Joel Spolsky wrote an excellent blog entry on the plethora of options for shutting down Windows Vista — and contrasting that to devices like the iPod, which don’t even have an on/off switch.

Joel references Barry Schwartz’s well-written “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” which explains why many people get frustrated when there are too many options, particularly of things to buy.

I feel that way, for example, when it’s time to get a new Windows desktop for an employee. Our standard vendor is Dell, but just choosing between all the XPS and Dimension and Optiplex models, submodels, form factors and processors gives me a headache.

By contrast, when we need to buy a new desktop Mac, it’s easy: a 20″ iMac, upgrade to 2GB RAM. Done.

I’ll often go into a clothing shop, electronics store, or whatever, knowing exactly what I wanted — and then walk about again, frustrated and empty-handed, because there were too many choices, and I didn’t want to buy the wrong thing.

So, why do I need 15 different ways to tell a Windows laptop that I won’t be using it for a while?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Because the American Thanksgiving holiday is happening on November 23, we’re not publishing our SD Times News on Thursday this week. So, no “Zeichick’s Take” column.

In lieu of this, here are my thoughts on two stories in yesterday’s SD Times News on Monday:

In “Salesforce Raking in the Revenue,” Jeff Feinman (the newest member of our reporting team) cites the dot-com’s 57% year-on-year revenue increase, reaching US$130 million for the quarter. However, earning per share are flat. If you read the financials, you see over and over again phrases like “earnings likely be impacted by the effects of stock-based compensation.” In other words, the company appears to be enriching its managers and key employees, at the expense of its non-employee stockholders.

In “Borland Releases Rebuilt JBuilder,” Jennifer deJong talks about the company’s reimagining of its popular Java IDE. JBuilder 2007, of course, will soon be a part of CodeGear, which will spin off from Borland as a wholly owned subsidiary focused on IDEs and developers tools. JBuilder has an incredibly loyal audience, and I believe that CodeGear can successfully differentiate JBuilder from the other Eclipse-based Java IDEs.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I stumbled upon this interview with Microsoft’s Anders Hejlsberg on generics in modern languages. This is not new: Anders talked to Bruce Eckel for this seven-part interview back in 2003, and the generics conversation is at the end of that series.

The full series is

The interviews are quick reading, and worth the time to peruse.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I’ve had a few more days to think about Sun’s decision to release Java SE and Java ME as open source software. You can read my thoughts in today’s Zeichick’s Take column for SD Times News on Thursday.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Many people have asked for it, and now it’s ready: the SD Times RSS news feed. It’s the first of several planned feeds that our Web dev team, led by Craig Reino, is building.

This inaugural feed contains timely news from SD Times, including the latest from our twice-weekly “News on Monday” newsletter. And there’s more on the way.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

“We get it, media buyers. You want leads. And who doesn’t? But have you forgotten the value of building a brand?”

That’s the question that David Karp, advertising sales manager for BZ Media’s Software Test & Performance business unit, asks in his thoughtful guest column in the November, 2006, edition of Folio Magazine.

Effective marketing means more than gathering leads for your sales force. David explains why. (And before you write this off as the carping of a print sales dinosaur, note that David is also responsible for ST&P’s fast-growing Web and e-newsletter ad programs, trade show booths, Web seminars and lead-generation initiatives. However, print is central to his marketing arsenal… just as it should be central to yours.)

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Speaking of Borland: The company announced today that it’s spinning off its Developer Tools Group — you know, JBuilder, Delphi, C++Builder and the other integrated development environments — into a wholly owned subsidiary.

CodeGear will be led by Ben Smith as CEO. He’s been with Borland for a year, and I never heard of him until now. The company describes him as “a seasoned technology executive.”

In February, Borland announced that it would be seeking a buyer for its IDE products, leaving Borland with its ALM product lines only. The company now says that it wasn’t able to sell the products because it couldn’t adequately separate the DevCo financials in order to show the true value of the IDE business.

The PR person who sent me the news wrote: “Borland feels that this model – although different from its original plan – will give CodeGear the separate structure, investment and leadership it needs to grow that business.” In the official press release, Tod Neilsen, Borland’s CEO, says:

“We believe by creating two separate operations, Borland and CodeGear can both obtain the necessary focus and dedicated resources to serve two important, but distinct markets. We will continue to partner and share a mutual view of customer success. However, going forward Borland will be completely focused on leading the Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) market, while CodeGear will be focused on the software developer.”

That’s where I have a core disagreement with Borland. I believe that the software developer and the software development manager are fundamental to the ALM market. They are the ALM market.

While high-priced ALM “solutions” may sound sexy to an enterprise CIO, at the end of the day companies need to make sure that their software development teams are effective and productive. That means providing managers and developers with great tools. Tightly integrated tools, yes, that span the software development life cycle. But insisting that the ALM market is distinct from software developers, that I’m not accepting… especially if Borland is saying that it must divest itself of the IDEs and other tools in order to serve the ALM market effectively.

Frankly, this is oh, so reminiscent of Borland’s “Inprise” era under Del Yocam, as the company seeks to swim upstream to sell ever-pricier enterprise-scale solutions. It’s déjà vu all over again.

I can’t wait to talk to Neilsen, Smith and the other Borland/CodeGear managers about this… whenever we get our conference call rescheduled.

>> Update 11/19: Not much is known yet about Ben Smith, but he wrote this brief letter to Borland’s customers, partners and fans.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

For the second time, Borland has postponed an “all editors” briefing with SD Times, geared at helping us understand their technology, product and business strategy.

The two-hour call was initially set for Oct. 24, and was to have included Tod Neilsen (pictured), their new CEO; Rick Jackson, the SVP for strategy; and Marc Brown, the head of ALM product marketing. We gathered up the troops, but they notified us that morning that Tod couldn’t make the call. So, we rescheduled for today, Nov. 14.

This morning, they informed our editorial team that their executives again can’t make the meeting. No date has been set for the third attempt.

Borland has complained that SD Times’ coverage is overly critical, and said we haven’t given them the opportunity to explain their strategy. We’re ready whenever they are.

>> Update 11/15: Borland’s PR team explains that the meeting was canceled, in part, because of the pending CodeGear announcement. SEC requirements wouldn’t let Borland discuss it with us in advance. We expect to get together with Tod Neilsen (Borland CEO) and Ben Smith (CodeGear CEO) soon.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Big milestones were announced today from the Eclipse Device Software Development Platform (DSDP, in Eclipse-speak), as two core projects hit their “1.0” releases and one came close:

Target Management (TM), release version 1.0

Mission: The goal of Target Management is to create data models and frameworks to configure and manage embedded systems, their connections and services. Since there are many different vendors and solutions in the device software space, the main charter of target management is to provide data models and frameworks that are flexible and open enough for vendor-specific extensions. For the 1.0 release, sample implementations will be provided for TCP/IP connections, FTP data transfer and GDB remote launching in the CDT environment. The base technology for the TM project is an open-source version of the IBM Remote System Explorer.

Embedded Rich Client Platform (eRCP), release version 1.0

Mission: The goal of this project is to extend the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP) to embedded devices. eRCP enables the same Eclipse development model used to create applications on desktop machines to also be used on devices. The project includes a subset of RCP components tailored to mobile devices.

Mobile Tools for the Java Platform (MTJ), release version 0.7

Mission: The goal of MTJ is to extend the Eclipse platform to support mobile device Java application development. The purpose is to develop both frameworks that can be extended by tool vendors and tools that can be used by third party mobile java application developers. Mobile Java domain contains several combinations for configuration (CLDC and CDC) and profile (MIDP, Foundation Profile and Personal Profile). Currently the most common combination is CLDC+MIDP.0.7 Features: A device and emulator framework, a deployment framework, generic build processes for mobile application development, mobile device debugging, application creation wizards, UI design tools, localization, optimization and security.

It is astonishing how quickly the Eclipse toolchain has taken over the embedded development world. Nearly every major embedded player has embraced Eclipse. The participants in these projects are a who’s who: Wind River, IBM, Monta Vista, PalmSource, Symbian, Tradescape, Nokia, Motorola and SonyEricsson.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Dorothy has Toto, and Java has Duke. It seems that Sun is open-sourcing the mascot too.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

As Alex Handy reported on sdtimes.com, Sun is releasing Java SE and Java ME under the GPL 2 license.

Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz maintains that this move is not a reaction to all the moves in Linux-land, with Oracle hoovering Red Hat and Microsoft playing footsie with Novell. While it’s impossible to know exactly what Sun’s thinking is here, it does seem too fast to be a reaction. On the other hand, Sun has long maintained that it wouldn’t open-source Java, but now (according to the company):

  • Open-Source Java SE: Today Sun is releasing the source code for the Java HotSpot virtual machine, the Java programming language compiler (javac), and JavaHelp online help software. Release of a fully buildable Java SE Development Kit (JDK) based nearly entirely on open-source code is expected in the first half of 2007.
  • Open-Source Java ME: Sun is first releasing the source code for Sun’s Java ME Feature Phone implementation based on Connected Limited Device Configuration (CLDC), which currently enables rich mobile data services in more than 1.5 billion handsets, and the source code for the Java ME testing and compatibility kit (TCK) framework. Later this year, Sun will release additional source code for the Advanced Operating System Phone implementation for based on the Connected Device Configuration (CDC) specification and the framework for the Java Device Test Suite.

What I find curious is the use of the GPL, rather than the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) that Sun uses for OpenSolaris.

Will this made a big difference in Java adoption? Not immediately, and not unless Sun opens up its control over the Java Community Process. However, on the long term, this is going to pay off in terms of increased acceptance of Java, as well as strong commitments to Java by the other big players (think IBM, who has long been pushing for open-source Java).

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

My first impression of Benjamin Netanyahu, former prime minister of Israel, is “Wow, this guy’s really smart.” That impression stayed with me through his nearly two-hour presentation in Palo Alto yesterday (Nov. 12). His appearance was sponsored by Silicom Ventures, a venture capital investment group.

Netanyahu spoke eloquently on a number of topics, focusing on the amazing turnaround in the Israeli economy over the past four years. After the collapse of the U.S. stock market after the bubble, Israel went into a tail-spin: the economy was shrinking, in real terms, at the rate of 1 ¼ percent annually. As finance minister for Arial Sharon from 2003-2005, Netanyahu’s goal was to prevent an Argentina-style collapse… which he said was only months away.

In his well-prepared speech, Netanyahu used a vivid metaphor to describe the state of the economy back then: a race where a fat man was riding on the shoulders of a thin man. The thin man is the private sector, which drives the economy through industry, trade and investment. The fat man is the public sector, which redistributes resources and offers services for the common good.

In Israel, Netanyahu said, the thin man was very thin, crushed beneath high corporate taxes and crippling government regulation. Meanwhile, the fat man was obese, due to powerful unions, protectionist policies, and welfare rolls which supported people who are able to work, but who simply didn’t want to.

Public sector spending in Israel in 2002, he said, was 56 percent of GDP, compared to 41 percent as a world average. And it was getting worse.

The recipe for the turn-around, Netanyahu explained, was three-fold.

First, help the thin man gain strength by reducing marginal taxes rates, thereby encouraging investment and reducing the flight of capital to lower-tax countries. This, as the Laffer Curve shows, can increase total tax receipts (as long as you don’t reduce taxes too much).

Second, help the fat man lose weight by reducing public spending. A typical example, Netanyahu said, was outsourcing the management of facilities for the long-term disabled, which he claimed doubling service quality for half the price in some cases. He cited a period when Israel’s population grew by 40 percent, but the number of people on public assistance went up by 1500 percent.

Third, make the country more hospitable for business by getting rid of crushing regulations that made it difficult to start and grow business, gave too much power to unions and which inhibited competition. This was a short-term fix, he admitted; countries could get about a decade of fast growth by loosing regulations. However, Israel needed that fast growth to pull back from the abyss.

Netanyahu admitted that many of his reforms would be unpopular, particularly with Israel’s powerful unions. But speaking like an economist, he decided to “maximize the number of reforms per strike,” and crammed through 40 different rules changes. Yes, there was a four-month general strike – but the reforms survived, he said, and the Israeli economy is now very strong.

Netanyahu added that those reforms are a major reason why he’s no longer in the government.

Listening to Benjamin Netanyahu, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the quality of his intellect, and of his eloquence: If only THAT guy had been teaching my college economics classes…

The World

During the Q&A session, Netanyahu spoke briefly but passionately about world affairs. He was emphatic that the biggest global danger is that of Iran gaining nuclear weapons: “Militant Islam puts zealotry above survival,” he said, predicting that nukes from Iran might fall on Israel first, but would then be targeted at Western Europe and the United States, with a goal of destroying Western civilization and ushering an era of Islamic world domination.

