Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Where does 'Dublin' leave BizTalk Server?

Last Friday, I caught up with Microsoft's Burley Kawasaki, director of product management in the company's Connected Systems Division, and asked him a question that had been burning in my mind ever since he briefed me on Microsoft's "Dublin" application server technology: Where does Dublin leave BizTalk Server?

Dublin is an add-on that extends Windows Server's Application Server Role with infrastructure code to handle composite applications that have workflow oriented processes. Put simply, it executes XAML-based applications. That is significant because Microsoft's upcoming "Oslo" wave of development products serialize "M" application models into XAML. That made me question why customers would be to install BizTalk.

Dublin is complementary to BizTalk; it targets different workloads, Kawasaki said. "Integration [which BizTalk provides] is a separate [need] from customers that want to build customer applications and have an application server to run it in." Dublin and BizTalk will remain separately packaged offerings, he added. "They will be used together in many cases."

For example, BizTalk will be required when an application needs to connect to a mainframe, or conversely, when an ESB needs to connect to a back end, yet needs custom application logic, he said. Kawasaki acknowledged that Microsoft needs to provide more customer guidance.

"BizTalk will continue to be a key component in the Dublin/Oslo world. However, just how it will fit in is still a bit murky. I expect more announcements on this front in the near future," Forrester principal analyst Ken Vollmer wrote in an e-mail.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dance Dance, Robot


If you've ever wondered what European robotics developers do in their spare time: they prepare their hexapods to dance!

Microsoft: 'Open source is a source of innovation'

Microsoft appreciates open source as a source of innovation, and will expand its involvement with the open source community, Robert Duffner, senior director of platform strategy at Microsoft, said over coffee Monday morning.

During our discussion, he also opined that open source is not Linux, nor should Linux be the poster child of open source. You may want to sit down before you read on.

All sources of innovation are significant to Microsoft - regardless of the methodology that was used, Duffner said. No less than chief software architect Ray Ozzie appreciates open source and envisioned a broader role for it at Microsoft when he hired Sam Ramji (directory of Microsoft's open source software lab), he noted.

update: Microsoft informs me that Duffner misspoke about Ozzie's role in Ramji's hiring. I am told that Ray Ozzie didn’t actually hire Sam (it was Bill Hilf that hired Sam to run the open source lab, but Sam was actually already at Microsoft before that.)

Indeed, Ozzie has served as an internal proponent. It was Ozzie who insisted that Windows Azure, Microsoft's development platform for the cloud, be open to Eclipse tooling and PHP programmers, Duffner said. But the company is admittedly more pragmatic than altruistic.

Microsoft has a market driven approach Duffner said. Duffner, an IBM alumnus, explained that the company's involvement in open source projects is driven by product groups, and is in that regard no different from IBM. However, he conceded that there has been more altruism out of IBM to date.

IBM's early involvement with the Apache Geronimo project was done out of self interest to help it flesh out its Java EE 5 strategy, he said. "Customers demanded [Java EE 5]," and IBM needed another year to complete an update to WebSphere, he claimed. Similarly, customers in the financial industry prompted Microsoft join the AMQP project, he said.

When asked what projects Microsoft is contributing to, he rattled off a list including Apache HBase, Apache, Apache Qpid, AMQP, and PHP. However, Microsoft has not yet contributed code to AMQP, and Microsoft's involvement in HBase happened through an acquisition. Regardless, the fact that its work with HBase has persisted is a, "big deal," he said. Microsoft also funds the Apache Foundation.

Microsoft's PHP work has a lot to do with SQL Server. The company is working to create a database abstraction layer for PHP so that developers will not be beholden to Sun's MySQL, he said. Not surprisingly, Duffner noted that Microsoft is intent on tying PHP to SQL Server to offer developers, "more choices for development and deployment."

The open source technology center team at Microsoft has around 15 dedicated employees, not including contractors or product teams that engage in interoperability work. The team holds internal events to promote the use of open source at Microsoft, and is acting as, "change agents within Microsoft," according to Duffner.

While it is not working with every group at Microsoft yet, the team does work closely with Microsoft Research and the CodePlex open source project hosting team, he said. In our discussion, he expressed a strong desire to collaborate with the SharePoint product team. The takeaway was that the scope of open source is not limited to operating systems.

As a matter of fact, the company would very badly like to shake the perception that open source is commercial Linux versus Windows. "[Linux] never had head to head competition against Windows anyway," he said. "It's UNIX VS Linux and Windows." However, he acknowledged that Linux will become more of a competitor if UNIX market share continue to slip.

While I do share his belief that there is much more to open source than Linux, accepting that Microsoft is not concerned about Linux requires the willful suspension of disbelief. One of the open source team's most recent releases is the new Web installer for Microsoft's Web services stack - Microsoft's answer to the LAMP stack.

In case you were wondering, the 'L' in LAMP stands for Linux. And Microsoft recognizes why LAMP is attractive to Web developers. LAMP has an attractive, pluggable architecture, Duffner said.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

AJAX to Pick up with Mobile Device Growth

With the growth of mobile phones, and application development on devices like Google Android and the Apple iPhone, AJAX adoption will see a big rise. Dave Meeker, a lead developer with enterprise application provider Roundarch, said the industry is starting to see real Web browsers on these devices, and a real Web browser doesn't need a whole lot of power to run and render AJAX. However, it takes quite a bit of memory and processor to run a Flash or Silverlight application.

"I think until Adobe and Microsoft catch up with the mobile stuff, which will take about a year or year-and-a-half, anybody pushing applications out towards mobile devices is going to go the AJAX route," Meeker said. "I would assume a corporation will spend 'x' amount of dollars on a new initiative and if they're gonna build a mobile application, they want a seamless experience between the mobile application and the regular application. That means more AJAX adoption because they have to use AJAX on the phone."

As far as Microsoft and mobile development go, one rumor flying around currently is a platform called Kojax, which was brought to light by Mary-Jo Foley. Kojax will allow Microsoft applets to run in an Ajax-like way, using a combination of Visual Studio tools and JavaScript, on Java-based mobile phones. Microsoft did not confirm or deny the rumor, but Kojax is a name to keep on the backburner.

Monday, December 8, 2008

An open cloud


It is encouraging that some cloud computing providers are working together toward interoperability. I spent most of my day in the Upper east Side of Manhattan at Saleforce.com's Dreamforce event. It announced a partnership with Google and a Python library that integrates its API with Google App Engine.

Last month Saleforce announced a similar deal with Amazon for interoperability with EC2 and S3. While each company is doing something that is somewhat different and not directly competitive, they could easily have sequestered themselves into silos.

Microsoft could also partner with Salesforce, but it probably won't. Its CRM offerings are top candidates to be ported to Windows Azure, and they also compete directly with Salesforce.

While developers could technically make the services interoperable by using REST techniques, SOA and RSS, having providers developing hybrid solutions and guidance removes a significant barrier to the adoption of cloud computing. It is good to see companies working together on hybrid solutions that gives developers greater choice.

Wild Dr. Engelbart Caught on Tape



Today, I had the great fortune of attending the 40th anniversary of the Mother of all Demos. It's a slightly meta/hazy event to describe, but here goes: Tomorrow, December 9, marks the 40th anniversary of a demonstration of ground breaking work staged on unheard-of equipment designed to expand human intelligence.
In Valley-speak, it was the Mother of all Demos. A bunch of uber-geeks who'd spent the 1960's working on these new-fangled doohickies called computers showed off what they'd been dreaming up in their magical workshop. They showed a crowd of experienced computer nerds inventions they'd never seen before. Inventions like the mouse. And an oscilloscope-cum-wordenator we'd now call a monitor. And, oh, yeah--video conferencing. Not to mention the 1000's of software innovations.
It's not even an event that took place in a single location. The team at the Stanford Research Institute was every-bit as involved in the demonstration as the face-men. Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart and Bill English were in San Francisco, on stage showing all this cool gear off, but behind the scenes, 30 miles south, there were racks of equipment and more brainy computer men. It's as if Edison had been working in his labs, creating his many inventions, then brought all of them to bear in a multi-city coordinated stage show.
This demonstration took place on December 9, 1968 in California. Today and tomorrow, the Program for the Future is taking place. And therein, I spied a wild Dr. Engelbart. Amidst the crowds of adoring fans, he humbly walked, with a smile that lit up the world. We have proof of the existence of this giant. This God among men. This mythical forbearer from whence all modern computer paradigms derived

Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart is the true creator of all you see and do on a computer. Over the years, his small research group at Stanford constantly changed sizes and people, but always he was there, pushing his vision of computer-augmented work for humanity.
Dr. Thomas Malone, founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, put it best, this morning. He said:

When Doug talked about collective intelligence, he didn't just talk about companies being smarter, he talked about the whole world being smarter. When you think about our increasingly interconnected world, it's becoming clear that it's possible, and I believe increasingly useful to reguard our whole species as a kind of global brain. Which we can hopefully make to be a more intelligent global brain.
Now that's the kind of computer science research I can get behind. Hats off to all of the ARC alums, and especially to Douglas Engelbart, a man who has likely contributed more to the collective evolution of our species than any other human in history. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

For oodles of pictures, check out my Flickr feed:




Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

JavaFX More Popular Than Even Sun Expected

JavaFX1.0 is out. Go play with it. Evidently, everyone else already has.
This morning, when Sun Microsystems opened the doors on its packages of JavaFX 1.0, developer suite and all, the servers buckled. Seems like even Sun had low expectations for this seemingly also-ran RIA/presentation layer language. Either that, or something is dreadfully wrong with this infrastructure company that can't keep its infrastructure running at top speed.
Tonight, Sun held a little soiree at Temple in San Francisco, where they had partners and pedagogues extolling the virtues of this new Java-like whiz-bang. After hearing all of the same things from Sun, I went after some of the partner programmers who were on hand, demonstrating their decidedly multi-media-centric creations.
And after speaking to Lucas from EffectiveUI, I'm convinced that this may not be a complete disaster. He'd worked with Flex, as EffectiveUI is primarily focused on Webish RIAs. In his opinion, the animation capabilities in JavaFX are fantastic. Some of the backside is still a little warty, but if you've already got a Java-based Web infrastructure, he said that this is better than Swing. He said he was an old-hand at Swing, and acknowledged that there were amazing things that could still be done with it. But the way he described it, he prefered handling user interfaces and graphics in JavaFX.
That alone is enough to make this worth taking a look at. Most of the world felt the same way, because Sun's servers were crippled today, slowing to a snail's pace as everyone and their siblings sucked down the fresh binaries.
Dan Ingalls, of Lively Kernel fame, was also on hand, demonstrating the latest level of meta: Lively kernel running on top of JavaFX. He then created the world's first Wankel Rotary Piano by tying a keyboard widget to a demonstration of the afforementioned motor. Not really sure how any of Dan's work will make Sun money, but it's great to see him creatively enabled. The man and his team are artists.
My only complaint about everything I saw tonight: slow. Sun obviously has some optimization work ahead of it. Every JavaFX demo from the company shows off 9 streaming HD videos playing at once. Then they focus in on one, and it gets choppy. Great, you can play 9 movies at once. Can you play any of them fullscreen without dropping half the frames? I'm not sure because they never show less tan 9 videos running at once. I would simply like to see for myself that JavaFX can play one HD movie without getting choppy. Some of the demos were choppy too. A tad worrying, but I'm sure it will only get faster.
Hats off to Sun. Looks like everything went right this time. Now the hard part: beating Adobe and Microsoft.

Python 3.0 Slithers to a Final

Today is a new day for Python programmers. The hard working core committers from the Python 3.0 project released the final version of that update to that most serpentine of programming languages.
But this is no ordinary update, replete with bug fixes, new features and refinements. No, this is a complete break with the past, so much so that "Hello, World" written in 2.5 or earlier will not work in 3.0.
But this is for the better. We spoke to some of the people working on this update, and they explained where all the nooks and crannies were in this, and in the 2.6 release. Have a gander for yourself, George.
Or, just click on that big green Tree Boa on the right to go directly to Python's homepage. The big list of changes and such are all in there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

JetBrains Brings New Version of TeamCity

A cheesy Jefferson Starship single claims, "We built this city on rock and roll." Well, Prague-based software company JetBrains built their own city for managing distributed builds. How's that for some rock and roll?

The 'Brains are back on tour with TeamCity 4.0, and are strumming away with a number of new features, including the ability to break a single build procedure into several parts that can be run on different build agents in sequence or in parallel. What's a build agent, you might ask? Yegor Yarko (love that name!), TeamCity's project manager, described build agent as a separate computer or a virtual machine capable of running a build, with the TeamCity agent software installed. Different agents can be installed under different operating systems and software configurations. And the best part is you don't need to give these agents 10%.

Developers and small teams can see the show for free, as TeamCity is available for no charge.

Two Apache Updates


For those of you who live and die by Apache's Java stuff, there are two new releases today that will tickle you pink. First, Tomcat 4.1.39 was dropped today. Bug fixes and such. You can get it here. Second, Apache Velocity 1.6 arrived yesterday. This is a templating library, so if you want to save yourself some time on the next Java project, you'll want to take a look. Velocity's documentation is online at This link.
And, no, that's not technically a Tomcat above. It's a she-cat named Butter. But that's close enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

May the Requirements Force Be With You


I recently talked with Dave Locke, IBM Rational's director of marketing, about the general availability release of Requirements Composer. Requirements Composer is a requirements definition product that tries to help project development teams communicate efficiently with one another using IBM's Jazz collaboration technology. It digitizes diagrams and replaces the traditional throw-your-ideas-on-a-whiteboard method of requirements gathering with a more computerized approach, mainly to save paper and involve people that aren't in a nearby cubicle or down the hallway.

In a way, Requirements Composer is somewhat of a prequel in IBM Rational's requirements saga. Much like George Lucas did with the most recent trilogy of Star Wars, IBM decided to jump backwards in its latest product offering. Locke said that while RequisitePro, Rational's requirements management product, assumes that you have requirements all set to go to start assigning and scoping, Requirements Composer is the nesting ground for those same requirements. You can think of it as the little village on Tatooine where Anakin Skywalker came to be. Requirements Composer is where it all begins.

IBM Requirements Composer is now ready to bring balance to the requirements galaxy.

Inefficiency of Efficiency



I am unable to work without two computers. I mean, I can get stuff done, and I can complete my daily tasks one a single laptop, and often have. But if I really want to crank out work and research, I need two. Maybe three. One machine for writing and email, one for Web browsing and research, and still a third for a constant stream of AIM, IRC, forums and music.
Sure, all of these could be done on the same machine, but it's just easier to look over at the screen next to me and immediately see if anyone has responded to my questions in IRC, or to see how a name is spelled on a company Website.
Switching between programs is always a pain, and on space-constrained laptops, it's not an option to spread things out to a viewable distance.
And yet, with all these computers on my desk, there is still one major problem I have yet to solve reliably: passing around URLs and quotes. Right now, I use AIM for this. I past the URL into one of my AIM screennames on the desktop machine, and message the info to another screenname on the laptop. That simple URL then travels thousands of miles to Virginia, where it is parsed and directed by AOL's servers, and sent back here to Oakland.
These computers are so close, they could touch. And yet, here I am, using the Internet as a router for my simple textual information. If I wasn't using one of each type of operating system (Mac, Windows, Ubuntu) there might be an easier solution. But until there is a cross-platform messaging standard that doesn't require a central hosted service, I will continue to use millions of dollars worth of infrastructure to accomplish tasks I could just as easily apply a sticky note and a pen to.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Microsoft prepares for search battle

Do not rule out the possibility that Microsoft will snatch up Yahoo. The latest rumor is that Ballmer and Co. are willing to shell out US$20 billion to acquire it. I won't speak to the veracity of those reports, but Microsoft needs to get its search act in gear. Buying market share is absolutely necessary.

Steve Ballmer may have recently put the kibosh on the possibility of a transaction with Yahoo, but Microsoft's need for more market share stands. It needs to gain market share if it is even going to claw its way up to fight tackle Google.

Steve is also renowned for his single-minded determinism. It is likely that there will at the very least be a search deal between the two companies. Something is happening. My friend Mary Jo Foley is reporting that Microsoft is gearing up for a major re-branding of its search properties. Windows Live may become known as "Kumo," which is a Japanese word for spider.

Yahoo is a stronger brand than Kumo. That would provide Microsoft with higher ground to take on Google. Whether it is able to charge the hill or gets bogged down is another story altogether.

That said, integrating all of Yahoo into Microsoft does not make sense. It would be a painful process as cultures class, and talented engineers will leave both companies. Microsoft will have to pay to keep that talent on board - beyond what it would be paying for the company itself.