Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Java is almost 20 years old

July 29th, 2015
Filed under: Enterprise Architecture, General, IBM, Internet, Java | Huibert @ 8:08 pm

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It is hard to believe, but Sun Microsystems released Java 1.0 almost 20 years ago, on January 23rd, 1996. I was an early adopter because I was intrigued by the write once, run everywhere promise. At the time, developing for the Mac did not look like a viable career option and yet I did not like the idea of having to switch platforms. As a result, Java seemed a great option.

Java 1.0 couldn’t do much beyond producing animated content for the browser, but it was easy to learn, mostly because it had so few libraries available at launch. In fact, this was part of the excitement, as so many basic building blocks had to be created in order to allow other developers to build more powerful applications. As an example, during Java’s early days I wrote a GUI for applets (Swing didn’t exist and AWT sucked), inspired by the classic MacOS toolkit. I called it MAE for Java. It was a lot of fun.

Over the next few years, Java grew up. In 1997, version 1.1 added JDBC and the servlet standard, which paved the way for the application server era. I discovered WebLogic at the second ever JavaOne event in San Francisco and even though the product had limited capabilities at the time, it was clear to me that the concept had a lot of potential. Java was quickly becoming a solid platform and a serious contender in the Enterprise world. Over the following years, the J2EE spec (now simply known at JEE) continued to mature in order to address an increasingly large array of IT requirements (SOA, Web development, encryption, MQ integration, O/R mapping, etc.). For those of us who got on the bandwagon early, adopting these technologies was easy. We just had to learn a couple of new APIs each year, a pace which, with hindsight, now seems quite reasonable. Everything was great. So great in fact that I credit Java for developing a whole generation of IT Architects. I am of course talking about senior professionals who usually have somewhere between 15 to 20 years of experience, not the kids just hired out of school by consulting firms and labeled “Architects” to justify higher hourly rates.

So, how can someone become an architect today? It all starts by learning the right programming language. Some languages, like Visual Basic (let’s use a dead language as an example to avoid offending anyone), are great for quickly building specialised solutions, but won’t help you with your career. I for one have never met a CTO or CIO who got his/her job after a successful and gratifying career as a Visual Basic programmer. On the other hand, Java was designed from the beginning as a general purpose language, designed to build any kind of application. Sun Microsystems, which was on a mission to conquer the world, wanted their language to be used for everything, from embedded systems to large distributed enterprise applications. To achieve that goal, they enlisted most of the IT industry leaders (IBM, SAP, Oracle, etc.) to help them provide Java developers with a large selection of rich, stable and supported APIs as well as solid developer tools like Eclipse. The results achieved by this broad industry alliance have simply been amazing. Twenty years later, no other computer language comes even close to the level of versatility Java offers today. Engineers who grew up with Java got progressively exposed to a large number of technologies which allowed them in turn to grow their own career and eventually become Architects or CTOs.

Despite Java’s undeniable success, something weird started to happen somewhere between the releases of J2EE 5 (2006) and JEE 6 (2009). People started to label Java as “heavy”, “complex” and “hard to learn”. Sure, the fact that Oracle bought Sun in 2010, adding fear and uncertainty to the future of the platform, did not help, but this trend started well before the acquisition. Learning Java was becoming increasingly hard for beginners. In my opinion, this doesn’t speak ill of Java, but it does raise some serious questions on how we should teach complex platforms to beginners, an issue we definitively haven’t solved yet. That said, perception is reality and interest in Java started to dwindle, despite the success of Android.

Over the last few years, countless new programming languages have appeared and are now fighting for our attention. Some are great, others not so much. The problem is that, in order to become viable alternatives to Java, specially in the enterprise, these languages will need to mature. Even if the language itself may not have to evolve significally, the plaform will need to grow. In order to solve complex problems, new APIs will have to be built and over time these platforms will inevitably become as complex as Java is now.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to replace Java with a better alternative because complexity will inevitably creep into any successful development platform, on the contrary. A better programming language with a strong API library could be a significant boon for developers. I absolutely believe that a better programming language can make us more productive. However, adopting a better language does not make complex projects significantly simpler. You may be able to use less lines of code to achieve you goal, avoid potential errors or even simplify the development of multithreaded code, but in the end, hard problems remain hard to solve and require experienced professionals that can design complex systems. A better language is great but it is pretty much useless if it does not have the APIs enterprise developers require.

