VMforce is a good idea. Java is perfect for cloud computing: As the original “run once, run anywhere” platform, what VMware and Salesforce have announced has the potential to revolutionize the Cloud, and offer arguably the most compelling platform for many enterprises.

I see VMforce – the fusion of VMware’s virtualization technology and Spring framework with Saleforce’s Cloud infrastructure – as breathing new life into enterprise Java. Let’s face it: With Sun absorbed into Oracle, it’s clear that the Java universe has entered a whole new era where some are wondering about its continued relevance.

Given strong competition from Microsoft, with the new Visual Studio 2010, .NET Framework 4.0 and the Windows Azure cloud platform, Java has certainly looked vulnerable, and I wouldn’t blame Java-centric enterprises for questioning their long-term commitment to the platform.

I’ve heard it said that the Java community is going to look outside of the Java Community Process (now controlled by Oracle) for innovation and leadership. SpringSource (now owned by VMware) is frequently cited as the future of enterprise Java – not the JCP. There’s a lot of truth to that.

And while I never envisioned any particular synergy between Java and Salesforce, the VMforce announcement shows that the “no software” company is much more creative, quite frankly, that I’d given them credit for. Certainly it’s encouraging that Saleforce is looking beyond its Apex programming language.

Let’s review what VMforce is supposed to be. VMware is putting a version of its vSphere virtualization management platform into Salesforce.com’s data centers. Developers create Spring-based Java applications using an Eclipse-based IDE. Those apps can use many Java features, like POJOs, JavaServer Pages and servlets, but can’t use some key Java EE features like Enterprise JavaBeans. The apps also can access Saleforce’s distributed database system.

Of course, it’s too early to truly evaluate VMforce – it’s not going to be available for many months. The developer preview doesn’t appear until this fall, according to the companies. So, please don’t interpret these comments as an endorsement of this specific offering, but rather of the notion of bringing Java into the Cloud.

That said, VMforce is the best news that I’ve heard in many months for the Java community. Kudos to VMware and Salesforce for excellent out-of-the-box, into-the-Cloud thinking.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Going agile makes sense. Navigating with traditional methodologies doesn’t make sense. I don’t know about you, but nothing sucks the life out of a software development project faster having to fully flesh out all the requirements before starting to build the solution.

Perhaps it’s a failure of imagination. Perhaps it’s incomplete vision. But as both a business owner and as an IT professional, it’s rare that a successfully completed application-development project comes even close to matching our original ideas.

Forget about cosmetic issues like the user interface, or unforeseen technical hurtles that must be overcome. No, I’m talking about the reality that my business – and yours, perhaps – moves fast and changes fast. We perceive the needs for new applications or for feature changes long before we understand all the details, dependencies and ramifications.

But we know enough to get started on our journey. We know enough to see whether our first steps are in the first direction. We know enough to steer us back onto the correct heading when we wander off course. Perhaps agile is the modern equivalent of celestial navigation, where we keep tacking closer and closer to our destination. In the words of John Masefield, “Give me a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”

Contrast that to the classic method of determining a complete set of requirements up front. That’s when teams create project plans that are followed meticulously until someone stands up and says, “Hey, the requirements changed!” At that point, you stop, revise the requirements, update the project plan and redo work that must be redone.

Of course, if the cost of creating and revising the requirements and project plan are low, sure, go for it. My automobile GPS does exactly that. If I tell it that I want to drive from San Francisco to New York City (my requirements), it will compute the entire 2,907-mile journey (my project plan) with incredible accuracy, from highway to byway, from interchange to intersection. Of course, every time the GPS detects that I missed an exit or pulled off the highway to get fuel, the device calculates the entire journey again. But that’s okay, as the cost of having the device recreate the project plan when it detects a requirements change is trivial.

In the world of software development, the costs of determining, documenting and getting approvals for a project’s requirements and project plans are extremely expensive, both in terms of time and money. Worse, there are no automated ways of knowing when business needs have changed, and therefore the project plan must change also. Thus, we can spend a lot of time sailing in the wrong direction. That’s where agile makes a difference – be design, it can detect when something going wrong faster than classic methodologies.

In a perfect world, if it were easy to create requirements and project plans, there would be no substantive difference between agile and classic methodologies. But in the messy, every-changing real world of software development that I live in, though, agile is the navigation methodology for me.

If you follow the business-to-business publishing market, you know that last week Reed Business Information announced the closure of 23 publications. The company claimed that it couldn’t sell them… but it’s not clear if it really tried.

Not familiar with the story? Don’t know what it means for the publishing industry? Here are three links:

1. A news report on Apr. 16 by Folio’s Jason Fell

2. More reporting by Jason a few days later

3. And today’s barbed commentary by my business partner, Ted Bahr

Enjoy the stories!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Free mobile applications are great. If those free apps are supported by advertising, that’s a trade-off that I’m willing to make – and I suspect many users that would agree with me.

Our feelings about advertising in software have changed. While we don’t expect our desktop software to contain ads – sorry, no pop-ups when using Excel or Photoshop, please – everyone accepts that Web sites are supported by ads. That’s true of everything from blogs and reference sites to NYTimes.com and SDTimes.com.

