No, this isn’t about one of those ubiquitous charities, advertising on the radio that they want you to donate your car, running or not in most cases, in exchange for a potential tax deduction. Instead, this is about sending the entirely wrong message to your happy customers.

My wife received an e-mail this morning from Acura of Serramonte, the dealer in Colma, Calif., where she had purchased a new 2006 Acura TSX sedan last July. (The Acura replaced a 1999 BMW 528i, also known as “the piece of junk that spent all its time in the shop,” but that’s another story.)

The e-mail said:


We need nice Acuras for our used car inventory. We”ll pay top dollar for your car – paid for or not.

My wife is incensed. She loves her shiny green TSX, which we took to Santa Barbara last week for a short vacation. It’s stylish, it’s extremely comfortable, it has great fuel efficiency, it’s fun to drive, it has tons of safety features, and it has all the toys. “Why do they want me to sell my new car?” she fumed. “Do they expect that I’m dissatisfied with it already?”

Maybe this is an accepted practice in the used-car business, trying to get people to sell back their just-purchased cars to build up inventory. But what a mean-spirited message for the dealer to send to a very satisfied customer: that she should dump a car that has only 7,200 miles and is half a year old.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

My session at EclipseCon, “Working with the IT Press,” has been scheduled and rescheduled a few times, but now it appears have solidly landed: Thursday, March 8, from 10:10 – 11:00 am. EclipseCon is at the Santa Clara Convention Center; this class should be in Grand Ballroom C.

You can read the full description at the EclipseCon 2007 site, but the gist is that this is a session advising people and companies how to work more effectively with reporters/editors on trade publications about news stories, new product/project announcements, product reviews and more.

This is the latest iteration of an presentation that I created in the early 1990s, and have presented dozens of times at many different venues. I hope to see you there.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Which browser do YOU use? In a completely non-scientific study, the chances are that you use Firefox. You’re probably also using Windows.

I was examining the FeedBurner stats for this blog, which arguably is read by a technically savvy subset of the computer-using world. Specifically, the subset that is aware that you can choose which browser you use, and are not locked into the one which shipped with your operating system, or which your operating system manufacturer urged you to install. Further, this is a subset that knows how to evaluate a browser.

FeedBurner told me that we had the following usage for Friday, Feb. 23 (a day which had heavier-than-usual traffic):

Firefox 2.0.x: 39%
Firefox 1.5.x: 13%
All Firefox: 52%

Internet Explorer 7.x: 20%
Internet Explorer 6.x: 11%
All IE: 31%

Safari: 5%
Mozilla: 5%
Others: 7%

Among other things, FeedBurner also logs the operating system from the browser request.

Windows XP: 52%
Windows 2000: 4%
Windows Vista: 1%
Other Windows: 3%
All Windows: 60%

Mac OS X (Intel): 17%
Mac OS X (PowerPC): 6%
All Mac OS X: 23%

Linux: 16%
Others: 1%

Please consider this to be just one data point – but it is an interesting one.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

January’s proposal of a Threading Maturity Model (ThMM), both in my blog and in SD Times, has inspired some thought-provoking conversations. So far, nobody has proposed any changes to the model. I’ve been impressed by several writings that comment or expand on the ThMM, which ranks an organization’s or team’s threading skills and practices.

First, my colleague (and SD Times columnist) Larry O’Brien has proposed a complementary Personal Threading Maturity Model (PTMM), a five-point scale ranking individual progress toward mastery of threading. “An organizational model is necessary because, as with object orientation, it does not suffice for a single person to have mastery or near-mastery; the average ability of the team must be at least fair in order to maintain quality,” he writes.

