If you were at Microsoft Build this week in San Francisco, you hung out with six thousand of your closest friends. At least, your closest friends who are enterprise .NET developers, or who are building apps for some version of Windows 8.

Those aren’t necessarily the same people. The Microsoft world is more bifurcated than ever before.

There’s the solid yet slow-moving world of the Microsoft enterprise stack. Windows Server, SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, Azure and all that jazz. This part of Microsoft thinks that it’s Oracle or IBM.

And then there’s the quixotic set of consumer-facing products. Xbox, Windows Phone, the desktop version of Windows 8, and of course, snazzy new hardware like the Surface tablet. This part of Microsoft thinks that it’s Apple or Google – or maybe Samsung.

While the company’s most important (and most loyal) customer base is the enterprise, there’s no doubt that Microsoft wants to be seen as Apple, not IBM. Hip. Creative. Innovative. In touch with consumers.

#Microsoft wants to trend on Twitter.

To thrive in the consumer world, the company must dig deeper and do better. The highlight of Build was the preview of Windows 8.1, with user experience improvements that undo some of the damage done by Windows 8.0.

It’s great that you can now boot into the “desktop,” or traditional Windows. That is important for both desktop and tablet users. Yet the platform remains frenetic, inconsistent and missing key apps in the Tile motif.

While the Tile experience is compelling, it’s incomplete. You can’t live in it 100%. Yet Windows 8.0 locked you away from living in the old “desktop” environment. Windows 8.1 helps, but it’s not enough.

In his keynote address (focus on consumer tech), Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer pushed two themes. 

One was that the company is moving to ship software faster. Citing the one-year timeline between Windows 8.0 and Windows 8.1 — instead of the traditional three-year cycle — the unstated message is that Microsoft is emulating Apple’s annual platform releases. “Rapid Release is the new norm,” Ballmer said.

A second theme is that Microsoft’s story is still Windows, Windows, Windows. This is no change from the past. Yes, Microsoft plays better with other platforms than ever before. Even so, Redmond wants to control every screen — and can’t understand why you might use anything other than Windows.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Web sites developed for desktop browsers look, quite frankly, terrible on a mobile device. The look and feel is often wrong, very wrong. Text is the wrong size. Gratuitous clip art on the home page chews up bandwidth. Features like animations won’t behave as expected. Don’t get me started on menus — or on the use-cases for how a mobile user would want to use and navigate the site.

Too often, some higher-up says, “Golly, we must make our website more friendly,” and what that results in is a half-thought-out patch job. Not good. Not the right information, not the right workflow, not the right anything.

One organization, UserTesting.com, says that there are four big pitfalls that developers (and designers) encounter when creating mobile versions of their websites. The company, which focuses on usability testing, says that the biggest issues are:

Trap #1 – Clinging to Legacy: ‘Porting’ a Computer App or Website to Mobile
Trap #2 – Creating Fear: Feeding Mobile Anxiety
Trap #3 – Creating Confusion: Cryptic Interfaces and Crooked Success Paths
Trap #4 – Creating Boredom: Failure to Quickly Engage the User

Makes sense, right? UserTesting.com offers a quite detailed report, “The Four Mobile Traps,” that goes into more detail.

The report says,

Companies creating mobile apps and websites often underestimate how different the mobile world is. They assume incorrectly that they can create for mobile using the same design and business practices they learned in the computing world. As a result, they frequently struggle to succeed in mobile.

These companies can waste large amounts of time and money as they try to understand why their mobile apps and websites don’t meet expectations. What’s worse, their awkward transition to mobile leaves them vulnerable to upstart competitors who design first for mobile and don’t have the same computing baggage holding them back. From giants like Facebook to the smallest web startup, companies are learning that the transition to mobile isn’t just difficult, it’s also risky.

Look at your website. Is it mobile friendly? I mean, truly designed for the needs, devices, software and connectivity of your mobile users?

If not — do something about it.

Data can be abused. The rights of individuals can be violated. Bits of disparate information can be tracked without a customer’s knowledge, and used to piece together identities or other profile information that a customer did not intend to divulge. Thanks to Big Data and other analytics, patterns can be tracked that would dismay customers or partners.

What is the responsibility of the software development team to make sure that a company does the right thing – both morally and legally? The straight-up answer from most developers, and most IT managers outside the executive suite, is probably, “That’s not our problem.” That is not a very good answer.

Corporations and other organizations have senior managers, such as owners, presidents, CEOs and board of directors. There is no doubt that those individuals have the power to say yes – and the power to say no.

