8.27.2012

Apple’s victory over Samsung should drive innovation


The jury is in: Samsung was found to have infringed upon Apple’s numerous mobile patents. The jury’s verdict form, handed down in the United States District Court in San Jose, Calif., found that in many cases that the “Samsung entity has diluted any Apple trade dress(es).” What’s more, Apple proved “by a preponderance of the evidence that the Samsung entity’s direction was willful.”

Ouch. This is the worst case scenario for Samsung. Forget about the US$1.049 billion in damages that Samsung is supposed to pay Apple. What this means is that the jury agreed with what everyone knew simply by looking at the hardware and playing with the software: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is just like the iPad.

On the short term, this ruling is going have a chilling effect not only on Apple, but on every maker of Android devices. The more similar the devices are to Apple’s iOS phones and tablets, the more scared the hardware manufacturers are going to be. (That is, if the verdict stands and isn’t overturned on appeal.)

We can expect to see a lot of introspection within the Android ecosystem. Google, Samsung and the other device manufacturers will look close, really close, to make sure they stay away from the specific patents cited in this case.

We can expect to see software updates and hardware guidelines that will take Android devices farther from Apple’s devices.

On the short term – this will depress sales of Android devices. On the longer term, we will see a ton of innovation that will truly differentiate Android from iOS.

For too long, Android handset- and tablet-makers have been trying to get as close to the iPhone and iPad design as possible. It’s not laziness or a lack of technical savvy, in my opinion. It’s just that Apple has done such a good job of defining the smartphone and tablet that consumers expect that, well, that’s just how the platforms should work.

Salespeople want to sell Android devices that are identical to Apple devices, only less expensive.

Consumers who choose Android are sometimes making those selections based on technical merit, but are sometimes looking for something that’s just like an iPhone/iPad, only different. Perhaps they want more memory, perhaps a bigger phone screen, perhaps a smaller tablet screen, perhaps a slide-out keyboard, sometimes a removable battery, sometimes simply a brand that isn’t spelled “Apple.”

Of course, with rumors that Apple is about to release a 7-inch iPad, the job of Android tablet companies is only going to get harder. In my own informal polling, folks who have purchased 7-inch tablets have done so mainly because Apple doesn’t sell one.

For the next year or so, Samsung and the whole Android community will fall back and retrench – and that will involve unleashing innovation that may have been stifled, as they preferred to imitate the iOS designs instead of pushing their own ideas.

Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery – but in the smartphone and tablet markets, imitation is off the table. For good.

8.25.2012

The new Microsoft logo


The temptation to write about Microsoft’s brand-new logo is almost unbearable. I’ve been trying to resist but… okay. I can’t resist.

Microsoft has a new logo. It has a color squares reminiscent of the four color blocks we see in Office, SharePoint, Visual Studio, and so-on, with the word “Microsoft” spelled out in type. The Pac-Man-like bite out of the letter “o” is gone.

You can see the new logo in this blog post from Jeff Hansen, General Manager, Brand Strategy, Microsoft. Hansen writes

The Microsoft brand is about much more than logos or product names. We are lucky to play a role in the lives of more than a billion people every day. The ways people experience our products are our most important “brand impressions”. That’s why the new Microsoft logo takes its inspiration from our product design principles while drawing upon the heritage of our brand values, fonts and colors.

Ahhh. When I see companies redrawing their logos, I’m reminded of ship stewards rearranging the deck chairs. Don’t they have something better to spend their time on, their money on, than redrawing a well-recognized, 25-year-old logo? Think about the signs that must be remade, documents that must be reprinted, business cards, brand identity handbooks, and so-on. The ROI for this is what?

The same was true, by the way, for the last several movies based on the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew. Why was the Federation constantly redesigning its Star Fleet uniforms? But I digress.

Let’s not forget the 2010 logo redesign for the Gap, a chain of clothing stores. The social-media outrage about this logo change was so swift that the Gap reversed itself a week later. Amazing. You can read the whole sordid story here in Vanity Fair. 

The new Microsoft logo isn’t terrible. But it’s not wonderful either. Yes, the colors tie the corporate logo to flagship product identities, but other tech companies like Google use similar colors with Chrome and other product lines. The new Microsoft logo seems utterly unnecessary – and the timing isn’t great.

8.20.2012

Preying on the weaknesses


This past week, I’ve started receiving messages from eFax telling me that I’ve received a fax, and to click on a link to download my document. As a heavy eFax user, this seemed perfectly normal… until I clicked one of the links. It took me to some malware site. Fortunately, the site seemed to be designed to target Windows computers, and simply froze on my Mac’s browser.

The faux eFax messages were incredibly well designed, had clean headers, and made it through my email service provider’s malware filters.

Since then, six of those malicious messages have appeared. I have to look carefully at the embedded link to distinguish those from genuine eFax messages which have links to genuine faxes.

The cybercrime wars continue unabated, with no end in sight. I've also received fake emails from UPS, asking me to print out a shipping label… which of course leads me to a phishing site.

Malicious email – whether it’s phishing, a “419”-style confidence scam, or an attempt to add your computers to someone’s botnet – is only one type of cybercrime. Most of the time, as software developers, we’re not focusing on bad emails, unless we’re trying to protect our own email account, or worrying about the design of emails sent into automated systems. SQL Injection delivered by email? That’s nothing I want to see.

Most of the attacks that we have to content with are more directly against our software – or the platforms that they are built upon. Some of those attacks come from outside; some from inside. 

Some attacks are successful because of our carelessness in coding, testing, installing or configuring our systems.

Other attacks succeed despite everything we try to do, because there are vulnerabilities we don’t know about, or don’t know how to defend against.

And sometimes we don’t even know that a successful attack occurred, and that data or intellectual property has been stolen.

We need to think longer and harder about software security. SD Times has run numerous articles about the need to train developers and tester to learn secure coding techniques. We’ve written about tools that provided automated scanning of both source code and binaries. We’re talked about fuzz testers, penetration tests, you name it.

What we generally don’t talk about is the backstory – the who and the why. Frankly, we generally don’t care why someone is trying to hack our systems; it’s our job to protect our systems, not sleuth out perpetrators.

That's said, I’d like to invite you to read a story by SD Times editor Suzanne Kattau, “Cybercrime: How organizations can protect themselves,” where she interviewed Steve Durbin, for the Information Security Forum. {http://sdt.bz/36876} It’s interesting to see this perspective on the broader problem.

We are all soldiers in the cybercrime war – whether we like it or not.


8.08.2012

Riding on the Metro, or the Windows 8 Style UI


I remember searching for the perfect words
I was hoping you might change your mind
I remember a soldier sleeping next to me
Riding on the Metro

The group Berlin wrote the song The Metro in 1983. The lyrics evoke rail trips through London and Paris, walking along the Seine, and of course, a romantic  breakup. It’s a great song.

Microsoft used the term Metro to describe the design language and user interface introduced for Windows Phone. Consisting of an array of different-sized tiles in bright primary colors, Metro was reminiscent of the game Tetris, and also of a tic-tac-toe board. The Metro interface is crisp, clean and fresh – and when combined with active content (aka Live Tiles), it brought Windows Phone a user experience that was both attractive and functional.

Microsoft loves Metro. After Windows Phone hit the market with the Metro UX, the design began finding its way into everything from Microsoft marketing (like for the Build 2011 conference and numerous web pages) to the forthcoming Windows 8.

According to Microsoft’s developer tutorial on Metro,

Metro is the name of the new design language created for the Windows Phone 7 interface. When given the chance for a fresh start, the Windows Phone design team drew from many sources of inspiration to determine the guiding principles for the next generation phone interface. Sources included Swiss influenced print and packaging with its emphasis on simplicity, way-finding graphics found in transportation hubs and other Microsoft software such as Zune, Office Labs and games with a strong focus on motion and content over chrome.

Not only has the new design language enabled a unique and immersive experience for users of Windows Phone 7; it has also revitalized third party applications. The standards that have been developed for Metro provide a great baseline, for designers and developers alike. Those standards help them to create successful gesture-driven Windows Phone 7 experiences built for small devices.

Alas, Microsoft doesn’t love the Metro name, not any more. The company is slowly scrubbing the Metro name from both Windows Phone and Windows 8, in favor of the less-colorful phrase “the Windows 8 style UI” for the design language. AT press time, the developer tutorial about still referred to “Metro.”

However, yes, you should begin referring to the Windows Phone 7.x user experience as the Windows 8 style UI. Got it?

Why the name change? According to reports, such as this one from the BBC, the German company Metro AG — which describes itself as the world’s fourth-largest retailer — has told Microsoft to cease and desist. Microsoft is ceasing and desisting. {http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-19108952}

No matter what the name, Metro is a powerful language and an excellent metaphor for a mobile device user experience, where icons represent not only actions but also information. The Metro design represents one of the most innovative differentiators of Windows Phone. While I’m less enthusiastic about it on a Windows laptop, Metro remains one of the most creative developments seen out of Redmond in many years.

Riding on the Windows 8 style UI.

8.06.2012

Vacuum cooking as a metaphor for agile development


Sous-vide is an interesting way of cooking. It’s not new – according to the Wikipedia, sous-vide (pronounced soo-veed, meaning “under vacuum”) was invented in 1799. Since we’re quoting from the Wikipedia, might as well keep going:

Sous-vide is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for a long time—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately determined temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 60 °C (140 °F). The intention is to cook the item evenly, and to not overcook the outside while still keeping the inside at the same "doneness," keeping the food juicier.

You don’t need special sous-vide tools or appliances to use this cooking method. You can prepare the water bath using a big soup pot, a gas or electric cooktop and a cooking thermometer. You can use any old vacuum sealer to prepare the ingredients. In fact, you can just use a zipper baggie and squeeze out the air by hand. Getting a perfect vacuum isn’t essential, not if you’re going to prepare and consume the food right away.

As long as you keep the temperature hot enough to stop the food from spoiling (you don’t want any nasty bacteria to grow), sous-vide does a great job of cooking. Go ahead, give it a try this weekend. You might want to pick up a cookbook, though, at your local store – there are dozens, ranging from inexpensive titles like “Easy Sous Vide” to Nathan Myhrvold’s magnum opus, the US$625 “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.” At a mere 2,400 pages, Myhrvold’s book is definitely not casual beach reading.

You can certainly try out sous-vide cooking using a soup pot. But if you try it, and decide to add this technique to your kitchen repertoire, you might find it easier with specialized tools. For examples, there are water baths designed to circulate the water while keeping it at a consistent temperature that’s hot enough to kill bacteria. Over the past few years, a sous-vide industry has taken off, with products ranging from specialized vacuum sealers to ovens to thermometers to the VacMaster Dry Piston Pump Chamber Machine.

Agile software development is like cooking sous-vide. Agile methodologies don’t require special tools on the desktop or on the server – in fact, the Agile Manifesto explicitly states that agility means valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Just like not every kitchen needs a dry-piston pump chamber machine, there’s no commandment that requires your team to choose an agile ALM tool suite with integrated project management, a Scrum countdown timer, stakeholder reports, user story repository or backlog groomer.

But you know, if you’re serious about sous-vide, you’ll want tools optimized for that purpose. And if you’re into agile, you’ll want tools that help you by removing friction and facilitating interactions. Zesty!

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.