Michael Suess writes, in his blog entry Parallel Programming is Entering the Mainstream – or isn’t it?, that “Alan Zeichick is convinced that parallel programming (threading in this case) is conquering the desktop.” Well, that’s not quite what I said or meant; the ThMM isn’t focused on the desktop, and the goal is to measure competency, not predict market penetration. Beyond that, he makes some excellent observations: “Refactoring a big, existing codebase to use threads or some other parallel programming model is a huge undertaking (sometimes even comparable to a total rewrite)…. If, on the other hand, the technical leadership of a software shop acknowledges the risk and decides to act in anticipation of the problem, a migration may be started early and will go more smoothly because there is more time to get everything right.”

Rob McCammon goes farther, talking about developing a multi-core readiness plan for embedded projects. “This is why I believe that any development team that sees a transition from a single processor to a multi-core processor on the horizon must develop a multi-core readiness plan. Not doing so is like mounting an expedition to Mount Everest by simply making your way to base camp and trying to figure it out as you go from that point forward,” he says.

Michael Cassens suggests in his blog that “the average lifespan of a new consumer computer is 3-5 years. This means that within the next year or two, most computers will have at least a dual core system inside. I think consumers will continue to demand more responsive software and their data needs are only going to grow. I think that all developers will have to be at a high level of adoption in the next few years or they will be left behind.” Further, he adds, “The article suggested that most corporations are in Tier 1 or 2 at the moment. There is definitely an interest in parallel programming, but dual core and quad core systems are going to force developers go beyond just hobby programming and integrate these solutions in their production level applications.” I agree completely.

David Dossot goes in a similar direction as Larry with his Threader Maturity Model, which also focuses on individuals, not organizations. It’s interesting to compare and contrast their different five-step scales. I like his fifth level: “Adoption. This is also known as Being Brian Goetz. At this level, the developer has an intimate knowledge of the memory model, the concurrency mechanisms and all that pesky internal details. He is able to think in all the dimensions of multi-threaded development (time, space and whatnot). Nirvana is nearby.” Brian Goetz is an extremely well-respected Java guru, and his newly published Java Concurrency in Practice is outstanding.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

As I just told a time-wasting caller from a public relations agency in San Francisco, “Any PR professional who would pitch an editor based on information in Bacon’s MediaMap is not a PR professional.”

Bacon’s and MediaMap are always-out-of-date directories that lazy PR professionals use to learn about upcoming feature articles in trade publications like SD Times or Software Test & Performance. (MediaMap merged with Bacon’s in 2003.) These and other “PR aggregation” services were useful 10+ years ago, when trade publications only offered printed editorial calendars, which the media directories conveniently amalgamated together.

However, today, nearly all trade publications place their editorial calendars on the Web, and include the appropriate contact information.

PR professionals should use the up-to-date information provided by these publications (as a service to the PR community) instead of using the out-of-date information provided by the media directories to pitch the wrong editors at key publications about the wrong stories.

Best case: PR professionals should know their top-tier media targets, and read them regularly. For upcoming stories, work directly from each publication’s Web-based editorial calendar. To find the right reporter, look at the online beat list and check the bylines on recent, relevant coverage. This will yield the best, most timely, most accurate, most complete results.

Almost as good: Prospecting using Bacon’s MediaMap or another media directory, but then verifying the information using the publications’ Web-based editorial calendars before picking up the phone. Of course, you’ll miss stories that aren’t listed in Bacon’s MediaMap, but that’s what happens when you’re lazy.

Not good: Making pitch calls or sending e-mails based on Bacon’s MediaMap or another media directory, and thereby wasting your time and annoying editors who haven’t been the appropriate contact for years, or asking questions about stories that nobody’s ever heard of. If your excuse is that you don’t read my publication, even on the Web, then, I have no sympathy whatsoever.

>> Update 2:40 pm Pacific: I’ve had some nice private comments about this post — mainly from tech journalists who share this frustration, but also one from a senior PR professional who said, essentially, “Hey, Alan, what do you expect?” I’ve also stumbled across three interesting blog postings from early 2006 that discuss Bacon’s MediaMap, from Steve Rubel, Sherri and Karen Sams.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

There’s more to life than high-level languages, like Java, C/C++ or C#. Perhaps we’re witnessing a new era, the age of scripting languages. They’re faster to code in, better suited to tasks such as Web development, easier to learn, and highly portable.

