Miscellaneous and Useless Information

Software and the Internet


  • For you Billy Joel fans, Here Comes Another Bubble.
  • Earlier this year, Conan O’Brien was in San Francisco for a week. Watch his visit to Intel (part 1, part 2) and you’ll be impressed with what he gets away with. And I bet Sam Wo Restaurant in Chinatown is getting a bump in business after Conan’s ad for the hole-in-the-wall.
  • Bustin’ out of the late ’70s, the pop band Dschinghis Khan seems to be Germany’s answer to the Village People. A video of their 1979 hit, “Moskau,” has become one of those odd Internet fads. To top it off, someone made a “translation” of the lyrics.
  • The Second Life hype is unreal. Leave it to the TV show The Office to deflate some of it. And the advertising firm DraftFCB announces their debut on Second Life by parodying it.
  • Kurt Thomas probably would have won the gold in gymnastics if the U.S. hadn’t boycotted the 1980 Olympics. To keep himself in the public eye, he starred in the movie Gymkata, one of his more ill-advised career moves. But it’s left us with gems such as a fight scene where the village well is conveniently shaped like a pommel horse.

Looks like my prayers (and those of many others) have been answered: Apple will release a software development kit for the iPhone and iPod touch in February, enabling developers to write their own native apps for those devices. I’ll be curious to see how the third-party iPhone/iPod app market will develop; I bet it will be huge.

At its Max developer conference, Adobe gave a sneak preview of a new tool code-named Thermo that allows designers to create the front end to Flash-based rich Internet applications without writing code. For example, you can import a layered Photoshop image and convert parts of the image to real UI controls. You can also create dummy data so that you can test out your design without needing the database code to be finished.

Someone posted videos of the Thermo demo on YouTube. I highly recommend watching them; the demo is one of the most impressive I’ve seen, especially in the end-user programming area.

IBM made a big splash a couple of weeks ago when it released a new productivity suite based on the Productivity Tools in Lotus Notes 8. I joked with my colleagues that it should be called “SmartSuite for Notes.” But I never dreamed Lotus would reach back even farther and dub the them Lotus Symphony.

I remember the first incarnation of Lotus Symphony. A integrated software package for DOS, it included a spreadsheet (of course), word processor, database, charts, and communications program, although if I remember correctly, all of the modules looked suspiciously like a spreadsheet. I bet I still have a couple of .WRK files on some floppies somewhere. But eventually our family settled on Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheets and Microsoft Word for DOS for word processing (at a time when everyone else used WordPerfect).

Even though John Dvorak dubbed the original Symphony “one of the bottom 10 worst software disasters,” I think enough time has passed for Symphony to have largely shed its negative connotations. In fact, it probably doesn’t have any connotations anymore. And I find it fascinating to see new life breathed into this old brand, along with the resurgence of Lotus itself.

What’s the next Lotus brand to be resurrected? Agenda? Magellan?

As a kid I used to read the encyclopedia (yes, my nerdiness goes way back), so Wikipedia is truly a joy. Not only can I read it, I can also improve it. Most of my edits have been in subjects I initially know little about but have some strange interest in.

I have an unusual capacity to remember the twists and turns of corporate history, such as the whole Citigroup/Travelers saga. So when I saw the skimpy history section that the Travelers article had, I had to jump in and help out. I also created the article for Capgemini, one of the world’s largest consulting companies, after seeing a sign for “Cap Gemini Ernst & Young” in Cupertino and trying to figure out what the heck that was. In this case, I just created a stub, and thankfully the rest of the Wikipedia community filled it in.

I’ll also do articles of local interest. For example, I heavily rewrote the article on Vallco Fashion Park, now Cupertino Square. Just today, I was reading about Mineta San Jose International Airport, and I knew something was wrong when its history section started in the early 1980s. So I couldn’t resist doing a little research and adding a paragraph about how the airport really started, in 1939.

From the excessive hype department:

There are a few players I didn’t mention in my previous post on Rich Internet Applications. Laszlo has its own framework for building Flash-based apps, and they have plans to make their framework target Ajax as well.

Which brings me to the one platform I think has the best chance of winning: the web itself. HTML and JavaScript-based applications may be a pain to write, but it’s slowly getting easier, as evidenced by the dozens of Ajax libraries that have sprung up over the past two years.

I see the rise of the web as an application platform similar to the rise of the PC. At first, the PC was absolutely pathetic compared to its more powerful cousins: RAM measured in kilobytes, cassette drives for storage, operating systems that didn’t support subdirectories. But slowly and erratically the PC improved over time, until it ate companies like Digital for lunch.

The same is going on with the web. At first, HTML was pretty impoverished compared to desktop operating systems. No persistent storage, no drag-and-drop… I remember when web pages all had gray backgrounds and when you couldn’t even fill out forms. But all of these capabilities have slowly been added, and now web applications are vastly more capable than they were five years ago.

Isn’t Ajax kinda ugly? Sure! So are the x86 architecture and the Win32 API, but those aren’t going away anytime soon. Neither is the web.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep evolving. There are two efforts that could greatly improve the current state of affairs: HTML 5 and JavaScript 2. HTML 5 adds features like offline data, while JavaScript 2 includes some badly needed features such as a consistent packaging mechanism and class-based OOP (which may or may not be a good idea). Whether they are successful depends largely on whether Microsoft bothers to implement them well in Internet Explorer, and Microsoft is participating in both projects, so there is some hope.

So I believe HTML and JavaScript will continue to dominate over any other RIA platform. Microsoft’s actions with Internet Explorer will help determine how smoothly we get to that future.

My blog is under renovation! I’m finally starting to make my blog look more like the rest of my web site, by mucking with WordPress themes. Since I don’t feel like installing WordPress on my own machine, all of my experimentation will happen on my blog live. Hopefully it won’t cause much of a problem.

Over the past month, there have been a slew of announcements that have the potential to rearrange the Internet development landscape. Building on the momentum of Flash and Flex, Adobe announces Apollo, a platform for building desktop applications using a combination of Acrobat, Flash, HTML, and JavaScript. This could be seen as direct competition to Windows, especially Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) apps.

Then Microsoft turns the tables and announces Silverlight, a spinoff of WPF which is a platform for building rich applications for the Internet and the desktop, on Windows and Mac. Version 1.1 will include a subset of .NET, allowing developers to create apps in .NET languages such as C# and IronPython.

And then today, Sun announced JavaFX, another attempt to make Java appealing to desktops and devices. So far it consists of two parts. JavaFX Script is a new scripting language that makes it much easier to build Swing apps; it’s been open sourced. (By the way, JavaFX Script has nothing to do with JavaScript, which itself has nothing to do with Java. Blech.)

JavaFX Mobile promises to finally make Java consistent and useful on mobile devices. From everything I’ve heard, the current Java solution for phones and PDAs, Java ME + CLDC, is next to useless without proprietary extensions.

While JavaFX sounds good, I don’t know yet if Sun is tackling the main problem with deploying Java apps: a 13 MB download for the JVM, as opposed to a 1.4 MB download for Silverlight or 1.2 MB download for Flash.

Who will win? Who knows! This promises to be an interesting ride.

 

This blog has already moved twice before, but I expect this move will be the last. I’m posting all new entries right here:

http://blog.jameslin.name

I bet you didn’t realize .name existed, eh? That’s right, I have my very own domain, registered with directNIC and hosted by Dreamhost. I’m still using WordPress software for my blog (which I highly recommend), but now I have full control over it.

I’ll eventually redesign my blog so that it fits with the rest of my personal web site. But that means I need to learn how to create WordPress themes, which isn’t a one-hour job. But otherwise, it’s good to go.

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