On the desktop application front, XML seemed to be the king of the hill, with all major office suite quickly adopting XML, led by MS Office. Interoperability and readability were thought to easily trump other considerations like size and performance, given that desktop PCs, lacked neither storage space nor processing power. That started to change with iWork 13, the newest release of Apple’s productivity suite. The reason Apple adopted a new proprietary binary format for its flagship product was that it was better suited for use on mobile devices such as the iPad and the iPhone, where space and processing power are indeed a constraint. Since portability among different devices was a key requirement, XML was sacrificed on the altar of mobile adequacy. It is hard to blame Apple for their choice when you look at the numbers they presented. Files now open much faster on the iPad and that is a key factor for customer satisfaction. Microsoft may not with away from XML to a binary format immediately, because many customer built applications rely on it, but they must have taken notice.
That leaves a small space for XML in which to grow, mainly in the integration space. It is hard to envision an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) that is not based on processing and dispatching XML documents. In this context transaction management is still important, which makes SOAP-based services much better suited for the job than alternatives such as REST services. That said, there is pressure in this space too to try to avoid XML. That means that XML’s place in IT will be reduced to the large enterprise sector, the place it was born. While XML may have seemed to be ubiquitous in the beginning, it’s disadvantages ultimately condemned it over the long run.
I must say that I am quite disappointed to see XML fail in so many spaces and applications. I still believe in its many virtues and feel that in most cases its disadvantages are overblown when the architecture of the application is properly designed with NFRs such as performance and security are properly planned for since the beginning. That said, trends and public perception are hard to fight, specially when some of the concerns are absolutely based on facts. It is clear that the use of XML in any application is no longer a done deal. There will be discussions as to what alternative is better for a particular use case. Ultimately, Enterprise Architects will have to take a decision, and that is good, because XML has become what it should always have been, just another tool on their belt.
Today the EU slammed Microsoft with a new record €899m ($1.35bn) fine. Those who are shocked by the amount must understand that the Redmond based company could have easily avoided this fine by complying with the original anti-trust ruling issued back in 2004. However, Microsoft deliberately chose not to comply.
Until recently, Microsoft found that it was cheaper to pay fines than to change its anticompetitive behavior, something they probably learned in the U.S. where the Justice Department hasn’t been specially harsh on them. Th good news is that these fines seem to be finally producing some effects.
Last week, CEO Steve Ballmer and Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie announced their intent to open most of their server products for improved interoperability. They didn’t expect to do that immediately, though. They said that this would happen over the next few years, citing technical difficulties. The EU was quick to respond, basically saying that talk is cheap and that they will judge Microsoft on their acts. This is not surprising, as the company is known for adopting delaying and deceiving tactics as part of their general business tactics.
The truth is that Microsoft is not interested whatsoever in openness and interoperability. This is easy to prove. For example, last week, even as they were talking open-source, they were still throwing all their weight in the battle to get OOXML accepted as a standard. The presentations they prepared for Mexican government officials were full of inaccuracies and some outright lies. From my point of view there is no technical justification at all to have a second office document standard besides ODF. This move is just an intent to create confusion in the market, much like what happened with the HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray battle. The result is a situation that could allow MS to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to delay adoption of ODF and use the opportunity to maintain their monopoly for a couple more years.
The EU has been working hard over the last decade to create a true single market and fighting local interests. Their main targets have been European companies that wanted to maintain their grip on a particular national market. However, there have been instances where they have dealt with U.S. companies, besides Microsoft. For example, when the EU questioned Apple about their decision to charge more for songs sold in the UK than in other European countries, the Cupertino based company had to back off and level their prices. That was good for consumers too. You’ve got to love the EU.
I met Jens Alfke during the 2006 WWDC. Apple had organized a party on their campus and during the event attendants had the opportunity to talk to Apple engineers. I had heard about the Pub-Sub API and wanted to learn more. The API allows developers to easily add RSS support to any application. RSS is used today to push web content and podcasts to users but it can be used to publish any kind of content. For example, an RSS feed could contain crosswords or sudokus. This would allow end-users to get a new set of games delivered every day automatically to their computer or mobile device, provided that their RSS reader understands the format these puzzles are distributed in. The Pub-Sub API makes developing such applications much easier as it allows programmers to avoid all the problems related to parsing RSS feeds.
I looked for the Cocoa team and asked one of the Apple engineers about Pub-Sub. It turned out that he had written the API. Jens was very enthusiastic about it and eager to share his knowledge, it was obvious that he was proud about the job he had done. I discussed with him a couple of ideas on how to use his API. I thought that it would be nice to expand the Address Book to support RSS feeds. After all, many of us have now friends who own web sites and keeping in touch with them through the Address Book makes more sense to me than doing it through Mail App. We had a nice conversation and I moved on.
I recently remembered this encounter because of a post that Jens published on his blog. In it Jens announced that he had decided to leave Apple and explained his reasons. I will not judge his reasons, but as a tech manager, what I see is a recognition problem, which is very common in the technical community. Engineers love to solve problems, but after they do, they usually want to be recognized. The problem is that others usually do not care. When I say others, I mean all those who do not realize the complexity of the work that has been done. This applies obviously to salespersons and managers but sadly also to family. I learned that very young, my parents did not understand the complexity behind writing 3D games in assembly language, they thought I was wasting my time. Today nothing much has changed, my wife and daughters don’t get it either, but that is ok. Do you imagine a world in which family love would be measured by the complexity of our work? I don’t think so. Recognition is something that you have to get from your peers in order to be really valuable. I imagine that the idea of being popular among a larger public can seem attractive but developers are not rock stars and never will because in order to be successful we much spend our time out of the public light.
Is it possible to get better recognition as an indie developer? I guess so. Wil Shipley is the closest thing to a rock-star among Mac developers. His multiple successes (first at Omigroup and now at Delicious Monster) are well documented, but this comes at a price, there is only so much you can do nowadays alone or with a very small team. And then, there is only one Wil.
In large companies like IBM, recognition usually comes in the form of an award and sometimes with cash. The technical community accepts the cash but they usually long for something else. At a recent meeting where we discussed the issue, some technical specialists suggested giving interviews as a reward. Others wanted to have their certification credentials printed on their business cards. It is obvious that we face the same problem, proper employee recognition. Some companies like Google allow their employees to spend up to 20% of their time to work on personal projects. This could be a way to allow them to get the recognition they are looking for, outside of the company (and help them understand how hard that actually is), but it is a very expensive proposition that most high-tech company shareholders are not likely to approve.
The truth is that we developers must learn to take pride in our work and live with the recognition of a group of persons we respect. That is the way it works in most professions anyways. I have no idea if there is such thing as an Accountant of the year, but even if there was I couldn’t care less, much in the same way accountants do not care about programmers. Should the picture of chemists be on soap boxes? I don’t think so. Engineers think they deserve recognition because they solve complex problems and have lots of ideas. It may be true, but if others do not see the value of our work we must learn to accept it. We should be grateful to have an interesting job we enjoy. That obviously doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t switch jobs when we no longer have fun, on the contrary, it just means that we shouldn’t do it in search of glory, because we will not find it. Music appeals to everyone, that is why there are rock-stars. Software development only appeals to a few.
As for Jens, I wish him the best in his new endeavor. I am looking forward to try the new applications he his working on, I am sure they will be terrific. I already know he is a great developer, he won that recognition two years ago at WWDC.
Six years ago, Informix Software was acquired by IBM. I remember this perfectly because at the time I was an Informix employee and, unlike many of my colleagues, I was quite excited by the news. The truth is that I wanted to join a larger company that would allow me to learn new technologies besides relational databases. That is why, after the acquisition, I spent most of my time working on WebSphere software, but I never forgot my passion for the Informix database engine.
This may seem strange to many as there are many RDBMS out there that are more popular than IDS but I have my reasons. You see, other database engines like DB2 or Oracle might be faster when tuned by experts but Informix achieves excellent performance by just tweaking a couple of parameters. In my experience, an average DBA can get much better results from Informix than from competing products. Since exceptional DBAs are scarce, I feel that IDS is a great choice for most companies unless they need the advanced XML processing capabilities provided by DB2.
Until now IDS was available for most UNIX variants as well as Windows. A Mac OS 9 client SDK was available many years ago but was discontinued when Apple moved to OS X. That is why I was so excited to learn that IBM had ported Informix Dynamic Server to Mac OS X.
However, the exciting news for Macintosh enthusiasts is that this announcement is not just an anomaly. There have been rumblings that at this week’s Lotusphere event in Orlando, IBM was poised to announce several new products for the Mac, including the Lotus Notes 8 client, Lotus Symphony and Lotus Sametime. This was made possible thanks to the efforts put by many IBMers to ensure that Eclipse runs smoothly on OS X.
Besides porting current IBM software to the Mac, IBM has also acquired some Macintosh software through acquisitions. For example, IBM recently acquired Solid, an in-memory database, that has offered for years a Mac OS X version of their flagship product.
While the Mac seems to have so far attracted the attention of the Lotus and DB2 brands within IBM Software Group, what about the remaining brands? Many software developers have long migrated to the Mac platform. It seems only logical that Rational should be interested in that audience. Since many Rational products are built on Eclipse, porting them to the Mac shouldn’t be that difficult. In fact, there already is a Mac version of Rational Application Developer. The problem is that it is for internal use only because it lacks the embedded WebSphere Application Software. This is a major issue. Despite being divided in five brands, IBM SWG products are very much integrated. Porting a single product is moot unless there is a clear strategy to port the whole portfolio.
A decade ago, IBM made a clear commitment to Linux and as a result made all SWG products available on that platform. That corporate commitment is still missing for Mac OS X, but the walls are crumbling, one at a time. For Lotus to make gains against Microsoft, IBM needs to support the Mac (and Linux) in a big way. Many Lotus products are built on WebSphere software and require Rational development tools to be customized. Convincing the WebSphere management team that they need to port some of their products to the Mac won’t be easy. After all, how many servers does Apple sell each quarter? Not enough to support a serious business case.
I do believe though, and this is pure speculation on my part, that it is just a matter of time before other critical IBM products such as WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Process Server and WebSphere Integration Developer get ported to Mac OS X. It is amazing to see how the success of the Mac on the client side is getting a middleware company such as IBM to progressively port its server software. In the case of Linux it was a well thought strategy to create some competition for Windows. It all made sense as Linux was (and still is) a strong contender on the server side. In the case of Mac OS X, it is an unorganized move, fueled by a single brand and the passion of many IBMers, including myself, who have adopted the Mac as their platform of choice.
Last Thursday I was invited to have dinner with Nick Donofrio who is Executive Vice President of Innovation and Technology at IBM. The event was organized by HR to revitalize the technical community in our organization. Among the persons invited where some of the best technical resources from the different organizations that form the company (ITS, BCS, AS, IGS and SWG).It was a nice experience. Nick certainly knows IBM in depth. He has been part of the core team for decades now and he has been responsible for taking many far reaching decisions such at moving the mainframes from bipolar to CMOS technology, a decision that in retrospect certainly saved the company when it was going through tough times back in the early nineties.Few persons within IBM can explain the company’s strategy as well as Nick or Steve Mills. That is why it is nice to talk with them because it becomes easier to understand the big picture, something that is not always clear when you spend the day working on a small part of the business (in my case, software).One of the things that bothers me is that at IBM we lack a CEO who is able to articulate a clear and compelling technology vision to our customers, the press and the employees. That is why you will always hear about technology superstars Ellison, Jobs, Schwartz and even Gates (who doesn’t have many interesting things to say lately) but never about Sam Palmisano, IBM’s current Chairman, CEO and President, in case you were wondering who he was (as many of our customers).I shared my concern with Nick Donofrio and he told me about all the superstars we have at IBM who provide that technical vision and prowess that we IBMers like to share with our customers in order to create a competitive advantage that smaller competitors usually find hard to overcome. Most of them are part of our large team of IBM Fellows, that includes luminaries such as Grady Booch as well as our army of Distinguished Engineers. They are the ones who set at communicate IBM’s vision, a task that in most tech companies is in part the responsibility of the CEO.Nick is right, IBM has a great senior technical team and I would love to become part of it. Right now I have to focus on becoming a senior certified software it architect, something that I expect to achieve next year.Still, I would love to have a CEO that is respected in the technology community for his vision. After all, running IBM shouldn’t just be about the financials. Shareholders may disagree but in my opinion it takes a great technological leader to grow a tech company, not a banker. That is my opinion, both as an employee and as a shareholder.