What scripting languages have lacked, however, have been a wide variety of professional-grade tools purpose-built to accommodate their unique characteristics. Sure, there have long been some great tools, such as ActiveState’s Komodo IDE and powerful super-editors like MetaEdit+ or Visual SlickEdit. But for the most part, script-writers have been forced to shoe-horn themselves into generic IDEs, or use text editors like vi, BBEdit or even Notepad. (By tools, I don’t just mean an editor; I mean everything from design/modeling to coding to static/dynamic testing to deployment.)

Thus, my pleasure this week at CodeGear’s announcement of Delphi for PHP, a visual RAD system for PHP-based Web development. It’s got editing and integrated debugging – the same resources, in fact, that Delphi has offered for Object Pascal shops for quite a few years. Delphi for PHP is a huge step forward, not just for script-language developer, but also for the new Borland subsidiary. (I saw a prerelease build of Delphi for PHP in my recent visit to the CodeGear campus, and was impressed with what I saw.) It’s expected to ship in March.

Also this week, Microsoft shipped final versions of several free tools to help IT administrators deploy Windows Vista and Office 2007 ; I haven’t worked with any of them. They include:

Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 helps resolve potential application compatibility issues encountered when moving to Windows Vista.

Windows Vista Hardware Assessment 1.0 inventories all PCs on a business’s network without installing any software agents on each PC, assesses their hardware and device compatibility with Windows Vista, and generates a set of upgrade recommendations.

Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 activates multiple Windows Vista-based PCs in which are covered by volume license agreements.

Key Management Service for Windows Server 2003 hosts a local service that is used during the Windows Vista activation process without sending information to Microsoft.

Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment 2007 bundles some of the tools above with deployment guidelines.

>> Update 10:15 am PT: Reposted because I had originally referred to Borland instead of CodeGear. Old habits die hard.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I can’t be the only person envisioning the chest-worn combadges from Star Trek: The Next Generation. A new product from Ekahau Inc., which bills itself as “the leading provider of Wi-Fi-based Real Time Location Systems,” has just announced a wearable two-way communications device based on 802.11 wireless networks.

The T301-B badge, according to the company, is designed for hospitals and enterprise campuses, where it’s important to be able to both locate and communicate with individuals, leveraging the WiFi network instead of using an outside paging service or a private paging system.

It’s not quite Star Trek yet. There’s no voice capability or point-to-point communciations, but there is text messaging, colored lights and buttons. To quote from the company’s news,

The T301-B tag is the industry’s first tag that combines location capabilities with a display, which supports wireless text messaging and enables users to acknowledge messages by using the tag’s two integrated call buttons. By incorporating this functionality into the tags, enterprises are able to use their own Wi-Fi networks for tracking applications and two-way communications, rather than managing and paying for separate paging services.

The T301-B tag will incorporate audible alarm signals, multicolored LEDs and a screen to provide messaging capabilities. As a result, the Ekahau system can provide audible, visual and text-based alerts or work-flow messages to individuals carrying or using the T301-B tags, much like traditional paging or text messaging services.

The T301-B badges are expected to begin shipping in the second half of 2007. The future gets closer every day. Energize!

>> Update 7:42am PT: Swapped out the Star Trek combadge graphic with a picture of the T301-B, kindly provided by Ekahau.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Dear reader,

I’ve made some changes to the way the blog handles RSS, and I’m told that this has “bumped” some people off the feed. If you’re one of them, please renew your feed. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The 2006 recipient of the ACM Turing Award is Frances E. Allen, a retired researcher from IBM. To quote from the ACM’s announcement,

Allen, an IBM Fellow Emerita at the T.J. Watson Research Center, made fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of program optimization, which translates the users’ problem-solving language statements into more efficient sequences of computer instructions. Her contributions also greatly extended earlier work in automatic program parallelization, which enables programs to use multiple processors simultaneously in order to obtain faster results. These techniques have made it possible to achieve high performance from computers while programming them in languages suitable to applications. They have contributed to advances in the use of high performance computers for solving problems such as weather forecasting, DNA matching, and national security functions.

You can learn a lot more about Ms. Allen (pictured) at the IBM Archives. It’s noteworthy that Ms. Allen is the first woman to be honored with the ACM Turing Award, and has indeed been heaped with many professional “firsts,” including being the first woman named an IBM Fellow.

Ms. Allen even has an IBM award named after her, the “Frances E. Allen Women in Technology Mentoring Award,” of which she was the first recipient. She also received the first Anita Borg Award for Technical Leadership in 2004. Technologically, her groundbreaking work was in compiler optimization and in cryptography.

Ms. Allen retired from IBM in 2002.

The ACM Turing Award has been presented since 1966, and according to the ACM, it’s “given to an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community. The contributions should be of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field.” I

t’s a shame that it’s taken 40 years to recognize the first woman for the most prestigious award in computing, but historically there have been few women at the highest levels of our profession. Not only was Fran Allen the right person to win the ACM Turing Award, but perhaps this honor will inspire more young women to enter the fields of computer science and software engineering. Their talents, like Allen’s, are both needed and appreciated.

Here’s a petition I can wholeheartedly support: Ian Skerrett, director of marketing for the Eclipse Foundation, is urging Sun’s CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, to send his NetBeans Girls to the EclipseCon conference again this year.

Please join me in signing onto the Committee To Have the NetBeans Girls Return to EclipseCon.

(Photo credit: Don Smith)

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Edward Correia’s column in this week’s Test & QA Report really struck a nerve with readers. My colleague was writing about “team leaders behaving badly” — that is, bosses that yell at you in front of coworkers, or who ignore you for weeks on end. That sort of thing.

There was some great feedback, some of which I’m sure you’ll see addressed in a future Test/QA News. But here are four excerpts from letters:

1. It seems that when middle- and lower-management openings become available, a company just fills the slot and does not train the individual on how to lead. To make it worse, the company may not back the manager up in crisis situations sending the message that the manager and their insight is unimportant. Faith is lost in the entire project and upper management. The middle- and lower-manager begins to speak disparaging comments about upper management to their subordinates. If you have a 5 yr old child screaming, flopping around and behaving badly, do you blame the child, or the parents? It is usually like that with employees it seems. The parents have not led by example (which includes accountability) or else (barring mental illness) the child would be more controlled. If managers behave badly as described in your article, and employees lose inspiration and focus (resulting in undesirable behavior such as not giving their all), then a mirror needs to be held up from the highest level down to the lowest level of the organization and each person asking, what have I done to contribute to this problem? Unfortunately based on my experience, instead of honest self-assessment, the result is finger-pointing and people being let go (under the guise of top grading).

2. Wow, you are so right. I have unfortunately experienced coworkers and leaders behaving badly throughout my career. Many years ago, I had a coworker take credit for my work. It was my first year out of college. I immediately reported him to my manager. He soon was no longer with the company and I was promoted. Just recently I had a manager who was into blaming me for everything that was wrong instead of coaching me and helping me to succeed. He was only here 6 months and in that short time managed to completely alienate almost everyone in the department. Morale was very low, and nobody that I talked with liked him. I was about to talk with Human Resources about him when a reorganization was announced and he was gone. Everyone was elated! I now have a new manager who understands my career goal is to become a leader in our organization and is genuinely interested in helping me achieve that goal and is giving me the coaching I need to help me get there.