The problems with Iraq and North Korea are much less urgent, he said, than stopping Iran. He called for preemptive action by the United States, but would not say explicitly what action he was recommending. But it was clear what he meant.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

On Sept. 25, 2006, Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun, wrote to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Schwartz wants to be able to use the Internet — including his official blog, hosted on Sun’s servers — to disseminate company news, including financial data and product releases. Currently, publicly traded corporations must use traditional methods like press releases and audio conference calls to disclose financial data.

Schwartz argues that public disclosure of information on Sun’s Web site meets the spirit of the SEC’s “Regulation Fair Disclosure,” which mandates that information that might affect a company’s stock price be made available to everyone at the same time. In the past, of course, preferred analysts might get early warning; Reg FD seeks to stop that, and place all investors on equal footing.

On Nov. 3, Christopher Cox, chairman of the SEC, replied — in the form of a comment on Schwartz’ blog. I’m delighted that we have a government official that “gets it,” and that Schwartz’s proposal is being taken seriously.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Reports from the Software Test & Performance Conference, going on right now in Cambridge, Mass., are that the three-day event is packed. Not just with technical classes, but also with attendees. STPCon sold out of its full event passes a couple of week ago and then all the remaining tutorials-only seats went too. (The exhibition hall also filled up. We had inquiries from more test/QA companies that wanted to demo their software at STPCon, but there was no more space to put them.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it out to STPCon this week. Between shipping the Fall 2006 issue of Eclipse Review to the printer, and finishing up a SOA supplement for the Dec. 1 issue of SD Times, it was too hard to get out of the office. Bummer. STPCon is our biggest event at BZ Media, and it’s always a great experience. Plus, Rex Black is a marvelous keynote speaker.

We’ll be announcing the dates and location for next year’s Software Test & Performance Conference shortly.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

On October 17, 2006, the U.S. Department of State announced a new Federal rule proposing the use of RFID chips in card-sized passports. There have been similar proposals for standard passports for a couple of years now.

As a person who travels overseas occasionally (generally once or twice per year), this is worrisome. I don’t want someone to be able to tell, from a distance, that I’m carrying a U.S. passport. I don’t want someone to be able to tell, from a distance, my name, passport number, and so-on.

Even though I have always traveled in places where it’s fairly safe to be an American, that may not always be the case. And even so, I’d prefer to blend in, and not stand out, due to an RFID signature.

Yet thanks to increasingly sophisticated readers, it’s easier to detect and read an RFID chip at a distance. (In theory, the passport’s supposed to “turn off” the RFID chip if its cover is closed. In practice, the switch doesn’t work reliably.)

Security expert Bruce Schneier has been blogging regularly about this issue. Today’s posting references an European document which concludes that RFID passports dramatically decrease security and privacy, and increase the risk of identity theft.

Let us hope that these ill-conceived plans for RFID passports are reversed. In the meantime, if I’m issued an RFID passport, I’ll invest in some sort of shield — lead foil or otherwise — to block the signals. And I recommend that you do the same.

>> Update 11/10: I’ve been informed that metalized Mylar bags will block RFID signals, and that they’re less expensive and more convenient than lead shielding. A quick Google search found a commercial product called MobileCloak, though it seems that most any metalized Mylar would do the trick. See this homebrew article on how to make your own RFID-blocking wallet out of aluminum foil and duct tape.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Qualcomm announced that it’s discontinuing development of Eudora, and will release the code as open source software in the first half of 2007.

While I like Eudora (it’s my favorite Windows e-mail client, and I’ve been a paid-up customer for many years), the synergies between Eudora and the rest of Qualcomm’s product line is zero. So, while the company has done a yeoman’s job keeping the software up to date, it was only a matter of time before someone said, “Enough, already.”

Will the open source community embrace Eudora? Frankly, I have my doubts. There are plenty of open source e-mail clients, with the best known being Mozilla’s Thunderbird, which is already as good as Eudora in most ways, and better in some ways. Thunderbird has clean source code, a dedicated community and no corporate baggage.

Another popular project is Evolution, which I’ve not used. It’s the e-mail software bundled with Ubuntu Linux.

I think this move is the death knell of Eudora. It’s a shame. But most platforms already come with decent POP3/IMAP4 e-mail clients (like Apple Mail or Outlook Express), there are other open source products around, and Eudora’s a bit dated, feature-wise.

Qualcomm gets praise for releasing the source code, instead of just letting the software die. But I don’t think that it’s going to live for long.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I’m delighted to report that registration is now open for the 4th Software Security Summit. For the first time, we’re bringing the conference to the Bay Area: April 16-17, 2007, in San Mateo. That’s between San Francisco and San Jose, at the northern end of Silicon Valley.

This year, we’ve shortened S-3 to two days: one day of technical classes, one day of tutorials. Because S-3 attracts a lot of managers, as well as developers, feedback from previous conferences was that a shorter program would be better. (We added a new management track this year, too.)

We’ve packed a lot into those two days. There are keynotes from Herbert “Hugh” Thompson and Gary McGraw. There are about 40 different classes, ranging from security requirements engineering to best practices for code reviews to securing AJAX.

I’m moderating a CSO panel discussion on real-world software security best practices. Monday at 1:00 pm. Come and heckle me.

Early registrants can get a big discount — up to $400 — by signing up by Dec. 15. Hope to see you there.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The strongest threat toward Microsoft’s revenue is Linux.

Any consumer who is running Linux on a desktop isn’t going to use Microsoft Office, can’t leverage the features of Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. Beyond an Xbox, it’s unlikely that a Linux desktop user will pay for any Microsoft products or services.

Any IT department that’s running Linux on servers isn’t going to use SQL Server, Exchange Server, Sharepoint Server or BizTalk Server, and is unlikely to want to use Microsoft’s nascent SaaS offerings.

By contrast, a consumer that’s using Windows on the desktop is a potential revenue goldmine. So, too, is an IT shop that’s running Windows on the server. Even if that shop is using WebSphere, WebLogic, Oracle, Sybase or SAP, if it’s running on Windows there’s still revenue flowing to Microsoft, and the potential for migrating that user over to the Microsoft stack. But if they’re on Linux, Microsoft’s battle is much harder.

One of Microsoft’s strongest weapons against Linux (and against Mac OS X and Solaris, which are growing threats on the desktop and server, respectively) has been software compatibility. Windows stuff just isn’t compatible with non-Windows stuff. OpenOffice isn’t 100 percent transparently interoperable with Microsoft Office. Alternative email clients, like Thunderbird or Eudora, aren’t 100 percent interoperable with Exchange Server. (Neither is Microsoft Entourage for the Mac, for that matter.) Many of Microsoft’s SaaS services require Internet Explorer. Non-Windows enterprise desktops and servers don’t play well with Active Directory.

None of this is news, of course, to users of non-Microsoft operating systems, who have to spend a significant amount of time working on compatibility issues. And it seems as if it should always be Microsoft’s strategy to ensure that Linux solutions aren’t 100 percent interoperable with Windows.

In that light, how should one interpret Microsoft’s deal with Novell regarding interoperability collaboration with Novell? (There was a separate agreement regarding patent licensing, which is a topic for another day.) Simply put, it means nothing good for the Linux community.

The announcement says that the companies will work together on virtualization, Web services management and document format compatibility. The companies were both very short on specifics, beyond talking about a combined offering that will let SUSE Linux Enterprise Server run inside a VM on a Windows Server.

Are we going to see Microsoft release tools to make Windows Servers more interoperable with Linux servers in the data center, beyond some Web services work? No. Are we going to see any Microsoft applications running on Linux desktops or servers? No. Are we going to see features added to Windows Server that help non-Windows clients to work with them, such as on authentication, using SharePoint Portal Services, working with Exchange Servers or ASP.NET? No. Office Live? No.

Big picture: This announcement doesn’t mean that Microsoft likes Linux or supports Linux. It just means that Microsoft found a way to make some money off it, and maybe also fragment the community at the same time.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It’s been five years since IBM launched Eclipse as an open-source project. The technology had been incubating inside Big Blue since the late 1990s as a next-generation Java IDE, but IBM’s announcement that it was open-sourcing Eclipse, on Nov. 7, 2001, set the platform on the path to super-accelerated growth.

Today, Eclipse is second only to Microsoft’s Visual Studio in adoption, and has surpassed Sun’s NetBeans and Borland’s JBuilder in the Java space. IBM’s commitment to Eclipse was further demonstrated by its willingness to divest itself of its intellectual property and form the independent Eclipse Foundation in February 2004. The unprecedented moves toward open source and open governance launched Eclipse into orbit.

That doesn’t mean that the battle’s over, and just because my company produces products for Eclipse developers (EclipseWorld and Eclipse Review) doesn’t give me a one-sided view of the IDE market.

Specifically, NetBeans is a technically excellent platform, with a cohesion and fit-and-finish that Eclipse currently lacks. In that regard, NetBeans is like Visual Studio, because it’s dominated by a single company and led by one development team with a singular vision. By contrast, Eclipse is packed with features and functionality, but it’s designed by a committee of peers. Talented and devoted, yes, but it’s a committee nonetheless.

If you haven’t checked out the latest NetBeans, you should; release 5.5, which came out recently (Oct. 30) is impressive, specifically with improvements to its GUI builder. While Eclipse has similar capabilities, you need third-party solutions to really make it work. NetBeans gets it right, straight out of the box, in so many ways.

Where Sun has fallen short is with its partner programs; unlike Eclipse or Visual Studio, the NetBeans programs haven’t gained traction, and there’s a dearth of third-party support. I could go on at length about why Microsoft and the Eclipse Foundation have been successful, and Sun has not, but that’s a blog topic for another day.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

With the release of QuarkXPress 7 for the Mac OS X, the move toward Universal Binary — applications which contain bits for both Intel x86 and PowerPC processors — is progressing very well.

In studying my own software usage with Apple Activity Monitor, the only business-critical non-x86 binaries on my iMac are Microsoft’s Office 2004 suite and Adobe’s Creative Suite CS2 . Those continue to run through Rosetta, Apple’s translation layer. With Rosetta, applications consume huge amounts of virtual memory, and bog down to poor garbage collection.

Considering that Apple’s move to Intel processors was only announced in June 2005, and that the first Intel hardware began shipping in January 2006, this is a lightning fast transition.

Apple’s Safari browser is not as successful. Many Web applications (including the blog-writing system on blogger.com) don’t work correctly under Safari, and require Firefox to run on the Mac. This is particularly true of AJAX applications, and those which rely upon Flash. Safari’s RSS capabilities are dreadful; I use NewsGator’s NetNewsWire. I hope that Apple does a better job with Leopard.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It’s a terrible pun, but I have to make it: A group of us were discussing the new Battlestar Galactica series (we’re hooked), and the characters on it. Someone said that Sharon “Boomer” Valerii was a sympathetic, brave character. “Yes, she’s a brave little toaster,” I replied — and then ran to Google to see if I was the first person to make that connection. (I can’t find a prior reference.)

A toaster is what the Galactica crew call Cylons. “The Brave Little Toaster” was a children’s movie from 1987. I never understood why the vacuum cleaner calls the little boy “The Master.”

Hey, what do you expect on a Friday afternoon? Proust?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Am still waiting for the Sun SPOT kit. The contact at Sun who offered to send me a kit doesn’t have an ETA. And from the comments on Sun’s mailing list, the company’s SPOT team doesn’t have an ETA either.

Postings on that list indicate problems regarding the RoHS compliance of the hardware, which means that the eval kits can’t be shipped into the European Union. RoHS is a new rule, which took effect in July 2006, that limits the amount of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl and polybrominated diphenyl ether in electronic devices. But why that’s affecting distribution of the equipment in the U.S. is unclear.

>> Update 11/3 AM: Sun hasn’t responded to several requests for a schedule update.

>> Update 11/3 PM: Sun’s PR team told me, “At this point, it’s on hold.”

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

A couple of other points regarding Oracle Linux: What does this mean for Oracle’s non-Linux operating system partners, Microsoft and Sun?

Microsoft, while competing against Oracle’s database with SQL Server, likes being a high-volume platform for running Oracle 10g, as well as Oracle’s many applications. Expect to see Microsoft to gently step up its assaults on Oracle. (And vice-versa.) The two companies still need each other, but Oracle now has fewer reasons to steer customers toward a third-party operating system which diverts revenue from Larry Ellison’s pockets.

