1.28.2010

It’s time for reader nominations for the SD Times 100

Give us your leaders, your innovators, your visionaries who have improved the art and science of software development. Send those, the best and brightest in the land, to SD Times!

Yes, it’s time again to begin the process of determining the SD Times 100 – our listing of the leading companies, organizations and individuals who truly make a difference in our industry. The SD Times 100 are those who get everyone talking, who set the agenda, who have the ‘buzz’ and the winds at their backs.

Some SD Times 100 winners are giant corporations who, though sheer clout and market presence, can impose a direction on the entire software development community. Others are scrappy startups, non-profit organizations or individual thought leaders whose technologies advance the state of the art – or whose ideas change the world.

The 2010 SD Times 100 will be published in the May 15, 2010, issue of SD Times, and simultaneously on www.sdtimes.com. The judges are the editors of the newspaper.

Where do you come in? By sending us reader nominations, which are open through Monday, March 5. You can enter your reader nomination here.

The SD Times 100 is not a product award – it’s our recognition of companies, organizations and individuals for their outstanding innovation and leadership during calendar year 2009. So, in your reader nomination, please cite specifically what the nominee did last year that demonstrated innovation and leadership. We’re not looking for a long dissertation; just a few paragraphs will do. The judges will consider that info during our deliberations.

There is no fee of any kind for making a reader nomination for the SD Times 100. By the way, this isn’t a popularity award: We don’t take into account the number of times a nominee has been entered, and multiple nominations will not improve a nominee’s chances of being named to the final list.

Here are some resources for you to consider as you prepare your reader nomination:

The 2008 SD Times 100
The 2009 SD Times 100
SD Times 100 backgrounder

And again, the link to the reader nomination form is here. Thank you!

1.22.2010

Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, IBM: A Tale of Four Old Laptops

This week, Apple is expected to announce its new tablet computer. Will it be the iSlate? The iPad? With it include built-in 3G or WiFi? Beats me, Jack. As I write this, it’s a week before the announcement. So, let’s talk about something else.

While everyone is guessing about the newest gizmo, let’s talk about some old ones. Specifically, that's four old laptops that I prepared for staff use at the forthcoming SharePoint Technology Conference (Feb. 10-12).

These four laptops – from Apple, Dell, Fujitsu and IBM – have been kicking around BZ Media for ages, and long since taken out of everyday service. They haven’t been even turned on, I think, since spring 2009. What impressed me is that all four were brought up to speed with just a little cleaning and a bunch of downloaded software updates and security patches.

The Apple laptop is a 12-inch iBook G3, with a 900MHz PowerPC G3 processor. It was upgraded to run Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” with its maximum of 640MB RAM. The machine, which we bought in early 2003, runs like a champ, even with the latest Safari and Firefox updates. Sure, it’s a little pokey, and its battery doesn’t last more than an hour, but that’s okay. It’s also slightly frustrating that the iBook's built-in wireless only works with 802.11b — an obsolescent standard — and that it only works with USB 1.1 devices. But for Web surfing or editing Microsoft Word documents, it’s a never-fail champ.

At least the iBook has built-in WiFi; the IBM ThinkPad R31 doesn't. Instead, the notebook, which we bought in early 2002, uses an PC-card WiFi card from Linksys. The ThinkPad came through with Windows 98 or Windows 2000, I think, but now has Windows XP. It’s definitely underpowered – with a 1.13GHz Mobile Pentium III processor, browsing is annoyingly slow. On the plus side, the ThinkPad’s 14-inch 1024x768 screen is by far the easiest to read, and it also has the absolute best keyboard. Given that it’s eight years old – and still runs off its original batteries – we truly got our money’s worth.

The fastest machine is a Dell Latitude D610, which we acquired in early 2005. It’s the biggest and heaviest laptop of the four, but also the most powerful, with a 2.0GHz Pentium M, and a big, bright, 14-inch display with 1400x1050 resolution. That’s really a machine that takes a licking and keeps on ticking; the Latitude is the laptop everyone prefers to use.

The final is a tiny Fujitsu LifeBook T4010 tablet computer running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. We never used it much as a tablet – no killer apps, to be honest. Now it’s turned into just one of our conference laptops and occasional loaner. The tablet, dating from late 2004, has a 1.8GHz processor and a 12-inch screen that somehow seems smaller than the one on the old Apple iBook. It also has a funky keyboard that nobody seems to like, but it gets the job done.