3. I work for such a bad boss. He encourages people in my office, to be dishonest, and make false statements about co-workers he does not like. The victim is then punished , and the person who discredits them is rewarded. The Ethics Group in my company has been aware of it, and yet does nothing.

4. Good leaders must recognize talent, especially when employees demonstrate the ability to meet new challenges critical to the survival of key projects. Leaders must develop key relevant skills in their existing staff whenever possible, much like a good coach will keep his promising new quarterbacks on the bench until they have become seasoned and developed the necessary maturity and stamina to become a major contributor. Good leaders must recognize that consistent performers occasionally need a change of venue and allow them to groom newer employees to take over key tasks in their absence. It is not enough to have a successful team. Good managers must always be on the lookout for new opportunities that can be quickly handled by members of the staff.

Have you had experiences like that? Share them with us — and let us know what you did about it!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Of all the major commercial versions of Unix, HP-UX is the one that I’ve spent the least time with. Other than exploring it on a couple of PA-RISC boxes, and then on an HP Integrity Itanium 2-based server, I have little feel for the unique characteristics and features of this venerable operating system, compared to, say, Solaris, AIX or UnixWare.

However, I was please to see last week that HP continues to invest in HP-UX 11i, and still supports both the PA-RISC and Itanium 2 processors. In conversations with PA-RISC users, they’re fanatical in their devotion to that chip, and singularly unenthusiastic about migrating to the Itanium processor. (However, change is inevitable. HP has stated that the current shipping version of the processor, the PA-8900, will be the last, so migration is inevitable.)

What’s new in HP-UX 11i v3? According to HP, the focus of this release has been on performance tuning (with claimed improvements of up to 30 percent) and on better support of virtualization:

HP-UX 11i v3 delivers enhancements in virtualization and performance that prepare customers for today’s and tomorrow’s most demanding workloads and data explosion.

HP-UX 11i v3 expands its mission-critical virtualization leadership with:

* OS performance accelerated through kernel optimization, an increase of 30% on average compared to version 2 running on the same hardware;

* Scalability expanded to almost unlimited storage capacity while simplifying storage management;

* Availability and manageability increased through hot swap for hardware components and self-healing I/O.

* Flexible capacity enhanced, with uncompromising uptime, with the ability to dynamically move memory among vPars. (vPars is available on mid-range and high-end servers).

I welcome your comments regarding HP-UX 11i, the PA-RISC 8900 processor, and the HP 9000 (PA RISC) and HP Integrity (Itanium 2) server families.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

My column in this week’s SD Times News on Thursday has elicited some positive feedback. In “Snacks in the Break Room,” I shared some thoughts inspired by a chat with WebMethods’ Miko Matsumura regarding SOA governance.

One point regarded the constast between a policy-based SOA arrangement between corporate IT and service departments (which I term “demand-comply”) and an agreement-based SOA arrangement between a company and its outside service providers (“request-respond”).

It’s worthwhile pondering the balance-of-power relationship between service providers and their customers (who willingly enter mutually beneficial agreements), vs. the arrangements between centralized IT and its internal customers (where the terms of the engagement are dictated by top-down policies or executive mandate, not negotiated between peers).

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Remember Ingres? That’s a name with a long and proud history in the software development world, originating as a database project at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1970s.

Ingres was purchased by Computer Associates in 1994; for a long time, the database software thrived, but then its popularity flagged in the early part of this decade. In 2004, CA released the Ingres database as open-source software, and then everything went quiet.

That wasn’t the end of the story. In November 2005, CA and Garnett & Helfrich Capital, a private-equity group, reincarnated Ingres Corp., with the now-open-source database as its primary intellectual property asset. Little was heard about innovation at the new Ingres, however, after the formation of the new company. Most of the news they announced focused on partner programs or executive appointments, with next to nothing about new technology.

And then last week, out of the blue, we heard about a new Ingres software bundle for Eclipse developers. The offering is pretty interesting. The company describes it as:

As part of the bundle, developers will receive:

* Working system of Eclipse Framework with Ingres Eclipse Data Tools Project (DTP) plug-in
* “How to Get Started” with Ingres DTP including screenshots and step-by-step instructions

* Source code for a feature-rich demonstration that developers will find useful in getting started with Eclipse and Ingres

The Ingres DTP plug-in extends the Eclipse DTP by providing functionality specific to Ingres including:

* Ingres Connectivity
* Ingres Schema Support

* Ingres Database Procedure Support

* Ingres SQL Syntax (SQL Editor, Stored Procedure Editor, Trigger Editor)

If you do database work with Eclipse, it’s worth checking the bundle out.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The U.S. Government’s decision to tamper with Daylight Savings Time (DST) has been seen as a mini-Y2K issue. It’s probably not that severe – I don’t expect elevators to jam or airplanes to crash – but DST is an issue that IT professionals must deal with.

What are the changes? To quote from the National Institute of Standards and Technology:

Starting in 2007, Daylight Saving Time (DST) begins each year at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on the second Sunday in March in most of the United States and its territories. Clocks must be moved ahead one hour when DST goes into effect. DST is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the state of Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation, which does observe DST). Standard Time begins each year at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on the first Sunday of November. Move your clocks back one hour at the resumption of Standard Time.

In 2007, DST begins at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on March 11, 2007.

In 2007, DST ends at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on November 4, 2007.

The current Daylight Savings Time rules represent a change from the past. On August 8, 2005, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which included the changes in Daylight Saving Time described above, effective March 1, 2007. Prior to 2007, DST began at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on the first Sunday in April, and ended at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on the last Sunday in October. The new rules for DST beginning in 2007 mean an extra four weeks of DST each year. In 2007, there will be a total of 238 days of DST, compared to a total of 210 days of DST in 2006 under the previous rules.

What does this mean for us? For the most part, you’ll need to download and install operating system patches, since applications assume that the date/time reported by the operating system is accurate.

For most desktop users on a modern operating system, such as Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS X 10.4.x and 10.3.x, and the latest Linux or Unix distributions, patches might be installed automatically. For older operating systems, such as Mac OS X 10.2.x and Windows 2000, the software company is not issuing patches – you’ll need to manually override your date/time settings.

This is a more serious issue for servers, most of whom are not configured to automatically install operating system patches. Many organizations only patch servers rarely, when a “show-stopper” flaw is revealed, or on a fixed schedule. Frankly, few people would consider a DST algorithm change to be a show-stopper. However, it has the potential to affect everything, for the time stamp on files on a file server, to the metrics in a server log, to spam algorithms in an e-mail server.

You can’t trust the fact that your desktops and servers are configured to get their time from a network time server (using ntp) to help you with this issue. Time servers report the time based on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which doesn’t know about DST. It’s up to your local desktop/server to apply the time-zone correction.

Bottom line: the DST issue is something you have to deal with, even if you don’t live in one of the areas affected by the change, and you should deal with it before March 11.

If you’re a software developer, and don’t have direct access to the IT infrastructure, be sure to bring this issue to the attention of those who can handle those updates. There’s no time to lose!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The laugh of the day came from the official Microsoft Statement in Response to Speculation on Next Version of Windows. Kevin Kutz, director of the Windows Client, told the world:

We are not giving official guidance to the public yet about the next version of Windows, other than that we’re working on it. When we are ready, we will provide updates.

Thanks for clarifying that, Kevin.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It was bound to happen: Someone sent a BZ Media employee a document in the new .docx format. That’s one of the Open Office XML formats that Microsoft introduced with Office 2007. Given that Office 2007 just came out, I didn’t expect this to happen so soon.

But the sender was a Microsoft employee, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

BZ Media is a mixed Windows and Mac shop. Our Windows XP users are on Office 2003; our Mac users are on Office 2004. We, like many businesses, have not budgeted to upgrade Office this year. (We’re kinda dreading what will happen when we buy a new PC that comes with Windows Vista and Office 2007 on it, but that’s another story.)

So, to continue our tale, a Windows user running Office 2003 received a .docx file. Office 2003, recognizing the file extension, prompted the user to download and install the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack from Microsoft. This software teaches Office 2003 how to use the new file formats. The employee, following our IT policies, asked if this was legitimate and okay – and that’s when I entered the story.

As you may have seen from previous posts, I’m primarily a Mac user who runs Office 2004. After approving installation of the compatibility pack, I asked the employee to send me the file to play with. Guess what?

No surprise: Office 2004 for the Mac doesn’t natively understand .docx.

Big surprise: Microsoft hasn’t released file-format converters for its own current product: Office 2004 for the Mac.

That’s simply unacceptable, Microsoft.

I’m not the only person who thinks so. Tim Gaden rants about this nicely in a blog entry called “The lock-out begins for Office Mac users.”

What does Microsoft have to say? A member of the company’s Macintosh Business Unit, posting on their Mac Mojo blog in early December, advises, “For now, we recommend that Mac users advise their friends and colleagues using Office 2007 to save their documents as a “Word/Excel/PowerPoint 97-2003 Document” (.doc, .xls, .ppt) to ensure the documents can be shared across platforms.”

Why the delay? The blogger writes, “We had to wait until Office 2007 bits and the new file format itself were locked down. During this time, we spent the last year and a half prepping and planning for our own development of file format converters for Office for Mac.”

What about timing? “We are running on target and expect to release a free public beta version of the file format converters in Spring 2007, with final converters available six to eight weeks after we launch our next version of Office for Mac (which, as previously reported, will be available 6-8 months after general availability of Win Office.)”

In other words, Microsoft won’t release the converters for Office 2004 for the Mac until six-to-eight weeks after it ships Office 2008 for the Mac much later this year.

How can Microsoft expect outside developers to be able to implement these new Office Open XML formats, when they can’t even do that themselves in a timely matter? A six to eight month delay, after having more than a year to prepare? Completely, completely, completely unacceptable.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

A fast car, lots of music, and a really good corned-beef sandwich, these are a few of my favorite things, and of those, music is the most prevalent. It’s part of my life nearly 24×7. At home, the radio is always playing. In the office, unless I’m on the phone, digital music is streaming from my Mac’s iTunes into a big Pioneer receiver. In the fast car, digital songs comes out of an iPod connected to an Alpine head unit.

Where does that digital music come from? CD-Audio discs – quite an extensive library, I’m proud to say, amassed over many years, and now fully ripped into iTunes. How much of my music was purchased from the iTunes Store? None whatsoever. And there’s none from any other digital music store either.

Why not? Because of digital rights management (DRM) software. As someone in the intellectual property business myself (as a writer and publisher), I respect the rights of IP creators to protect their work. But as the saying goes, your freedom to swing your arm ends when it impacts my nose.

As a consumer, I don’t trust DRM software to protect my purchases. I don’t trust any DRM system: not Apple’s FairPlay, not Microsoft DRM, not any number of open-source or commercial efforts.

I know that my physical CDs will be usable for years. How long will I be able to use music that’s encoded using a DRM system? One year? Five years? 20 years?

There are stories out right now about people who are having problems running iTunes after upgrading from Windows XP to Windows Vista: it seems that some iTunes users can’t see their purchased music without dancing through some workaround. Apple suggests that iTunes users wait for updated software before installing Windows Vista. Microsoft disagrees with that advice.

But this isn’t about Apple or Microsoft. What about Musicmatch and Yahoo? My colleague Larry O’Brien lost all the music he purchased from Musicmatch Universal after Yahoo bought it.

I can buy a 10-song album in digital form from the iTunes Store, MSN Music Store, AOL Music Store or another service for US$9.99, and have DRM worries. Or I can buy the CD for a few dollars more… and not have DRM worries. Guess which option I prefer?