Sun, not having an enterprise database of its own, has long viewed Oracle as a critical application for Solaris and for Sun’s servers. That’s why Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz was a keynote at Oracle OpenWorld this year. While Sun was conspicuous by its absence on the list of partners endorsing Oracle Linux, expect that to change, and for Sun to quickly and publicly support Oracle Linux on its enterprise hardware.

Short-term impact on Microsoft and Sun will be minimal. But despite my expectation that Sun will support Oracle Linux, this is not good news for those two companies on the long term.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Yesterday, BT acquired Centerpane Internet Security, best known as the home of Bruce Schneier, one of the top computer-security experts in our industry today. Bruce, who founded Counterpane, will stay on as CTO. I’m sure that was a key part of the deal. While Centerpane has an impressive gallery of services clients, the real asset is Bruce himself.

Bruce’s classic, Secrets & Lies, is required reading for anyone concerned about software security. If you’re into crypto, his Practical Cryptography (co-authored with Niels Ferguson) is also good, although it’s biased toward Bruce’s own algorithms and against more commonly used ones. A better book for C programmers is his Applied Cryptography. I’ve not read his latest, Beyond Fear.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Much ado was made yesterday about Oracle’s announcement that it’s releasing Red Hat Enterprise Linux as its own Unbreakable Linux. To quote from Oracle’s own announcement,

Today Oracle announced that it would provide the same enterprise class support for Linux as it provides for its database, middleware and applications products. Oracle starts with Red Hat Linux, removes Red Hat trademarks, and then adds Linux bug fixes.

Oracle is offering its Unbreakable Linux program for substantially less than Red Hat currently charges for its best support.

Tech analysts and reporters were immediately out in force, trying to predict the impact that this hostile move would have on Red Hat. Several said that Oracle’s lower-priced support would undercut RH’s efforts to penetrate the enterprise. Others think that the impact will be minimal, because RH is more aggressively extending the kernel. Most agreed, however, that it’s unseemly for Oracle to undermine its partner, and it’s going to have a real short-term impact on RH. Also predicted is that this will boost open source software in general.

RH, for its own part, indicated that its seven-year partnership with Oracle remains intact, but under the slogan “Unfakable Linux,” Red Hat emphasizes that Oracle’s version of RHEL won’t include the hardware and software compatibility of RHEL, that Oracle’s mods obviously won’t be included in RH’s regression testing, and that binary compatibility can’t be assured. Further, it says that Oracle is forking Linux.

My view is that in the long term, this will end up having minimal impact, despite the number of companies that are loudly proclaiming their support. If you want an operating system to host an Oracle database, app server or packaged applications, it makes sense to get Oracle’s Linux. That gives you a one-stop shop for patches, upgrades and support. It’s in Oracle’s best interest, and its customers’ best interest, for the company’s stack to go down to the operating system level.

But outside of that (admittedly very large) community, I can’t see customers who simply want a supported server-side Linux operating system choosing Oracle Linux instead of Red Hat or Novell/SUSE. If you’re using the LAMP stack with a supported Linux distro, you’re not going to Oracle Linux.

Why? Well, why would you invite Oracle into your tent if you’re not one of their customers? You know that Oracle wouldn’t be content to let you run WebLogic, DB2, SAP, MySQL or JBoss on Oracle Linux for long. It’s also it’s easy to predict that Oracle will tune and tweak the former RHEL to make a better platform for Oracle products, vs. something that’s driven by the open source community.

I agree that Red Hat is going to out-innovate Oracle: RH has to, just to survive against Oracle and Novell/SUSE. By contrast, Oracle doesn’t need to broadly innovate in order to accomplish its goals of offering a supported integrated stack. Its Linux investments, I predict, will be in integration.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

As someone who started his academic career intending to study astronomy, I can’t help but admire Brian May, former guitarist from Queen. I had no idea that he’d been a Ph.D student in physics/infrared astronomy at Imperial College, London. May’s new book, “Bang! The Complete History Of The Universe,” came out this month.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

At Oracle OpenWorld today (which I did not attend), Dell introduced its first AMD-based servers, the PowerEdge SC1435 and PowerEdge 6950. Both are rack-mounted systems. The SC1435 is an entry-level pizza box with two dual-core Opterons; the 4U-high 6950 uses four chips.

When you couple that with Apple’s move to Intel processors, and Sun’s supporting Windows on its x86 servers, it’s clear that you can’t take anything for granted any more. Next you hear, Microsoft will embrace Linux and Mono, and IBM will license NetBeans. You think?

Speaking of Oracle OpenWorld: the company claims more than 41,000 attendees. San Francisco is bursting at the seams; the conference is going to have to go someplace like Las Vegas soon. Is Oracle OpenWorld the next Comdex?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Homer’s Iliad has two Greek heros named Ajax. One is the giant king of Salamis, known as Ajax the Greater. The other is the prince of Locris, and called Ajax the Lesser (though, presumably, not to his face).

It looks like Microsoft’s Atlas project (named after another mythological figure) is more like AJAX the Greater. Atlas, now formally called the ASP.NET AJAX, is finally available in as a real beta. It’s been a long time coming.

To me, at least, a lot of AJAX development seems to be overly complex, with a lot of that complexity involved with plumbing, not buiness logic. Since it’s all new ground, there aren’t best practice, and the tools and runtimes are mainly “1.0” products, at best. Automation is rudimentary at best on most platforms.

Atlas, by contrast, cuts out a lot of the complexity, largely because it’s based on ASP.NET. The lack of portability cuts down the plumbing requirements. That’s one reason why ASP.NET, in general, makes Web app development straightforward. While it’s less scalable than Java EE for big projects, ASP.NET AJAX a heck of a lot easier to work with, because so much is already done for you on the tightly integrated Microsoft stack.

Assuming that you’re happy to work with ASP.NET, it’s been hard to find fault with the Community Technology Preview versions of Atlas, which have been more solid than Microsoft’s usual early efforts.

In fact, Microsoft’s initial support for both IE and Firefox has been praiseworthy. With the first formal betas, they’ve now extended their non-Microsoft browser support to Apple’s Safari, which is a welcome move, albeit a minor one.

What’s available today are two separate downloads from Microsoft. The first download contains the core ASP.NET AJAX 2.0 extensions and accompanying AJAX library, which is a fairly mature toolset — you can work with it today and feel confident that it’s not going to break when Atlas goes G.A. The other is a CTP of a lot of additional library features that are useful, but not required (see the feature matrix in Microsoft’s white paper).

Atlas — ahem, ASP.NET AJAX — has justifiably been criticised because it’s taking a long time. But then again, everything from Microsoft (from SQL Server 2005 to Team System to Windows Vista) takes forever. Inch by inch, step by step. But despite the delays, I think it’s a robust implementation, and worth the wait.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I stumbled across this three-year-old article, “Blogs: The Latest Option In Raising Your Voice Online,” written by Reid Goldsborough for Information Today. Reid interviewed me about blogs in early 2003, and my fundamental misgivings about their role in journalism haven’t changed. Most blogs don’t have editorial oversight, or any sort of objective review, and as such don’t replace properly reported/edited content (whether online or in print).

Nobody filters what I blog here on Z Trek, nobody chooses topics but me, nobody edits it but me. By contrast, what I write for SD Times and other publications — even when I’m at the top of the food chain — is line-edited, copy-edited, fact-checked, and sometimes tech-edited by professional editors. Often, my premise, arguments and conclusions are challenged by my colleagues, and the back-and-forth discussion dramatically improves the story.

Good editing adds balance and objectivity. That’s journalism, that’s the editorial process at work. By contrast, my blog, and most blogs, are simply notebooks.

That doesn’t mean that well-written blogs aren’t valuable and timely sources of information: They certainly are. But it’s important to remember the limitations as well as the advantages. They’re not journalism, even if they’re written by journalists.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Microsoft has issued several security updates for Office 2003 since Oct. 6, but they won’t install on my 64-bit Windows system. (It’s clearly not my weekend for working with software.)

My big HP workstation (two single-core 2.6GHz Opteron processors, Win XP Pro x64, SP1) just won’t accept the seven “high priority” updates issued for Office 2003 SP2.

I’ve tried automatic background updates, running Microsoft Update in the foreground, and even downloading the patches to install them manually. No dice, and nothing about this in the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Grrr.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick