I love the cover of the January 2007 issue of Software Test & Performance. It has graphics by LuAnn Palazzo, the wonderful art director for that magazine, and text from Edward Correia, the editor of ST&P. Be sure to read the fine print on the can.

This is a really strong issue of the magazine, by the way, with solid articles on AJAX security vulnerabilities, model-driven testing, making the business case for investing in test automation, and a case study about offshore development.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Three decades ago, the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins proposed the concept of a “meme” – that is, a unit of cultural transmission that exists independently of one person, and therefore, can spread around throughout a culture.

Some memes are obvious. President Bush referred to himself last April as “the decider,” that is, what we used to call a decision-maker. At first, other people used that term in mocking references to Mr. Bush, but now the word has caught on.

I’m watching a meme evolve right now: the Novell Sweatshirt meme.

In mid-1996, Novell introduced a new bundle of its NetWare network operating system with a suite of server applications, like a Web server. It called this version, “IntranetWare.” During the launch press tour, Novell gave me a sweatshirt with the IntranetWare logo.

The dark green sweatshirt was exactly the sort I like: medium-weight cotton/polyester fleece material, mildly elastic cuffs, and a cardigan-style zipper. There’s no hood — I can’t stand hooded sweatshirts. The IntranetWare logo is small and discrete, embroidered in black thread, so it’s not obvious that I’m wearing vendorware.

I wear my comfy Novell sweatshirt often, indoors and out; it’s my favorite item of clothing, frankly. Many of my friends and colleagues have seen it over the past decade.

A few years ago, my son bought a light gray, zippered, hoodless fleecy sweatshirt. And he calls it his Novell sweatshirt, because it’s just like mine.

Yesterday, my extended family was down shopping at REI, a sporting-goods and clothing store in San Carlos, Calif. They were having a big after-Christmas sale. A relative said, “Oh, look, they have a nice selection of Novell sweatshirts like yours,” and bought a charcoal-colored zippered, hoodless fleece sweatshirt from Columbia Sportsware (pictured). He’d heard the term from my son.

I bought a new dark blue Novell sweatshirt too. You can’t fight a meme, especially when it’s on sale for only US$29.83.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Nominations are now open for the Eclipse Community Awards; the cut-off for entries is January 22, 2007.

The Eclipse Community Awards, launched last year, are designed to recognize the people and projects that make Eclipse a successful community. There are two categories of awards:

* Individuals: ambassadors, contributors, committers and evangelists.

* Technologies: best open-source and commercial RCP applications, best open-source and commercial Eclipse-based developer tools, and best deployment of Eclipse in an enterprise.

(I’m a judge in the technologies category.)

The awards will be presented at EclipseCon, on March 5, 2007.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Microsoft has just announced the 2007 dates for its biannual Professional Developer Conference. It’ll be held Oct. 2-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Microsoft PDC is my favorite of their three big technical events; it’s where you get the real deep-dives into their upcoming technology, and their road maps. I’ll be there… I try never to miss a PDC.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it out to Microsoft Tech-Ed this year. Usually I go, sometimes I don’t, especially in a year when there’s a PDC. The conference, set for Jun. 4-8 in Orlando, is more practical than PDC, but is also much broader. Tech-Ed’s audience includes developers, DBAs and sys admins. So, you’ll find lots of classes about managing Exchange Server or managing servers with Microsoft Operations Manager, which doesn’t interest me.

The third big event is Microsoft WinHEC, which is a hardware design conference; that’s where Microsoft lays out its reference platforms. WinHEC will be held this year on May 14-17 in Los Angeles. WinHEC is an important conference, but I don’t always make it there.

Note that in 2007, Microsoft had planned to have both TechEd and WinHEC in New Orleans, but moved the events because of uncertainly about whether New Orleans’ still-recovering infrastructure would be able to support such large conference.

For a quick reference to significant U.S. conferences for software development managers, bookmark the BZ Media Industry Events Calendar.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

We’ve open up registration for the next Software Test & Performance Conference: April 17-19, 2007, in San Mateo, Calif.

The first registration “eXtreme Early Bird” date is January 12 — if you register by that date, you can save up to US$470 on the Full Event Passport, which includes the technical conference and all tutorials, Birds of a Feather, keynotes, all that good stuff.