I would love to have a true alternative to Java. It would be great if I could use a modern non-propietary language such as JavaScript, Go, Rust or Swift to write any kind of system. However, none of these great languages will become serious contenders in the enterprise unless we give them the opportunity to mature. This requires strong stewardship and industry support. That is why my money right now is on JavaScript as the most likely successor to Java, specially now that the technology is backed by industry heavyweights IBM and Microsoft. That said, JavaScript has still a long way to go before it can compete with Java, and that concerns me. The main problem we face right now is the limited attention span of the developer community. We tend to jump too quickly from one hot technology to the next one. Hadoop has been red hot for the last few years, but now Apache Spark seems to have taken a lot of wind out of it’s sails. In the relational database space, mySQL seemed to be about to take on Oracle and DB2, but now interest in open-source RDBMS is waning in favor of multiple No-SQL databases (Cassandra, MongoDB, CouchDB, etc.). If the developer community does not stand strong behind JavaScript for several years, Java may not have a successor and young developers will not have a chance at building a successful career in enterprise IT.

For now, Java is still among the most popular languages out there, with a stable marketshare, but the situation is quickly changing with long time favorites such as C# and Objective-C quickly losing steam in favour of newcomers like JavaScript and Swift. Java is still very strong in the enterprise, but interest in that language is at an all time low among those who want to learn programming. If we want to build a new generation of IT Architects and CTOs, we need a replacement for Java and we can’t wait for another 20 years.


The value of experience

August 25th, 2014
Filed under: Internet, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 9:13 am

Michael DanielIn an interview with the Information Security Media Group publication, White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel admits to having no practical experience with the subject matter. Daniel claims that “being too down in the weeds at the technical level could actually be a little bit of a distraction” to his job of advising the president about ongoing and emergent information security issues.

The White House filled the position with Daniel in May 2012, having previously served as the intelligence branch chief in the White House Office of Management and Budget. He believes that the lack of practical experience in the field is offset by masters’ degree in national resource planning and public policy degree. He also credits previous government experience for success in the position, augmented by his martial arts experience.

As the Electronista article states, Daniel isn’t responsible for the technical details of a fix or solution to a country-wide issue. Rather, his job is to assess the situation, and report to the president, and bring other agencies into the fold and “on the same page” about an issue. Senior fellow Jim Lewis at the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies claims that the lack of experience doesn’t hinder Daniel’s role in the position, claiming that “Computer scientists were in charge and they did a terrible job, being lost in the weeds and largely clueless about policy. You need someone with a strategic point of view and policy skill to make progress.”

Every time I read something like this, I get extremely upset. This theory mostly assumes that there are only two types of persons in any organization, the leaders who can handle any kind of situation and the specialists whose only responsibility is to execute the master plan. This is great for many executives, because unless they are found to be personally responsible for a major screwup, it shields them from any accountability. If something goes wrong, it is never because the plan was flawed in the first place, it is due to poor execution, which can almost always be blamed on managers who are lower on the organizational chart. The problem of course, is that this is simply not true. Most issues in a company, specially in high tech, can be directly traced to a lack of a clear vision that can be communicated to the employees for proper execution. Execs who do not understand their product or market in detail are unable to produce a winning growth strategy, it is that simple. In this context, former GE CEO Jack Welsh is often mentioned as an example of a leader who didn’t need to be an expert in washing machines to turn around a very complex, diversified company. However, there are few Jack Welshes in the world and it is easy to find many examples of successful leaders who were experts in their markets, specially if we only consider fast growing markets, like cyber security. My personal opinion is that Jack Welsh, who undeniably achieved great success at GE, is now used as an example by mediocre executives to try to justify why not knowing anything in their respective fields is not a problem, and this is simply wrong.

