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September 29, 2003

Semi-connected

V.S.Babu points to MSDN: Northwind Unplugged: Building a Semi-Connected Application in Visual Basic .NET, and says: "One reason why I think Groove is such a great tool is that it supports this way of functioning. You are not grounded if you donít have network connectivity".

The MSDN article (by these guys) is interesting, in that it's hard to build software like this; building a semi-connected application of any scale, even using technology-du-jour (Indigo?), is incredibly difficult. Geometrically complicated if you have different systems involved.

So the article's conclusion is nice:

Users, more and more, are expecting applications to work well in semi-connected environments. This is the result of a number of converging factors. First, laptop sales have now exceeded desktop sales. This means that users are mobile. Also, most new laptops now include 802.11 wireless cards as standard equipment. So, users are not only mobile, they come and go through areas of connectivity. Laptops let users get to a location and set up shop, but new devices are emerging that are literally designed to let the user work on the move. In fact, a major advantage of a Tablet PC is that it can be used while standing or walking.

Users are also being shown the light. Applications like Outlook 2003 work great in semi-connected environments, and do not require the user to manually switch between online and offline mode. Applications like Groove were architected from the start to be semi-connected.

As the decision makers in organizations are exposed to good examples of semi-connected applications, and as the semi-connected hardware (laptops, Tablet PCs, and so on) becomes ubiquitous, it's only a matter of time before decision makers demand that their applications work this way.

Taxation and virtual worlds

Dan Hunter on Death and Taxes: "Taxation can be used to mediate server resources. In the goode olde days of lambda and others, resource allocation was performed by the VW equivalent of the central committee of the politburo, aka the Architecture Review Board... I see now that Second Life is using market economics directly to mediate server resources. In 2L if you use resources in building content then those resources get taxed".

Even with some capitalist-model economic structures, most of these games are still a centralist "big server farm" mindset. Servers give you a simple model for control, lock-in, ownership; but downsides: single-point security and single-point superuser compromise patterns; resource conflict and scarcity. The server farm is Fort Knox AND the Louisiana Purchase.

But taxation applies to decentralised systems too...

September 27, 2003

Museum time?

Fogg, "one of America's finest collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist work... The Boston area's most important collection of Picasso's work". Or Sackler, "the world's finest collection of Chinese jades, Korean ceramics, and Chinese cave temple painting and sculpture; a significant collection of Japanese woodblock prints". Touch choice (but I think the celadon might swing it). Both free tomorrow... is that enough to drag me into Cambridge? We'll see...

Your seatbelts are useless

Don Box spoutlets about public speaking. "I try to only speak on topics I'm focused on in my daily life, so hopefully I have tons of relevant data in L0 cache".

I really do miss giving a "big talk". Haven't done that for a while now.

September 26, 2003

Smart Documents (explained)

On MSDN: Office Talk: The Definitive "Hello World" Managed Smart Document Tutorial. There are other documents explaining SmartDocuments, but they're totally incomprehensible unless you already understand them. Here (with .NET - although the same techniques apply in VB6 and C++) there's at last an intro/tutorial which is readable end-to-end without undue bafflement.

September 25, 2003

Isenberg on polling machines

here.

2-pin SOA

Jeff Schneider:

WS-* is moving into a world where dynamic protocol negotiation for non-functional requirements will be able to happen on the fly.

An example of two web services talking to each other (think consumer:producer) :
Service 1: Can you do encrypted?
Service 2: Yes, I do TripleDES, Do you?
Service 1: Yes, let's do it!
Service 1: Do you do Reliable Messaging?
Service 2: No, not for this operation.
Service 1: Can you treat this operation as part of a transaction?
Service 2: No, I can't, but I do have a compensating mechanism, see URI:xxx.wsdl

I'm very new to WS-* (having deliberately avoided all those crazy acronymic layers), and only stumbled across Microsoft's GXA and WSE the other day; Jeff's sketch seems to be a pretty good summary. Especially at the interop/guarantee level ("NFR": non-functional requirements), this makes a lot of sense: negotiation around a confidentiality protocol is something an application developer would gladly delegate to the framework. As Clemens Vasters says, "composite metadata will change your life" (wow).

Via Phil Wainewright, rapping on Sean McGrath's RS-232 hardware analogy. But I think API complexity is a different topic... the "service bus" would probably be closest to this analogy.

omg

I think I just sent an email, to a founding-vice-president, containing the word "w00t". What is happening? Must be drinking too much coffee.

Or maybe just the excitement. I'll tell all when we ship it...

September 23, 2003

Vote early, vote often

Electronic voting machines are being built, and deployed, with incredible lack of security. Not even "security through obscurity". Just no comprehension of even the most basic principles.

And he walked me through it just like a support tech does -- open this panel, click this, do this, do that. And as I'm doing this it was appalling how easy it was. Once you know the steps, a 10-year-old can rig an election.
And, here:
Right now you can open GEMS' .mdb file with MS-Access, and alter its contents. That includes the audit log. This isn't anything new. In VTS, you can open the database with progress and do the same... Being able to end-run the database has admittedly got people out of a bind though. Jane (I think it was Jane) did some fancy footwork on the .mdb file in Gaston recently. I know our dealers do it. King County is famous for it. That's why we've never put a password on the file before... Back to perception though, if you don't bring this up you might skate through [external audit].
Look, it's possible to have decentralized secure digital tools to support democratic process (or individual privacy, or whatever). But it seems to me, large parts of the IT industry as a whole -- educators, standards committees, ISVs, consultants, watchdogs -- are simply not working with either technical or organizational frameworks under which these things are likely to be done right. Very Very Scary. If you want to do something about it, start here.
(via BoingBoing)

Everything... in its right place...

Google Labs 'search by location' is a must-see. This feature must be on so many wishlists - mine, certainly.

Some hits are spot-on (Bakery; Newburyport, MA: go B!), some are still have something missing, huh?...

September 22, 2003

Jobs at Groove

Several interesting software development job postings. These give quite a good spread of the technologies we're built with: security stuff, Web services, scalable communications servers, and multithreaded C++/COM.

September 21, 2003

zgws

What's this, I wonder?

September 20, 2003

Speak, Freely

Speak Freely end of life announcement. Actually an impassioned rant against the disappearance of an end-to-end era in the Net.

The Internet of the near future will be something never contemplated when Speak Freely was designed, inherently hostile to such peer-to-peer applications.
...In economic terms, the NATted user has become a consumer of services provided by a higher-ranking class of sites, producers or publishers, not subject to NAT... There are powerful forces, including government, large media organisations, and music publishers who think this situation is just fine.
And more -- much more -- in The Digital Imprimatur:
Earlier I believed there was no way to put the Internet genie back into the bottle. In this document I will provide a road map of precisely how I believe that could be done, potentially setting the stage for an authoritarian political and intellectual dark age global in scope and self-perpetuating, a disempowerment of the individual which extinguishes the very innovation and diversity of thought which have brought down so many tyrannies in the past.
(via Hack The Planet).

Hours of fun

(thanks Ned): the braindump-extraordinare weblog of Eric Lippert, Microsoft scripting guru. Already he has articles about parentheses in VBScript, JScript's anonymous functions (as well as functions-called-'anonymous') and closures, and the garbage collectors. and lots more in the same vein. Impressive stuff.

Hey Eric - how about some JScript.NET too already? Is it really the strict-typing-religion bunkum-fueled stewpot, designed by a mendacious standards-busting committee of locust-brained CLR troglodytes, that it appears to this uninformed observer? What are the big compromises in having a dynamic, functional language atop the CLR? What about all those non-ECMA extensions? Is JScript.NET just a road to lead people onto the (very)straight and (ever so)narrow?

. . o o O ( sorry about that. I have the flu or something... (-_-))

September 18, 2003

View templating

Cedric Beust thinks Ruby can be 'The ultimate View technology', avoiding the ugly hackery in existing build-page-from-template technologies (JSP/ASP/PHP, Velocity, XSL, ZPT/TAL, etc etc). Fascinating...

September 16, 2003

Office 2003

Sam says Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003 is up on MSDN Subscriber. I'd better go to work, then.

Read on

They say that travel broadens the mind. My childhood journeys provided ample contradictory evidence, though ("Ow! Stop it! Shut up! It wasn't me! He did it! Ow! Ow! If you don't behave I'll stop the car...").

Anyway. I think it's really a second-order effect: travellers read a lot, and reading broadens the mind. I don't get out so much, and my desktop is littered with PDFs which I shoulda coulda read; on a quiet morning I sometimes find time to scan through them.

Today's selection:


By the way, does anyone really believe that the Lambda calculus is indigenous? Sure it wasn't delivered in its entirety by visiting Grays? Or have I been reading too much Ken Macleod? (Great stuff, that. He has the physics of lightspeed travel approximately right, too).

Spacewar

I don't remember seeing this before: Rolling Stone on Spacewar and computing (1972). (via Jim McGee)

September 15, 2003

Feature graveyards

Ed Brill points to a CRN article and review of Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). I'm tempted just to one-up Ed ("Hey! Groove and InfoPath and WSS - rockin'!"), or to talk about serverless infrastructures, but my noodling turned into more of a requiem for feature obsolescence.


The review is good coverage of WSS, although slightly strange about Groove (which it asserts several times is "offered as a service" - huh?). Now here's some from Michael Vizard's article:

What was old is new again as Microsoft moves to bundle more distributed system services into its operating system... With the advent of SharePoint, Microsoft is doing to Lotus Notes what it did to Novell three or four years ago. In essence, the services needed to make any application inherently collaborative are now just a part of Windows Server.
Some of this definitely hits the mark. But collaborative infrastructure needs slightly more than just an integrated application server, and is bound by the qualities of that infrastructure too. Not for nothing is Groove's SharePoint integration called "Mobile Workspace"; it's basically the same application, unbound from the server.

I may be wrong, but OS-bundled collaborative offerings have been tried before, and not stuck. They're in the feature graveyard: probably functional, possibly supported, unused.

Feature Graveyards

For an example, try this. In IE's toolbar (if you're using Windows 2000 or later), you'll likely see a "page"-style icon with a tooltip "Discuss". I bet you never clicked it, but now's a good time to try. What happens? A "discussion toolbar" appears at the bottom of your IE window, and apparently lets you connect the current webpage into a server-based discussion. The same feature appears in all the Office applications, too (Tools - Online Collaboration - Web Discussions). But if you can actually connect that to a real server and use this facility to discuss the page with friends and colleagues, you're a couple steps beyond me. I trawled MSDN to find out how to configure a server for this, and: it's a feature called Office Server Extensions, from the Office 2000 Resource Kit. For its day, this was cool. No word whether it's still a part of Office XP or Office 2003.

This contextual collaboration fails because the infrastructure isn't there. OSE seems to be in the feature graveyard, with SharePoint riding the wave instead.

Switch now to {insert your application here}. I'm preaching to the choir if I say that contextual collaboration -- enabling high-fidelity commentary and decisionmaking in the context of your {CRM, ERP, library, research tool, design tool, etc} -- is valuable. Could you implement that against a SharePoint (read: vanilla Windows 2003) server? You'll need to crack open the SharePoint SDK documentation, and learn about the range of SOAP services exposed by WSS. Unfortunately, the details are quite hard to master. If you want "presence" as well as discussions, there's a separate server too. It's a major undertaking for an ISV. (To be fair, using Groove to do all this is still too difficult).

In the end, deployment and simplicity seem to matter; and deployment above all. Office 2003 is chock-full of really nice integration points with WSS - but unless the services really pervade your infrastructure, I'm a little sceptical whether they'll be widely used.

(Here at Groove we should have a structural advantage; the "services infrastructure" is all client-side...)

September 10, 2003

Power tools

Scott Hanselman's Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tools List. Some great stuff there.

Heads down

On Slate: parts 1 and 2 of a detailed four-part "Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act". (Notwithstanding the Fourth: I'm an alien, so my rights are well summed up as "keep your head down, keep your mouth shut"...)

September 07, 2003

Thompson in town

Walking on the beach, we discover that Richard Thompson is playing the local school soon. Wow. Hope there are a few tickets left.

September 05, 2003

Telling it like it is

Michael Meacher in The Guardian: "the 'global war on terrorism' has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda".