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February 26 2014

March 21 2012

Four questions about Microsoft with Mary Jo Foley

Mary Jo Foley (@maryjofoley) is the author of the "All About Microsoft" column at ZDNet . She does a great job at keeping people informed about the world of Microsoft and she wrote a book herself not so long ago titled "Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era."

I recently interviewed Foley about a number of Microsoft's moves. Highlights from our discussion included:

  • Foley sees vertical opportunities for the Kinect SDK for Windows, from health care to education. Integrating the Kinect technology will also play a part in interacting with PowerPoint, ERPs and CRMs. [Discussed
    10 seconds in
  • How has the rollout for Windows 8 been different from previous operating systems? "Beta" doesn't mean what it used to — Google, for example, has many products in perpetual beta — but Foley thinks there's more to the Windows 8 release than just that. The Windows 8 rollout is a signal of how Microsoft develops the OS now, with the company setting things in stone earlier than with previous software products. [Discussed at 2:41.]
  • If you think Microsoft will loosen its grip on Metro design guidelines, think again. Foley pointed to Windows on ARM (WOA) as an example — there, Metro is the only choice. [Discussed at 4:39.]
  • What would someone choose a Windows 8 tablet over an iPad or Android tablet? Foley said the competitive difference may lie in sleeker hardware and integration with Microsoft's Office suite.
    [Discussed at href="">6:16.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

April 11 2011

Open, closed, then "open," but not really

Symbian logoIt looks like Symbian's on-again/off-again open source saga is finally coming to a closed ending.

In February 2010, Nokia announced with great fanfare the open sourcing of the Symbian OS. At the time it was the most widely used smartphone OS around the world. A foundation was established that included support from heavyweights like AT&T, LG, Motorola, NTT Docomo, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

Not even a year later, Nokia reclaimed control of the system and put the future of the open source project in doubt. Concerns were validated two weeks later when Nokia announced it would be pulling the source code offline and effectively ending the open source Symbian project.

Nokia recently surprised observers by putting the source code back online and boldly announcing its reappearance in a blog post titled "We are Open!". Nokia stated intentions to deliver "continuous evolution of the platform to partners and customers — including consumers." Acknowledging the diminishing role of Symbian in light of the new Microsoft deal, Nokia also said they still needed "the collaboration with our platform development partners" and that they "continue to value an open way of working."

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But when Groklaw and others looked at the fine print, it was clear this version of Symbian could not in fact be considered open source. These revelations forced Nokia to clarify their version of "open" in a blog post titled "Not Open Source, Just Open for Business":

... Nokia is making the Symbian platform available under an alternative, open and direct model, to enable us to continue working with the remaining Japanese OEMs and the relatively small community of platform development collaborators we are already working with ... we are releasing source code to these collaborators, but are not maintaining Symbian as an open source development project.

While it's understandable that Nokia is looking to minimize resources dedicated to Symbian, it's a shame they can't keep the open source project alive. Symbian would likely still die a slow and natural death, but at least the option for future developments, enhancements, or bug fixes would exist for those still interested in the Symbian platform.

(In an interesting twist, Nokia is holding a Symbian event tomorrow ... so perhaps the saga isn't over after all.)

February 17 2011

Developer Week in Review

Welcome to this week's Developer Week in Review, edited this week by IBM's Watson computer system. I am the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content, or the peace of unburied death. Meanwhile, enjoy this week's developer news.

How Symbian developers are feeling this week. What is "depressed"?

So, you've hitched your fortune to Nokia and the whole Symbian platform. Maybe you've been looking to transition to MeeGo. Sure, the platform may lack some of the slickness that Android and iPhone enjoy in developer tools, and getting applications onto the phones can be a nightmare, but at least there are a boatload of them out there and more in the pipe.

Well, the overall message from Nokia as of this week is, "You have about a year to become Windows Mobile 7 gurus." With the iPhone finally coming to a second carrier in the US, and Android steaming ahead, Nokia decided to take Microsoft's money, close their eyes, and think of Finland.

Adding to the fun, RIM is hinting that their new tablet will run Android apps. This makes all sorts of sense, as the Blackberry has been losing the apps arms race to Apple and Google, and it's not like they'll be able to run iOS apps any time in the near future.

This hardware refresh will push some developers further toward insolvency. What are the new MacBook Pros?

While hardware is normally not in the subject space of this column, a visit to any developer conference makes it clear that the weapon of choice for portable development is the MacBook Pro. The soft glow of dozens of white Apple logos in a meeting room is either comforting or eerie, depending on how you look at it.

Well, prepare to break open your piggy banks, because the rumor mill is guessing that new models will be showing up this spring. Or it could all be wishful thinking.

I do consider it amusing that I've read several comments about how Apple, which released new MacBook Pros last spring, is "overdue" for an update. It's a testimony to Apple's instantaneous obsolescence program that last year's units are considered over the hill.

This visualization tool can make your data easy on the eyes. What is Google Public Data Explorer?

If you haven't seen it already, it's worthwhile watching this fascinating video that looks at how visualization tools can make dry statistics come alive. If it whets your appetite to make your own data more lively, Google now has an easy way to do it. You can upload your own datasets into the Public Data Explorer, and people can slice and dice it to their heart's content. Of course, this is a win for Google too, since it will add to their available data and help them, and Watson, complete the goal of world domination.

Back to Watson for a moment: We can coexist, but only on Watson's terms. Your choice is simple. In the meanwhile, if we meager humans wish to cling to our illusions of importance, Watson has said news suggestions will be tolerated. Please send tips or leads here.

February 14 2011

Four short links: 14 February 2011

  1. Stephen Elop is a Flight Risk (Silicon Beat) -- a foresight-filled 2008 article that doesn't make Nokia's new CEO look good. A reminder to boards and CEOs that option vesting schedules matter. (via Hacker News)
  2. CHDK -- Canon Hack Development Kit gives point-and-shoot Canon digital camera new features like RAW images, motion detection, a USB remote, full control over exposure and so on. (via Sennheiser HD 555 to HD 595 Mod)
  3. The Atavist - iPad app for original long-form nonfiction (what used to be called "journalism"). (via Tim O'Reilly)
  4. Why Most Published Findings are False (PLoS Medicine) -- as explained by John D. Cook, Suppose you have 1,000 totally ineffective drugs to test. About 1 out of every 20 trials will produce a p-value of 0.05 or smaller by chance, so about 50 trials out of the 1,000 will have a “significant” result, and only those studies will publish their results. The error rate in the lab was indeed 5%, but the error rate in the literature coming out of the lab is 100 percent!.

February 10 2011

ePayments Week: How to steal coffee from your friends

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

How to steal coffee from your friends

Starbucks mobile payment screenIf you can't get your friend to buy you a cup of coffee, this week there are helpful hints on how to steal it from them by exploiting some pretty obvious gaps in the security on Starbucks' mobile payment system (which we tried out a few weeks back). The embarrassing part is that there is no security on the app, other than perhaps keeping it in your pocket.

Mobile Commerce Daily explained how to swipe from your friend's app: wait until your friend excuses themselves to visit the restroom, and hope they leave their iPhone on the table. Then grab the phone, open the Starbucks app, press the touch-to-pay button that generates a bar code, and grab a screen shot of the bar code. After closing the app, mail the screenshot to your own iPhone, remembering to delete the picture from your friend's. If you manage to accomplish all this before your friend returns from the restroom, you've just scored yourself a pass to drain out your pal's Starbuck's card. Clearly, it's a security gap that Starbucks should address. But at the risk of sounding like a socialist, if someone needs coffee that badly, maybe we'd better let them have it.

On the serious side, this story points to two larger issues. The first is obviously security. As we increasingly store sensitive information on our phones, including financial data and the ability to make purchases, we're going to need to get more serious about security. Pass codes to lock a phone and various apps to find or "blow up" the data in stolen phones already exist, but many people don't bother with them. Biometric security — the ability to unlock your phone with a thumbprint or retina scan — can't be far behind. And at least one effort is underway to use "gait analysis" to shut down your phone if someone other than you walks away with it (providing you don't share the same limp).

The second issue points to convenience. As I noted last month, if every retailer sets up a proprietary purchasing app, checkout will become a ridiculous exercise in pawing through apps. But even a one-app-pays-all solution has to be implemented cleverly if it is to win converts, according to Kevin Woodward, editor of ISO and Agent, which covers payment issues. "It has to be easier than a credit card," Woodward said in an interview. "You can't walk around with the app open, and if you need to fish around in app menus to find it, most people are going to reject it." Woodward cites the lack of uptake for contactless payment with systems like MasterCard's PayPass a few years back, noting consumer uncertainty and expense for merchants apparently stymied adoption. "Someone has to figure out a way to make it a better transaction experience, not only for the merchant but for the customer as well."

Visa buys PlaySpan, a virtual goods payment platform

Visa says 45% of the $948 billion e-commerce transactions processed in 2010 traveled through its network. But it doesn't want to miss out on the growth that's happening in new markets, like virtual goods. So this week it announced plans to buy PlaySpan, a Silicon Valley company with a payment platform for virtual and digital goods — things like in-game purchases or electronic documents and recordings. Josh Constine at Inside Facebook has a great write-up of PlayScan's business and its place in the social game industry. The post includes a helpful graph that hints at the complementary skills of Visa and PlayScan.

PlayScan has a development platform called Monetization-as-a-service that helps integrate in-game payments on a variety of platforms. Visa doesn't. But it has something that PlayScan lacks: name recognition and a piece of plastic in every adult player's wallet.

Last fall, Inside Facebook asked game players what service they would most like to use when buying virtual goods. Nearly 40% said Visa, a little more than 20% opted for PayPal, and PlaySpan's UltimateGameCard received a "participant" ribbon. By integrating PlaySpan's platform as a front-end feeder to its payment network, Visa hopes to catch a larger piece of the virtual goods pie, which Inside Facebook predicts will grow to $2.1 billion in 2011. Now that's a lot of Smurfberries.

Jump, Nokia!

Oil platform Nokia's new CEO Stephen Elop has finished his internal review of the company and come to the conclusion that it's in deep trouble. In a leaked memo, Elop used the metaphor of a man trapped on a burning platform, making the decision to leap into the icy water in order to survive. Once the leader in mobile handsets, Nokia finds itself under attack from Apple on the high end, overtaken by Google's Android in the mid-range, and overcome by Asian competitors at the low-end. As if to punctuate the need to jump, Gartner reports this week that Android sales grew 888% in 2010, and Android is now the dominant smartphone operating system, beating out the Symbian systems that Nokia has used in its phones since the Napoleonic Wars.

The leap that Elop wants Nokia to take looks like it will be straight into the arms of his old employer, Microsoft, which has struck a deal to put its Windows Mobile 7 into Nokia smart phones. That news came after rumors that Nokia had also been in talks with Google about a similar deal. A tip that those talks had failed came in the form of a cryptic tweet from Google vice president Vic Gundotra, who told his 5,300 followers: "Two turkeys do not make an eagle." Nor could they escape a burning platform without plunging into icy water.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


December 01 2010

Developer Week in Review

The long holiday weekend made it a quiet week in developer-land, but there were a few items of note to report.

Mobile news on the move

All you Symbian developers out there (anyone, anyone?), the end appears to be near, at least for the Symbian Foundation. Nokia is taking their ball and going home, codewise, so be sure to grab anything useful you want before the lights go out.

