Friday Mar 11, 2005

Microsoft runs Sun's Servers

In the last 6 months, I've seen a serious up-tick in the number of folks who spontaneously tell me about their renewed love affair with Sun servers, and this is in Dublin Ireland where there is intense awareness of IT costs and where Dell's local presence is particularly strong due to a local manufacturing facility. But at a global level, it's even nicer to see large companies like Microsoft not only acknowledging but talking jubilantly about their reliance on Sun's servers - one of Microsoft's bloggers says more about this.

It makes my day to hear a customer talk passionately about Sun's products; you know that the hard work has been worth it when you see that you've made that kind of connection. I'm confident that StarOffice 8 is going to evoke the same kind of excitement; this time, we really listened hard to what customers were telling us. The existing evangelists out there will be able to point their colleagues to the product and demonstrate that it's now easier to use than Microsoft Office, and it has near perfect interoperability with 10 years of different MS Office product versions, not just the recent releases. The StarOffice 8 Beta release will give a flavour of what's to come. StarOffice and OpenOffice.org already lead the market on Linux and Solaris, but I think StarOffice 8 will give even entrenched Windows deployments a high value upgrade for MS Office 2000 and earlier, while opening up the option to reduce costs through incremental deployments of low TCO Linux traditional desktops or Solaris SunRay consolidated desktops.

On a related note, it surprises me that some analysts haven't really grasped the essence of Sun's strategy, even though it's surprisingly simple.

  • Java (J2SE, J2EE, J2ME) has enabled a level playing field for products to be deployed across different hardware and software platforms.
  • Sun competes within this benign ecology by delivering high value implementations of hardware and software, and by focussing innovation at the core of solving real customer problems, rather than just expanding the edge with unused immature features
  • The existence of alternate implementations of hardware, applications, tools and middlware throughout the entire stack enables customers to choose and prevents a mono-culture of pyramid products that are inextricably bound to one vendor's stack

Following this thought, I would be very interested in seeing Sun and Microsoft co-operate not just at the level of services within a web services standards-based SOA, but at the container level (J2EE and .NET). That would further expand choice and enable customers to achieve more fine-grained sharing of critical resources (servers, load-balancing, clusters, grids) and unify the security models (role-based access control and authentication) of their IT architecture. Technologies like UNO and open-source implementations of the .NET CLR such as Mono can today enable early implementations of several architectures (container peers, hub-and-spoke, dispatcher, etc.), but such a bi-lingual container needs Microsoft and Sun to define common standards in order for this model to become a reality.

While you consider these entirely practical solutions, here's a slightly wilder thought - many people think of Wine (the Windows emulation available on Linux and Solaris) as a solution for running desktop applications, but it could also be an option for running Windows server-based applications and containers say on Solaris 10!

Ah yes - the future's so bright, you've to to wear shades ;)

Saturday Feb 26, 2005

Open-Source Developing Using Java

Unlike Elvis, Colm has not left the building (yet) but I have been busy preparing to make some life-enhancing changes ;) so my blog has entered hibernation like so many other things. But I wanted to share something very cool with you - JetBrains are offering the Intellij IDE cost-free for use by open-source project developers. This exceptionally cool IDE has a darned decent Swing UI builder and since I work on open-source Java projects, I may just start using it for real instead of just getting nostalgic about the evaluation period.

It's a shame that each IDE has it's own extension framework; wouldn't it be nice if you could write a common extension for Eclipse, Netbeans and Intellij say? I must take a closer look one of these days and see if it would be possible to create a single common IDE extension SPI with adaptors to each of the IDEs...

Tuesday Jan 04, 2005

Speculation about Apple... and Sun

MacNewsWorld hosts an article that is always interesting, sometimes insightful and occasionally a little wrong in my view, but well worth reading just the same. Paul Murphy offers a broad analysis that spans hardware and software. Here's my play-by-play feedback and 2 cents...