The previous STPCon, early November in Cambridge, sold out (it was BZ Media’s biggest technical conference ever). If you’re planning to attend our first west-coast STPCon, you probably should register early.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

If you’re going to EclipseCon, be sure to catch my presentation, “Working with the IT Press.” This “long talk” session has just been accepted by the conference program committee.

“Working with the IT Press” is an evolving presentation that I’ve been delivering for more than a decade at various conferences and trade shows, and in shorter form one-on-one with small company owners.

My goal is to help small organizations (such as software companies or open-source projects) to know the ground rules of working the media: how to pitch us on news stories, how to handle an interview, how to interact with writers who are doing product reviews, and so-on. Some of those rules are counter-intuitive.

Big companies, and their professional public-relations agencies, always have an advantage, in that they know how to work the press. This session tries to level the playing field. Hope to see you there. EclipseCon 2007 is March 5-8, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Many religions celebrate their winter holiday with gift-giving. I treated myself to something that’s very silly, but which also makes me nostalgic: a vintage nameplate from the first “real” computer I worked on, an IBM System 370 Model 168 mainframe. I used one of those machines as an undergraduate, before moving onto the more-powerful Model 3031 and Model 4341 mainframes.

The heavy 24-inch aluminum nameplate, which I found on eBay, would have sat on the operator’s console. It’s now displayed proudly in my office.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Thank you, Sun (and Sun’s PR team), for sending me one of Sun’s SPOT (Small Programmable Object Technology) kits. It arrived earlier this week.

The SPOT kit contains a couple of battery-powered devices, each with sensors and a wireless transceiver, plus a base station and a Java SDK. You can see all the parts at Sun’s Web site.

What am I going to do with it? My son and I have a few ideas, which we’ll be playing with. We probably start with something really simple, like using it to make an indoor/outdoor temperature display (put one SPOT inside, one outside) as our “Hello, World” application. After that, who knows?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The software giant in Redwood Shores keeps getting bigger. In its most recent financials, Oracle announced that it made US$967 million in profit for the quarter, on sales of $4.2 billion. That represents a 21 percent increase in profit and 26 percent increase in revenue, compared to same quarter last year.

Those numbers seem to be roughly in line with analyst expectations. Meanwhile, Oracle is the midst of an aggressive share by-back program – in other words, the board thinks that its own stock is a better investment than, say, buying more companies.

Even so, there’s no doubt that the company is continuing to grow aggressively. The hypercompetitive Oracle claims to be taking market share from SAP, BEA and IBM, and also seems to be doing a good job with its new products and staff, and in retaining acquired customers.

While the company’s offerings are a bewildering hodgepodge of databases, applications, middleware and services, the reality is that most customers will only care about specific subsets of Oracle’s portfolio. The lack of coherency between its myriad enterprise applications is more of a concern for outside observers than it is for customers – who would probably just be using one set of products. If they really need to bind Oracle’s diverse stack together, customers will integrate them internally, or hire Oracle’s consultants to do the job for them.

To snapshot Oracle against some other big software companies, sorted by quarterly revenue:

IBM: Quarterly revenue $22.6B, net income $2.2B, market cap $144.6B
Microsoft: Quarterly revenue $10.8B, net income $3.5B, market cap $294.8B
Oracle: Quarterly revenue $4.2B, net income $967M, market cap $88.8B
Google: Quarterly revenue, $2.7B, net income $733M, market cap $143.5B
SAP: Quarterly revenue $2.2B, net income $388M, market cap $64.4B

Prediction for next year: I’ll go far out on a limb and say that Oracle’s going to keep growing. Once it has managed to digest more of its acquisitions, its profits should rise dramatically. While it has some interesting competition from Salesforce.com, the latter company’s SaaS offerings are still too new and too small to make a significant dent in Oracle’s business.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Andrew Binstock has written an excellent blog entry about the pros/cons of porting an existing C/C++ project from Visual Studio to Eclipse. His post was inspired by a tutorial on developerWorks by Priyadarshini Sampath (pictured), Ramakrishnan Kannan and Karthik Subbian, all of IBM.