Mobile apps — pioneered on Apple’s iPhone, but spreading like wildfire to other platforms like Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 — are more akin to websites than desktop software.

Consider: You might not install a Yelp or OpenTable application on your Linux, Mac or Windows notebook to help you find a restaurant or reserve a table. Instead you expect to use their websites for that purpose – getting a free service in exchange for seeing some possibly relevant advertising. On your smartphone, instead of browsing to yelp.com or opentable.com, the natural tendency is to install a Yelp or OpenTable app – and both of those exist. If they showed ads, would you mind? Probably not.

This is a huge change of mindset. Ten years ago, in the very first issue of SD Times (Feb. 23, 2000), we published a story about an ad-supported software business model. We weren’t very happy about this: An editorial in that issue, entitled, “It’s an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World,” said,

It’s bad enough seeing advertisements on Web pages. But ads in your applications software? The latest trend is to embed advertising links into client applications using tools from up-and-coming companies like Aureate Media Corp. or Conducent Technologies Inc.

On one hand, that’s good news: Vendors are developing alternative revenue streams, which might allow them to offer full-featured applications for free or for reduced cost.

But the bad news is: Your employees are trying to do a job. To protect them, your company doubtlessly stops salespeople at the door and won’t allow them to canvass your busy employees while they’re working. Should embedded advertisers be afforded special privileges and 24×7 access to your staff? Of course not.

If you’re developing consumer applications, embedded advertising for your freely distributed software is a good idea, and can provide a valuable source of additional revenue for hot products. But please don’t inflict ads on your enterprise customers because, frankly, they won’t stand for it. Would you?

Yes, the world has changed. Ads embedded into mobile apps aren’t only tolerated, but are embraced as a legitimate business model. In fact, Google is buying an AdMob, a company that helps developers embed and sell ads in their mobile apps, and Apple has announced its own ad delivery system, called iAd.

Just don’t make the mistake of changing for an app… and then embedding ads anyway. Cable News Network has committed this faux pas with its US$1.99 CNN Mobile app, and the feedback is scathing. Here are the titles of the three more recent customer comments:

DO NOT BUY THIS APP! It’s full of advertisements!
Ads (!) – In a paid app – a ripoff!
Slow, littered with ads!

From websites to mobile apps, it’s an ad, ad, ad, ad world. But I guess we’re used to it.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Yesterday was a great day — I got out of the office and spent the day down at 360iDev in San Jose. This is a grass-roots conference dedicated to iPhone developers; most of the couple-hundred folks in attendance seemed to be “indie” entrepreneurs. I suppose we fit into that category, with our SD Times Newsreader app still in beta. It was fun showing it to people, though, it made me feel like a real part of the crowd, not merely a journalist covering an event.

This was also my first experience using my new iPad to take notes on. Not bad! But because I didn’t have an appropriate “app,” my notes consisted of a series of emails sent to myself. Hey, it worked.

Instead of being at a hotel or convention center, 360iDev is being held at the eBay Town Hall, a small but nice facility. There’s no good central meeting spot there and parking is tight, but it was the perfect place for a small developer gathering.

Unfortunately, although this is a four-day conference (Sunday-Wednesday), I could only justify one day out of the office.

Monday’s keynote by David Whatley (Critical Thought Games) was hysterical, as he explained the connection between being a mobile software entrepreneur and a pickup artist. He described a training course in L.A. for pickup artists — and how it taught him to overcome the fear of rejection and commit himself 100% to a goal. As I said, hysterical. But also good.

My favorite technical talk was by Owen Goss, who demonstrated how to prototype an iPhone game in “real time.” What a great presentation, it gave me an excellent understanding how to design games. (I wish I could buy the game that the class designed.) The room was packed to overflowing.

The closing keynote on Monday was by Jay Freeman aka Saurik (pictured), the guy behind Cydia. What an incredible mind. Is there anything he hasn’t done?

Facing a long drive back to S.F. in traffic, I only stayed for a few minutes of the Monday evening reception. However, the day was fulfilling and the conference an apparent success. Certainly the attendees seemed happy. It’s too bad that I had to miss the sessions today and tomorrow. The 360iDev guys do a good conference.

Oh, I also scored a show-special toy from an exhibitor, Fastmac. It’s an iPhone 3GS skin with extended battery and flashlight. Check it out!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Web developers like using Adobe’s Flash technology to deliver video, animations and interactive content over the Web. Apple doesn’t like Flash because it’s a proprietary system and because the runtime environment can be a resource hog.

Apple, like Microsoft, only likes proprietary specifications when it can control the spec itself. Otherwise, the company prefers open standards, such as the still-evolving HTML5.

That’s one reason Apple refused to allow Flash onto the iPhone and iPad touch devices – and won’t allow Flash onto the new iPad tablet computer. Given that the iPad can deliver an otherwise-excellent browser experience on its large screen, its lack of Flash hurts everyone.

In the short term, Apple is making life difficult for its customers, who can’t enjoy some Web content using the iPad’s Safari browser. Some consumers may refuse to buy the iPad because of the lack of Flash support. Web developers with Flash-based sites are faced with the choice of implementing a parallel content-delivery system (using a very immature HTML5) or risk alienating some potential end users. After all, most users will blame them – not Apple – if videos don’t play on their shiny new iPads.

The debate about Flash was been nasty, complete with public airings of nasty comments by Apple executives about Adobe’s products, and by Adobe staffers about Apple’s executives. This distracts from more interesting questions about the iPad. Like, what’s it for? Is the inexpensive single-purpose app paradigm replacing the familiar world of search engines and expensive broad-purpose applications? Is a vendor-controlled software approval and delivery platform better or worse for developers and consumers than a wide-open platform, like we have for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X?

In the long run, Apple is backing the right horse. Flash, like Apple’s own Quicktime or Microsoft’s Silverlight, is a transitional technology when it comes to the straightforward delivery of streaming content, like video, over the Web. The future of video belongs to wrapperless implementations like HTML5.

Apple has demonstrated, over and over again, that it’s willing to play the long game. The company is fearless in making discontinuous jumps, such as from Mac OS to Mac OS X, or from PowerPC to Intel, that hurt consumers and developers in the short term but offer huge benefits in the long term.

Often, Apple has sought to reduce the pain of those jumps. Early versions of Mac OS X (through 10.4) could run many Mac OS apps in its Classic abstraction layer. Until Snow Leopard, Intel-based Macs could run PowerPC applications in Rosetta.

The iPad is marketed as “the best way to experience the web, email, photos, and videos.” Flash is the most common way Web developers stream video. It’s a shame that the executives at Apple apparently didn’t want to work with Adobe to make Flash work – at least as a transition until HTML5 is more mature.

The public bickering and posturing around Flash and HTML5 has made Apple look like a bully. It’s also made Adobe look like a wimp. Nobody — nobody — is the winner here.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” Gerald Ford spoke those words on Aug. 9, 1974, when taking the oath of office as President of the United States, after the resignation of Richard Nixon.

The phrase, “Our long nightmare is over,” came to mind when reading yesterday that the jury in the District Court of Utah trial between the SCO Group and Novell issued a verdict determining that Novell – not SCO – owns the Unix copyrights.

SCO’s seemly never-ending lawsuits against IBM, Novell and other parties have indeed been a nightmare for the Linux community and the open-source movement. The SCO Group, formerly known as Caldera Systems, was a Linux company that purchased UnixWare and OpenServer from a separate company, called the Santa Cruz Operation, believing that it was purchasing the copyrights to Unix itself.

Caldera dropped its Linux software, renamed itself the SCO Group, and then began a 24×7 legal assault on the Linux community, claiming that Linux contained copyrighted intellectual property that now belonged to SCO.

With the financial support of Microsoft, SCO’s management team (under CEO Darl McBride) tried multiple simultaneous tactics:

• SCO sued IBM claiming that IBM’s Linux software contained Unix System V intellectual property

• SCO sued AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler claiming that those companies’ use of Linux infringed to SCO’s copyrights.

• SCO sued Novell claiming that Novell’s assertion of ownership of Unix’s copyrights slandered SCO’s title to that intellectual property.

• Forming a subsidiary called SCOSource, SCO tried to shake down Linux users by selling them “licenses” to use any SCO intellectual property that might be buried inside Linux. In other words, if Linux users wrote a check to SCO, SCO would promise not to sue them like it did AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler. (SCO never revealed what IP, if any, was hidden inside Linux.)

All of these actions hinged on a key assertion by SCO – that it actually did own the Unix copyrights. If the SCO Group doesn’t own Unix, then none of the other actions had any grounding whatsoever. Novell, which had sold UnixWare to the Santa Cruz Operation several years earlier, asserted that while it had sold some software, it had kept the copyrights. Thus, the lawsuits.

These lawsuits have been hanging on and dragging down the Linux community for nearly a decade. Legal setback after legal setback haven’t deterred SCO’s pit-bull lawyers. A major court decision in August 2007 in Novell’s favor didn’t stop the lawsuits, but it did drive SCO into bankruptcy. Firing Darl McBride in October 2009 didn’t stop the lawsuits; the company and its attorneys simply keep going.

At long last, courts seems to have spoken definitely. With last week’s jury verdict, it’s clear that Novell – not the SCO Group – owns the Unix copyrights, and there’s no basis whatsoever for SCO’s lawsuits to continue.

It would be nice to believe that Linux’s long nightmare is over. However, the mysterious financial backers behind the SCO Group – nobody knows who they are – are tenacious. Appeals will undoubtedly be filed, and this will continue to drag on. Sadly, even this important jury verdict probably won’t end the never-ending soap opera.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It’s April 1st, and you know what that means! It means that SD Times annual contributor I.B. Phoolen has made his, well, editorially questionable annual contributions.

RAG unveils Mystic Sextant

Mac developers embrace .NET with Visual Objective-C

You can read more of I.B.’s writing on his blog.

See also Larry O’Brien’s Windows & .NET Watch column, Programming for Profit

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick