What fat clients can learn from the Web

 Business, Great Plains, Web 2.0  Comments Off on What fat clients can learn from the Web
Oct 212005

One of the beautiful things about the web is that you can share discoveries with others by merely sending a link to a friend or co-worker. Find a cool new shoe or a laptop and want their input on the item? You just click on “send link” in your browser, or cut and paste the link in an email message and off it goes. They click it and voila! there it is. The item of your attention and the thing you want to talk about. No muss, no fuss. The other person gets instant context when they click on that link. No big explanations are necessary. They can respond with their ideas and links to some other possibilites. The gift of sharing your contextual vision with another by only clicking.

Now say you are in your accouting application and you have a problem or need a resolution from a co-worker or superior. What do you end up doing? You end up emailing them account numbers and dates and telling them what view you are looking at so that they can look at it too and give you the feedback/information you need. Starting to see the lesson? Why aren’t fat client developers taking a clue and incorporating one of the most powerful features of the Internet in to out bread and butter fat clients? Why can’t I send a “link” from the view I’m looking at in my accounting application to a co-worker or superior. Think of the time savings. Got a question on a receivings, send a link and the respondent gets instant context.

And finally, a word to the Web 2.0 developers: The lesson is for you too. Don’t give up the ability to link to an item in your sweet new AJAX weblication otherwise you end up costing more than I think we should pay.

 Posted by at 10:00 am
Oct 202005

Every once in a while you come across a good Idea. Tonight, I just read one. David Berlind, on ZD.net posits the idea of Open Document Format (ODF) could be a transport mechanism for moving content between different wikis.

Could ODF be the Net’s new, frictionless document DNA? by ZDNet‘s David Berlind — There’s no reason, for example, that, regardless of what proprietary markup languages the different wiki solution providers use to put a pretty face on Web authoring, that they cannot natively store those documents in the XML-based ODF. […]

Now this is the type of idea that I believe will happen more frequently once ODF picks up steam. It is the open format of HTML that gave rise to most of what we have on the Internet today. Everyone competes to make it better and more compelling. With closed formats, ala Word, there is not the same kind of pressure to advance the format and when it does change we are at the mercy of one company to give us solutions for migration. With an open format, market pressures and new ideas will create a dynamic system that gives users the benefits.

The only reason to keep a document format closed is to keep your customers locked-in. There is absolutely no advantage to users from using a closed document format. This will force the market giant, Microsoft, to once again compete solely on the merit of its product and not rely on lock-in and the advantages that they get from being the only one to fully support the document format. Remember how much better Word became when it was competing with WordPerfect? The features implemented really had the user in mind. However, once they crushed the competition the goal of new features was not to improve the users productivity, it was to use those new features to reinforce the tie-in/lock-in with other upstream Microsoft products.

There are benefits for Microsoft as well. Because of a standardized format, their upstream products could work with different word processors and different platforms. This, in my opinion, is the direction that Microsoft needs to move to stay relevant for the next 20 years. There are smart people at Microsoft and they do have some very good tools, however those people are often hamstrung from having goals that are in direct opposition to Microsoft’s current philosophy of product tie-ins. Now is the time for Microsoft to use its brains and not its market muscle. It will stop the hemorahging of talent and bring you real customer loyalty in the long run.

 Posted by at 11:23 pm

GMail: Shared Folders

 Google  Comments Off on GMail: Shared Folders
Oct 152005

Gmail is a great mail interface. I prefer it in many ways to even outlook. There are basically two deficiencies it suffers from currently. One big and complex the other is low hanging fruit that Google should pick today, Shared Folders. I should be able to share a virtual folder with another Gmail user. I would only need to know their gmail username to set it up.

There’s the fruit G-Buddy, now go pick it and let the users go wild.

The other need is a calendaring 2.0 app that is open enough that I can write sync utilities for my phone/palm/pda/etc. Now that is one big honk’in project. I’m confident that some very bright minds are working on it as I type — but we want sharing there too. Also, I assume that they’ll be using vcal and the rest of the standards.

 Posted by at 4:00 pm

Critical Windows patch may wreak PC havoc

 Business, Microsoft  Comments Off on Critical Windows patch may wreak PC havoc
Oct 152005

A story on news.com speaks to the problems that Microsoft continues to have in regards to regression testing on their patches. After the “no patches” last month, to the 9 this month, (what a joke, 9? Did you look at the number of updates downloaded by WSUS? Also, they never talk about the number of “updates” to existing patches, which in my mind are new patches that need to be counted too.)

Microsoft, where do you want to get wormed today? Ok, so you patch so you don’t get wormed but then you can’t access your computer — so in fact you still get stung. Either by malware from a malicious individual or malware from a corporation. Thanks for the gumball, Microsoft.

 Posted by at 2:00 pm

A note on Microsoft Great Plains “notes”

 Business, Great Plains  Comments Off on A note on Microsoft Great Plains “notes”
Oct 152005

Great Plains’ note taking system is an annoyance at best. While they’ve expanded it so that you can attach notes to just about everything (customers, invoices, vendors, items, etc) each note is stored as a 32K text entry — If you are at the limit, you’ve got to delete something else to add more. If someone inadvertently wipes out a note, it’s gone. In fact this problem is so bad I’ve had to write a note archiving and diff tool so that I can recover “lost” notes.

Microsoft needs to fix this archaic note taking system. What should be done is that each new entry in the note should be stored as an individual entry, along with the date/time that note was entered and who entered the note. When notes are displayed, it should show them in reverse chronological order (newest on top) with the date/time and note text. There should be security for editing and deletion of notes. Adding notes should be available to anyone with permissions to view the data. The entry should also show if the entry had been edited, when and by who.

 Posted by at 12:00 pm
Oct 152005

Microsoft continually updates things by changing the interface or adding new, mostly working, functionality but hardly ever by fixing the brokenness of existing functionality. They might enhance functions but they seldom fix the primary brokenness. I grow weary of Microsoft’s continual upgrades that are suppose to make their software better — unfortunately they only have their shareholders in mind and not their customers. Each features links you more tightly and in proprietary ways with other Microsoft products. They should at least improve basic functionality of existing features and expand the interoperability with other products, both Microsoft and non-Microsoft.

This is the same lesson that IBM had to learn in the 90’s — Their proprietary, non-interoperable tendencies led to a sound thrashing by the market. I keep wondering why the market has allowed Microsoft to continue this bad behavior. Yes, the market has allowed this to happen. So everytime you decline to investigate non-Microsoft products out of hand, you are contributing to the problem.

Now it is important to not dismiss Microsoft products out of hand too. Doing so is just bad business sense. But it is time that the market stop following the Jones’ and do their own homework when it comes to software acquisition. You need to evaluate not only features(+), security(+) and vendor strength(+) but vendor lock-in(-). Vendor lock-in exposes you to increased future prices. The longer you allow yourself to be ensnared the higher the cost of escape. Not allowing for vendor lock-in in your analysis is actually exposing your company to increasing risk.

Microsoft needs to be forced to compete via the strength of their product and their ability to free businesses to use them in new and unexpected ways and not by using a death embrace of intra-product lock-in. Every time Microsoft uses a closed, proprietary file format or communication protocol they are displaying their “not getting it.” When Microsoft starts publishing formats and protocols, allowing them to be used freely and openly, then that is when Microsoft will start to “get it.” When Microsoft starts adopting open specifications with out attempting to subvert them (think OASIS) then they will have “gotten it.”

 Posted by at 9:56 am

Google global wi-fi/satellite based Internet ?

 Business, Google  Comments Off on Google global wi-fi/satellite based Internet ?
Oct 102005

““With rumors of the GoogleNet and Google Wi-fi in the works and
their latest partnership with NASA, I highly expect Google to
announce some sort of global wi-fi or satellite based Internet
connection for the world’s poor to be announced once this One
Laptop per Child program becomes a reality, which it hopefully
will. Funded, by Google AdWords,” writes Baker.

We knew we were witnessing history. We may not have known to what
extent history was being made.”

Do you think this is possible? “

More than likely, Google is going to help NASA develop a method to index technical information needed by engineers, designers, managers and then astronauts and mooners. Google, while I have high hopes, still has yet to wire a moderately sized city, let alone any city, I would say that the time frame for any plan to “connect the world” on this scale is 15-20 years out. Maybe by the time we have a moon base.

Moon bases — now there is a problem. Finding the information you need a quarter of a million miles away from home. With all the radiation on the moon, it doesn’t lend itself as a easy place for computers. So what they are going to need are rugged dependable computers that can access the data they need quickly. This is what Google does best, searching decentralized file system with localized caching, sort of a moon proxy/cache for lack of a better phrase.

 Posted by at 11:47 pm

OASIS: Sanity in a proprietary document wasteland

 Business  Comments Off on OASIS: Sanity in a proprietary document wasteland
Oct 102005

Dave Kearns, Network World, 10/03/05, Massachusetts Open Doc moves lack logic.
While I generally enjoy Dave’s articles in Network World, I am left aghast at what he has writ of late. I do not ever recall reading such a factually incorrect and logically flawed article from him, ever. My only guess is that he was under the weather and needed to make his post time. I’ll leave the medication to Dave’s doctor, but I’ll take care of the facts and logic.

First off, Dave contends that the 1.0 version of OASIS OpenDocument specification is a brand new work. Straight off the back of some cocktail napkins after an academic social hour. So therefore it is a lacking and hopelessly flawed spec.

“… You are aware, I hope, of what 1.0 means to an “open standards” body, right? It means, essentially, that it has started the process of identifying the area in which its members think they need to create a protocol or standard.

They may even have defined a few terms. But because everything could – and probably will – change by Version 2.0, no one in his right mind will implement it.”

While Dave may be right in general, I would point out the the OASIS OpenDocument specification is a continuation of the orignal OpenOffice.org XML file format. An amazingly good and complete 1.0 format. While the OASIS standards group may refer to it as a 1.0 specification is in reality a 2.0 specification that has seen two (2) different office packages, OpenOffice and KOffice. I refer Dave to the FAQ easily found on the OASIS web site, oasis-open.org/committees/office/faq, specifically items 13 and 14.

13. OpenDocument previously was called Open Office. What is the relation to OpenOffice.org?

When the OASIS OpenDocument TC was founded, it chose the OpenOffice.org XML file format as the basis for its work, because the OpenOffice.org XML file format had already proven its value in real life. The OpenDocument format, therefore, is an advancement of the OpenOffice.org XML file format. It us usable and used by OpenOffice.org, but also by other office applications like KOffice.

The OASIS OpenDocument TC itself is not part of the OpenOffice.org open source project, and only some of the TC members are associated with the OpenOffice.org project.

14. Isn’t OpenDocument only the file format of the OpenOffice.org application that has been standardized?

OpenDocument has been developed as an application-independent format by a vendor-neutral OASIS Technical Committee (TC) with the participation of multiple office application vendors. The basis for the OASIS OpenDocument TC’s work indeed was the OpenOffice.org XML file format, but even the OpenOffice.org XML file format was developed as an application-independent file format that is not usable by the OpenOffice.org application only.”

Later in the article later Dave goes on to opine the injustice done the Microsoft Word Viewer. …

“Adobe’s PDF format is specifically declared to be “open” and may continue to be used.

I can only guess that because there is a freely downloadable PDF reader available, the letter of the law’s published intent is satisfied.

But, wait a minute! Microsoft also allows you to download (for free) readers for it’s Office documents. Wouldn’t that let Microsoft qualify, too? Well, yes, it should. “

Oh my! The way they treat those stepchildren back in Redmond. Seriously, Dave –you are attempting to compare a published specification, PDF and the myriads of viewers and writers available from many different sources and available on many different systems with a closed, non-published specification that only offers viewers for a select few Operating Systems, who are of course available for a fee from the same company?

I would direct you first to the primary reason it would be considered open, the published reference: PDF Reference found on the Adobe Developer Site

“The PDF Reference provides a description of the Portable Document Format and is intended for application developers wishing to develop applications that create PDF files directly, as well as read or modify PDF document content.”

Next maybe a look on what we can find in a wikipedia article. Portable_Document_Format is a valuable resource for finding other non-Adobe readers and writers that support PDF format. In fact, I would bet that Mr. Kearns would have a hard time finding a workstation OS that didn’t support PDF’s. So we have a document format, that is published and is supported on almost every workstation known to man versus the Microsoft Word Viewer that only runs on various flavors of windows, specifically Windows 2000 sp4 or better. No love for Windows 95, 98 or ME or any version of Win2k prior to sp4.

and finally Dave suffers from some memory lapses,

“In more than 20 years of specifying and buying software applications and services, I can’t recall one instance where the file formats made a scintilla of difference.”

Dave, I’ve got 4 letters for you — H T M L. The specification and it’s openess make all the difference.

Everybody keeps babbling about whether or not it is the computer or the network. It is all just misdirection.

My friends this is the 21st century and what matters is the data.

 Posted by at 11:07 pm

Internal Projects: A new measure on return

 Business  Comments Off on Internal Projects: A new measure on return
Oct 082005

There has been and will continue to be much opining on developing ROI formulas for in-house projects built or bought. I think that ROI calculations are merely a method to justify your hypothesis. There is an easier method for determining which projects are winners and which are losers. Think of potential projects in terms of Customer, Users and Management. While not lending itself to any form of speakable acronym, I believe these three categories are the primary indicators for ROI ranked by strength of return. All three must have needs met for a project to have any impact at all. Ignore customers and sales will decline. Ignore users and per employee profitability will decline. Ignore management and none of it will work as management won’t be able to direct it.

Customers: Yes, Customers and Users are different entities. I do not buy in to the “end-users as customers” thought experiment. Viewing your users as customers is taking your eyes off the corporate goal. The corporate goal is to increase profitability, the best way to increase profitability is to increase sales. Anything else is a stop-gap measure designed to prolong the life of a company whose feet are made of clay. My customers are the company’s customers. Customers are the ones buying the company’s products and services. Customers are the ones that matter most. Meeting customer needs is always goal #1.

Will this project:

  • make my customers feel valued?
  • differentiate my company from our competition in the customer’s eyes?
  • make our product/services more useful/valued for the customer?
  • increase my customer’s confidence in my company?
  • make it easier for customers to do business with us?

Users: Users are the employees who directly interact with the project either in terms of feeding it data, responding to its output and acting as a primary link between it and the customer on an on-going basis. For example, if the project is an e-commerce site, then your web management team and customer service reps (CSRs). If the project is a returns/repairs tracking application then your CSRs, Repair Department, Accounts Receivables and Warehouse are your users.

Will this project:

  • make it possible for my users to make our customers feel valued?
  • enable our users to differentiate us from our competition in our customers eyes?
  • allow our users to show our customers how are products can be even more useful?
  • allow our users to serve the needs of even more customers?

Will this project:

  • allow them to monitor and debug our efforts in meeting the customer’s needs?
  • enable our ability to expand our sales by more accurately meeting customers desires and needs?
  • help in recovering lost opportunities?
  • help them utilize resources more efficiently?
  • help them focus their attention on our customers?

In my view – A project needs to answer yes to at least one question in each category for Customers, Users and Management. If a project can not answer yes to at least one question for each then the project is most likely born from a checklist of wants from someone who just finished reading a business article. Customer questions should be given more weight than Users, and Users more than Management. That is how I break a tie between projects. The more wins you have closer to the customer the bigger your financial return.

 Posted by at 4:52 pm