You should read Andrew’s post, but his conclusion agrees with my own belief that a developer who is solely targeting Windows (native Win32 code, or managed .NET code, or ASP.NET code) and who is using Microsoft’s compilers is probably better off using Visual Studio, because of the tight coupling between the IDE and Windows, and also because Visual Studio is smarter about working with the Microsoft’s compilers.

For Windows developers, the strength of Eclipse is that it’s inherently multiplatform. If multiplatform development is a consideration, or if you’re planning to use any non-Microsoft elements in your toolchain, such as gcc and gdb, Eclipse is the tool for you. The developerWorks article does admit, however,

“The growing popularity, versatility, and open source nature of Eclipse motivates many to embrace Eclipse as the development platform of the future. Nevertheless, porting Windows applications to use open source development tools like GCC, GDB, or GCC/GDB for Windows providing functionalities similar to Windows SDK is a nontrivial task today.”

Therefore: If multiplatform development is not a consideration, and you’re using the Microsoft compilers, then you’re probably better off with Visual Studio.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Mark your calendar for EclipseWorld 2007, Nov. 6-8 in Reston, Virginia. Next year’s EclipseWorld — our third-annual conference for enterprise developers, architects and all other IT professionals using Eclipse-based tools and technologies — is going to be bigger and better than ever.

We have just opened our Call for Speakers. The cut-off is April 13, 2007, but don’t want for the last minute to submit your tutorial or technical class abstract.

While you have your calendar software open, don’t forget that BZ Media’s 4th Software Security Summit will be April 16-17 in San Mateo, Calif., and the Software Test & Performance Conf. 2007 will be April 17-19, also in San Mateo.

Registration is open now for S-3, and will open shortly for STPCon.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

See CNN and AutoWeek.

Send your letters to:

Ford Motor Company
Customer Relationship Center
P.O. Box 6248
Dearborn, MI 48126

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The sizes and capacities of rotating magnetic media continues to boggle the imagination. I thought that the 60GB hard drive in my old Powerbook was impressive, but this week Fujitsu announced a 300GB 2.5-inch drive. Wow.

Meanwhile, you can pick up 750GB 3.5-inch SATA drives for desktops and servers – but it looks like Andrew Binstock is going to lose our bet that there will be single-spindle 1TB drives available this year.

What about pocket-sized devices? My iPod has an 80GB 1.8-inch drive, but Toshiba just introduced a 100GB drive, and Seagate is talking about a 120GB unit.


Let us pause and remember Al Shugart, the disk-drive pioneer and big thinker (pictured), who died Tuesday at age 76.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

A study by International Data Corp. — a respected IT market research firm — predicts that within its first year of shipment, Windows Vista will be installed on more than 90 million computers worldwide, and that in the United States alone, Vista-related employment will reach 18% of all IT jobs during that period.

The study, “The Economic Impact of Microsoft Windows Vista in the United States,” was commissioned by and paid for by Microsoft.

The study further estimates that there will be 157,000 new jobs (emphasis theirs) and US$70 billion in revenue to companies in the U.S. IT industry, with two million IT professionals and industry employees working with Vista in 2007.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Ecma, the vendor-driven standards body that used to be the European Computer Manufacturers Association, has rubber-stamped Microsoft’s next-generation document file formats, called Office Open XML. Ecma’s vote places Office Open XML onto the fast track toward ISO recognition.

I haven’t delved into the 6,039-page specification itself, so I can’t comment on the technical quality of the Office Open XML spec. However, I am troubled about the licensing issue, and of course the competitive aspects of turning one company’s impossible-to-implement spec into an industry standard. (You can download the spec, now called Ecma-376, as a 47MB PDF document.)

Office Open XML is a Microsoft format. Microsoft has not surrendered its intellectual property, but has instead issued what it calls a “Covenant Not To Sue.”

An agreement by a company not to sue people over its patents shouldn’t be the basis of an industry standard, ticularly one with there’s the potential for lock-in or other shenanigans. If it were truly interested in standard, it would have released the intellectual property in the specification into the public domain, vs. kept it as part of its IP pool.

You can look at this in one of two ways: Either Microsoft believe that Office Open XML will secure its Office monopoly, or Microsoft believes that Office Open XML is a threat to that monopoly. It’s unlikely that Microsoft would have submitted specifications that would be a threat to its monopoly. So, therefore…

The real goal of Office Open XML is to give Office an imprimatur that it requires for meeting some governmental contract guidelines: that file formats be non-proprietary. Those regulations, widely supported by everyone but Microsoft, are driving governments to use products that support the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications, ISO/IEC 26300:2006, also known as OpenDocument or ODF.

Microsoft could adopt OpenDocument, but then it would lose control over the file format – the key weapon used ensure customer lock-in. Therefore, Microsoft proposed its own competing XML-based file format, Office Open XML, based on the XML schemas that it was already using to successfully lock competitors out of Office, and of course made sure that the specification would be impossible to implement by anyone who didn’t already have the Office source code. 6,039 pages!

Thanks to Ecma (and soon, the ISO, one presumes), Office Open XML will be a de jure standard, and Microsoft will be able to go back after the government business that it’s losing to OpenDocument-based tools. Because it is unlikely that anyone but Microsoft will ever be able to fully implement Office Open XML in a 100% compatible fashion, lock-in will retained.

It’s realistic to expect that competitors will only be able to implement subsets of Office Open XML — and customers will measure competitor’s implementations against their compatibility with Microsoft’s implementation. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft tries to get future government bids written to require 100% implementation of Office Open XML.

They shoot, they score.

(The Wikipedia offers a technical comparison of Office Open XML and OpenDocument. I can’t vouch for its accuracy.)

Microsoft’s Brian Johnson blogs about his company’s joyous reaction to Ecma’s approval of Office Open XML. IBM’s Bob Sutor, who has led the opposition to Office Open XML, offers his own commentary, and IBM’s Rob Weir explains why IBM was the only company to vote against approval of Office Open XML.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The latest version of the Java Platform, Standard Edition, was formally released yesterday (Dec. 11). It would be fair to call this iteration evolutionary, not revolutionary. I can’t think of any “must-have” additions to the platform, but overall, there are a number of incremental upgrades wrapped into the package.

As BEA’s Bill Roth wrote, “First, XML processing, via JAXP and JAXB are now standard.” Also, Java 6 standardized the annotation processing API, and improves support for dynamic languages. That’s potential huge, given the interest in running languages like the JCP’s own Groovy, as well as JavaScript and Ruby, within the JVM.

There are a number of other enhancements as well to JSR-270, which is the umbrella Java service request for Java SE 6, which had been code-named “Mustang.” A big one, but which hasn’t been discussed much, is JDBC 4.0, which makes it easier for developers to associate SQL queries with class representations.

Also very significant (although not part of the JSR) is that Sun is including Apache Derby, a Java database, as part of its own JDK for Java SE 6. This move will cement Derby’s status as the de facto standard Java database.

Alex Handy talks about some other changes, such as its integration with Solaris’ DTrace functionality, in an SD Times news story.

Again: Java 6 isn’t revolutionary, but in regards to the database and scripting language support, it’s significant.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The Open Source Development Labs – the not-for-profit organization where Linus Torvalds works, and which maintains the Linux kernel – has undergone some changes this week.

Stuart Cohen, the visionary who led OSDL since 2003, is leaving the organization, ostensibly to pursue a new business venture. He’s working with OVP Venture Partners, a Northwest venture capital firm, but according to the OSDL, won’t be working for OVP directly. No clear word as to what his new venture will be, but the word is that it’ll be in the open source market.

Cohen will be replaced by Mike Temple, who had been OSDL’s chief operating officer. There were also layoffs (“approximately nine,” according to the organization), leaving a staff of 19.

What will they be doing? It looks like the OSDL’s mission is being downsized, along with the staff. As they put it to me, “We plan to focus on fewer projects but ones where we can have the most impact.” Specifically, they’ll be a home for Linus and others, maintain the legal defense fund and patent commons, promote regional activities and provide an umbrella for the Linux community to collaborate under.

It’s unclear what will happen to key initiatives, such as Carrier Grade Linux (one of OSDL’s greatest achievements), Data Center Linux, the Mobile Linux Initiative and the Open Source Driver project.

