to think that it's because the doctor

• truly believes that we need to take a medication for a specific condition
• and of all the medications available, he/she has chosen xyz because it's the best for me
• and he/she has chosen a specific dosage of xyz because it's the best for me

If the drug companies are providing physicians with incentives, rebates and payments to promote their medication, there's a conflict of interest. Is it possible that the condition might be curable without medication? Is it possible that medicine abc would be better for us than xyz? Is it possible that a smaller dose of xyz might be enough?

Maybe, maybe not.

But if the doctor makes money, money in his/her pocket, by prescribing xyz, it's hard to be certain that my best interests are paramount. Sure, there are codes of medical ethics that to tell doctors to focus exclusively on the patient. But it's hard to ignore the temptation. The story continues,

"The rebates are related to the amount of drugs that doctors buy, and physicians that agree to use one company’s drugs exclusively typically receive higher rebates."

In what way does my own health benefit from the doctor's signing an exclusive agreement with a single pharmaceutical company?

The story adds,

"Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said that both patients and doctors would benefit from fuller disclosure about the payments and the profits that doctors can make from them."

No. Disclosure is not the answer. So, I learn that the doctor makes money from prescribing xyz. Does that empower me to make an informed decision about my treatment? Does that mean that I should insist on abc (assuming that the doctor informs me that there's an option), or should I decline the medicine entirely, because of that disclosure? Of course not. Only the physician is trained to make that sort of recommendation. We need honest answers from our personal health care advisers.

The problem is, that my personal health care adviser is working for the drug company, not for me. Disclosures would make me more skeptical, but it wouldn't improve my ability to make smarter choices.

Doctors — and their patients — should not be placed into the situation where the doctor profits by prescribing certain medicines (and doesn't profit if he/she doesn't). Doctor, clinics and other such facilities should be strictly revenue-neutral when it comes to medicine, being paid for time and professional services only.

The for-profit sale of medications by physicians, and any kickbacks for making prescriptions, should be banned outright as a complete violation of medical ethics. Doctors occupy a uniquely trusted position, in our society. They should be worthy of that trust.

Drivers of development innovation

Whenever you have the opportunity to listen to a co-founder of SAP talk about innovation, it’s worth listening. SAP is unusual among the Giant Software Companies in that it’s reinvented itself many times: from a big mainframe enterprise resource planning provider, to a purveyor of massive client/server software, to a maker of a Java application server platform (NetWeaver).

Today, SAP trying to reinvent itself again, into a SOA-driven software-as-a-service company that offers whole new hosted application platform.

As the Software 2007 conference, which took place earlier this week in Santa Clara, Calif., Hasso Plattner spoke about drivers for innovation. Plattner, a former IBMer, helped found SAP in 1972, served as its CEO, and today, he’s chairman of their supervisory board, as well as their Chief Software Advisor – a great job title.

Here are seven points that I extracted from Plattner’s fire-hose presentation, which alone was worth the price of admission to the conference:

1. Focus on user requirements, instead of thinking only about business requirements. In the past, Plattner said, SAP talked mainly to high-level executives at its customer companies, and built software (like R/3) which addressed what those executive said the business needed. By doing that, he said, SAP missed a lot of features and functions that its software should have delivered. For its new SaaS products, SAP’s new emphasis is on figuring out what its users need instead.

2. Separate user interfaces from applications – and be willing to have multiple user interfaces to an application. R/3 had a single user interface for all customers, no matter how big or small they were, what industry they were, or what type of tasks the users were doing. The company has learned that it’s better to separate the UI from the core application. Have a single application, with a single code, but build GUIs that fit the customer, instead expecting that one GUI model fits all.

3. Hosted software works, and works well, even for business-critical applications. Google and Salesforce.com have demonstrated that SaaS works, Plattner pointed out. “The complete enterprise can run in the cloud,” he said, “and every year it becomes more obvious that the cloud is a viable alternative to on-site computing.”

4. In-memory databases matter. Plattner explained that with one query system they’re using as a test case, SAP consolidated five years worth of data from an accounting application – 36 million line items – from requiring a 116GB relational database to a 1.2GB in-memory database. The average time to complete a query against all that data: 1.2 seconds. “Think about machines with multiple processors, multiple cores, and a hundred gigabytes of memory,” he said, “and imagine what this can do for putting information at your fingertips.”

5. Application response time, aka speed, matters. Plattner wants what he called “Google-speed” for application response time. Enterprise software, whether it’s running on-site or in the cloud, should be as fast as Google, he said, and this will change the nature of queries, he said: if it only takes a second to get the results from a query, you can make a first query; if there are to many results, you can refine and filter, and keep making iterative queries until you get the results you want. Contrast that, he said, with older systems, which took sufficiently long to return results that it was worth putting a lot of up-front effort into constructing the query to get it right the first time. Users are very comfortable with making iterative queries, he believes – if the response time is fast enough.

6. Don’t make it pretty, make it functional. When you’re trying to convey information, Plattner insist, “the most minimalistic form is the best. The more you put colors, three-dimensional images and fancy interfaces around the information, the more you convolute it.” Again citing Google’s search engine as a ideal, he said, “Beautification is the wrong way. Google does it the right way; other companies beautify and the response time drops to 2 seconds, 3 second, 4 seconds, or worse. Google stays focused on speed.”

7. SOA will accelerate software development. A Google-speed hosted environment in the cloud, coupled with the modular reuse enabled by SOA, and widely available software interfaces, will accelerate the pace of software development tremendously. “We could come back to the speed we had in the early 1990s, when we could roll out a new release every three months,” Plattner predicted.

Stodgy old SAP as the new Google: Who’d have thought it?

Ray Lane's Six Webs

If you thought that the confusion between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 was confusing, what about six Webs? That's how many that Ray Lane suggested during his talk at "The New Software Industry: Forces at Play, Business in Motion," a fascinating conference co-hosted last week by Carnegie Mellon West and the University of California, Berkeley.

Lane, who's currently a managing partner at super venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is probably better known as the president and COO of Oracle during most of the 1990s. While he's not known as an Internet guru, Lane is definitely one of the more profound thinkers in our industry, and has a track record to match.

Lane's premise, during his talk, is that huge enterprise applications (including those sold by Oracle and competitors like SAP) are going to give way to Web-based services that provide personal productivity to workers. Employees at all levels of a business benefit from software when it helps them get information fast, and make decisions fast.

The technology used to implement those decisions doesn't really matter—nor does it matter if the technology is running on in-house servers or on external services. It doesn't matter if the software is free or expensive. At the end of the day, it's all about enhancing the worker's productivity. As the Web morphs from the read-only Web 1.0 to the read/write Web 2.0 to the self-directed Web 3.0, the balance is going to shift toward Web applications, instead of enterprise applications. (That's my interpretation of his comments, by the way—Lane didn't express the concept in that language.)

Given the importance and evolution of Web-based technologies and services, Lane says, it's essential to bear in mind that there are six different Webs. Each one has its own software, its own use cases, its own industry leaders and its own evolutionary trajectory. So, when you're talking about using the Web, or leveraging the Web, don't just think Web 1.0 or Web 2.0. Think about these categories:

• The Near Web. This is when the Internet comes to you, using a browser running on your desktop or notebook, and you're driving it.

• The Far Web. This is when you sit back in the audience, passively experiencing the Web together with other people.

• The Here Web. This is when you take a subset of the Web with you, thanks to mobile devices like cell phones or PDAs.

• The Weird Web. That's his funny term for when you use the Web to communicate with or control inanimate objects, like your car or remote telemetry.

• The B2B Web. That's when you use the Web for transactional business with your supply chain, partners and customers.

• The D2D Web. That's when devices talk directly to other devices using the Internet, without your involvement.

Is that the best model for understanding the Web, or should I say, the Webs? Hard to know. But certainly, from the user and developer perspective, the design of Web applications created for someone to use via a browser is very different from that of applications that do back-end plumbing. It's something to think about.

About Me

My Photo
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.