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March 29 2012

Developer Week in Review: Google I/O's ticket window open and shuts in record time

This week, I'd like to take a moment to thank the good folks over at Parkland Medical Center, who took pity on the retching, sweat-covered soul who appeared on the doorstep of their emergency room last Friday morning. They swiftly (well, after 15 eternal minutes in the waiting room, which is pretty swift for a walk-in to an ER) got him hooked up to an IV and introduced the two God-given holy fluids of morphine and Dilaudid. On a totally unrelated note, I'd like to proudly announce the birth of a healthy 3mm kidney stone at 5PM last Friday. Donations to its college fund can be made ...

Extending the trend line doesn't look good

Google IOLast year, Google I/O sold out in under an hour. This year, it only took 20 minutes. If we extend the trend-line out a few years, the only people who will be able to get in will be those who have access to micro-second responsive stock market trading programs and hyper-tuned eBay auction sniping software.

At least, however, Google fans have some clue when the registration opens for their conference. Those of us still waiting for Apple's WWDC conference know it will have to open for registration soon, but the exact date and time is a mystery. Thankfully, the multi-thousand dollar registration fee tends to make WWDC a bit slower to fill up, but it will still be a race for those who require authorization from their management to go (some of us get authorization months in advance, specifically for this reason).

If there's a solution to this classic supply versus demand problem, I can't see it. Regional conferences reduce the benefit of getting all the developers together in one place and would have the companies sending their development staff to the four corners of the world. Maybe Apple and Google need to start renting out football stadiums instead of conference facilities.


More pigs spotted airborne

For those who have been taking a skeptical view of Microsoft's avowed embrace of the open source movement, there's more reason to believe it's genuine. This week, Microsoft released a whole crop of its .NET technology to its CodePlex open source repository, and the company did it under the hyper-liberal Apache 2.0 license rather than something proprietary and restrictive. In addition, Microsoft has started using the developer-friendly git source control system — another attempt to make itself more compatible with the open source community as a whole.

Of course, releasing portions of its proprietary environment as open source is still an attempt to get people to use Microsoft's technology as a whole, including Visual Studio, but the more it puts out there under licenses that include patent grants, the more possible it is to incorporate compatibility with Microsoft products in non-Microsoft platforms and products.

Was the cake made out of 0xDEADBEEF?

It's practically unimaginable today, but when the gcc compiler was first released 25 years ago this week, the only way to compile your code was to pay your hardware vendor for a proprietary compiler package, sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

In the intervening years, the shining star of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has become the go-to (excuse the expression) compiler for most modern compiled languages, available on and for just about every hardware platform you can think of. It doesn't have the death-grip hold on the industry it once did, with Apple among others moving to LLVM, but it was the first and for a long time the best compiler money couldn't buy. You may argue with the current philosophy of the FSF, but give it due props for opening up the world of programming to the world by making free tools available to anyone who wanted them.

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March 22 2012

Developer Week in Review: The mysterious Google I/O machine

We're in the countdown days to the two big annual developer conferences (not counting OSCON, of course ...). Google I/O will open registration on March 27th, and if past history is any guide, WWDC should also start (and end) signups around the same week. So, get your credit cards warmed up and ready. Last year, both conferences sold out in less than a day (Google I/O in under an hour!).

And speaking of Google I/O

Google IO game

Just what is the purpose of the Rube Goldberg-esque physical puzzle that has gone up on the Google I/O website. Does it have something to do with a puzzle that potential attendees will need to solve to register? Will attendees be flung around from session to session by giant pendulums? Is it all just a cool demo of Chrome? And does it have anything to do with ancient Mayan prophecies?

In any event, it's a fun (if simple) game, worth a few moments of your time, but unlikely to absorb more than 15 minutes of your attention. Now, if they added achievements and a Zombie mode, that might be something.


So much for sandboxing

Reports of a successful exploitation against the Chrome sandbox appeared recently, and now word has broken that a new Java exploit not only breaks out of the sandbox, but manages to install itself into system memory, where it can mess around with privileged processes. Worse, unlike the Chrome exploit, which was reported to Google and not in the wild, this new Java hack is being actively distributed on popular Russian news sites.

Since the entire point of a sandbox is to keep malicious code from getting access to system resources, it is truly disheartening to see how frequently sandboxes are being penetrated these days. If there's one piece of code that needs to be rock-solid, it's the bit that keeps the bad guys from doing bad things. That it fails so often in reality either indicates that developers aren't doing a good job, or that it's a really hard problem and it may be time to rethink sandboxing as a valid security approach.

Go is almost a Go

For those who have been eagerly awaiting Google's attempt to reinvent the wheel new programing language, Go, the wait is almost over, as RC1 has just hit the street. According to the developers, this is very close to what the final 1.0 release will look like. If you've been waiting for a stable version of Go to kick the tires, now is probably the time.

As with most new programming languages, I am maintaining a healthy degree of skepticism as to the long-term viability of Go. This is not because of any inherent faults of the language, but because of the institutional inertia that new languages have to fight to gain acceptance. Whether Google's influence will be enough to get Go ensconced in the pantheon of mainstream languages is yet to be seen.

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

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June 08 2011

Developer Week in Review: WWDC edition

Greetings from sunny partly cloudy and a bit chilly San Francisco. I'm here with 5,200 of my closest friends. We decided it would be a nice week to spend hours waiting in lines, so we've gathered for the yearly pilgrimage know as WWDC. There's all sorts of cool new stuff being talked about, most of which I can't tell you about because of the strict non-disclosure agreements that Apple Developers operate under. But I can tell you about the things that Apple publicly disclosed on Monday at the keynote, and some general observations about the conference. You can get a full breakdown of the Monday keynote here, if you haven't already heard the news.

The real worth of WWDC

WWDCThe Monday keynote, as announced, featured Steve Jobs as master of ceremonies. Lines started forming the day before for entry, and when I arrived at 7am, the line stretched all the way around the block that Moscone West sits on, back to meet itself. And for the record, arrive at 7am got you a seat almost at the back of the auditorium, with the presenters appearing as tiny specks. Since the only way to see what was going on was on the large screens, I could have probably come much later and sat down in the overflow room, and had pretty much the same experience.

To be honest, unless you want to be a die-hard and camp out to sit close, there's no real reason to go to the keynote unless you like having the buzz of knowing something that other people don't — for the full 30 seconds before the people live-blogging let the rest of the world know. You could pretty much say the rest for all the talks, since they are made available to developers after the conference, and without waiting in the long lines to get in. The real benefits to WWDC are the labs and the chance to interact one-on-one with Apple engineers and fellow developers. That, by itself, was worth the price of admission.

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iClouds on the horizon

iCloudThe biggest announcement (I can talk about) from a developer perspective is iCloud. Since Amazon and Google already offer cloud storage, you could be expected to see this as Apple playing catchup. But several aspects of iCloud are going to quickly make it the 700-pound gorilla. For one, it is going to be seamlessly integrated with iOS and Lion, meaning that Apple users will get access to iCloud without having to sign up for a new service, and they'll be getting it for free. It also will be available for Windows iTunes users, and the APIs are going to be available to developers.

Who should worry most? Probably Dropbox, since Apple is essentially stealing their lunch and giving them a wedgie while they're at it. For Apple developers, iCloud is going to offer a new opportunity to integrate an application experience across all the iOS and Lion devices a consumer owns, and I'm sure we'll see Apple TV join the party in the near future.

There's a (broken) app for that

If there's one thing Apple totally blew at WWDC, it's their iOS app for attendees. The app lets you view the schedule, select favorites sessions, look at maps of the facility, and make reservations for one-on-one labs.

Everything worked pretty well, until you tried to actually make a reservation. For one thing, the feature was supposed to turn on right after the keynote, but didn't actually go live until Tuesday morning. When it did go live, making a reservation was impossible, as it would either time out or crash while trying to. I was one of the lucky few to actually get a reservation for a lab, and when I showed up at my (confirmed by email) appointment time, I was told that they hadn't been able to get the reservations downloaded into their scheduling system, and I needed to reserve in person. Luckily, I was able to get a slot a few hours later, but the overall impression that the app was a last-minute slapped-together-by-an-intern hack is hard to avoid.

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