Having spent a few days leisurely setting up and using these old machines, I was impressed to find that, old or not, they are still workhorses. Sure, they don’t have WiFi-N, or built-in Webcams, or solid-state disks or 3G cellular data modems. But while the whole world goes ga-ga for the latest toys, it’s great to know that computers running obsolescent software and hardware — Windows XP or Mac OS X “Tiger,” with old Pentium or PowerPC G3 processors — are perfectly fine, and get the job done in style.

1.14.2010

Come help us put the ‘SD’ in ESDC

Are you planning to attend the Enterprise Software Development Conference? I hope you’ll join us at ESDC as we continue the fine tradition of excellent in technical education and community-building that we enjoyed at the old SD West conference for more than two decades.

SD West, originally known as the Software Development Conference, was more than the industry’s finest annual gathering of professional software developers. In the 24 years since it was founded by Miller Freeman (which published Computer Language Magazine, later known as Software Development Magazine), SD West became a venerable institution.

I should know: First as a Miller Freeman employee for most of the 1990s, and then since 2000 after BZ Media launched SD Times, I was at SD West nearly about every spring, learning from the best and brightest. There were great keynotes, excellent classes and workshops. Even more, there was lots of camaraderie.

Indeed, SD West became a reunion. You went not only to learn about the latest in software development practices, but also to reconnect with old friends and hang out with a lot of really, really smart people.

Unfortunately, after the most recent SD West, in March 2009, the conference’s organizers announced that moving forward, the event would be discontinued due to the economic downturn. Thus, there's no SD West 2010.

SD West was, in our opinion, too good an idea – and too important an industry event – to just let it slip away. That’s why the SD Times team rallied to launch the Enterprise Software Development Conference, bringing together many of the best SD West speakers, like Dan Saks and Allen Holub, Terry Quatrani and Robert “Uncle Bob” Martin, Jim Hobart and Neal Ford… hey, check out the full roster here.

SD West is gone, but ESDC is here.

We hope you’ll join us Mar. 1-3 in San Mateo, Calif. By the way, if you’re an SD West alum, we have a special offer for you – use the code SDWEST, and that knocks a hundred dollars off the full conference pass.

See you there.

1.12.2010

12 features I'd like to see on the next iPhone

Earlier this week, my friend David Coursey asked a question on Facebook, "What must Apple do with the next iPhone to make/keep you happy? Features? Software? And what would make you change to a different handset?"

Well, at the risk of perhaps messing up an article David's writing, I'll answer the first part of that question here, based on a lot of experience. I'm a satisfied iPhone customer. I bought my first in 2008, when the iPhone 3G came out. When the 3GS was released, I gave the older handset to my son, and purchased the new one.

What would I like see changed? One thing I won't say is, "A different carrier." I moved from T-Mobile with a BlackBerry to the AT&T with the iPhone 3G, and have been delighted with the coverage, reliability and bandwidth. It's much better than I experienced with T-Mobile. So, while I acknowledge that there are a lot of unhappy AT&T customers, I am not one of them (with one exception, noted below).

With that said, here's what I'd like to see improved on the iPhone. Note that only three are hardware issues. The others could be addressed through software changes to the iPhone operating system or by the carrier.

1. Tethering, tethering, tethering. Okay, AT&T, we've waited long enough. Just do it.

2. Sync to a standard Bluetooth keyboard. An external keyboard would allow me to use the iPhone to take notes in meetings, which often would save me from bringing a laptop.

3. Interchangeable batteries. Although I have one of those external battery things, there are times when I'm in a poor signal area or use the device heavily, and this kills the battery in half a day.

4. The option to hide built-in apps. I never use Notes, Stocks and Weather. I have better third-party apps for those tasks. So, let's make them go away.

5. Support for linking to multiple Exchange accounts. Sometimes that's what one needs to do.

6. Support for websites that require Flash. Such sites are totally unusable on the phone as currently provisioned.

7. Support for video chat compatible with iChat and Skype. That would require a front-facing video camera, of course.

8. Syncing of the phone's autocorrect spelling list. I'd like it to match my Mac's autocorrect list.

9. Be able to turn off data services. Just as there are switches to turn Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G on/off, I sometimes want to turn off all data services, so that the phone is just a phone. Why? To conserve battery life.

10. Selective caller rejection. I want the phone to squelch incoming calls from specified phone numbers. Don't let them ring. Don't let them go to voicemail. Just make them go away. I don't care if that's done in collaboration with the carrier, but I want it.

11. Week-at-a-glance view in the Calendar. Maybe it could be triggered by turning the phone into landscape position.

12. Charging with a standard mini-USB or micro-USB connector. That would be nice when I'm low on juice but don't have a special iPhone cable handy.

What features would you like to see changed on the iPhone hardware or built-in software?

NetWitness announces an offering with the catchy SKU NW-536F6C657261

This is fun! Here's how a funky press release starts... seems like the usual PR blather, eh?

NetWitness(R) Announces New B.O.S. Competitive Offering

Company Releases Offering Designed to Match Capabilities of Other Network Security Monitoring Providers

HERNDON, Va., Jan. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- NetWitness Corporation announced today the availability of a security solution designed to match the level of effectiveness of other security monitoring providers. A departure for the firm, which to this point has focused its efforts on providing the most advanced network forensics and advanced threat intelligence solutions available, this new solution simply provides peace of mind that IT networks are secure. Code named B.O.S., this offering is available under the NetWitness SKU NW-536F6C657261. Based on years of field study and researching both advanced threats and alternative monitoring methods, NetWitness B.O.S. provides market competitive capability, matching other offerings feature for feature at a much lower price point.

But it's a lot better than that. Read the entire release on their website.

1.11.2010

Those really were the droids you were looking for

This classic motivational image has been floating around the Internet for a while. Wish I knew the artist to attribute it to.

Click the picture to see it larger.

1.10.2010

Lame press release of the week: Client to get media interviews thanks to PR agency

However much this company is paying for its press relations advice… it's too much. This is the start of a release that a company put onto the wire last week:

Jedi Mind to Receive Media Coverage at CES in Las Vegas

CARDIFF, Calif., Jan. 5 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Jedi Mind, Inc. (Pink Sheets: JEDM) (www.jedimindinc.com) will be conducting interviews with several major media organizations at this year's CES trade show in Las Vegas, January 7th - 10th. Through the efforts of our recently hired PR firm, "SS PR", Jedi Mind has received numerous enquiries from newspaper, television and online media organizations interested in featuring The Company in their respective publications.

Oooh. Ahh. Stop the presses, everyone. The boilerplate in this press release about SS PR was longer than the entire coverage of the client, Jedi Mind. Makes you wonder: Is this a press release for Jedi Mind or self-promotion for SS PR?

Read the entire release here.

Wells Fargo Bank's annoying automated phone calls

Over the past few weeks, my son's cell phone has been receiving dozens of unwanted phone calls — sometimes three, four or five calls daily. If he answers the phone, a recorded message tells him to contact Wells Fargo Bank about his overdrawn account. However, he doesn't bank at Wells Fargo. If he doesn't answer the phone, the caller doesn't leave a message.

When I found out about this, I checked his iPhone's log. All these calls were coming from two separate numbers, 503-403-2697 and 503-403-2686. Googling indicated that both belonged to Wells Fargo Bank.

This morning, I called back the first number. A human answered and asked me to provide my account number. When I explained that I didn't have one, and that I was trying to find out why our number was being called, the young man asked for the mobile number. "Are you Mr. Alvarez?" he asked. "No," I replied. He curtly said, "We'll take your number off the list" — and hung up.

That should solve that problem, eh? Just for the heck of it, I called the second number. An automated attendant asked for my account number and then paused. I pressed 0, and that got me to a human. I explained the story to him, he looked up the cell number, and asked, "Are you Mr. Diamond?" — odd that it was a different name. I replied no, and the young man politely apologized, volunteered that perhaps Mr. Diamond had provided our number by mistake, but that he would make sure the calls stopped.

Let's see if they actually do.

1.05.2010

Kent Beck, Ken Pugh lead an outstanding conference faculty

The Enterprise Software Development Conference kicks off in less than two months, with an all-star faculty led by keynote speakers Kent Beck and Ken Pugh.

The three-day conference will take place at the San Mateo Marriott, San Mateo, Calif., from Mar. 1-3, 2010. A Full Event Passport for ESDC costs $1,795, but this rate is discounted to $1,295 through Jan. 15, and to $1,395 through Feb. 15. Group rates are also available.

The opening keynote at ESDC will be given by Kent Beck (pictured), founder and director of the Three River Institute and creator of the Extreme Programming agile methodology. Kent’s keynote, entitled, “Responsive Design: Efficiency Through Safety,” will be delivered on Tuesday, Mar. 2, at 5:00 PM.

Ken Pugh, author of “Prefactoring” and “Interface-Oriented Design,” will deliver the second conference keynote. His keynote, “Snowboarding, Windsurfing, Backpacking, and the Art of Software Development,” will be on Wednesday, Mar. 3, at 9:45 AM.

The keynote speakers are joined at ESDC by 30 additional instructors: Andres Almiray, Andrew Binstock, John Clifford, Kathleen Dollard, Neal Ford, Jeffrey Fredrick, Andrew Glover, Ellen Gottesdiener, Jeff Haynie, Jim Hobart, Allen Holub, Tim Huckaby, David Hussman, David Intersimone, Paul King, Timothy Korson, Ramnivas Laddad, Julie Lerman, Robert C. Martin, Miko Matsumura, Mario Moreira, JP Morgenthal, Ted Neward, Larry O'Brien, Damon Poole, Terry Quatrani, Mike Rozlog, Dan Saks, Hubert Smits and Glenn Vanderburg.

As conference chair, I’m delighted that ESDC has attracted the interest of, quite literally, the finest speakers and instructors in the software development industry.

The Enterprise Software Development Conference fills a void left by the cancellation of TechWeb’s SD West conference. Produced annually each spring for many years, TechWeb announced after its March 2009 conference in Santa Clara that the event would not be continued.

I'm looking forward to seeing you at ESDC!

The Apple iTablet cures cancer!

The frenzy around Apple’s assumed-to-be-forthcoming tablet computer is reaching a feverish pitch, with major news outlets, from the New York Times to the British Broadcasting Corp., covering and feeding the speculation. I haven’t seen this much hyperbole since, oh, the run-up to James Cameron’s new movie, Avatar.

The latest hints are that Apple will launch the tablet at the end of January. The rumor mill also says that Apple will show significant upgrades to its iPhone software stack and relevant revisions to the Apple App Store.

A common thread to the rumors is that the tablet will be a cross between the iPhone and the MacBook Air notebook computer. That means built-in wireless connectivity on a cellular data network (like the iPhone or Amazon’s Kindle book reader), that it will be sold along with a service plan (again, like the iPhone), and that Apple will create a distribution channel for it (like the music and software offered through the App Store).

The company is expected to unveil a developer program for the iTablet (or whatever it’s called). This will be an extension of the iPhone developer program, and will in fact rely upon many of the same tools, SDKs and APIs. The biggest code changes would be in the user interface: a tablet’s screen is much larger than the iPhone display. App developers would need to rework their software not only to leverage the larger screen, but also accommodate the larger format's user-experience models.

How much truth is in those rumors? It’s hard to be certain. Apple is notorious for its secrecy. In fact, carefully controlled secrecy is one of the main reasons why Apple’s marketing prowess is unparalleled.

The other area where Apple currently excels is in developer relations. That’s a change in its historic behavior, which was hostile to third-party developers.

To digress for a moment, this reminds me of the OS/2 Wars, back in the mid-1990s. IBM’s OS/2 operating system was far superior to DOS, and was poised for large-scale growth. However, Microsoft's technologically inferior Windows 95 took over the market, totally destroying OS/2.

Why did Microsoft win, and mighty IBM lose? For the same two reasons why the iPhone has succeeded beyond all expectations. First, Microsoft was infinitely better at consumer marketing than Big Blue. (Remember how people stood in line at midnight to get their copies of Windows 95? Does that remind you of anything?)

Microsoft also lavished its developers with tender loving care. Top executives, from Bill Gates on down, worked hard to create opportunities for its ISVs to make money. IBM, by contrast, never saw any value in supporting ISVs. Therefore, independent developers embraced Windows 95, and that’s why we use Windows PCs today instead of IBM PC Compatibles.

Over the past decade, Microsoft forgot how to appeal to small entrepreneurial developers creating consumer applications. That’s one reason why its own Windows XP Tablet PC initiative never caught on. There just weren’t enough compelling applications.

By stark contrast, Apple has learned from its mistakes. Steve Jobs never figured out how to inspire developers to create consumer applications for the Macintosh, but he succeeded – in spades – in bringing thousands of app developers to the iPhone platform. Maybe it’s the marketing, maybe it’s the SDK, maybe it’s the App Store distribution channel, but Apple has overcome its past failures. While the iPhone hardware is cool, it’s the third-party apps that truly enable the platform.

And that’s where the iTablet (or whatever it’s called) will live or die – by the strength of Apple’s developer relationships. If Apple replicates what it did with iPhone ISVs, its tablet computer will, indeed, live up to the hype.

1.04.2010

New Years Resolutions for software developers

It’s traditional to make resolutions to celebrate the New Year. Often those resolutions involve battles with personal demons, such as losing weight, stopping smoking or going to the gym.

In fact, according to USA.gov, popular New Years resolutions include those above, plus getting a better job, reducing stress and volunteering to help other people.

Those are general resolutions. What sort of resolutions should we make as technologists and as software developers? Here are some ideas:

• Resolve not to engage in zero-sum ideological wars of any sort. It’s not about Mac vs. Windows, Java vs. .NET, open-source vs. proprietary, iPhone vs. Droid, XP vs. Scrum.

• Resolve to make sure that the entire team understands the importance of software testing, and that it’s harmful to take shortcuts.

• Resolve to embrace those aspects of agile software development which add value to team efforts, while resisting those efforts that don’t appear to offer tangible benefits.

• Resolve to study emerging technologies, paradigms and methodologies, and urge pilots and adoption where it makes sense.

• Resolve not to be railroaded into jumping onto any bandwagons, whether it’s about mobile, agile or cloud computing.

• Resolve to embrace open standards, and to resist being seduced onto proprietary platforms that have a high exit cost.

• Resolve to educate ourselves by reading books and trusted news sources, attending conferences and staying up on emerging trends.

• Resolve to fight groupthink by challenging the status quo and by hanging out with people who have different ideas about computing.

• Resolve to spend less time on Twitter and Facebook, and spend more quality in-person time with friends and family.

Do you have ideas for New Year’s resolutions for folks in the software-development industry?

A decade of change since Y2K

It’s been ten years since the first digit of the calendar changed from a “1” to a “2.” For those of us in the computer industry, change happened at a dizzying pace over the past decade – as it has for every decade since the 1950s.

Think about the technologies that you rely upon today, you may be astonished to realize how few of them existed a mere ten years ago – and those that existed were substantially different.

• Check your pocket, belt or pocketbook. Do you see a smartphone? Ten years ago, if you had a mobile phone, it was pretty dumb. The current incarnation of the RIM BlackBerry came out in 2002 and Apple’s iPhone was announced in 2007. Even the Motorola RAZR, a very popular non-smart phone, only came out in 2004. In 2000, I owned a Nokia stickphone.

A decade ago, open source software looked very different. No Eclipse, no NetBeans. While the Apache Software Foundation was formed in 1999, the Apache HTTP server project started 15 years ago, in 1994. If you were a software developer using open source software ten years ago, chances are that it came from the Free Software Foundation.

• Microsoft’s Visual Studio IDE was pretty new. It appeared in 1997 as a combination of Visual Basic 5.0, Visual C++ 5.0 and Visual J++ 1.1. Until that time, few people used a a multi-language integrated development environment.

• Speaking of Microsoft, if you had a desktop computer it was probably running Windows 98 or Windows 2000. If you were targeting Microsoft with your apps, COM was your friend and you were writing in C++ or Visual Basic. The .NET system, including C#, didn’t appear until 2002 or later.

• Or would you like some Java? The project began at Sun in 1990, and a decade ago we were using Java 2 Standard Edition 1.2 and the brand-new HotSpot JVM. The Java Community Process only started two years earlier, in 1998.

• If you’re an Apple fan, the Macintosh choices in 2000 were a Bondi Blue iMac G3, an iBook G3 or a PowerMac G4. The first incarnation of Mac OS X didn’t appear until late 2000. Intel processors didn’t show up on Macintosh until 2006.

• The Internet looked very different in 2000. No Facebook or Twitter, of course. No Cloud. Google, founded in 1998, was an up-and-coming search engine. The big worry was that Microsoft would dominate the Internet through its Internet Explorer 5 browser, which had pretty much destroyed Netscape Navigator. The Mozilla project had just launched, but Firefox didn’t appear until 2004.

• Also new was XML, which was started in 1996 by Tim Bray and a host of others. We had no Web services, no SOAP, no REST, no RSS. If you were grabbing data from the World Wide Web, you were screen-scraping.

• Scripting languages were JavaScript, Perl, Python, PHP and a few others. Mainstream developers saw scripting languages as a way to add some automation to Web pages, and also to simplify some back-end development. Real programmers, though, still programmed in C++ (or maybe Java).

What a decade, eh?

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.