Forrester Research recently posted a research note explaining why IT Department shouldn’t and won’t support iPhones. While I disagree with some of the concerns mentioned by this company (specially those related to security since the content on the iPhone is usually stored on a server, not locally) I have to recognize that they make some valid points.
There has been a heated debate on the Internet as to wether the analysis was correct or not. A Wall Street Journal blogger counters Forrester’s opinion by interviewing a relatively small business owner who defends the iPhone in a work environment. I must say that I am not impressed by this article. The fact that this particular business user doesn’t get the valid concerns expressed by Forrester doesn’t mean that their analysis is flawed. This is in my opinion like all the web developers who defend simple languages like Ruby or PHP over Java simply because they do not understand the complex problems that Java is designed to solve.
What Forrester Research assesses correctly though is the incredible power held by business users. They tend to totally ignore IT when they want to get things done quickly. In this case the iPhone is such an improvement over previous technologies that IT will have to support them, like it or not. Remember, IT doesn’t run the business, they are usually regarded as an obstacle to progress. If users clamor for technology they will eventually get it. If it were any different we would still be using dumb monochrome terminals. Even though I am an IT guy I must say that I am really happy to see the power of end-users. Sure, it makes our work much harder, but it also keeps innovation running and that is extremely positive.
A week ago Oracle announced at OpenWorld their new virtualization solution, unimaginatively called Oracle VM. I can see why Oracle is launching such a product. After all, customers have been adopting virtualization enthusiastically and Oracle has been extremely slow to adopt to the new reality. In fact, until last week, Oracle would not provide support to customers unable to reproduce a problem on a non-virtualized environment. That was a pretty lame policy, considering that most enterprise customers have ben using virtualization products for years.
While this announcement doesn’t help VMWare customers at all, since that environment is still unsupported, at least it gives them an option and it is a free one, which is always nice. However, many questions remain. The most important is obviously performance. Oracle is quick to point out that their product is three times more efficient than comparable solutions. Note that they say efficient, not faster. What does that mean? Who are they comparing to? Nobody knows. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, we all know that Oracle is primarily a well oiled marketing machine that displays little respect for the truth. Remember Oracle’s Unbreakable campaign? Enough said, I rest my case.
For Oracle customers, this new virtualization solution may translate into some savings which in turn may help make Oracle’s value proposition more attractive. That was probably why Oracle released this product in the first place, and it makes a lot of sense. The software industry is very competitive and that is driving prices down. By delivering a relatively simple piece of software for free that can help customers save money by impacting someone else’s business, they can protect their own products. That is a smart move, at least in the short term.
As promised, the podcast for episode number 10 of IT Insight has been published earlier today. Get it while it is still hot!
When I look at my server stats it is clear that episode 7 of IT Insight is by far the most popular. It was also the only one not available in English. This has now been fixed. After all, I had to keep myself busy during the nine hour flight back from Sao Paulo.
After a very long hiatus, I have finally started working on a new episode of IT Insight. I am currently attending an IBM technical sales manager meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil and since the weather is terrible and there isn’t much to do around the hotel I decided to work on a presentation on a subject I really care about, the environment.
Few probably know that Data Centers in the U.S. currently consume 1.5% of the electric energy produced in the country. If Data Centers become greener by reducing energy consumption and recycling e-waste, it can mean a big difference. As technologists we have to understand what can and needs to be done in order to reach those objectives.
I have already published the slides, but I will record and publish the podcast episode once I get back home, probably this week-end.