  • Paul's comments on Sun's throughput computing capability are right on; but don't forget Sun's x86 capability with Solaris x86 for high performance on low-end servers and (most definitely along with Linux) especially for desktops (via Java Desktop System); also, SunRay runs JDS extremely well - startup performance is even better than a standalone desktop (because application binaries are almost always already in memory) and the shared SunRay CPUs give you extra desktop power when you need it, not to mention better security, reliability and the downright damn beautiful experience of connecting to your desktop by just putting a card into any SunRay desktop in an office or on a campus - I never get tired of that, nor the delighted amazement when a new employee at our office experiences it for the first time
  • Paul speculates about IBM's evolution path for PowerPC which Apple depends on; I think porting the Mac OS shell is not the key issue (any properly layered software stack is pretty portable), but maintaining 100% compatibility with the Mac OS platform API's and the porting impact on ISV's developing applications for Mac OS might be more of an issue; I note that IBM do have a desktop/portal hyrbrid product (Workplace, based incidentally on (an old version of) OpenOffice.org) so Apple's boxes don't only compete in the server space
  • He also raises the old chestnut of Mac OS desktop running on Sun hardware, especially SunRay; Mac OS certainly has cool coming out of its pixels, but don't overlook the importance of a user experience that facilitates migration from Windows (JDS has this in spades)
  • He also speculates on the value of a Mac OS graphics porting layer to allow say GNOME-based apps to run on it; this certainly makes sense as it gives ISVs a broader platform to target and the Gtk-Win32 port shows that this is not only possible but practical (though it would need more vendor commitment which Gtk-Win32 does not yet have enough of)

I hope you've enjoyed this cocktail of thoughts and speculations from Paul Murphy and I - but what do you think?

Monday Dec 27, 2004

Earthquake Aid Is Not Enough

I'm shocked to see the minimal amounts of aid being provided so far for the regions affected by the devastating tsunami arising from the earthquake in south-east Asia; Ireland provided only 1m Euro, but even that looks good compared to the European Union's promise of 3m Euro. And the 25 tons of aid from Russia or the provision of plastic sheeting and tenting from the UK - sorry but that is shamefully pathetic. Please harass your politicians to give more aid and consider making personal donations.

Thursday Dec 23, 2004

Dutch Government Ditches Microsoft

The Dutch government has decided to cancel it's deal with Microsoft after all, following a wave of stern queries and rebukes for apparently going back on it's earlier commitments. This should now proceed to become a significant win for open source and open standards.

Saturday Dec 11, 2004

The Ultimate Cat?

A Cat called Erin

Ok, here's the thing; I want to get a cat, but my wife Andrea doesn't (she's still hoping the family of foxes we had living in our back garden will come back, but after 2 years, I'm sure they've headed on to pastures new). I'm looking forward to doing all the joyful stuff (and I can deal with the not so joyful stuff) a cat owner has to do, but I'd really like to get a cat that will win Andrea over. You know - smart, affectionate, minimal scratching and few accidents. In a nutshell, the ultimate cat (except maybe that it doesn't need to be a mouser). Of course cat qualities are mostly down the the invididual, but I'm thinking some breeds might have a head-start.

So if you're a cat lover, what do you think? Should I look for a specific breed, or just look for a nice cat that needs re-homing (oh man, look at these cute cat (and dog) pictures I just found ;) I think I'm going to be a sucker for Erin whose picture I borrowed.

Wednesday Dec 08, 2004

No really, you have no privacy

Security and privacy are even more at odds, according to this opinionated report on The Register (articles there are looking more and more like blogs, which is good and bad).

How long before US citizens are required to carry ID's with biometrics \*and\* RFID tags that can be read remotely, say by a passing patrol car which feeds data to computers that may be accessed by a dozen agencies? And how long before you don't carry them but have them embedded, say in your fore-arm?

I used to say the US was a great place to visit (some world-class natural beauty), but I grow less sure of that. Is the US simply at the forefront with "national security" and other countries will follow? I hope not.

Tuesday Dec 07, 2004

Take The Weather With You

It won't do anyone much good when in 20-50 years our scientists can tell our kids and grandkids "we told you so". Slashdot discusses a solid Science Magazine analysis that shows overwhelming concensus among world experts that a near-term risk of catastrophic climate change caused by human activity is a reality.

In a related news item, the US has told a UN conference on global warming that it has no intention of re-joining international efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks guys, it's a pleasure to share the planet with you.

Even more ironically, the only thing that may save us is our declining fossil fuel reserves. Either way, nature will have the last laugh, whether we can laugh along or not may still be in our hands.

Thursday Dec 02, 2004

Updated: Jonathan's Views Vindicated

Jonathan's remark about HP ("a vendor no longer in charge of their OS") drew some smoke (though little fire) but the latest news about Tru64 seems to support his view.

The Register reports that HP have abandoned their multi-year investment in porting their TruCluster and Advanced File System technologies from Tru64 to HP-UX; they have struck a deal with Veritas to fill the gap.

Update: The Register asked HP customers to give feedback on their filesystem strategy announcement. It's the Tru64 litany of pain, and that's no lie.

Wednesday Dec 01, 2004

Rocket fuel contaminant in US lettuce

A survey of milk and lettuce in 15 US states found perchlorate (a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel) at unsafe levels. The FDA are not making any recommendations yet, but studies found an average concentration of 10.95 parts per billion while the recommended limit is 6 parts.

High concentrations of perchlorate can disrupt the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism and is linked to the development of motor skills in children.

It's not clear from the Wired article Rocket Fuel in Milk, Lettuce if lettuce specifically accumulates the toxin (as compared with other green vegetables), but I would certainly suggest that anyone who is pregnant or with very young children should look into this some more.

Sunday Nov 21, 2004

Start your own business kit

Yes, I'm still looking for cheap but excellent Christmas presents and I found some other things I can add to that StarOffice 7 present for my sister, the home entrepeneur; in this partly-digital world, this is my way of making something "by hand". So what have I found...

  • Seth Godin's The Bootstrapper's Bible - although Charles Handy (The Elephant and the Flea) and Tom Peters ("Brand Me") have written about career independence, Seth Godin has some unique insights in this book (7 years old, but even more relevant today) which is available for free for the next week or so. Bloggers will love Seth's site too.
  • Firefox and Thunderbird - a new browser (that hates spyware) and a mail client (that cans your spam, faster than you can say wham bang thank you ma'am) - also 100% free from mozilla.org - with these two, her online work will be safer and more productive.
  • Templates - I'm not going to try to find creative templates for her business, but I am going to dig up some business related templates (invoices, promotions, reminders) - and I never realised there were so many out there for free, for example the desktop pub site at about.com has some good pointers for free Word templates; the ones without macros will work perfectly in StarOffice (and to be honest, I'm glad she won't be running VBA macros from documents downloaded from the web).
  • The Computer Arts magazine I mentioned earlier actually has some great free tools to download - for example, the Color Cop eyedropper is a neat tool for picking colours from the desktop and it displays the HTML colour code in real time - great for choosing colours from photos for her graphic art and web-site (she'll be able to use the Flash export from StarOffice to create some nice web presentations, and the PDF export for her brochures)
  • Speaking of HTML, I'll include JTidy for cleaning up any HTML she's written by hand; JTidy is a command-line program written in Java (I'm sure she has a Java runtime installed, but I can include one on the CD just in case); I can write a few lines of code to give JTidy a simple file-open GUI (and maybe make that available here)

And that's it! Next I'll see if I can find some decent pre-school educational software for my brother's family. Ideally I'd like to find Java applets so that I can create a nice HTML page as a "menu" - there seems to be a lot of good free Java-based educational software for teens, but finding good software for younger children really isn't child's play. If you know of any good safe software (especially Java applets), please let me know and I'll post the best ones here.

Thursday Nov 11, 2004

Firefox seems to be unpopular with Microsoft

Microsoft's Office templates web-site appears to be a great resource for users of StarOffice and OpenOffice.org; as far as I can see (but I'm not a lawyer), you have the right to use the templates there, you just can't re-distribute them for profit (I found no special legal verbage to distinguish the rights of a Microsoft Office user versus that of other office suites).

But what I really wanted to share with you was a rather odd thing that happened when I was browsing some of the folders over lunch, looking for some inspiration for a template I wanted to create. Clicking through the folders, I opened the Marketing Materials folder of the Templates site.

Now for the strange bit... I happened to browse this section with Mozilla and then shortly after view it with Firefox, my everyday browser. if you view this page with Firefox you only see 1 template (one for your word-processor called "Request for permission to reprint article"). If you view the same page with Mozilla, you see 12 templates. Maybe some of you would like to try this in Internet Explorer.

