Comparing Apples to Apples

If you’ve been a technology consultant you’ve surely heard this expression at least once. A lot of times it’s just a cliche, a filler, but sometimes it literally makes sense. Cliches are boring.

I came to adopting Apple Inc’s Mac products by comparing current Macs with Macs of before (pre- OS X), I wouldn’t touch the former due to cost and mainly because they were closed systems. Since Mac OS X came out I’ve been checking out every once in a while, I finally took the plunge last year and never looked back.

If you know what you’re doing, good products will dramatically improve your productivity. If you’re not so sure of what you’re doing, then Apple compatible products are better at helping you than their Windows equivalents. Ever seen a friend or family stuck win an unresponsive Windows PC? For someone who’s been building and tuning PCs and networks throughout the DOS 5.x and Windows 3.x / Windows for Workgroups and Novell Netware 2.x days, knowledgeable with Windows registry I could still regularly get frustrated asking myself “what the heck is this PC doing? what am I having to wait for…?”. Not anymore since I moved to Mac OS X Tiger (using Linux and Solaris servers).

If you like beautifully designed products then you’re literally smitten by Apple products. Obviously Apple’s products have their issues too, but when comparing apples to apples it’s plain to see that the experience on Macs is better than Windows.

The same thing can be said about popular Linux distributions, Ubuntu is a fantastic example of that. To really appreciate Linux maturity you have to have toyed with some distributions throughout the years, unlike before when you had to search for network and display drivers and fight module dependencies to make your system work, nowadays you can “just install Ubuntu” and start using it right away – in most cases ๐Ÿ˜‰

I have been using Linux for many years and seeing the pace of improvement in 2002 I became convinced that their maturity would outpace that of other established OSses fairly quickly. As ever the hype made that rosier than was possible, but many Linux distributions are really good today.

One thing remain on the sad end of things: interoperability. It’s sickening to still see vendors perpetuate the bad practice of closing their document and database formats, I think not providing an “transportable export” mechanism should be strongly discouraged with some form of market driven coercion. Market dominance should be sought on quality, price or other unique value propositions. Locking down the consumer with non-transportable formats is simply unfair. This is why I can understand authorities demanding that Apple opens up their FairPlay DRM platform. DRM is ok if it’s open and transportable to any platform.

IT is a commodity today, nearly every walk of life depend on it and I think Consumer Associations should turn their attention to the grander issue of “all electronic documents should portable”. Open Document Format (ODF) was a good thing, but why stop there? Email, calendaring, Instant Messaging and Address Books should be covered too, these are documents in their own right and convey critical business information. I know about XMPP, CalDAV and other vCard and vCalendar initiatives. But my point here is that these latter specifications are not pushed as hard as ODF was, I think they ought to be. You don’t want

“Vote for me, dimwit” – a gem.

The Economist is one of those papers I find really good, every week. Many publishers seem to have the attitude “It’s true, because i say so”. With The Economist i feel an invitation to debate, they are opinianated and do some good research and analysis. Some of their articles delight me while others (few though) simply irk me.

Lexington this week has some superbly sharp statements, the cartoon is also good. It’s about a book that sounds really interesting. The parallel between Politics and Financial Markets should be expected, both are mainly driven by perceptions, fears, doubts, wishes and hopes. Read the article Vote for me, diwit.

PS: I don’t like to dabble in politics, not my cup of tea. I just happen to agree with many statements in this article, taken from a book.

Sophisticated algorithm, the web is first and foremost about advertising

The vast majority of web sites out there actually have very little intelligence, only a tiny few can boast to be clever or advanced. I’m not going to risk any numbers here, it’s obviously just a conjecture based on my experience – humbly longer than the web itself, though. But had i not been too lazy I could find studies to back up my claim.

It seems that websites don’t really need to be clever though, the most basic profiling with a few personalised experience here and there make for impressive reviews and sometimes raves. It turns out that what matters most in the Internet is the amount of traffic a web site gets, the bigger the more valuable the site. I visit a lot of web sites but i only buy from a few, am I representative of the Internet users? That’s debatable.
The more you analyse this type of phenomenon, the more you realise how focused folks at Google have been. They just ‘got it’. Well done, I’m jealous now, i wish I was there first and made a few gazillion Euros. I’d have setup an incubation academy for malians and fellow africans. Day dreaming, what am I thinking?

๐Ÿ˜‰

If you build it they will come. Now then, you’ve built it and they came. So what…?

Music download “me too”

Do you think Internet music download space is crowded? Nah, define crowded, how can the Internet ever be too crowded? Upgrade to IP v6 and off you go, trillions more sites can be put up.

Since last.fm was bought out I expect my neighbourhood radio to become more “streamlined” indeed. I learned about two new download sites today, lala.com and we7.com. Where to start, I wish them both luck. But there’s definitely a limited amount of eyeballs and/or eardrums on offer! No? World and Internet population ever evolving? Blimey, how are we going to keep a lid on all this? Oh I just got it, don’t bother with the lid, just let the Darwinian model unfold and we shall see…

Bad jokes aside, it takes courage (money?) and a fair amount of optimism (and money?) to enter any Internet space today. Just as you think you’re becoming successful some total strangers will pop up from nowhere and claim a piece of the action/pie. Adding insult to injury, some of these impertinents can get published with just a few dollars in their pockets! You might even have created that whole concept in the first place, how unfair! Bring up patents and IP protection. But wait, it’ll be tough to patent concepts like breathing and eating and possibly a few other amazing human achievements and discoveries. Well i guess i can’t shrug off the cynic in me at the moment. Next time lucky maybe…

Google Mashup Editor illustrates what DSL initiatives ought to strive for

Google created a set of custom tag libraries and an editing tool, all this rely on back-end service through public API libraries. The construct is familiar enough, except that most organisations fall short of creating a solid toolkit correctly (the tag libraries and the development tooling part). Before I explain why I’m making a parallel with DSLs some preamble is in order.

DSL (Domain Specific Languages) is all the rage these days. The IT industry is addicted to acronyms, TLAs are the favourite (TLA = Three Letter Acronym). If you look beyond the hype, you’ll see that some of them do have value potential. One such TLA is DSL, companies on the fringe are focusing laser-sharp on it. The little i know about Intentional Software tells me that they’re very active practising DSL for their clients. It’s a smart move for any seriously ambitious company today, considering the amount of waste generated by IT. Just like people are worried about Global Warming, companies should be worried about Global IT Waste (GIW, my own TLA for today).

One of the rich tenets of DSL is that your teams would create a special-purpose language (a programming language a-la-IKEA if you like, but your very own) that befit the specific business you’re in, beautifully simple, flexible, functional, fit for purpose. Such language becomes the foundation for your programming toolset, hopefully shortening the turn-around time to produce valuable software while providing all the flexibility you’d ever want. Most of your focus would then be on building and maintaining glue-code, logic that binds your specific constructs with vendor solutions out there (vendor here include Free Open Source Software just the same). If you can imagine what I’m talking about here then this is the closest thing to software development nirvana.

Therein lies one of the problems, nirvana is not easy to reach therefore it’s just not trivial to execute DSL right. The clever move is to not so much see it as an end goal, but rather aiming for it as a continuous tuning exercise achieving greater levels of refinement steadily. Chances are that you and your organisation would reach your own nirvana and won’t even recognise it.

Microsoft has a lot of smart people that understood the potential for DSLs and they are cranking out tons of products and practices that help organisations with DSL. I am begining to see why they distanced themselves from the OMG’s UML evangelism, it’s a mind game that is best played with focus and purpose. It might not be very obvious to all today but I would bet that Microsoft’s efforts will ultimately achieve many of their goals [assuming they stay the course, not go revamping their frameworks and librairies every 15 months].

Really good DSL initiatives are set for the longer term, the value grows almost exponentially as the initiative matures. The reason is that it’s a tuning game, you don’t succeed in one step unless your business is simple or trivial. All of this is counter intuitive for many, most companies approach IT endeavours on a per project (hence per budget) basis and sometimes driven by middle management musical chairs. If you’re going to change executive direction/team every other year then there’s little point in adopting DSL. If you’re gullible product marketing would have you believe otherwise, fair enough, define “correctness”.

IT today has matured so much that really good programmers can achieve unheard of productivity. DSL works well for such people and the [preferably] stable organisations that employ them. If acronyms like BNF, LR, LALR sound strange to you then you’re probably not ready to seriously embrace DSL. Do yourself a favour, ignore DSL and your life would be easier. If you think that object modelling is enough to qualify what you’re doing as DSL then I’d say suit yourself.

One way to look at Google Mashup Editor is that they’ve created a kind of DSL so that folks could quickly create mashups with Google’s products and services. It’s likely to be addictive for those that try, it will make you think… So far I wasn’t buying too much into all the fuss suggesting that Google was challenging Microsoft. But Google has been steadily making many of the technical moves that makes me envy them. I have to give it to the analysts for their foresight, Google is on to something really big and they have the right approach to technology.

If you are one of those companies wondering why your IT teams struggle so much to deliver what you want, or that IT is “just not living up to your expectations”, I suggest you take a tour of Google Mashup Editor, find out about DSL as discussed in this context and tell me what you’ve learned. If you’ve read this and followed my advice I’d love to hear from you, right here. Go on then, I’m patient.