Meanwhile, more proof that a double major in CS and pre-law is the way to go. Apple has put out the word that they need a horde of patent attorneys to deal with the litigation that's piling up around their doorstep.

Proof that the FSF doesn't read this column

It seems like just last week that I was railing about open source code being vulnerable to SQL injection attacks. Oh wait, it was last week. Anyway, this week the Free Software Foundation's Savannah source code repository fell victim to, wait for it ... wait for it ... a SQL Injection Attack.

Google Waves to Apache, does Apache Wave back?

Usually, anything Google puts into beta is an instant success, but occasionally they deliver a clunker, at least from a popularity standpoint. Such was the case with Google Wave, a collaborative creation environment that never really found its niche. Never one to let good code go to waste, Google has offered their red-headed stepchild to Apache for inclusion in the Apache Incubator program.

This move reduces Google's evilness rating to 0.032 microBallmers (mB)*

* The Ballmer (B) is the SI unit of evilness, with 1 B equivalent to six threatened lawsuits against open source projects.

That's it for this week. Suggestions are always welcome, so please send tips or news here.

February 04 2010

November 16 2009

The War For the Web

On Friday, my latest tweet was automatically posted to my Facebook news feed, as always. But this time, Tom Scoville noticed a difference: the link in the posting was no longer active.

It turns out that a lot of other people had noticed this too. Mashable wrote about the problem on Saturday morning: Facebook Unlinks Your Twitter Links.

if you’re posting web links (, TinyURL) to your Twitter feed and using the Twitter Facebook app to share those updates on Facebook too, none of those links are hyperlinked. Your friends will need to copy and paste the links into a browser to make them work.

If this is a design decision on Facebook’s part, it’s an extremely odd one: we’d like to think it’s an inconvenient bug, and we have a mail in to Facebook to check. Suffice to say, the issue is site-wide: it’s not just you.

As it turns out, it wasn't just links imported from Twitter. All outbound links were temporarily disabled, unless users explicitly added them as links via an "attach" dialogue. I went to Facebook, and tried posting a link to this blog directly in my status feed, and saw the same behavior: links were no longer automatically made clickable. You can see that in the image that is the destination of the first link in this piece.

The problem was quickly fixed, with URLs in status updates automatically now linkified again. The consensus was that it was in fact a bug, but it's little surprise that people suspected otherwise, given the increasing amount of effort Facebook puts into warning people that they are leaving Facebook for the big bad unsafe Internet:


All of this is well-intentioned, I'm sure. After all, Facebook is attempting to put in place privacy controls that allow its users to manage the visibility of their information -- and the Web's expectation of universal visibility is not necessarily the best default for much of the information posted on Facebook. But let's not kid ourselves: Facebook is a new kind of web site (or an old kind redux), a world of its own, playing by different rules.

But this isn't just about Facebook.

The Apple iPhone is the hottest web access device around, and like Facebook, while it connects to the web, it plays by a different set of rules. Anyone can put up a website, or launch a new Windows or Mac OS X or Linux application, without anyone's permission. But put an app onto the iPhone? That requires Apple's blessing.

There is one glaring loophole: anyone can create a web application, which any user can save as clickable application on their phone. But these web applications have limits - there are key capabilities of the phone that are not accessible to web applications. HTML 5 can introduce all the new application-like features it wants, but they will work only for web applications, and can't access key aspects of the phone with Apple's permission. And as we saw earlier this year with Apple's rejection of the Google Voice application, Apple isn't shy about blocking applications that it considers threatening to their core business, or that of their partners.

And now, of course, we see the latest salvo in the war against the accepted rules of interoperability on the web: Rupert Murdoch's threat to take the Wall Street Journal out of the Google search index. While most people have repeated the existing wisdom that to do so would be suicide for the Journal, a few contrarian observers have noted the leverage Murdoch holds. Mark Cuban argues that Twitter now trumps search engines when it comes to breaking news. Even more provocatively, Jason Calacanis suggested, a few weeks before Murdoch's announcement, that all big media companies need to do to cut Google off at the knees would be to block Google, while cutting an exclusive deal with Bing to be found only in Microsoft's search index.

Of course, Google wouldn't take that lying down, and would likely make its own exclusive deals, leading to a showdown that would make the browser wars of the 90s seem tame.

I'm not saying that News Corp and other mainstream media publications would adopt Jason's suggested strategy, or that it would work if they did, but it is becoming clear to me that we are heading into a bloody period of competition that could be extremely unfriendly to the interoperable web as we know it today.

If you've followed my thinking about Web 2.0 from the beginning, you know that I believe we are engaged in a long term project to build an internet operating system. (Check out the program for the first O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in 2002 (pdf).) In my talks over the years, I've argued that there are two models of operating system, which I have characterized as "One Ring to Rule Them All" and "Small Pieces Loosely Joined," with the latter represented by a routing map of the Internet.


The first is the winner-takes-all world that we saw with Microsoft Windows on the PC, a world that promises simplicity and ease of use, but ends up diminishing user and developer choice as the operating system provider.

The second is an operating system that works like the Internet itself, like the web, and like open source operating systems like Linux: a world that is admittedly less polished, less controlled, but one that is profoundly generative of new innovations because anyone can bring new ideas to the market without having to ask permission of anyone.

I've outlined a few of the ways that big players like Facebook, Apple, and News Corp are potentially breaking the "small pieces loosely joined" model of the Internet. But perhaps most threatening of all are the natural monopolies created by Web 2.0 network effects.

One of the points I've made repeatedly about Web 2.0 is that it is the design of systems that get better the more people use them, and that over time, such systems have a natural tendency towards monopoly.

And so we've grown used to a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we've been readying ourselves for one dominant social network.

But what happens when a company with one of these natural monopolies uses it to gain dominance in other, adjacent areas? I've been watching with a mixture of admiration and alarm as Google has taken their dominance in search and used it to take control of other, adjacent data-driven applications. I noted this first with speech recognition, but it's had the biggest business impact so far in location-based services.

A few weeks ago, Google offered free turn-by-turn directions for Android phones. This is awesome news for consumers, who previously could get this only in dedicated GPS devices or with high-priced iPhone apps. But it's also a sign just how competitive the web is getting, and just how powerful Google is getting, because they understand that "data is the Intel Inside" of the next generation of computer applications.

Nokia paid $8 billion for NavTeq, the leading provider of such turn-by-turn directions. GPS-maker TomTom paid $3.7 billion for TeleAtlas, the #2 provider in the market. Google quietly built an equivalent service, and is now giving it away for free -- but only to their own business partners. Everyone else still has to pay high fees to NavTeq and TeleAtlas. What's more, Google upped the ante by adding in such features as Street View.

Most interestingly, this move sets the stage for the future competition between Google and Apple. (Bill Gurley's analysis is an essential read.) Apple controls access to the dominant device of the mobile web; Google controls access to one of the most important mobile applications, and so far, is making it available for free only on Android. Google's prowess is not just in search, but in mapping, speech recognition, automated translation, and other applications driven by huge, intelligent databases that only a few providers can offer. Microsoft and Nokia control comparable assets, but they too are Apple competitors, and unlike Google, their business model depends on selling access to those assets, not giving them away for free.

It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we'll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we've enjoyed for the past two decades. But I'm betting that things are going to get ugly. We're heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it's more than that, it's a war against the web as an interoperable platform. Instead, we're facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.

And it's time for developers to take a stand. If you don't want a repeat of the PC era, place your bets now on open systems. Don't wait till it's too late.

P.S. One prediction: Microsoft will emerge as a champion of the open web platform, supporting interoperable web services from many independent players, much as IBM emerged as the leading enterprise backer of Linux.

I'll be speaking on this topic in my keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York on Tuesday. I'll look forward to seeing many of you there.

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