I hope this is just a bug in the microsoft.com web-site; I would hate to think that someone there doesn't like Firefox ;)

Update: Some comments pointed out that other browsers seem to be broken, such as Konqueror. Just to try to get to the bottom of this, I tried some other browsers:

  • IE 6.028 shows all 12 templates (yay)
  • Netscape 7.2 does not show any warning on the page, but like Firefox it also only shows 1 template
So it appears that the missing content has nothing to do with the microsoft.com "unsupported browser" warning - very odd.

Final update: One commenter notes that "MSIE 6.0.2900.2180.xpsp_sp2_rtm.040803-2158 shows only 1 template", so it seems that the open-source browsers are not alone in being rejected. I guess we can assume there is some rather broken code for browser type/version checking running on that site; it breaks even on a micro revision of the browser. Just one more reason why we should cry out for open W3C standards.

Tuesday Oct 26, 2004

innovation can happen anywhere

Jazzing around the topic of creative destruction, I thought I'd share my last bit of bed-time reading with you - Dairy farmers milk open source; that work puts some IT-heavy companies to shame with their readiness to embrace innovation, sometimes even dangerously.

Remember, creative destruction

I read (and enjoyed) Tom Peters' Re-imagine! but with hindsight, I'm seeing it more and more as a colourful synthesis (some of it from Peters' earlier works) than a real re-imagining of business.

Here are the key ideas I took away from it, and some pointers where you can read up on them on the web (warning: I have interpreted Peters' ideas and used references from the IT business, not reproduced the ideas 100%)

  • creative destruction - the idea that innovation (or creation) destroys existing ways of doing things by doing them better; disruptive technologies are one example of this, where a cheap, simple and initially only marginally effective solution steadily improves (crosses the chasm) to supplant a market leader; rather than taking the dramatic route of the mythical phoenix, an effective company can use creative destruction internally to enable it to adapt and innovate
  • acquisitions should merge the meme-DNA of a company, and not only it’s intellectual property - otherwise the parent company becomes only bigger, not better
  • product-based companies and even departments within companies need to evolve into professional service firms (PSFs), called "the intellect industry" by Mark C. Scott - I would add to this by highlighting that both the product and the total service that includes it should be a core competence developed in-house based on a deep understanding of the common aspects of customer problems and not only a custom solution or service
  • de-Dilbertisation - flatter organisations, intelligent automation (business events propagated in a service-oriented architecture monitored and responded to by expert systems) and knowledge workers who are empowered by information and authority (and who invest in developing and broadening their own core competencies) are the wave of the future-now

I missed one key concept which you can read in Michael Porter's work which for me still provides a basic model for creating the Wow and the "!" in Peters' book, provided it is applied to smaller units (virtual PSFs) within an organisation:

  • develop clear and dynamic models of the value-chain, both present and near-future, bridging from external and internal supply out to the customer acquisition, utilisation and customisation process; by understanding the creation of value, companies (and departments) can maximise their delivered benefit and trade-off the synergy of core competencies versus the cost effectiveness of outsourcing opportunities

I'll reproduce two of Peters' quotes directly, I think you'll recall one company's motto that might have inspired the first thought ;)

Was - Technology helps link parts of an organisation

Is - The Network is the Organisation

This second item is in a PDF on Peters' site.

Was - Great Design is "nice."

Is - Great Design is "necessary."

I also would highlight one compelling quote from another of Peters' books The Project 50 - Today companies are fluid, transformative, organized around temporary networks focused on the WOW! Project - a superbly executed, high-impact, piece of work with a beginning, an end, a Client, and specific deliverables, and an outcome you'll be bragging about 5(!).

I close with one perhaps rabidly Sun-promoting reference that is a clear demonstration of these themes - the Contrarian Minds archive is a look back at how the ability to value truly different ideas has been what continues to enable Sun to adapt and remain not only relevant, but central to information technology - but take a look and judge that finally for yourself.

the emperor's new fractals

I'm neither a graphic artist nor a html guru, but for your entertainment I've scoured the entire web (alright, I used Google Image Search) to pick out some rather splendid examples of fractal art from the pages of The Lunar Archives which now decorate my humble blog.

Thank you to eMR for the permission to use these thumbnails, I urge you to take some time to peruse the site - the moon has a lot to answer for! If you want the complete experience, you need the right music - I recommend Yello's Oh Yeah or Desire.

Nice to see Cassini take a look at another moon, Titan.

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ColmSmyth

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