Monday, September 26, 2011 obsolete in 2 years from now

The early browser expected you to type the full URL of the website you wanted to open. But soon, you could conveniently omit the protocol part (http://). And nowadays, you don't even need to type the triple w. Just typing "" is all you need to do to open your facebook homepage. Moreover, your browser will probably suggest after pressing the "f". Which, in effect, officially makes facebook, the f-site, doesn't it? ;-). But that's a bit beside my point.

The point is that, soon, your browser will assume you mean to open "", when you simply type "/pepsi" in your browser's address bar. Think about it. Commercials on TV and radio recently are pointing intended customers to a facebook page in stead of a website address more and more. "www." has already become obsolete. Facebook has over 800 million users, and about half of them are online at any time. Facebook is where the major audience for many brands is.

In short: I predict that within 2 years, browsers will assume that is the root of the world wide web and that you can simply type "/mnankman" to open my own facebook page. Mark my words.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Looks like I need a Galaxy Note

Some time ago, I was asking myself who on earth would need a tablet. I came to the conclusion that I, for one, don't need a tablet as long as it isn't capable of providing obviously expected and basic functions such as a realistic, reliable and durable hand writing/drawing function and an easy search function for quickly finding back my notes and drawings.

But then I read this hands-on item about the Samsung Galaxy Note. I must say that it looks very promising. The size seems just about right: big enough to take your notes and small enough to still fit in your pocket. And moreover, it provides a promising handwriting function complete with pressure sensitivity. Not bad! This requires further research, so Samsung, if you please, send me Note for further reviewing (big smile).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who needs a tablet?

The first tablet PC I ever saw in actual use was about 6 or 7 years ago. It was rather ugly and cumbersome looking (much like the one depicted above). The guy that was using the tablet PC swore that within 5 years, everybode would be using touch screens and nobody would be using keyboards anymore. Well, he got that partly right.

The tablet guy proudly demonstrated to me that he could manipulate the mouse cursor by touching it with a stylus. He could now scroll pages by dragging the scroll bars using the stylus. He could now check and uncheck check boxes by tapping the little stylus inside it. But although you could beautifully hand write in MS Paint, it could only very poorly recognize your scribbles and translate it to text. Suffices to say that I wasn't impressed. At all.

The above tablet was just a desktop PC with yet another different pointing device. Yes, in my opinion, the stylus on these early tablet PCs is just another mouse alternative, because it still only moves a pointer (or mostly an hour glass for that matter...) around on your screen and it didn't even have a scroll wheel. Of course the whole idea of the stylus is that you can achieve much finer movement of that pointer allowing for more precise drawing and, indeed, hand writing directly on the page that you have open on your screen.

Being able to hand write directly on the screen (in stead of indirectly through a mouse tablet) is in my opinion the killer application for tablets. And by hand writing I mean the exact user experience you get when using your most comfortable pen while writing on paper. Actually, the paper provides the most important part of that experience to me. The paper is instantly on. When I need to take a note, I want to do it right at the instance I need to. You could argue that your pen could run out of ink whereas the tablet does not require ink so it cannot run out of it, but a tablet does run out of power and rather more quickly than a pen runs out of ink.

The big advantage of a digital hand writing and drawing application is that you can store your notes and drawings digitally and very easily share them with other people. A key use case for me is being able to bring input documents to a meeting digitally (i.e., not printed on paper) and make hand written notes directly on the pages of these documents that were being discussed in that meeting.

The device that should provide that functionality to me should be flat, light, fast and consume so little power that I could reliably use it on a daily basis for a week or so without recharging. It should at least behave like my paper note book. On top of that I would like to also be able to search through my notes, either by voice control or by hand written key words, but most definitely not through a keyboard, not even a virtual one.

So, all I ask for is this: a realistic, reliable and durable hand writing and drawing function, and on top of that a realistic function that would help me to more quickly find back notes and drawings I made earlier. I have yet to see the device that can do such a modest feat. It is obviously very hard to build such a thing. So, who needs a tablet (or slate PC, or xPad, or eReader or whatever it is called)  if it is incapable of providing such obviously expected and basic functions?

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Monday, April 11, 2011

NAS based enterprise application integration?

The Question:
Why should Network-Attached Storage (NAS) solutions not be used to do enterprise application integration (EAI)?