MBA programs from prestigious universities are in large part to blame for propagating this idea that lack of experience is not a problem. Business professors usually tell their students from the beginning that they are destined for greatness and that they will learn how to make decisions by learning from the experience of great company leaders. However, unlike what many execs seem to believe, leadership is not about taking decisions by choosing one of the options presented to you by your team. It is about setting a direction and executing on a plan that you have designed. That requires both experience and guts. I don’t know about Daniel’s guts but he clearly lacks experience in cyber security, a skill that is extremely hard to acquire, and that will significantly hinder any attempts he makes to define a “strategic point of view”. Therefore, from my point of view, he is clearly a poor choice for the job. That doesn’t mean that his government experience is not important, it clearly is, but he should at the very least have recognized this shortcoming and explained how he planned to address it, instead of simply dismissing his critics. President Obama is accountable for having chosen Mr. Daniel for this position, but he also shares part of this responsibility. Leaders, to be successful, need to have zero tolerance for mediocrity and that includes their own. Those who accept a leadership position need to be convinced that they are a good fit for the job and that they will be able to deliver results. Integrity begins with an honest introspection exercise to find out if you are the right choice for the position. 


Lost memories

July 11th, 2008
Filed under: General, IBM, Internet, Society | Huibert @ 1:52 am

bususer3.jpgI was promoted a couple of weeks ago. This was something totally unexpected but it turns out that I am now just a step away from becoming a Distinguished Engineer at IBM, which just a month ago seemed like an impossible goal to achieve. It won’t be easy but I will certainly do my best to try to reach that position.

The best part of the promotion is that I got a larger, closed office. When you spend as many hours as I do at work, you want to feel at home at work. I therefore decided to decorate the walls by hanging pictures of all the tech luminaries that have left their mark on the computer industry as well as the products they brought to market. In a way,this is my personal Computer Hall of Fame.

Well, it turns out that this is much easier said than done. If you look on the web you will not easily find many pictures or stories from our recent past. Try for example looking for images of Sir Clive Sinclair (the man who brought us the ZX 81 and the ZX Spectrum computers) and you will be disappointed by the results. Same story for Sir Alan Sugar, the founder of Amstrad, who brought us the CPC 464 back in the eighties. You may think that this only happens to brit aristocrats, but you would be wrong. I tried to find a picture of former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner and could only find a small picture on IBM’s corporate site. Even worse, I could only find two poor quality pictures of Adam Osborne, the man who brought us the first commercially available portable computer, and passed away just five years ago. There isn’t much information about him in Wikipedia either.

In general, most companies will carry current pictures of their top executives but except for a small number of honorable exceptions (IBM and H-P mainly) they don’t seem to care much about preserving their history. The situation is obviously much worse for dead companies like Netscape, Amstrad or Atari which do not have curators interested in preserving their legacy.

With the Internet focusing mainly on recent events, if we are not careful, in a couple of years we will have lost a large part of our recent history. There are a couple of nice sites that deserve praise, for example folklore.org which extensively documents the history of how the original Macintosh was built, but that is obviously not enough. It would be nice if there was a place for all of us to collaborate on preserving the exciting stories of the computing revolution. On wikia there are 28,586 Star Trek articles, but there is nothing comparable for the computer history. That is really sad.


Globalization

May 13th, 2008
Filed under: Internet, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 9:43 am

logo_en.gifEveryday you hear about globalization. It just seems that every single day our earth is becoming smaller and smaller. Global brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Starbucks are found everywhere. People all over the world are complaining that nations are losing power and independence. They claim that all important decisions are now taken at a supra-national level (this is specially true in the EU). But is it really true? Sometimes I wish it were. You see, I am Dutch but I was raised in Switzerland, attended college in France and Spain before getting my first job in Canada. I now happen to live in Mexico, but as many other things in life this is due to circumstances, and circumstances may change. That means that for me, as well as a growing group of people who have become used to live all around the world, the nation system doesn’t make much sense anymore. It simply places too many artificial barriers that make life ridiculously complex when it doesn’t need to be.

Despite all the talk about globalization, most of the changes that have happened over the last decades have mainly impacted corporations. At the individual level there are still many barriers protecting nations which make the life of people like myself difficult. I think that these barriers can easily be grouped in three kinds, commercial, financial and legal.

The commercial barriers are starting to crumble. It is becoming very difficult to limit the sale of a product to a single country or region or use differentiated pricing policies around the world. The gray market which quickly appears when artificial product availability and pricing is introduced by the manufacturer is taking care of the problem in most cases. However, there are still important issues impacting global consumers where I feel totally unprotected. One case is for example DVDs. The introduction of regions makes it impossible for me to buy a Spanish Blu-Ray disk because it will simply not play on my American PlayStation 3. The same happens with console games. Music is another sector that needs to be liberated. It doesn’t make any sense that I can easily buy a French CD from Amazon.fr but that I cannot buy from the French Apple Store. The problem is that I do not feel that anyone is fighting for the global consumer. We really need someone to pick that fight for us. These issues should be discussed at an international level, for example by the WTO.

On a financial level, I strongly believe that individuals deserve more freedom. We should be allowed to easily open a bank account anywhere in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to avoid paying taxes, I just want to move my money where I can get the best returns. I would love to invest in the US through online brokerage companies like e-trade, but I can’t. It doesn’t matter if I have access to all the required information to find interesting investment opportunities. Because of all the legal barriers imposed to individuals, there is no way for me to invest in Serbia for example, now that they are moving closer to joining the EU. I would love to sell Euros and buy Dollars now that it is clear that the current exchange rate is taking a terrible toll on the European industry and that the ECB will have to lower rates, but that is not going to happen either because I cannot have an Euro denominated account in Mexico, despite being a customer of a global bank based in Europe. That drives me crazy. I do understand that if we liberalize the financial system this could be a great opportunity for drug lords and other evildoers to abuse the system, but I still believe that something needs to be done to help individuals take their financial decisions freely. Moving exclusively to electronic currency could be the solution to start eradicating crime and allow for more (supervised) financial freedom.

The legal front is the most complex and where more work is required. Taxation and retirement benefits for example are regulated by law and represent a major issue that countries have been trying to solve through bilateral agreements. However, if there is no such agreement in place you may be out of luck. Say for example that you worked 40 years in total, 20 in one country and 20 in a different country. You may qualify for retirement in any of those countries after working for 30 years, but if there is no agreement to recognize the years worked in the other country you may end up not qualifying for benefits in neither country. In general laws are still designed to protect citizens who live and die in their home country. This simply does no longer represent the current situation of an increasingly large population group and inadecuate laws are reducing worker mobility. If countries are serious about attracting talent they must make sure that situations like the one I described are avoided.

The problem is in many ways cultural, people are not used to this new situation. Most people still expect your nationality to describe you. However, those traveling to France will be very disappointed if they expect to only see white people wearing bérets and carrying baguettes under their arms on the streets of Paris. The world has changed. You would expect large Internet companies like Yahoo or Google to understand the problem, after all their reach is global, right? Wrong. They still assume too often that because someone connects from a certain country they are citizens of that country and that they behave in a predictable way. For example, when I connect to the US Yahoo main page from Mexico I get an ad for the Mexican soccer section (I couldn’t care less for Mexican soccer). When I connect to Google from Brazil, I get my search results in Portuguese. When I try to see the goals scored by Real Madrid on marca.com, I am denied service because I am connecting from outside of Spain. All this is simply ridiculous. Of course, I have the option to fight back, I can use a proxy server in the US or in any other country to fool the system, but why should I have to? This happens to some degree even in the US. That is why a device like the slingbox has become popular. People want to see their home team games while on travel. Consumers demand freedom and they will ultimately get it, even if they have to bend the rules.

I do not expect changes to happen quickly. Politicians do not have any incentive to help people like me. For starters, we do not live in our home country and too often we do not vote or represent a political force. Besides, the issue is complex and international cooperation is needed to solve the many problems that I have briefly outlined. As usual, governments are playing catch-up with the social issues that are grappling the world. Globalization is happening and not just at the corporate level. Governments need to adjust to a new reality and they need to do so very quickly because the amount of people who are becoming global citizens is growing exponentially and we are increasingly asking for solutions to our new problems. However, this issue needs also to be tackled by corporations who need to work with a new kind of customers who expect truly global service from global companies.


PayPal’s decision to stop supporting insecure browsers is positive for the industry

April 18th, 2008
Filed under: Apple, General, Internet, Mac OS X, Macintosh | Huibert @ 7:12 pm

safari.jpgEarlier today, Ryan Naraine reported for eWeek that “PayPal, one of the brands most spoofed in phishing attacks, is working on a plan to block its users from making transactions from Web browsers that don’t provide anti-phishing protection”. The reason behind this decision is that “browsers that do not have support for blocking identity theft-related Web sites or for EV SSL (Extended Validation Secure Sockets Layer) certificates are considered ‘unsafe’ for financial transactions”.

This announcement has generated a lot of concern among Mac users since Safari, the most widely used browser on that platform does not support EV SSL. Even though I do use Safari as my main browser on both Mac and Windows, I do agree with the decision. The reason is simple, even though it is very simple to avoid phishing attacks on any computer by just pointing your DNS information to OpenDNS, few know how to do it or even understand how phishing works. Those who complain about the decision are obviously not aware of the size of the phishing attacks and the amount of fraud they represent. If PayPal‘s decision forces Apple to implement EV SSL support into Safari, I will certainly not complain. It is great to have a fast and standards compliant browser, but security for the technologically challenged users should be a major concern for Apple.

However, there are more reasons to back PayPal‘s decision. Too many users are still using old browsers and this his slowing down the adoption of new technologies. I would love to see more companies to stop supporting old versions of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. That would really give web developers an opportunity to create great innovative applications. Right now, people too often prefer to use those old versions because there are still sites that require them. If large sites start requiring newer browser versions, those old sites will face increased pressure to modernize. That cannot be bad for the industry or the end-users.


Objectivity on Digg

March 21st, 2008
Filed under: Internet, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 3:36 am

Picture 1.pngDigg has bothered me for quite a while. It is a good source for news as I do not have to scour the web for interesting stories. However, if you are looking for objectivity you will have to look somewhere else.

This is probably not a problem for those who only visit very specific Digg sections like Technology/Apple you or Gaming/XBox. You know what you are getting into. Those sections have fanboy written all around them. I don’t think that anyone reading the news posted there have any objectivity expectations whatsoever.

On the other hand, if you enter a more general section such as World & Business/US Elections 2008 you may think that all positions will be equally (or at least proportionally) represented. If you think so, you may be in for a big disappointment.

Today I tried to submit a story published on the Yahoo front page about how Hillary Clinton was now leading the polls among Democrats. I don’t really want Clinton to be elected President but I wanted that particular news to get posted on Digg since Obama suporters have clearly hijacked that section of the site (previously Ron Paul supporters had done the same on the Republican side). I was just trying to get some balance into Digg because I naively though that the problem was that only positive news for Obama were being published. I was wrong, dead wrong.

It turns out that the news had already been submitted by someone else. That should have made me happy, right? That is what I wanted, a positive note for Clinton in an ocean of notes favoring Obama, providing some well needed balance in my quest for objectivity. Well, let’s say that I was deeply disappointed (this is probably the understatement of the year). The person who actually submitted the story first is obviously an Obama supporter. Instead of titling the story “Clinton leads the polls” or something similar based on the actual content of the article, he decided to name it “The Media Is Already Gearing Up To Justify Clinton Winning”. With such an absurd title it is likely that most Digg readers will never read the actual note, which probably was the intent of this person from the beginning.

Since the same article cannot be submitted twice, it is easy to play the system. A partial solution would be to have Digg automatically use the original article title. However, this is hard to implement from a technical perspective. The problem here is that as long as some of those who submit stories are more interested in publishing their point of view than in hearing all the facts, a site like Digg will never become a trusted news source. While traditional media has its own share of flaws, it still beats hands down unmoderated web sites. That is why I do not see established newspapers going down anytime soon.


Who stands to lose most from the HD-DVD debacle?