Given the recent issues regarding Linux and intellectual property – most recently the Microsoft/Novell accord and SCO’s setbacks in its lawsuit against IBM – this is not the most auspicious time for OSDL to restructure itself downwards. If OSDL becomes less relevant, who will hold up the standard for Linux? Corporations like Novell, Red Hat and IBM? Stuart has been a strong spokesman. Linux is lessened by the diminution of the OSDL.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The IBM Rational tools keep going and going… they’ve undergone changes in just about every dimension, over the past five years. They’ve been purchased by IBM. They’ve been rebuilt on Eclipse, instead of the old VisualAge code base. The latest version, called IBM Rational Software Delivery Platform 7.0, debuted yesterday (Dec. 5).

As you’d expect, the big focus of the update (code-named Caspian) is driving SOA-based development. SOA is the acronym-of-choice within the big account that IBM likes to serve with its software tools, its WebSphere app and portal servers, its DB2 database, its Tivoli management suites, and of course, with IBM Global Services.

Beyond the emphasis on SOA, the biggest improvements are in Eclipse support. SDP 7.0 now uses the latest 3.2 version of the Eclipse platform, including the multilanguage IDE. While the focus of the SDP suite is on Java EE-based development on WebSphere, some of the tools (specifically, the testing suites) also work on .NET code as well.

But make no mistake: IBM is continuing to go after big shops that do formal UML-based modeling and who like rigid processes like the Rational Unified Process. The SDP isn’t targeting small or mid-sized development shops using Visual Studio or Borland, or those who like to “roll their own” Eclipse toolchains.

If DoDAF and RUP aren’t in your daily vocabulary, and you have small teams working on agile projects, IBM’s SDP probably isn’t for you. But if you do care about DoDAF and RUP, you have hundreds or thousands of developers on some projects, business processing modeling is at the top of your agenda, and your pockets are deep, then you should call IBM right away to talk about upgrade pricing and migration services.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

In his latest SD Times column, my colleague Andrew Binstock writes about the generally poor quality of blogs, particularly those blogs whose posts consist largely of apologies for not having posted recently.

He cites a few blogs that are worth reading, but sadly doesn’t include Z Trek in his round-up. He and I will discuss this oversight at our next meeting. I believe that it’s his turn to buy coffee. Oooh, yeah. We have a lot to talk about.

Seriously: Read Andrew’s column for a frank, open assessment of the state of blogging today, including insightful analysis as to the weaknesses of current blog host software. If you’re a blogger yourself, consider it required reading.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Santa Barbara, Calif. – Following CEO Dan O’Dowd’s talk about the need for a secure network platform, Green Hills Software announced that it is launching a secure network platform.

The Green Hills Platform for Secure Networking (to use its formal name) includes the company’s INTEGRITY real-time operating system, an IPv4/IPv6 networking stack, a file system, IPSec, IKE, a secure Web server that uses SSL/TLS, a SSH client, a RADIUS client, and SNMP. (The software is being officially announced on Wed., Dec. 6th.)

The target market for the GHPfSN (to make up an acronym) is networked devices, such as LAN/WAN infrastructure, media servers/gateways, bank systems, handheld devices, and medical equipment. The company cites recently published buffer-overflow flaws in Cisco’s IOS (the operating system inside its switches and routers) as explaining why GHPfSN is needed.

What makes GHPfSN secure, according to Green Hills, is that INTEGRITY isolates and separates the kernel from applications using protected address spaces for applications, system services, system data, and hardware device drivers. So, for example, the IPv4/IPv6 stack is in its own secure address space, so that even if it’s compromised, it doesn’t provide an entry point into the kernel, and from there into the rest of the device.

Other Green Hills news…

The company has updated its INTEGRITY real-time operating system. Version 10 adds support for symmetric multiprocessing, as well as a real-time debugging agent tied into Green Hills’ EventAnalyzer software. There are also new security features, including a new way of allocating memory resources, and a new device-driver model. INTEGRITY 10 will be available in the first quarter of 2007, according to Green Hills.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Santa Barbara, Calif. – I’m down at the 4th annual Green Hills Software Embedded Software Summit, where GHS CEO Dan O’Dowd is talking about the company’s big push into secure networking. He’s citing that the company’s INTEGRITY operating system is certified as Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level 4+ (EAL4+), and is currently under evaluation for EAL6+. O’Dowd insists, as you’d expect, that EAL6+ is better, but further claims that all systems that are anything less can be easily hacked into and should be avoided.

Yes, O’Dowd used the word “easily,” and also hinted at a conspiracy between Microsoft and IBM to “hide” the existence of secure operating systems like Green Hills’ INTEGRITY.

O’Dowd is right in emphasizing security certifications in operating systems, and it is shameful that so few operating systems are certified (though, admittedly, it is a complex multi-year process). From Microsoft, the only certified OS that I know of is Windows 2000 at EAL4+. Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 have not been certified. Solaris 10 is undergoing EAL4+ evaluation. Novell’s NetWare and SUSE Linux Enterprise 9 are EAL4+. I believe that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is also undergoing the EAL4+ evaluation.

How important is this? Answer: It depends. Certainly, we want the OS to be secure, because vulnerabilities in the OS can undermine applications. This is true not only of publicly exposed server operating systems, such as those hosting Web sites, but anything on a LAN or WAN needs to be sure.

However, a secure OS is a baseline; it’s not a goal. Flaws in application servers are potentially just as devastating as those in the underlying operating system. Flaws in runtimes and libraries are devastating. Flaws in applications themselves, including faulty logic and insufficient data checks, are devastating.

Your operating system can be EAL6+, but if the Web application doesn’t perform checks against SQL Injection, you’re just as hosed as if it were EAL4+ or not certified at all.

EAL4+ and EAL6+ don’t promise that the operating system is unhackable, and they don’t imply anything about the quality of the non-OS code running on that system. What they do is show that the operating system can be deployed in a secure manner. Emphasis on can be.

So, yes, it’s important to want an operating system that can be deployed. But that’s only one requirement for a secure system, and pushing for EAL6+ isn’t the end-all and be-all that Green Hills insists it is.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

As a technology analyst, I’m expected to be fair, unbiased, impartial, open-minded, objective and neutral at all times.

And I am, of course.

Even so, I must confess some amount of pleasure in the blow dealt to SCO in its perennial lawsuits against IBM and Novell this week, when (as reported on Groklaw) U.S. District Court judge Dale Kimball affirmed previous court rulings that dismissed many of SCO’s claims against IBM. To quote from the documents (many thanks to Groklaw’s Pamela Jones for making this available),

Having thoroughly reviewed and considered the briefing related to IBM’s Motion to Limit SCO’s Claims, the briefing related to SCO’s objections, the underlying previous discovery orders, and the arguments made at the October 24 hearing, the court finds that, even under a de novo standard of review, the Magistrate Judge’s June 28, 2006 Order is correct. The court finds that SCO failed to comply with the court’s previous discovery-related Orders and Rule 26(e), that SCO acted willfully, that SCO’s conduct has resulted in prejudice to IBM, and that this result–the inability of SCO to use the evidence at issue to prove its claims– should come as no surprise to SCO. In addition, the court finds that neither particularized findings on an item-by-item basis nor an evidentiary hearing is required to make these determinations. The court, therefore, affirms and adopts the Magistrate Judge’s June 28, 2006 Order in its entirety.

In other words, SCO hasn’t provided any substantive evidence (as required by the court) of IBM’s improper use of its intellectual property, and therefore, many of SCO’s claims are summarily dismissed, buh-bye.

Given that SCO has behaved appallingly throughout all this protracted mess, it’s hard for even the most impartial observer to watch the company’s setbacks without applauding. (Of course, partial observers, like those who work for Microsoft, are undoubtedly dismayed by this court order.)

This week, SCO’s stock (NASDAQ:SCOX) dropped to from US$2.43 per share to $1.22 per share — a fall of just about 50 percent. Too bad, so sad. I like Forbes’ headline: “Investors Abandon SCO.”

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

1. My colleague Larry O’Brien blogged about a reproduction of the original Altair 8800. For under US$1,700 you can own a piece of history.

2. I just treated myself to the 87th edition of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. It’s just the thing if your reading tastes include the magnetic susceptibility of the elements and organic compounds, thermodynamic quantities for the ionization reactions of buffers in water, the sensitivity of the human eye to light of different wavelengths, ebullioscopic constants for calculation of boiling point elevation, and the Fourier expansions for basic periodic functions. Amazon’s price is US$124.56, but a third-party seller had it for about $60.

3. Who wouldn’t want the full 20-volume set — 22,000 pages — of the Oxford English Dictionary? It’s a steal at only US$895, discounted from $1,500.

4. If your tastes are more to video than the printed page, try the Doctor Who Mega Collection, for only US$644 from Amazon. Alas, the 46-disc set isn’t a complete archive of Doctor Who, but it’s probably all the casual fan requires.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The XQuery 1.0 specification — in progress since the Mesolithic era — reached a new milestone last week: it’s now a Proposed Recommendation from the W3C. (Well, no, it’s not really dating back 8000 years, but XQuery has been in progress since early 2003.)

XQuery is important because it’s essentially the XML-based analog to SQL. In other words, XQuery is a query language that applications can use to talk to servers, to extract data from documents, and do data-centric document transformation. It’s essential for data-driven service oriented architecture.

In the database realm, XQuery will be a replacement for XSLT 1.0, the Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation facility. XSLT was really designed to assist with the presentation of XML documents, such as for output to a Web browser or exporting as PDF. Even so, XSLT has been shoehorned into doing just about everything to do with XML data transfer, in many cases inefficiently or inelegantly.

Industry support for XQuery is high, and the preliminary versions have been widely implemented in a number of commercial tools. Expect the W3C to swift approve the proposed draft, and make XQuery 1.0 into a full Recommendation (i.e., a standard). A lot of people are waiting anxiously for it.

Even so, the first rev of the specification isn’t a full analog to SQL; rather, it’s a data-retrieval subset of what we should expect XQuery to mature into. Thus, you can’t use XQuery 1.0 to submit data into a database: It’s pull, rather than push. For those capabilities, wait for XQuery 2.0.

Also on Nov. 22, the W3C upgraded XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0 to Proposed Recommendations. These are also important upgrades, and these three specs together vastly extend our ability to work with XML programmatically, and will drive data-centric SOA implementations.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Somebody must like me: I checked my P.O. Box today, and found an “advance uncorrected proof” of Douglas Hofstadter’s “I Am A Strange Loop,” due out in March 2007 from Perseus Books.

Dr. Hofstadter is best known as the author of “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid,” a philosophical tome which I’ve read several times (I understand less than a quarter of it), and “Metamagical Themas,” an easier-to-comprehend collection of his Scientific American articles.

This new book is far smaller than the massive GEB and equally massive MT, and like GEB, focuses on questions of human self-awareness. I don’t know if I’ll agree with Dr. Hofstadter‘s arguments. I’ll settle for merely understanding them.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

A fond memory from my early IT career, in the late 1970s, was working with APL — A Programming Language — on the IBM mainframe.

Our data center had one LA36 DECwriter II terminal that had the special APL character set, and a small number of enthusiasts used to fight over who got to use it. The losers had to use standard DECwriter II terminals or glass TTYs (from Televideo or Perkin-Elmer) and type in the verbose equivalents of the symbols. I have no idea why we had APL on our System/370; it was never used for anything but fooling around.

APL was launched on Dec. 1, 1966, and had been invented by Kenneth Iverson, an IBM researcher. Amazingly, IBM still sells APL tools today, 40 years later, though they’re richly priced at US$1,741 for one workstation license with 12 months maintenance. Dr. Iverson passed away in Oct. 2004.

APL is an interpreted language designed for working with numerical arrays. You can perform complex calculations with only a few characters; designing algorithms to be concise (and often unreadable) is a marvelous talent. Sadly, I didn’t spend enough time with APL to develop much skill. My “real” work involved PL/1, COBOL and FORTRAN, and noodling with APL was essentially a hobby.

For a quick overview of APL, I’ll refer you to the Wikipedia (which is where the keyboard image above comes from). However, that article merely scratches the surface, and doesn’t show the beauty and elegance of APL programming.

In the early 1980s, I evaluated an APL interpreter for DOS, called APL*Plus, from STSC. It was a bizarre implementation, and unstable. Alas, I haven’t worked with the language since.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick