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It's hard to say these days

One And Done

clock July 14, 2011 23:05 by author Tom

So I kind of lost it for a while. 

My annoyance with Microsoft over its .NET and Silverlight policy pushed me to the point where I just couldn’t write blog posts.  Because every one of them would turn into a screed against Microsoft.  But I’m better now. 

That said I couldn’t let this one go.  So one more screed and I’m done with this…

I used to like Tim Heuer.  Mr. Heuer is an Evangelist for Microsoft Silverlight and I credit him for convincing me to go with Silverlight over Flash.  So obviously when this whole Windows 8 incident blew up I looked to his blog.  What I found was an advertisement for Microsoft’s Developer Conference in September.  Looking a little deeper I found developers essentially begging him for answers and getting nothing.  The one response he did give was to this comment…

Tim we are very concerned about what Microsoft is doing. HTML 5 and Javascript are not true development technologies and lack basically everything that .NET and Silverlight provide for developing rich, powerful and meaningful applications... apps that do things other than weather and twitter feeds.
Why is Microsoft evidently abandoning its own technologies that millions of its own developers have been using for over a decade now? As of today, there is no unique advantage for developing for Windows 8 platform vs. Andriod or iPhone/iPad.

What happened to all the things you and John Papa convinced to developers few months ago regarding Silverlight?

His response was…

Jo Doe: The assumption that lack of information means bad news is upsetting. The announcement for the preview for Windows 8 mentions that "There’s much more to the platform, capabilities and tools than we showed today."

How snide is that? HE’S UPSET? Gee Tim I’m sorry people’s concern for their career upsets you. Maybe you should close your comments so as not to be bothered by all the people you led down a dead end path.

I mean the guy’s an evangelist.  His JOB is to convince people to use this technology.  Now Microsoft is sending signals that they might be abandoning that technology (after less than three years) and he plays coy.  Refusing to give information to the very people he led down this path.

Actually I shouldn’t say that.  The refusing to give information is almost certainly Microsoft policy.    The issue is his tone.  It wasn’t “I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything right now and I understand why you’re concerned but everything will be alright”.  It was “Your concerns have upset me so shut up and wait until September when we’ll allow you to pay $2,000 to find out if you’ll still have a career in 2012”. 

And then he just stopped paying attention to his comments at all. 

Yes I’m being hyperbolic and Yes I think Silverlight will continue to exist past September.  The point isn’t that I think Silverlight is going to disappear.  The point is Microsoft’s so far from a “customer is always right” mentality that evangelists are actually admonishing developers for upsetting them. 

Could you ever see David Heinemeir Hansson doing something like this?  Hansson is a self-described arrogant man and I can’t see him ever coming close to this.  Because above all else he CARES about his platforms continued survival.  He cares whether developers think it is dying or not. 

Which leads me to the point of this post.  I’m a Microsoft Developer.  I like the community, I like the tools and I think the solutions you can build with those tools are superior from a cost/benefit perspective.  So I’m going to stick with it until it is no longer feasible to do so (at least professionally).  But I will never recommend anyone else use closed source tools again.   You just can’t trust companies with the ability to flush your skills down the toilet on a whim.  The sheer callousness with which Mr. Heuer treats people who put their trust in him should prove that point.  In the end large companies and their employees have to look out for themselves and you as a developer are, at best, a secondary concern.  Your concerns, Your career, Your projects and all the rest mean nothing to them. 

Which is exactly why you have to insulate yourself by using solutions that can’t be easily tossed away. 



Facebook’s good for you? I doubt it…

clock June 16, 2011 14:43 by author Tom

Facebook is bad for you.  It just is. You know it is.   I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it.  We all do things that are bad for us and in moderation that’s ok.  But don’t kid yourself.  It’s bad for you. 

Despite what this study says

Among the findings of a phone survey of 2,255 American adults conducted by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project last fall:  Facebook users are more trusting of other people, they have larger numbers of close friends, they exhibit a higher level of civic engagement and they get more social support from their friends.

The survey's findings challenge the common perception that social networking sites isolate people or undercut their real-world friendships and interactions, said University of Pennsylvania professor Keith Hampton, the lead author of the report.

To my eyes there are two questions raised by this study…

1.  Is the metric they use a good measure of social well being?

2.  If not why would they use it?

On the first question let me address the individual points. 

Someone who logs into Facebook multiple times a day is 43% more likely than other Internet users and more than three times as likely as someone who does not use the Internet to feel that most people can be trusted.

Social Well Being shouldn’t be measured by how much you trust total strangers since that is a function of life experience and not of one’s social interactions.   Social interactions rely on how much you trust your friends and neighbors (a.k.a. the people you’re actually social with).  In fact an over abundance of trust in strangers can indicate a lack of social well being.  People who are desperately seeking friends because they don’t have any will be more inclined to trust total strangers.

Someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users.

How exactly do you measure that?  Because it seems that’s an easy metric to get wrong.  For example, would knowing more about someone’s schedule make my “ties” to them closer?  There are several people whose schedule I know because they posted it on Facebook yet I haven’t spoken to them in years.  While there are people I speak to on a daily basis whose schedule I don’t know.  So that’s just one way I could appear to have closer ties to someone I don’t actually interact with.

Someone who visits the site multiple times a day was two and a half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to persuade someone to vote for a candidate and 43% more likely to have said they would vote.

I’m sorry but if your scale of “social well being” includes becoming deeply involved in political movements I think you need a new scale.  For better or worse politics has become the worst side of many people’s personalities.  It’s the place where people feel they can be hateful towards their fellow man.   I’m not against being civic minded or knowing the issues.  But that’s a function of research and spirited debate with people you disagree with.  Political movements are about feeling so confident in your correctness that you surround yourself with like minded people and go around trying to bully others into joining you. 

“they get more social support from their friends.”

Again this is a metric that’s easy to fake.  Whenever someone posts about something bad happening to them there’s an outcry of “support”.  But does a comment on your Facebook wall really mean you’re being supported by friends?  Ask yourself this: Would you rather have 20 friends post “I’m so sorry for your loss” or one friend sit with you through the night and give you a shoulder to cry on?  Who in those two scenarios is really being supported by their friends? 

So, if I’m right and this study is flawed why is that relevant? 

Part of being human is doing things that are bad for us.  The trick is to only do those bad things in moderation.  Drinking, Watching TV, even eating Pastry is bad in excess but enjoyable and relatively harmless if we control ourselves. 

The largest barrier to self control is and always will be our ability to justify.  Telling ourselves what we’re doing “isn’t that bad” is how we give ourselves permission to do more of it.  That’s what this study is. 

It’s an attempt by people who are obsessive about social media to justify that obsession with a bogus metric.  The “lead author” of the report is someone who has currently dedicated his career to social media to give just one example.  Given that do you really think he was going to design a survey that would discredit social media?

Again I’m not saying you shouldn’t use Facebook.  If it makes you happy than more power to you.  But don’t ignore the facts.  Every second you spend on Facebook is a second not spent actually interacting with your friends and nothing anyone can say will change that. 

Addendum: After I wrote this a link was published to the full report which can be found here: http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2011/PIP%20-%20Social%20networking%20sites%20and%20our%20lives.pdf.  I don't have time to read it now but I did want to post this in regards to the "core ties" question above...

 

The average American has just over two discussion confidants (2.16) – that is, people with  whom they discuss important matters. This is a modest, but significantly larger number than  the average of 1.93 core ties reported when we asked this same question in 2008. Controlling  for other factors we found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9%  more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users.

 



Fact Check: Bill Wagner on Windows 8

clock June 9, 2011 15:57 by author Tom

Apologies for the glut of Microsoft posts but obviously this is something I’m passionate about

I have a lot of respect for Bill Wagner.  His books on C# were my primary reference for many years (and might still be had I not committed most the lessons therein to memory).   But his post on Windows 8 is misleading.  He gives 3 arguments in favor of the new shell.  To be honest the third argument  made no sense to me.  But I address the other two below…

It’s time: While there have been several improvements and refinements over time, the current shell is fundamentally similar to Windows 95. Revolutionary in its day, that was 15 years ago. Desktops were more prevalent that laptops. Tablets were primarily a research toy, not a production device. The term “Smart Phone” didn’t exist. The idea of connecting a TV to the internet made no sense.

I’m not disagreeing with the statement that “It’s time” because that’s entirely subjective.  But to say Windows 95 was “Revolutionary in its day” is just incorrect.  In fact just the opposite is true.  Microsoft lagged behind Apple with its MacOS and IBM which had pushed OS/2 Warp out nearly a year earlier.  Both had similar shells.  So there were many great things about Windows 95 but being revolutionary wasn’t one of them.

Consistency: Consistent user experience is very important. It enables users to leverage what they’ve learned in one application (or device) and apply it to new experiences. That doesn’t necessarily mean having identical experiences everywhere, but it does mean having a consistent experience everywhere.

Consumers want to leverage the same skills whether they are using a phone, tablet, desktop/laptop, surface, or TV screen.

How this is an argument for Windows 8’s new shell I really don’t know.  As he points out in the earlier section the Windows 8 UI is revolutionary in many ways meaning it doesn’t resemble anything else on the market (except Windows Phone which almost no one uses yet).  Beyond that Windows 8 isn’t even internally consistent since it opens up a classic Windows desktop to run legacy apps.

Next he goes on to the developer issue.  He says…

I’ve said nothing about the developer story. I really don’t know. You’ve undoubtedly heard discussions around C++ (or WinC++), and HTML5/JavaScript. Those technologies make sense, for different reasons.

C++ still has a larger developer community that any other programming language on the planet. With so much emphasis on .NET and managed code, the market seemed to forget that Microsoft has one of the major C++ compilers, and produces many familiar windows applications.

I don’t know what he bases that on.  None of the major Operating System manufacturers use C++ as their primary development environment (Apple: Objective-C, Microsoft: C#, Google: Java).  Plus C++ is a distant third in the TIOBE index as well. 

HTML5 and JavaScript are the hot new technologies, and are receiving tremendous buzz. Microsoft cannot ignore them, and it’s smart to announce support for them in the next version of Windows as early as possible.

No one’s against them supporting HTML5 and Javascript.  The issue is making it their primary focus at the expense of existing technologies. 

I’ve been accused of being on a rampage against anyone who supports the new Windows 8 interface.  That’s really not the case.  I’m actually in favor of it to a large extent.  I don’t believe users will embrace it but I hope I’m wrong.  But the issue here is he’s using false references to make the shell look like a safer bet than it is.  That’s what I have a problem with. 



The Strategy Behind Twitter Integration

clock June 6, 2011 18:02 by author Tom

From TechCrunch

Apple just announced a fairly in-depth ‘Twitterification’ of the newest version of its mobile OS, iOS 5 (which we reported last week to be taking place). As Apple says during the WWDC keynote today, there are 1 billion Tweets per week now and we want to make it even easier for all our customers to use Twitter in our iOS products.

Now Apple provides a single sign-on for Twitter use on the phone, and with any app you download, it will just ask you for Twitter credential permission. There’s no need to re login. Apple has taken it a step further to integrate Twitter into many of its own features and applications like camera and photos. You can also Tweet articles and content directly from Safari, Maps, videos from YouTube, etc and add location as well. And Twitter photos and @usernames can be autopulled into the phone’s contacts.

Does this seem odd to you?  It should.  Building someone else’s product into your operating system without any quid pro quo arrangement is pretty unheard of.  I’m not sure I can think of a single example of this happening in the past.  But when you think about it from a strategic standpoint it’s actually pretty brilliant. 

You see Apple is behind in the social realm.  In fact they’re WAY behind.   I’d argue they’re so behind that execution alone won’t catch them up.  In order for Apple to catch up, the market leader (Facebook) will have to stumble. 

But here’s where Apple is lucky.  Facebook has already stumbled.  They missed Twitter’s appeal and though they’ve tried to catch up with their Status Updates it hasn’t worked yet.  Apple obviously sees this and is endeavoring to make it worse.  

For a second let us look at what Facebook does.  It allows users to connect with each other by letting them share things easily.  Be it Text Updates, Photos, Interesting Links, or whatever.  People visit Facebook to see what their friends have shared. 

So to cripple Facebook you’d need to leverage their one weakness (text updates) in a way that causes other weaknesses to spring up.  Which is exactly what Apple is trying to do.  By making it easy for users to share other things on Twitter they have a very real shot at depriving Facebook of the updates that keep it alive.  

Look at the official post on the Twitter Blog

Twitter has always been the best way to instantly share whatever is happening around you, and everything you're interested in, anywhere you are. And today we're working with Apple to make sharing on Twitter even easier: Twitter is built right into iOS 5, coming soon to iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices worldwide.
This means that you’ll be able to sign in to your Twitter account once and then tweet with a single tap from Twitter-enabled apps, including Apple’s apps—Camera, Photos, Safari, Contacts, YouTube, and Maps. And developers of all of your favorite apps can easily take advantage of the single sign-on capability, letting you tweet directly from their apps too.

Notice it isn’t “keep in touch” anymore.  It’s “instantly share whatever is happening around you”. 

But there’s more.  Once iOS users start posting to Twitter exclusively they’ll draw their non-iOS users in.  The beauty of doing this with Twitter is it doesn’t benefit Apple directly.  Google wants Facebook to go away too.  Since Twitter isn’t owned by Apple there’s no harm in pushing Twitter integration for Android.   In fact the apps already exist. 

So while integrating Twitter into iOS is an odd move it’s a very strategic one.  It exacerbates Facebook’s weakness by empowering the company’s chief competitor.  If Apple can get its customers to post all their updates, photos, and web links to Twitter it will be a crippling blow to Facebook. 



Are you familiar with the term “Dunderhead”

clock June 6, 2011 13:07 by author Tom

Per usual Mary Jo Foley is doing a better job of conveying Microsoft’s goals than Microsoft is…

Last week during the first public preview of the Windows 8 user interface, Microsoft officials said that new Windows 8 apps will be created in HTML5 and JavaScript. By deciding not to mention anything about .Net and Silverlight — telling developers they’d have to wait until the September Build conference to hear more — company officials ended up setting off new speculation that the company is poised to dump its current frameworks and programming interfaces.

I’ve blogged before about the XAML layer that Microsoft is building for Windows 8 as part of its “Jupiter” initiative. Yes, it still exists, I hear from my contacts. And yes, this will enable support of native Silverlight applications. (Does this mean Windows Phone apps written using Silverlight will be able to run on Windows 8 with no/few tweaks? I don’t know.)

I’ve watched Microsoft for a long time.  As in “I was reading accounts of the internal war between Brad Silverberg and Jim Allchin back in Jr. High” (on Usenet no less).  So I’ve seen technology shifts before and I’ve seen Microsoft Turf wars before. 

The problem is this particular shift didn’t shift to something developers can use. 

Microsoft hasn’t even given details on HOW one would write HTML5/Javascript desktop apps.  Unless they want everyone to use Chrome or Adobe Air (which I assume isn’t the case).  Yet they very publicly announced HTML5/Javascript Desktop apps are the future and left out their current offerings (namely Silverlight).  A public announcement that was carried in the Wall Street Journal.  

So any CIO or Consultant using Microsoft technology is left adrift.  Because the Executives/Customers they’re pitching to have now heard Microsoft say “HTML5/Javascript is the future of Desktop Apps”.  Making Silverlight look like a technology with an expiration date that’s only a year in the future.  Yet that CIO/Consultant has no way to pitch an HTML5/Javascript based Desktop App. 

It wouldn’t have taken much for Sinofsky to say “HTML5/Javascript or Silverlight” instead of “HTML5/Javascript”.  But he didn’t.

If I had to guess why this  happened I’d go back to Tim Anderson’s theory that different divisions of Microsoft are pulling in different directions.  With the Developer Division continuing to support XAML based solutions while Sinfosky’s Windows/Windows Live team tries to unify under HTML5.  Meaning Sinofsky would leave Silverlight out of his presentation because of some kind of internal turf war (which again Microsoft is famous for). 

But if that’s the case Microsoft seriously needs a leadership overhaul.  If the head of the WIndows division can appear to throw a large portion of Microsoft developers under the bus just to spite another Microsoft division then something has gone terribly, terribly wrong over in Redmond. 



Attack of the Proxies

clock June 4, 2011 22:56 by author Tom

Every company has proxies out there.  People who don’t work for the company but who tow the company line because they get speaking engagements and other incentives from the company.  These people are often used to give controversial company decisions credibility because they’re visible in the community and they don’t directly work for the company which makes them appear to be credible outsiders.

Sam Gentile is a Microsoft proxy.  I don’t know if he’s directly paid by Microsoft anymore but he’s clearly someone whose best interest is in supporting them.  He makes the rounds of all the .Net User Groups and anyone involved in that community has probably seen him speak at least once.  So his post defending Microsoft’s Windows 8 presentation is not surprising… 

Yesterday Microsoft finally revealed the Windows 8 User Interface. It’s Metro UI based with applications built using Web Technologies, that’s HTML5 & AJAX. I’m not surprised. No one should be surprised, although what is going to happen to .NET is less clear. Microsoft has hinted at this direction with full support for jQuery and the demise of the proprietary Microsoft AJAX. Also, the tipping point occurred several years ago where you could essentially get a Web app to look as good as a native app without any of the footprint issues.  The axis has flipped. People want great user experiences but they want them on the Web.

The post is pretty wrong headed all the way through and I’ve addressed individual points below.  But the overall problem here is Mr. Gentile seems to think Web Apps are interchangeable with Desktop Apps and they are not.  Anyone who works in the real world knows you can’t always count on a connection.  40% of people in the U.S. still don’t have broadband connections and home.  Buying a 3/4G Hotspot for every employee that has to travel sometimes isn’t financially possible.  And even T3 lines occasionally fail. 

This is why most line-of-business apps are still on the desktop.  Clever use of Caching can allow applications to be used even when a connection is not available.  It’s also why most smart .Net developers use Silverlight’s Out-Of-Browser capabilities and why Mr Gentile’s attacks on Silverlight (which start right after the above paragraph) are off-base. 

The problem with Microsoft’s desktop environment shift is they haven’t released HTML5 tools that can do what Silverlight can nor have they outlined how these new desktop apps will work.  If they’d done that a professional using Microsoft technology could start new projects based around where Microsoft is heading but still use Silverlight in the interim.  Then they could transition over.  But since Microsoft hasn’t laid out anything (we don’t even know if these new apps will use the .Net Framework) that’s impossible. 

(For the record I’ve been suggesting people use Silverlight’s Out-Of-Browser ability and an MVVM based pattern but using HTML5 in place of Silverlight for the UI while using .Net Silverlight code on the backend.  But that’s just an educated guess)

To hammer home how wrong he is about Silverlight I’ve taken his individual points and refuted them below (quoted text is in bold)...

“Microsoft is simply going the way most of the rest of the world is going.” – Not really.  The “rest of the world” I believe he’s referring to are the people who think the desktop is completely dead.  Those people think everything will be web based.  That’s not where Microsoft is going at all.  Microsoft is saying “build desktop apps with web based technology” which is a completely different goal.  If you look at other companies pushing native apps (Apple, Google with Android, etc…) none of them are pushing web technologies (Google still has Android developers using Java and Apple is built around Objective-C)

“Let’s face it, despite the passion certain Silverlight developers have for their tools it never got broad acceptance.” – An assertion not backed up by any solid numbers.  The truth is Silverlight was never going to be a web technology.  Silverlight didn’t take hold on the open web for the same reason that Flash is losing ground.  I have no problem with HTML5 and Javascript for the web.  But for corporations Silverlight hasn’t been around that long.  Most corporate initiatives take a year or so to get through the planning stages alone.  Which leads me to…

“[Silverlight’s] been around 5 years now” – That’s just a lie and anyone whose familiar with Microsoft technology should know it.  Silverlight 1.0 was not the Silverlight of today.  It was Javascript based and didn’t support C# or the .Net Framework subset.  It was completely different technology.  Silverlight in its current form has been around less than 3 years (the RTM date on 2.0 was Oct. 14th, 2008). 

“Two things have held Silverlight and WPF back. It has a huge learning curve to do right. Unfortunately the vast majority of XAML developers opted to create the same battleship grey applications they did with MFC and plain old C# and VB.” – Clearly the rather shallow definition of “do right” here is “be pretty”.  Don’t get the wrong idea, I believe applications should be attractive.  But Silverlight’s advantages are just as much behind the scenes as they are in UI.  Rapid development with technology like LINQ is just as important and in fact more important from a business perspective.  Most corporate apps aren’t pretty. 

“When we, at work considered the next generation UI for our newest project, Silverlight was not even a consideration. But HTML and AJAX/JavaScript were! MVC was!”  - Well again we’re mixing Web with Desktop.  If you’re building a public facing web app you should be using HTML5 and Javascript.  But that IS NOT what he posted on originally.  The Windows 8 UI is about desktop apps NOT web apps.  They are different things.

“Chris Love alludes to the fact that many complain JavaScript is hard and it is! But that’s what jQuery is for. I also used to hate JavaScript. Last week, at work, I started to really learn jQuery and jQuery UI and I was shocked how jQuery-UI had legs as great cross-platform UI library.” – So lets talk about JQuery for a second (I’m not going to keep hammering the desktop vs. web issue even though its still relevant here).  I love Jquery.  I am an unabashed supporter of it.  But I also realize it doesn’t entirely deliver on its cross platform promises.  Open a JQuery UI based app in IE  7 and you’ll see what I mean.  It doesn’t look bad but it looks different.  That’s a problem because, as I said above, in the real world legacy apps from other manufacturers sometimes require different browser versions.   Silverlight is an easy way to write an app that looks the same in all different browsers and if you’re in a corporation that can guarantee the plug-in will be there it’s your fastest way to build apps. 

Addendum: One last point I’d like to make.  I used to be one of those “all apps should be web apps” type of people.  But again only 60% of households have broadband connections while web apps don’t work without a broadband connection.  Many argue these households aren’t the ones that buy new PCs anyway but I can tell you that’s not the case.  I’ve found many $100,000+ income households still don’t have broadband connections because they just don’t see the need.  They do most of their web browsing at work and don’t want to pay the $100 a month for something they don’t think they’ll use.  So the issue of web apps isn’t as cut and dry as many technology people think it is. 



Doomsday for .NET?

clock June 3, 2011 13:58 by author Tom

Tim Anderson published an interesting piece entitled “Microsoft refuses to comment as .NET developers fret about Windows 8”.  In my experience over the last few days “fret” is an understatement.  Developers I know are baffled by Microsoft’s indifference towards them. 

For those who missed it Microsoft gave a glimpse of Windows 8 this week (see video here) and it essentially adopts the tile interface of Windows Phone 7.   Except you can click on certain tiles (like an “Excel  Tile”) and it will open legacy applications complete with taskbar, desktop, file system, and all the other trappings of Windows.  

image

I didn’t comment at the time because I think the whole Interface is doomed to failure.  Sure you’re hearing a bunch of pundits and bloggers praise it but that’s meaningless.  They aren’t going to trade their Mac for a Windows machine.  I know this because all those same people heaped praise on Windows Phone 7 yet they’re all still using iPhones.  As for novice users, I can’t see them embracing an Operating System with two different usability paradigms jammed into it.  Anyone who has worked with novice users knows they live and die by definitive rules.  The taskbar is always there at the bottom, you can always right click on an object to see the commands available to you, and so on.  Beginners need consistency.  Windows 8 provides exactly the opposite. 

So it’s really an interface designed for no one and likely to be cast aside like Microsoft Bob, The Windows Media Shell, and all the other shell interfaces Microsoft’s tried to build on top of Windows over the years.

The real problem is in the developers.  Along with the tile interface Microsoft said they consider HTML5 and Javascript the preferred way of developing Windows Apps.  Which absolutely obliterates their developer strategy.  To quote Mr. Anderson’s post…

Microsoft made no mention of either Silverlight or .NET, even though Silverlight is used as the development platform in Windows Phone 7, from which Windows 8 Tiled mode draws its inspiration.

The fear of .NET developers is that Microsoft’s Windows team now regards not only Silverlight but also .NET as a legacy technology. Everything will still run, but to take full advantage of Tiled mode you will need to use the new HTML and JavaScript model.

Underlying the discussion is that developers have clients, and clients want applications that run on a platform with a future. Currently, Microsoft is promoting HTML and JavaScript as the future for Windows applications, putting every client-side .NET developer at a disadvantage in those pitches.

Worse Microsoft is pushing slightly different development strategies for every one of its platforms right now.   Windows 7 is WPF, Windows Phone is Silverlight, Windows 8 is HTML5 and Javascript and ASP.NET is C# based web development (it’s still hard to use Javascript directly in ASP.NET).  This chaos seems to come from directly inside Microsoft…

From the outside, it still looks as if Microsoft’s server and tools division is pulling one way, and the Windows team the other. If that is the case, it is destructive, and something CEO Steve Ballmer should address; though I imagine that Steven Sinofsky, the man who steered Windows 7 to launch so successfully, is a hard person to oppose even for the CEO.

What makes this disaster so maddening is it has been brewing for months now.  Since November of last year when (then) Microsoft Senior VP Bob Muglia all but declared Silverlight dead.  These statements were later revised but the revision looked a lot like back peddling(Microsoft’s Sinofsky did a similar back peddle when asked about Silverlight during the Windows 8 Q&A). 

Yet Microsoft staff continue to be blasé about these changes.  Take this post from Microsoft’s Dare Obasanjo…

Earlier this week, Microsoft took the initial wraps off of the next version of Windows (aka "Windows 8"). As someone who loves personal computing and loves the Web, there’s a lot I find exciting about what we just announced.  If you’re a web developer this represents an amazing opportunity and one that should fill you with excitement.

So while half the .NET developers are flipping out because they believe their skills are now obsolete we’re getting sunny PR talk from Microsoft employees.  The reason I quote Mr. Obasanjo is because I know he’s aware of the problem.  He tweeted about it right after he made the above quoted post…

image

So there’s clearly not been an emergency meeting of any kind at Microsoft.   No one’s raised the red flag.  Instead Microsoft continues to watch with painful indifference as its developers run out to buy books on Ruby. 

Addendum: For the record I do think you'll be able to develop Silverlight apps for years to come.  IE is clearly the engine for all these new Javascript/HTML5 apps meaning Silverlight will also work just fine.  The problem, as Mr. Anderson's article lays out, is in pitching the applications in the first place.  No one wants to start a "legacy" app and Microsoft has made all its current tools appear obsolete.  



The Death Knell for Forbes’ Credibility

clock May 12, 2011 15:59 by author Tom

I warn you right now my tone might be harsher than I’d prefer here.  I tried to tone it down (even waiting several hours after writing this to post it) but the whole thing really annoyed me.  So I apologize in advance for the incivility. 

That said this Forbes article is misleading or just plain wrong in just about every paragraph.  Here are a few examples of what I mean…

Chromebooks are built to run nothing but a browser–unless they’re jailbroken, no executable files can be installed, neither antivirus software, nor the malicious software it’s meant to protect against. And if that web-only strategy catches on–still a big if, admittedly–it could spell real trouble for the antivirus companies like McAfee, Symantec, Kaspersky and Trend Micro.

This really isn’t true.  There’s a whole SDK dedicated to writing native applications.  I think Google has done everything they can to secure those apps with their double sandbox design.  But to say “no executable files can be installed” is inaccurate. 

Charlie Miller, a researcher for Independent Security Evaluators who has made a career out of disproving Apple’s security claims, has owned a Chromebook since February, when the machines were sent as freebies to winners of the Pwn2Own hacking competition in Vancouver. He hasn’t dug deeply into the device’s security, but he says the Web-only security model works in theory. While a hacker might exploit bugs in the Chrome browser to run code on a user’s machine, that exploit would only allow the attacker for a single session, and would disappear the moment the browser closed. “The way you stay persistent [as a hacker] is by installing software,” says Miller. “This is designed not to allow any persistence. You turn it off and on and you’re good to go.”

This is Stage One thinking at its worst.  Yes, a hacker could only gain access to the Chromebook for one session.   But the whole point of “hacking” (as defined in this context) is to access or cause damage to the user’s data.  So gaining access to the Chromebook for more than one session is irrelevant.  A virus targeting a Chromebook would be looking to harvest credentials from the user and then access their files off Google’s cloud. 

So, in theory, all a malignant program would have to do is redirect the browser to a page that makes it appear the user has been logged out.  The user enters their credentials and the harvesting program can do whatever damage it wants to the files in the cloud.   In that way it actually presents more of a security threat because you can’t stop it by turning off your own computer (as you could with a traditional virus).

The Chromebook contributes to that larger post-PC problem McAfee and its ilk, [Perimeter E-Security’s Andrew Jaquith] argues.  Jaquith points to data from Gartner Research that predicts sales of 1.4 billion post-PC devices (a category that he construes as including the Chromebook) by 2015 compared with 540 million traditional PCs. “Very few of these will need AV. That’s terrible news for security vendors because three-quarters of the market for their traditional products is about to go away,” says Jaquith. “That’s what happens when you build security in, instead of relying on the market to bolt it on. It’s great for customers, and terrible for the security aftermarket.”

Two things here.  First the article quotes a security person whose company is shifting their focus to these post PC Devices (see here).  That’s smart of his company but it gives him a bias.  Because his company directly competes with McAfee and their focus on post-PC devices is a strategic advantage.   So drawing focus to them makes his company look better over their competitors.

(I’ve already posted on how Analysts are almost always wrong with these types of numbers so I’ll just direct you to that post in regards to the Gartner claim)

The second thing is the claim that post-PC devices won’t require any security software.  That really isn’t provable.  Apple has had few to no security breaches because they lock down things so extensively.  But we don’t know how many Android breaches are out there because people can side-load applications.  Meaning there might be programs compromising Android phones right now that Google isn’t aware of.   Google has had security breaches in its own Marketplace so I think it’s safe to assume there are malignant side-loaded apps out there. 

In the end we really don’t know what the need for Anti Virus software will be in a post-PC era (not that we are anywhere close to being in a post-PC era).  Which is why this article annoyed me so much.  It is far too early to be writing off security for these post-PC devices.  Telling people they “shouldn’t worry about it” is downright irresponsible and could be disastrous in the future. 



Quick Post on Chromebooks for Education

clock May 11, 2011 17:10 by author Tom

So Google announced Chomebooks for Education which costs $20 a month (Thank you TechCrunch for rushing a paragraph long article out for me to quote)…

ChromeBooks, centralized, almost entirely cloud-based machines by Google, will be available for students and schools at $20/per month/per user, enabling full updates, central login controls, and a central administrator panel to handle users and control access.

I don’t have a lot of time to make this post.  But I’m already seeing “Wow, Google just made it possible for every child to have a notebook” tweets so I wanted to address the reality as someone who is responsible for a school.   To put this in perspective I’m going to list the costs for our most recent “student computer” configuration.  This configuration has been deployed to our Los Angeles location since September of 2010 and has been running (reasonably) flawlessly since then. 

Here are the costs to maintain that configuration over 4 years (the life of the Asus Eee PC we are using)

-----------------------------

Netbook: $331.99

(We actually used the Asus Desktops but I'm trying to compare Apples to Apples here so I quoted the Eee PC 1015PEM 10.1" Netbook)

Anti-Virus: $52.36

Deep Freeze: $24

Office 2010: $99.95

Internet Filter: $26

Memeo Connect: $24

-----------------------------

Grand Total: $11.64 per Month

=====================

So as you can see the Chomebook would almost double our cost per month while severely limiting us because it can’t run Windows programs (which most educational software still is). 

Now, in fairness, the cloud portion of the above configuration is made possible by Google generously providing free access to Google Docs and GMail.  Because of that we can use Memeo Connect and give the kids cloud access to their files.   So kudos to Google for that. 

But that’s exactly what makes Google Chromebooks unattractive.  With the above I can actually deploy Windows 7 netbooks.  Netbooks that can run all the kids games, do desktop publishing (there’s no Google Docs equivalent to Publisher),  run one of the existing web filtering programs and still do everything a Chromebook can (since it has Chrome loaded as its default browser).

Beyond that we use Faronics Deep Freeze which is a program that restores the default configuration on every boot.  So even Google’s security checks aren’t an advantage over this configuration.   And since the updates run automatically on Sunday morning (the computer unfreezes so changes  can be made) the auto-update is taken care of as well. 

Don’t get me wrong.  It isn’t that I don’t applaud Google for trying.  But this isn’t a game changer by any measure.  In fact, as I understand it right now, it isn’t even usable for schools. 

Addendum: For the record my point isn't to dump on Google.  If I had more time I'd point out some things Google could have done and could still do to make the Chromebook a viable option (and I'll definitely post that in the next couple days so stay tuned).  I just wanted to get something out there quickly to do my small part to redirect the "Google saves schools" meme I saw developing.  

2nd Addendum: From Danny Sullivan...

 

Google says there’s a three year subscription required. Hardware will be upgraded at the end of the three years, if people want to continue on the plans.

 

So with my current plan we'd pay about $1,676 for hardware and software over a 12 year period. With Google Chromebook for Education it would be $2,880. That's clearly an unfair comparison in many ways (most notably that we'd have newer computers for a few years of that if we went with Google). But it doesn't change the reality.  If I were to switch tomorrow it would cost that much more.  



Nixon, Arrington and the Amazing Human Brain

clock May 8, 2011 15:50 by author Tom

Yesterday Michael Arrington of TechCrunch responded to criticism over his investing in startups.  His point is basically that people have all kinds of biases and since he’s disclosing his it shouldn’t be an issue.  I made a similar point here so I agree with that part.  But then he goes a little further…

AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, the chief whiner about our policy, is married to a Google executive. This is disclosed by her, but I certainly don’t see it as any less of a conflict than when I invest in a startup. And yet she whines. One of her writers, Liz Gannes, is married to a Facebook consultant. She covers the company and its competitors regularly. She discloses it as well, but it isn’t clear whether or not her husband has stock in Facebook. That’s something as a reader I’d like to know. And regardless, it’s a huge conflict of interest. I think someone will think twice before slamming a company and then going to sleep next to an employee of that company. Certain adjectives, for example, might be softened in the hopes of marital harmony.

I see where he’s coming from here.  He feels accused and so he’s pointing out the hypocrisy of his accusers .   But in the juicy personal conflict I think the real point is being missed here.  So to pull it back to that I’d like to tell a very brief story (it’s less than a page long printed out and it’s important so give me some leeway here).

~~~~

Years ago I took a U.S. History class.  During a discussion of Richard Nixon’s Presidency I made the claim that “he was the President most responsible for the Vietnam war”. 

I didn’t think twice about making this claim because it’s generally accepted that Nixon is the President most associated with the Vietnam war.  But my professor challenged me to back up this claim and I found that I couldn’t.  In fact, when you look at it objectively the opposite is true.  He walked in the door committed to ending the war as quickly as he saw possible (See Addendum Below for more details).

So why is Nixon so closely associated with the War in Vietnam?

I didn’t know at the time but a couple years ago an interesting editorial crossed my path.  During the Nixon administration the “most trusted man in News” was Walter Cronkite.  So revered was Mr. Cronkite that, to this day, he’s held up by many as the prototypical unbiased journalist.  Yet this Washington Post editorial paints a different picture.  Apparently Mr. Cronkite was considered as a Vice Presidential candidate to run against Richard Nixon…

Walter Cronkite could have been vice president of the United States, and that would have both ended the war in Vietnam with some dignity and prevented Watergate from becoming "our long national nightmare."

It's not even a long story. In 1972 I was political director for the presidential campaign of Sen. George McGovern. That July, just as a rather chaotic Democratic National Convention in Miami agreed to make McGovern the party's nominee, I convened a group of top campaign officials to come up with some options for the candidate to consider as his running mate. Armed with a poll showing Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America, I proposed that the senator put forward Walter Cronkite for vice president.

My idea met with instant, and unanimous, disapproval.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being considered for office (though it does show Cronkite had a bias that was pretty widely known).  But here’s the real issue…

Decades later, at a meeting of a corporate board on which they both served, George McGovern mentioned to Walter Cronkite that his name had been proposed as the vice presidential nominee at that stage of the campaign but was rejected because we were certain he would have turned us down. "On the contrary, George," the senator told me Cronkite replied, "I'd have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful war." At a later board meeting, Cronkite told a larger group that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to run with McGovern.

He would have ACCEPTED THE OFFER!  Walter Cronkite, the most trusted name in news, continued to report on the Nixon administration even though his bias against them was so great that he would have given up his journalism career to run against them in the current election.  In fact, I did a little further digging and found this

Walter Cronkite, May 19, 1971: "Many of us see a clear indication on the part of this administration of a grand conspiracy to destroy the credibility of the press. No one doubts the right of anyone to seek to correct distortion, to right untruths ... but the present campaign, spearheaded by Vice President Agnew and Republican National Chairman Sen. Robert Dole goes beyond that."

So not only did he dislike Nixon’s politics he actively thought the Administration was trying to destroy his credibility.   Could there be a larger bias than considering someone your personal enemy and the enemy of your entire profession?

~~~~

Given that I’d make two points.

1.  Not only does bias exist in Journalism now but it always has.  The standard people look back to never existed and in fact things have gotten better.  Cronkite never formally disclosed his political affiliations (though the above quote makes it clear IMHO)

2.  As with the Vietnam War the facts are always out there.  If you really think TechCrunch is biased than take their writing with a grain of salt.  When they write about a company that looks interesting take 5 minutes to do a Google search for that company’s competitors.  Then e-mail the TechCrunch link to those competitors and ask them to respond. 

Bottom line: Use your Brain!  There’s no reason to follow any writer’s opinion blindly.  Spend 10 minutes on research and then you won’t have to worry about  bias. 

The Vietnam Addendum

I don’t really want to spend a lot of time arguing the Vietnam war with people (or Richard Nixon who I do think was horrible on a personal level).  But there are some who believe Nixon escalated the war based on faulty assumptions (the same faulty assumptions I had and disproved when challenged by my professor).  These assumptions are…

Cambodia and Laos: Nixon did launch campaigns on these two countries but if you look at interviews from the time his goal was largely to liberate those countries in anticipation of ending the war.  The Nixon administration felt they would stay independent even if South Vietnam fell (which was largely true) so they took it upon themselves to drive the North Vietnamese out before moving to end the war. 

The Bombing of Hanoi: The Nixon administration walked into office thinking the Johnson administration had weakened the American position so much that negotiation would be impossible.  So they devised a plan to use air power as a showing of force.  This limited the use of ground troops (and hence casualties) while weakening North Vietnam by showing the U.S. could strike at their capital. 

In addition to that Nixon took steps from day one to dial down the war…

He pulled back ground troops: Look at the U.S. Casualties by year.  Nixon took office in January of 1969…

1966: 6,143

1967: 11,153

1968: 16,592

1969: 11,616

1970: 6,081

1971: 2,357

He improved relations with Communist China and the USSR: Nixon was the first President to visit both Moscow and Beijing.  Everyone remembers China but people forget that was part of a triangulation strategy to lure the USSR into talks (the idea being the USSR would fear improved relations between the U.S. and China and feel compelled to enter talks).  It worked as Nixon was invited to meet with with a Soviet Premier (Leonid Brezhnev) and flew to Moscow to do so.  All this is important because the early overtures to these breakthroughs limited support to North Vietnam (whose support was largely from the two communist countries)



About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The tom@tomstechblog.com address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the postmaster@tomstechblog.com address

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