February 19th, 2008
Filed under: Apple, Internet, PS3 | Huibert @ 12:10 pm

bd.gifToday Toshiba announced what everyone in the industry had predicted since Warner decided to withdraw support for their high-definition DVD format, HD-DVD is dead. The decision to discontinue this technology will cost Toshiba hundreds of millions of dollars. They are not the only losers, though. About a million customers had bet on HD-DVD and now they are stuck with obsolete players (that fortunately can still be used as upscaling DVD players) and media. However, beyond all those abandoned customers, there are some companies that stand to lose big time from Blu-ray‘s victory.

The first victim is certainly Microsoft’s XBox 360. In January, for the first time since it was launched, Sony’s Playstation 3 outsold the former console by a comfortable margin n the U.S. I expect this to happen again at least over the next few months as many gamers who are now realizing the value of the PS3 as a next generation DVD player are moving in flocks to buy the console. Just look at what regular users are posting on the Internet and you will see that the mood over the PS3 has clearly changed. Microsoft is mulling a Blu-ray external player for the XBox 360 but that could not be enough to reverse the trend, unless they reduce the cost of their Elite console significantly.

Other victims include online video providers such as Microsoft (through XBox and Media Centre PCs) and Apple. Until now, most customers compared the quality of digital downloads to DVDs, mainly because high-definition DVDs had failed to catch on due to the lack of a unique standard. That is now going to change, and even though it is now possible to purchase and rent 720p movies over the Internet, this media is no match to Blu-ray movies. That really means that wide adoption of Internet movie downloads will be delayed. Don’t get me wrong, it will happen, but physical media will still reign for a few more years until faster and cheaper Internet connections become available. This is certainly not bad news for those of us not living in the U.S. There are still many legal and distribution issues that need to be sorted out before all countries in the world can have access to Hollywood and other dream factories media from around the world through the Internet, legally. Knowing that in the meantime there will be a physical alternative is tranquilizing. I would hate to be stuck for another decade with DVDs on high-resolution screens.


CES

January 10th, 2008
Filed under: Apple, General, Internet, iPod | Huibert @ 11:24 am

The 2008 Consumer Electronic Show is winding down. As usual, there were lots of announcements, although very few were actually significant. Following that trend, Bill Gate’s farewell keynote was fun but light in content. This certainly marks the end of an era. We will miss you, Bill.

In fact the most discussed topic during this week at CES was the decision taken by Warner to abandon the HD DVD format. It is widely expected that this announcement will quickly lead to the demise of this format. This is certainly a victory for consumers, even though Blu-Ray is more expensive than HD-DVD, and sends a clear message to the CE industry (Sony included) about the need for standardization.

Many have been quick to point out that Blu-Ray’s victory may be short lived and that in the near future digital downloads will replace physical media for high-end video. No need to be a rocket scientist to know that this is true. Still, it will take a couple of years before most people in developed markets can download a 20GB file in less than two hours (the average movie viewing time). That means that there is an opportunity for movie studios to make some real money out of HD media over the next five years or so.

What is interesting, is that unlike previous revolutions (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray), digital downloads will not compete with previous the standard by offering higher quality but instead will focus on convenience exactly like the iPod which offered less audio fidelity than CDs but was much more convenient. Right now we still do not have the iPod equivalent for digital video. Sure, media centers and next-gen consoles like the XBox 360 and the PS3 are attractive for those who get their content illegally and store it on a collection of big hard drives but what about the average user who wants access to a large library of content, potentially all movies ever made? The solution is clearly a video on demand (VOD) system and not a media centre.

Apple, Microsoft, Google, cable companies and many others seem to have understood that trend perfectly well and are racing against each other to be able to be the first company to provide a viable solution. Right now cable companies offer a very limited amount of titles and CE companies until now had no rentals, which is key to succeed in this market. That will change quickly, starting next week with Apple expected announcements. However, competitors will follow quickly as this is in the best interest of content owners. Since there is no standard for video rentals we can expect competition to be as harsh as the blood bath we witnessed during 2007 Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD death match. However, in this case the consequences for consumers may be much more beneficial. Since rentals disappear after viewing the movie, the is no concern about losing your investment. Consumers will take their decision based exclusively on price, ease of use, media quality and library size (as well as product availability and awareness).