Top bosses might consult with legal authorities, such as in-house counsel or outside experts. The ultimate responsibility for making the right decision rests with the ultimate decision-makers. I am not a lawyer, but I expect that in a lawsuit, any potential liability belongs with managers who misuse data. Programmers who coded an analytics solution would not be named or harmed.

This topic has been on my mind for some time, as I ponder both the ethics and the legalities implicit in large-scale data mining. Certainly this has been a major subject of discussion by pundits and elected officials, at least in the United States, when it comes to customer info and social-media posts being captured and utilized by marketers.

Some recent articles on this subject:

Era of Online Sharing Offers Benefits of ‘Big Data,’ Privacy Trade-Offs

The Challenge of Big Data for Data Protection

Big Data Is Opening Doors, but Maybe Too Many

What are we going to do in the face of questionable software development requirements? Whether we are data scientists, computer scientists or other IT professionals, it is quite unclear. A few developers might prefer to resign rather than write software they believe crosses a moral line. Frankly, I doubt that many would do so.

Some developers might say, “I didn’t understand the implications.” Or they might say, “If I don’t code this application, management will fire me and get someone else to do it.” Or they might even say, “I was just following orders.”

Perhaps I’m an old fogey, but I can’t help but smile when I see press releases like this: “IBM Unveils New Software to Enable Mainframe Applications on Cloud, Mobile Devices.” 

Everything old will become new again, as the late Australian musician Peter Allen famously sang in his song of that name.

Mainframes were all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s. Though large organizations still used mainframes as their basis of their business-critical transaction systems in the 1990s and 2000s, the excitement was around client/server and n-tier architectures built up from racks of low-cost commodity hardware.

Over the past 15 years or so, it’s become clear that distributed processing for Web applications fit itself into that clustered model. Assemble a few racks of servers and add a load-balancing appliance, and you’ve got all the scalability and reliability anyone needs.

But you know, from the client perspective, the cloud looks like, well, a thundering huge mainframe.

Yes, I am an old fogey, who cut his teeth on FORTRAN, COBOL, PL/1 and CICS on Big Blue’s big iron (that is to say, IBM System/370). Yes, I can’t help but think, “Hmm, that’s just like a mainframe” far too often. And yes, the mainframe is very much alive.

IBM’s press release says that,

Today, nearly 15 percent of all new enterprise application functionality is written in COBOL. The programming language also powers many everyday services such as ATM transactions, check processing, travel booking and insurance claims. With more than 200 billion lines of COBOL code being used across industries such as banking, insurance, retail and human resources, it is crucial for businesses to have the appropriate framework to improve performance, modernize key applications and increase productivity.

I believe that. Sure, there are lots of applications written in Java, C++, C# and JavaScript. Those are on the front end, where if  a database read or write fails, or a non-responsive screen is an annoyance, nothing more. On the back end, if you want the fastest possible response time, without playing games with load balancers, and without failures, you’re still looking at a small number of big boxes, not a large number of small boxes.

This fogey is happy that the mainframe is alive and well.

According to IDG Research, 80% of business leaders say that Big Data should enable more informed business decisions – and 37% say that the insights provided by Big Data should prove critical to those decisions.

A February 2013 survey on Big Data was designed and executed jointly by IDG Research and Kapow Software, which sells an integration platform for Big Data. As with all vendor surveys, bear in mind that Kapow wants to make Big Data sound exciting, and to align the questions with its own products and services.

That said, the results of the survey of 200 business leaders, are interesting:

• 71% said that Big Data should help increase their competitive advantage by keeping them ahead of market trends

• 68% said that Big Data should improve customer satisfaction

• 62% believe Big Data should increase end-user productivity by providing real-time access to business information

• 60% said Big Data should improve information security and/or compliance

• 55% said Big Data should help create compelling new products and services

•33% said Big Data should help them monitor and respond to social media in real time

Those are big expectations for Big Data! The results to date… not so much. The study revealed that only one-third of organizations surveyed have implemented any sort of Big Data initiative – but another third expect to do so over the next year.

What are the barriers to Big Data success? The study’s answers:

• 53% say a lack of awareness of Big Data’s potential

• 49% say concerns about the time-to-value of the data

• 45% say having the right employee skills and training

• 43% say ability to extract data from the correct sources

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Roses are sure to brighten up everyone’s day. The best place to see roses is the International Rose Tea Garden in Portland, Ore. Coming in a close second is the patch on the Rivera Drive side of the Peninsula Temple Sholom parking lot. This year, the blossoms are extraordinary. You can become lost in the fragrance.

Like many of you, I don’t spend much time in that part of the parking lot. However, on one gorgeous May afternoon, Rabbi Feder, Sandy Silverstein, and I walked around the PTS campus, marveling at the blossoms, checking out the new retaining wall on Sebastian Drive, seeing the construction progress of the new Holocaust memorial (now located outside the Cantor’s office), and enjoying the refurbished white dome over the Sanctuary.

We’ve sure been busy during the past year. Let’s look back at a few of the highlights:

• Outdoor improvements. We’ve already mentioned the dome, the rose garden, and the retaining wall. Have you seen the new footpath from Sebastian Drive to the parking lot? Particularly popular with congregants is the new Jerusalem stone resurfacing of the Courtyard near the Lent Chapel. There’s been lots of landscaping as well, in addition to the roses.

• Social action and social justice. This was a big year for social action, centered in large part in our continued participation in the Home & Hope program, through which we temporarily house the homeless at our facility. New this year is the launch of a community organizing project through which we are partnering with the Union for Reform Judaism’s Just Congregations initiative and the Industrial Areas Foundation. This initiative is still in the formative stage; I will discuss it more in the fall.

• UnEvent! fundraiser. Member dues and fees contribute only part of the Peninsula Temple Sholom revenue streams. In order to balance the budget, the congregation needs the High Holy Day Appeal and a spring fundraiser. This spring, we held the UnEvent!, a straight-up request for donations. Response to the UnEvent! exceeded our expectations — so thank you for your generosity. If you haven’t yet participated in the UnEvent!, don’t worry, there is still time.

• Youth activities. PARTY – our branch of NFTY, the Reform Movement’s teen group – is a blessing to our congregation. These young people do so much, and an example of that was their hosting the Mitzvah Torah Corps regional event in March. From strength to strength!

• Preschool. It’s Must-See TV: Watch a short video of this year’s Preschool Passover, at http://tinyurl.com/ ptsseder2013. The script was written by Allison Steckley, Preschool Director. Pharaoh is a real meanie, the Burning Bush is wise and worth listening to, and the locusts are, well, you need to see for yourself. On a more serious note, kudos to our wonderful teachers for, yet again, qualifying for NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a top certification for early childhood education.

• Religious school. With its bold new curriculum and dedicated, hard-working teachers, the school is a jewel of our community. If you are a Religious School parent, you know what I mean. If you don’t have a child in the school, though, it’s naturally harder to see and appreciate what goes on inside and outside the classroom. Unless, that is, you attended the Yom HaShoah service on April 12, led by our seventh graders. From the candlelight procession in the foyer to the original readings by the students, this service touched your heart and moved your soul.

• Meaningful worship. Let me single out the introduction of Visual T’filah for High Holy Day services in the Lent Chapel for special mention. The whole notion of “davening by PowerPoint” seems silly – until you realize how uplifting it can be to escape from the constraints of a printed machzor. Look for more Visual T’filah during this year’s Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe).

• Wonderful partnerships. Peninsula Temple Sholom works closely with other congregations and Jewish organizations. Particularly noteworthy: In early April, PTS, Peninsula Temple Beth El of San Mateo, and the Union for Reform Judaism hosted a major symposium on Reform Judaism in the West, which drew participants from the entire western U.S. and Canada. In February and May, PTS, Beth El, and Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos Hills kicked off a series of lectures and workshops by eminent scholars from Hebrew Union College’s Los Angeles campus.

• Welcome, welcome. Let us welcome again Sandy Silverstein, who joined us in July 2012 as Executive Director. Sandy, you are such a blessing to our community. Welcome back, Rabbi Rebekah Stern, from your maternity leave. Once again, mazal tov to you and Sean on the arrival of Jonathan Hillel Holcombe.

• Board changes. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, let me thank retiring trustees Ida Gruber and Fred Sturm for their dedicated service on the Board. Fred served an amazing 10 years as a Trustee! We also thank incoming trustees Andrea Sobel and Reid Liebhaber; they bring incredible talent and enthusiasm to the Board.

• Special awards. Please join me in congratulating the following: Sandy Tandowsky, honored as the L’dor Vador recipient from Brotherhood; Linda Korth, named as the Woman of Valor by Sholom Women; Michelle Tandowsky and Scott Rodrick, voted as Trustees of the Year by the Board; Sheryl Goldman, recognized as Volunteer of the Year at the Annual Congregational Meeting on May 22; and Diane Goldman, named as the Ner Tamid (the Eternal Light) also at the Annual Meeting.

• Tremendous volunteerism. The best Erev Shabbat service of the year was on Friday, April 19, when members of the Board of Trustees honored the hundreds of volunteers in our congregation, as well as the Past Presidents for their continuing contributions. Hundreds of volunteers. Yasher koach, thank you, thank you all!