I am asking this question from my role as solutions architect. In that role it is my task to help "the business" understand their needs and then advise that business on the most sensible way of meeting these needs. Currently, I believe that connecting two (or more) Enterprise Applications (applications from here on) by using a NAS is not sensible. However, I keep seeing that new NAS based integrations are being implemented. Apparently, there is this myth that it is sensible to deploy NAS based EAI. So I decided to see if I could bust that myth by logic.

Ideally, when application X needs to have a task performed that it can't or should better not do itself, it outsources the task to a contractor. It shouldn't have to care about the type and whereabouts of that contractor. The contractor should just be able to perform the task needed with the agreed Quality of Service (QoS). The contractor itself might subcontract yet other contractors for parts of the task, but application X doesn't know and care as long as the QoS is met. All nice and clean and transparent.

A popular way of integrating applications in that ideal manner is by means of middleware. It has more or less become the default way of application integration. Extremely simply put, middleware is a generic and elastic glue for fixing together applications from different vendors, running on heterogeneous systems (hardware + operating system). Middleware provides the service of matchmaking between clients and servers. Clients require specific services from servers. A service is defined by a formal interface which is the contract both client and server are held by. Middleware provides for dependability by making cross application operations atomic so they can be rolled back when something goes wrong. The elastic properties of middleware allow for flexible and transparent scaling of systems to meet changing QoS requirements. Transparency, dependability and scalability. Well designed integration architecture deploys these properties to increase overall robustness and future stability.

I am thoroughly convinced of the value of middleware. It is a very sensible and proven way of doing EAI. I don't know any better, because I have been brain washed to believe that ever since I graduated. My premise is that NAS based EAI is not sensible. So I need to assess whether a NAS can provide properties of middleware I value most: transparency, dependability and scalability.

The basic purpose of a NAS is to provide file storage and make stored files accessible through the network by means of an operating system level file sharing protocol. So, applications can use it to store files, share files, and retrieve stored or shared files. An application X that needs a service from a contractor could simply store a "job" in a designated folder (OUT) on the NAS and wait until a result is delivered in another folder (IN) on the NAS. The job contains all the information the contractor needs to decide whether it should perform the required task and all information needed for performing the required task, including the terms of service (QoS). Application X does not need to know the performer of the job nor about the inner workings of that performer, assuming the job description adheres to a standard, cross-application format supported by multiple vendors. That is a big assumption.

To scale things up you could line up multiple contractors that actively watch the OUT folders. However, a NAS does not provide an intelligent way of balancing the load between multiple contractors. It also provides no protection for race conditions nor does it provide an integrated means for making cross application operations atomic. The verdict:
transparency: plausible
scalability: busted
dependability: busted
Overall conclusion: Myth busted

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Early adopters: losers or heroes?

When a new technology, gadget or device, which I will refer to as "thingy" from here on, comes into existence, it must manage to enter the hype cycle. Otherwise it won't get noticed. It's creators will need to convince other people to use this new shiny thingy. I am not talking about beta testing. We are already past that stage. The thingy needs early adopters. The thingy needs an army of zealous thingy evangelists.

So, the thingy's makers - or rather, the thingy's investors - need to convince a fairly large group of people to use the thingy and tell the world how incredible the thingy is and how it has changed their lives. People like that usually are not hard to find at all. They are always there, on the lookout for new, trendy coolness with which they can differentiate themselves from the masses: the trendy people. They simply need to be among the first adopters of the thingy, because being cool and trendy is their sole purpose in life. Sounds pretty pathetic when you put it like that, doesn't it?

Well, they don't care what we think of them. The are on a mission to show off their state-of-the-art thingies on any occasion that gives them high visibility. The more, the better. They crave being at the center of everybody's attention. They have this intense desire to be admired for their unworldly coolness. That desire will grow ever stronger, until being übercool is all that matters, all that drives them. That is when they have turned hard core.

The hard core early adopters lead very busy lives attending parties and visiting conferences, fairs and exhibitions all over the globe. They may very well still live with their parents technically, but also have appartments in New York, Paris, Tokio or any combination. They sleep in a business class airplane chair and live out of a suitcase most of the time, but somehow manage to look perpetually fresh and dashing.

Only during the Christmas holidays the übercool get to relax a couple of days and visit their friends and relatives and shower them with the obligatory, promotional presents, hoping to win some souls here too. These people live the fastest and shortest but coolest lives, while driving our precious economy at the same time. Without these people, new thingies wouldn't ever get adopted. Without these people, Apple would not even exist. Early adopters are practically heroes.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Bloggers are tenaciously idealistic fools, as they should be

I'd say that the blog is rather dead. You already know that and you're shamelessly yawning. No, don't suppress it! It is perfectly alright. It is commonly known that most blogs are deathly boring. Who has the time to read all those undoubtedly brilliant but tediously long and redundant items? Most blogs have a high yawn-factor. People stop reading at just about this point in any blog post. Whatever I write after this, probably won't be read.

Oh, you're still with me? Wow, I'm flattered. I mean it, because you got past the title and my first paragraph. A well read blog post has a catchy title and is up-front with the conclusion. Whatever is read after the first paragraph is pure bonus. If you're really brilliant, you manage to keep the reader's attention a little while longer. But more often than not, your message has already been brought accross by an army of bloggers before you posted your own message.

You, the tenaciously idealistic, blogging fool , usually won't think of that when you write your master piece. I don't intend to make fun of bloggers (well, just a little bit). Being foolishly idealistic actually is a good thing. The power is in the larger numbers. The more redundant the message, the more important it must be. So, don't hold back, publish that redundant post.

Perhaps you could target your message a little more precisely. The avarage blog is often hard to read on a large portion of the devices used for accessing the internet. For instance, if your post is targetted to business people, aim for best readability on a blackberry: Catchy title plus 5 or 6 sentences top, and start with the conclusion. Say what you want to say first, don't build it up.

Or if your intended audience consists of stay-at-home moms, aim at something Oprah would want to read to them from her show. A post titled "Why flirting with other men and buying shoes makes you happy", would get their attention. Your Oprah style piece ideally fits on a single ipad screen while taking the ad space, easily amounting to 50%, into account. That leaves space for perhaps two paragraphs. Say what you want to say first, don't build it up.

But then again, I am no expert on this topic, because statistics don't lie. This blog is way up there on the list of blogs with a high yawn-factor. I could say that I don't care, because I mostly write for myself. But that would be utter nonsense, because I am also a tenaciously idealistic fool who desperately wants to see the number of page views reach into the tens of thousands.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Big Clouds Cast Dark Shadows

It is an ongoing discussion around Cloud Computing: Can cloud providers be trusted? Will they take care of your data in the ways we expect? And in the light of the recently announced shutdown of Delicious, the once popular cloud service for remembering and sharing your bookmarks: Do clouds last?

Let's start with the trust part. People have been collectively taking a huge leap of faith when they put all their personal contact lists and photo albums on a convenient and immensely popular cloud meant for that purpose. I think you know what cloud I am referring to. It is provided by a company that might sue you for saying the body part that contains your mouth, nose and eyes to loudly, while at the same time treating their cloud users like they don't care.

Back when today's clouds were born, the baby cloud did its best to look innocent, inviting and promising. It lured new users with fun, free and easy services. Come play and don't worry, I'll take care of all your data items like they're my own. The cloud grew bigger and bigger and became more and more powerful. And eventually, the once idealistic little cloud needed to answer to its investors for its exponentially growing maintenance costs. It needed to find a way to turn the user base into money. And that's where it became less caring and more demonic.

That's right: demonic, because the cloud has become detached from the humans it provides its services for. It wants to know everything about you, but it couldn't care less at the same time. It feeds on your gullibility. It leaches its user base of profiling data. It has to, because it will die if it doesn't. That's the shadow a cloud casts. The bigger the cloud, the bigger and darker its shadow. Once a demonic cloud has your soul, it is very possesive about it. Try deleting your account. You might need a shaman (lawyer) to exorcise your demon (break the contract).

I am not saying that all clouds are demonic. I am just saying that you should be aware of the consequences of sharing personal stuff with a company that largely acts on the financial demands of its shareholders. For its existence, a cloud depends on servers, people, electricity, et cetera. It needs a constant and reliable revenue stream to finance all that. On top of that it also needs to be profitable, because its investors want value for their money. It is as simple as that. When the sustainability and profitability fail, the cloud is doomed and will be killed.

So clouds may not last. What happens to your data when a cloud is killed is unclear. I know that it probably isn't going to be returned to you. Your data will most likely be sold to another company. That is why I believe you should be carefull. It is why I am starting to see the point of private cloud systems (such as PogoPlug or TonidoPlug) that allow you to make your personal digital items accessible from anywhere using any device and to share these items with other people, while always staying in control of your own files. A private cloud cannot get corrupted and acts on your personal needs, and not on the needs of the demon that lurks in the shadows.

Now, I might have read a few too many fantasy books. But that only explains my choice of words, not my opinions in this...

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