Who will win this war? Google, Apple and Microsoft are already well positioned as they have demonstrated that they know how to handle large collections of digital media. In the short term Apple has an edge with the popularity of the iPod, while Microsoft can leverage their huge XBox installed base. Right now I am discounting Sony which is in my opinion more focused on making Blu-Ray a complete success than in competing in this emerging market. In the end, it will come down to each company’s ability to partner with content producers as well as creating attractive, reasonably cheap devices. Since this will be a long war, expect the company with the most focus to ultimately win.


Citibank-Banamex

January 7th, 2008
Filed under: Apple, General, Internet, Mac OS X, Macintosh | Huibert @ 1:13 am

I have never been a customer of Citibank-Banamex. When I landed in Mexico about 15 years ago I started working at a rival (much smaller) bank called Bital (now HSBC) and for me it was much easier to open an account there. I have never switched, not that HSBC’s service is stellar but at least their Internet banking works pretty well.

My wife, however is a Citibank-Banamex customer. She normally does her banking transactions over the phone. However, today she wanted to access her account using the Internet. She called me and asked me to help her, because she was having trouble. It turns out that Banamex only supports IE and Netscape 7. Their error page even tells Mac customers to download either product. They do not seem to know that both products have already been discontinued, which is quite amazing.

The fact is that I have been working with Citi quite closely recently as an IBM Software Architect. They are big Java users, mostly a BEA shop but they have recently started to adopt WebSphere Application Server. From what I know, there is nothing in their current software architecture that would stop them to support either Firefox or Safari. That makes the situation even harder for me to understand. As I told them in an e-mail, it is easier for us to switch banks (and more likely) than switch computers. I do not believe that their customer service department understands that it is very likely that about twenty percent of their customers do not use IE as their default browser. Otherwise, they would probably avoid to ignore/upset such a large constituency.

I am sincerely surprised that in early 2008 we still have to educate such large corporations about standards, but it is clear that we have to. That is why I urge all Citibank-Banamex customers to send a complaint using the e-form that can be found here.

P.S. Yes, I have tried to change the user-agent to IE 7/Vista on Firefox and I was able to bypass the test, but all I got a blank screen. Anyways, I am not really interested in outsmarting their system, what I want them is to fix it.


No Apple TV update before black Friday?

November 20th, 2007
Filed under: Apple, Internet, iPod, Macintosh | Huibert @ 2:01 am

I am somewhat disappointed that Apple hasn’t announced some kind of upgrade to the Apple TV so far. Sure, the device works as advertised and I am extremely pleased with mine, but the fact that the device has not been updated to support the new iPhoto events made me expect a product refresh for the holidays.

Right now, the Apple TV is still a good value proposition for those who store large amounts of pictures in iTunes and buy TV episodes through the iTunes store. However, since TV shows are only available in the U.S. and in the U.K. (although there doesn’t seem to be a large selection available there) that severely limits the potential of the device.

It seems that Apple is working with the movie studios to offer online movie rentals. That could prove to be a smart move as it it obvious that nobody wants to go to Blockbuster to pick a movie and deal with late fees. Such an initiative could provide a much needed boost to the Apple TV sales. I am not sure that it will be enough, though as competitors are moving fast too.

For example, DivX recently announced that Sony had licensed their technology for the PS3. That means that PS3 customers will be able to use a single device to play games and view both blu-ray high-res movies as well as DivX content downloaded from the Internet (not that I would ever do that…). That is a great value proposition. You can now get a PS3 for US$499 and that includes 15 Blu-ray movies if you buy the device from Wal-Mart. Even if you price each movie at US$15, that puts the cost of the device at US$275, that is US$24 cheaper than the Apple TV.

From what I have been reading, I am not the only one doing the math and many are seeing the value that the PS3 delivers. It seems that Apple needs to do something quickly if they want to move more Apple TVs during the holidays and extend their current lead in the digital download market to the living room. However, time is running out, only three days to black Friday, and if Apple doesn’t release any updates to the device by then, we can be quite sure that there will be no updates until next year. That could be a big mistake.