Guess which option Apple’s Steve Jobs prefers? Surprisingly, it’s the same one I do: the option that doesn’t have DRM. In a missive posted today, he explains that the iTunes Store uses DRM only because Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI insist on DRM as a condition for his selling their music.

Jobs insists that because the only acceptable DRM systems (to those companies) must contain secret data (crypto keys), this limits his ability to license Apple’s FairPlay DRM system to other hardware or software makers:

“Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies. Perhaps this same conclusion contributed to Microsoft’s recent decision to switch their emphasis from an “open” model of licensing their DRM to others to a “closed” model of offering a proprietary music store, proprietary jukebox software and proprietary players.”

Jobs presents a compelling alternative:

“Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store.”

And I’d stop buying CDs.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The floodgates have opened… with many of the spam comments coming from false “registered users” of the Blogspot/Blogger system. Therefore, commenting on this blog is now disabled.

What a shame. My apologies to those who have legitimate comments.

>> Update 2/6: Well, I feel foolish. A good friend pointed out that there’s a Blogspot/Blogger feature that requires that people leaving comments type a graphically displayed word to validate that it’s not spam. With luck, that’ll solve the problem. Guess I should have read the fine manual. Commenting is now re-enabled.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Last week, Jean Ichbiah, the lead designer of the Ada programming language, passed away.

Dr. Ichbiah worked on the language in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he worked at Cii Honeywell Bull in France. He later left to found Alsys Corp., which continued the development of Ada and built commercial Ada 83 compilers. Here’s a paper he co-authored about the need for the language, which was created for the U.S. Dept. of Defense.

Though I did a small amount of Ada work “back in the day,” I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ichbiah, and so I will refer you to this obituary by Bertrand Meyer, and to the official notice in the Boston Globe.

(I found Dr. Ichbiah’s photo on this neat site, which shows the authors of various programming languages.)

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Z Trek reached a dubious milestone today. There were more than 50 pieces of blog spam when I checked in this morning.

This blog is set up so that all comments are moderated, and must be approved by yours truly before they can become visible on the site. However, the “leave a comment” link is easily detectable by robots, which are flooding the site with bogus comments. Some of them are simple “This is a great site! For more on this topic, see such-and-such site.” Others are packed with keywords and multiple links for things like mortgages, phishing schemes and pharmaceuticals.

Do spammers really think that people will read and click on those often-nonsensical postings? Maybe, maybe not. But even if nobody ever sees their spam comment, the robot will have succeeded in gaming searching engines, like Google and Yahoo. That’s because the search rankings algorithms for a page take into account the number of other sites that link to that page. If my site links to a spam site, that the spammer’s search engine ranking goes up. Or at least it used to; top search engines have adapted their algorithms and spiders to ignore these type of bogus links.

Fifty. And it was only about 20 a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, it only takes a moment to delete the spam comments using Blogger’s control panel. However, I feel the pain of owners of very heavily trafficked blogs, as the number of spam comments must be overwhelming. No wonder so many of my friends and colleagues have simply turned off commenting.

>> Update 2/4: Literally within 5 minutes of posting the above, its first spam comment showed up. It read (links removed): “Hello! You have a very nice blog. I’m here to share valuable info with you visit my blog ,about Mozilla Firefox web browser.” The post links to a site which has a hacked version of Firefox with spyware installed.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It’s been five years — and the nominations for the 2007 SD Times 100 are now open. You can learn all the rules and access the nomination forms online. There’s no cost to nominate.

Unlike some other awards in our industry, the SD Times 100 isn’t a product award. It’s an award for a company, a non-commercial organization, or even an individual who showed leadership and innovation in the software development community during the past year.

You can read last year’s winners on the site (and see great artwork from Erin Broadhurst). Nominations are open through March 1, 2007.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick