Computing Infrastructure as a Utility

Just read Nirvanix To Challenge Amazon S3. I have been playing with Amazon’s web services for a number of months now, and I am impressed with some of what is there, and Nirvanix looks to be in a positions to challenge the same space. I find it interesting to look at some of the “success stories” on Amazon’s web site, reflecting to the potential for web startups to avoid large initial investments in infrastructure. Even in a well funded startup, it would make sense to focus resources on core IP, as opposed to buying infrastructure.

In my opinion, this is a more fundamental shift than many trends receiving a great deal more hype. Previous ASP hosted models, and more current SaaS models are less fundamental than this. To have a computing infrastructure that performs like a utility opens up many new possibilities.

Now I just have to figure out what they are 🙂

Another interesting article on an Electric Vehicle

Zero Motorcycles cranks out whisper quiet electric bike – Engadget

 This is another interesting concept. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the whole concept of electric cars – at least with ones with batteries which need to be charged from the electric power grid. In terms of a solution to our energy problems, or to global warming, these really make no sense whatsoever. All they are doing is moving the problem from one place (vehicles) to another place (the power grid), where the environmental impact is potentially as bad or worse. If even a small percentage of our vehicles were switched to electric, the impact on the power grid would be enormous.

While I admire the idea behind this effort, I believe the environmental advantages are largely illusory.

The Future of the Tablet PC (does it have one?)

Reading a post by Loren Heiny, Will the Tablet PC find a new advocate?, got me thinking (again) about the future of the Table PC – more worrying about whether the Tablet even has a future. I am worried that because of the complete mess Microsoft has made of marketing the tablet platform, without Bill’s continued visible support behind it, the Tablet will either disappear, or be relegated to a very narrow niche product.

I think I have mentioned (over and over) that I am a big fan of the Tablet PC. I think that in many respects it is far more innovative than anything to come out of Apple in the last 10 years or so. And in terms of the industry as a whole, it has opened up both a hardware and potential software market well beyond Microsoft (take note of that all you Apple fans – what has the ultimate closed source community at Apple produced that has benefited any business other than Apple?).

The problem now, of course, is that the Tablet is old news. It is 5 years old, has not lived up to early predictions that soon “every laptop sold will be a Tablet” (though in real terms has been reasonably successful), there is a shortage of really “tablet specific” or even “tablet aware” applications (notable exceptions of course are OneNote and MindJet MindManager). It has really missed the boat on the hype cycle it could have generated. And now, the primary champion of the platform, Bill himself, is no longer involved in day-to-day operations at Microsoft.

So, whither the Tablet PC? Loren makes a number of good points in the referenced article – and I will not repeat them here (hey, go read the original!). I agree whole-heartedly that the fact that those of us who support the Tablet PC have our work cut out for us if the momentum is to be maintained. I have been looking for projections about the size and growth of the Tablet PC market, but doing a Google search I do not see anything that is newer than about 2004. Are there any more current projections out there?

Another thought I had, beyond Loren’s observations, is around open source and the Tablet PC. The hardware specifications for the Tablet are fairly well defined. Unfortunately, the only software that supports it is Windows (not that I dislike Windows, but it means the entire Tablet PC industry is at the mercy of Microsoft’s decsions about continuing the platform). how about some of these really innovation open source types take the Tablet PC to new heights? Lets create a Linux-based (or not) OS, put a novel, Tablet-specific UI on it, and drive the Tablet market in that way? I know there are people out there who have put Linux on the Tablets, but I am talking more than just getting so it doesn’t crash, and works like a laptop with a funny shaped mouse. Something that really IS a Tablet computer. That would be a really innovative use of Open Source!

Thoughts?   

Open XML versus ODF, Part III

Well, since I did not receive any pointers to more analyses from my last post, I went searching on my own (doing the work myself always being a last resort!) I have found a number of articles which were very informative and seemed well put together. I am still reading and re-reading some of them, so my opinions my changed, but they all seem to be at least thoughtful analyses.

ODF/OOXML technical white paper has a fairly detailed analysis, though from the outset the author admits that the underlying philosophy of the paper is

“We are of the view that the format appears to be designed by Microsoft for Microsoft products, and to inter-operate with the Microsoft environment. Little thought appears to have been exercised regarding interoperability with non-Microsoft environments or compliance with established vendor-neutral standards [11].”

This seems to be an underlying theme of most of the articles – to start with the purpose of showing “why ODF is good and Open XML is bad”, as opposed to being purely unbiased form the start. This paper appears to be relatively fair in its analysis, however.

I also stumbled across a number of articles related to errors in the spreadsheet formula portion of the OOXML documentation, such as Microsoft OOXML spec ‘dangerously flawed’. While I would agree that these flaws (if they exist – I have not searched for them, but I beleive they do) are important, you do not through out a proposed standard because of flaws like this, you fix them and move on. I would be relatively surprised if a 6000-page document did not contain any errors. I would see this as an argument against fast-tracking standardization, but not for throwing the Open XML specification out altogether.

Then there are the documents presented on http://www.noooxml.org/arguments. While I am sure there are some great documents on this site, for my purposes I excluded them from the outset, since the site is obviously biased. For similar reasons, I did not go searching around Microsoft’s web site, or Microsoft Blog’s for information supporting Open XML.

The wiki at http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/EOOXML_objections maintains a substantial list of concerns with the Open XML specification. There are concerns in there with which I agree, and others with which I do not. It, also, starts from the premise that “Open XML is bad”, and so is not really an unbiased analysis.

One thing that struck me as interesting, is that outside of the purely Microsoft sphere of influence (the Microsoft web site, Microsoft blogs, etc.), I came across no information presented from a Microsoft perspective, or analyzing why Open XML is better or as-good-as ODF. It seems the Microsoft camp is focusing purely on “we would like to get this specification standardized”, rather than attacking the alternative.

This leads to the question, isn’t that the correct approach? Let the Open XML specification be standardized (with identified “real” problems fixed, and let Darwinism decide which format survives?  (I can hear the Open Source community crying already!)

But, isn’t that what having alternatives is all about?

Open XML versus ODF, Part II

Last Thursday, I posted a question about Open XML versus ODF, hoping someone could point me a a real, technical analysis of the strengths and weakness of the two formats. The one response I received, from Sam Hiser, pointed to an article entitled Interoperability: Will the Real Universal File Format please Stand Up? 

The article (and the other related articles in the same publication) was very interesting, well written, and raised some interesting points. Unfortunately, I do not agree that it constitutes a technical analysis of the two formats. There is a great deal of reference to features in OOXML which cannot be implemented by third parties without access to proprietary information from Microsoft, but there are few if any hard examples. The primary examples might be the inclusion of things like autoSpaceLikeWord95 and footnoteLayoutLikeWW8. I cannot see how Microsoft could avoid including items like this in order to support proper rendering of legacy documents. In fact, if Microsoft had not included backwards compatibility support in the specification, I could see them being equally criticized for it. As for implementing these features, this is only necessary if you want to render documents to look like old versions of Word.

Most of the commentary in these articles still comes down to “ODF is good because Microsoft is evil”.

In addition, there is a great deal of argument as to whether having more than one standard is a good thing or a bad thing. It is interesting to me that the open source community is extremely supportive of having alternatives, unless one of the alternatives comes from Microsoft.

So, I repeat my question (and clarify slightly): Does anyone know of an independent, unbiased analysis of these two document specifications?

Open XML versus ODF

I have been reading several articles and blog posts the last while on the approvel process for Open XML in various countries. These include Open XML – US V1 Committee Vote and IBM Motivations, Microsoft guns Open XML onto ISO fast track, and Open XML Suffers a Setback on the Road to ISO Ratification . Setting aside the name-calling, accusations, insinuations and other vitriol which seems to pervade all discussion involving Microsoft and the open source world, I would like to better understand what the technical justification of ODF over Open XML might be (or vice versa). While I would not claim to be a technical expert in either format (though I know Open XML much better than ODF), the main arguments I have seen in favour of ODF are:

  1. It got here first
  2. It is not from Microsoft

I do not see either of these as useful arguments. Can anyone out there point me to real, meaningful, technical reasons why one is better than the other?

Linux sucks – especially Ubuntu

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I like to play with Linux periodically just to keep current (actually, I like to play with almost all technologies, but there is just never enough time). I have also done quite a bit of development on Linux for server applications, though I must admit it has been a number of years.

This past weekend, it was time to rebuild my laptop, which I do every few months because I have a tendency to install a lot of trials and betas and other stuff that just generally polutes my system. Since I was reinstalling anyway, I decided it would be fun to use Ubuntu as my main OS, and do all my other stuff (i.e. Windows) through virtual machines. So, I downloaded Ubuntu Desktop 7.04, burned it out to a CD, booted up and away I went. For about 30 seconds. Then the installer from the disk crashed and burned. I tried it several different times, playing with suggestions I got from forums and stuff. No luck – it appears the installer did not like the X1400 video card in my Dell laptop (all pretty standard stuff). I could probably continue to play with this, and I am pretty sure I would find some way to get it installed. Or, i could use a different Linux distribution. That would defeat the point, however, as what I was really trying to check out was whether the current hype about Linux being ready to make the move to the desktop is real.

This brings me to the title of this post. Do I think Linux sucks? No, I think Linux is great. Do I think Ubuntu especially sucks? Not at all, though I did not really get a chance to find out.

As I read various blogs (Linux blogs, Microsoft blogs with comments from Linux zealots, Open Source blogs, etc.), I frequently see comments of the type “Microsoft sucks, and everything they build is crap, because I tried to install “product X” on “machine Y” and it didn’t work.” This type of broad generalization seems to be endemic in the open source and Linux communities, primarily when talking about anything Microsoft. Sure, I have run into problems installing and using stuff from Microsoft. I have also run into problems installing and using products from pretty much every software vendor I have run into in the last 20 years. It is an unfortunate fact of life (though I do not believe it has to be this way).

As much as I love open source software, including Linux, fanatics in the open source community have really been getting on my nerves lately (it is much the same way I feel about golf – I love golf, but golfers annoy the heck out of me).

So, by the logic of the open source world, am I justified in saying “Linux sucks – especially Ubuntu”?

Second Life: What’s the Big Deal?

Ok, so I have been thinking about this post for a long time. There is a constant stream of hype around Second Life and the opportunities which abound in that world. It is very hard to look anywhere on the web without someone raving about Second Life. Am I the only person in the world who just does not get it? I understand the concept – I mean I have spent time over the years in various online collaborative environments, ranging from IRC, text-based MUDs, web-based chat rooms, IM (hey, I had a 5-digit ICQ number), helped build a voice over IP conferencing system, and wasted ridiculous amounts of time in online games like Ultima Online and World of Warcraft. I have often thought about the integration of collaborative goals with the immersive environments like WoW. I think there are definitely possibilities, and the success of Second Life seems to be proof of that.

My problem with Second Life is with the implementation, not the idea. I have been on Second Life quite a bit in different spurts over the last year, having spent I think enough time there to get a good feeling for how it works. To be really blunt, I found the graphics in it to be really clunky and laggy, and not visually compelling at all (as one of my kids said, “so last millennium”). The interaction with the virtual world is very frustrating (largely due to the lag, I would guess). I wonder how much of the draw of users to this world is driven from the hype OUTSIDE of Second Life, and not by anything inside, because I saw nothing inside to bring me back.

Maybe if someone were to create a better implementation, with the graphics most people have come to expect, without the lag, I might come to believe in the model. Until then, all I see is hype driving yet another wave with little behind it.

I have a lesser problem with the idea of trying to replicate the real world in a virtual environment in order to improve collaboration. I think it is a far better idea to create immersive environment which does not imitate reality, and which takes advantage of this to enable collaboration.

Am I the only person who thinks that the emperor has no clothes?

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