October 2006 - Posts
Microsoft and Zend have issued a press release on news regarding collaboration between the two companies to improve performance and stability of PHP on the Windows platform. From the press release on Zend's site:
"The technology engagement between the two companies will include:
- Technical improvements for PHP, which will be submitted under the PHP license to the PHP community for feedback and contribution.
- Microsoft intends to develop and release an Internet Information Services (IIS) add-on component, FastCGI, that will serve as the interface between PHP and the IIS Web server.
- Zend will establish a Windows testing lab and conduct regular tests and performance improvements to maintain high performance of PHP on the Windows Server platform as PHP evolves.
- Microsoft and Zend will work to help ensure a production-quality PHP runtime environment for IIS 6.0 (Windows Server 2003) and IIS 7.0 (Windows Server "Longhorn").
- Zend and Microsoft will actively participate in the PHP community, ensuring an open discussion to help developers planning to deploy PHP applications on the Windows Server platform. "
"Zend Core is a tested and enhanced version of the open source PHP. It is packaged to make the software installation easier and faster with instant PHP setup. Zend Core uniquely delivers a seamless out-of-the-box experience by bundling all the necessary drivers and third party libraries to work with the database or platform of your choice. Zend works closely with the leading software vendors to ensure the best integration between their technology and PHP. Zend Core is the only PHP that is officially certified and supported by Zend."
Couple more links to check out:
Tim O'Reilly's latest post includes a paragraph that for me at least, encapsulates the character of the transition the web is going through today. I want to call it out here:
"In my talks on Web 2.0, I always end with the point that "a platform beats an application every time." We're entering the platform phase of Web 2.0, in which first generation applications are going to turn into platforms, followed by a stage in which the leaders use that platform strength to outperform their application rivals, eventually closing them out of the market. And that platform is not enforced by control over proprietary APIs, as it was in the Windows era, but by the operational infrastructure, and perhaps even more importantly, by the massive databases (with network effects creating increasing returns for the database leaders) that are at the heart of Web 2.0 platforms."
I'd like to make an additional point on this topic and it is this: Aside from the quality and value of the data residing in these networked datastores and the functionality exposed via the APIs by competing platform / application / service provider players, it will be the usability of these APIs and their adoption that will determine who wins and loses in the web platforms and application wars to come.
APIs can come in all sorts of flavours. At one end of the scale you have the complex APIs. By complex I mean that they are based on technologies - I'm thinking of WS* here - that require a certain level of technical competence by the users (developers) that want to use them. These complex types of APIs will often require sophisticated toolsets that demand a skill level disciplined by training, and therefore will be beyond the reach of a large and growing population category of developers, what some refer to as the hobbyist developers. Today's web is made in large part by these hobbyists.
On the other end of the scale are the simple APIs. These are designed not just with the hobbyist developers in mind, but also the professional developers too (perhaps unintentionally in some cases). Professional developers are smart and lazy. They want to do the least amount of work possible for the most return. Simple APIs lower the barriers to adoption for these developers too and can make things easy to do. In a web as a platform world, this matters: the more adopters of your APIs (and therefore your platform) there are, the better your platform does.
RSS is the case in point here. It is simple, really really simple and it's simplicity is precisely the reason why it has become the de facto content API standard. Arguably, the key developer segment that helped ensure RSS become the #1 XML standard on the planet is the hobbyist developers, the builders of the amateur web, who could understand the simple API that exposed content and run with it. Before you knew it everyone was using it, including the professional developer community.
I am not suggesting that APIs designers take an either / or approach here. In a perfect world, platform / application service providers should provide a portfolio of API services that range the ease-of use-spectrum.
Powerful APIs are complex because they expose powerful functionality and developers like powerful functionality. However, from a design perspective, I think too many APIs designers (read: platform designers) start from the complex end of the API design spectrum with the goal of providing all-dancing and all-singing APIs and then work their way down to the simple stack. Complex APIs take time to design, develop and test and no application development team I've ever come across has infinite resources, so they have to start somewhere and they often choose to start at the hard-skill end of the continuum. A mistake in my opinion.
So, my point is this: if you are involved in the design of APIs for the web (this includes those designed for use inside of the firewall - aka Enterprise 2.0), do yourself, your userbase and everyone else a favour: Keep Some of it Simple, Stupid.
If it wasn't Tim Berners-Lee calling for the reinvention of HTML, I think I would have skipped over this post and put it down to Friday night silliness.
But the post is dead serious. It's reflecting on the fact that HTML hasn't moved as an official spec since HTML 4.01, ratified nearly eight years ago by the W3C, and an admission that the W3C has failed in its charter to move things along since:
"Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn't work. The large HTML-generating public did not move, largely because the browsers didn't complain. Some large communities did shift and are enjoying the fruits of well-formed systems, but not all. It is important to maintain HTML incrementally, as well as continuing a transition to well-formed world, and developing more power in that world."
Agreeing specifications and standards setting is an exercise in politics. The more the stakeholders the more complex the exercise becomes and the greater the chance for failure. As Tim BL points out, in the case of HTML, the number of stakeholders run into the millions.
"This is going to be hard work. I'd like everyone to go into this realizing this. I'll be asking these groups to be very accountable, to have powerful issue tracking systems on the w3.org web site, and to be responsive in spirit as well as in letter to public comments."
Tim Bray's reaction to the news is telling of the kinds of problems that the W3C have had with the community in recent years:
"I have had a very poor relationship with the existing HTML WG, so I’m hardly unbiased; but given the that the W3C’s impact on HTML over the last few years has been essentially zero, I think that this has to be A Good Thing."
Other reactions to the news have varied from skepticism, to 'About time!' to Ryan King trying to figure out the role WHATWG will play in what presumably could be a competing effort to the HTML 5 (or XHTML5) spec in progress:
"I wonder if WHATWG and Hixie in particular have been contacted and/or recruited to join this new WG? I doubt how successful the new HTML WG can be without the support of the the individuals involved in WHATWG."
The answer to this question will either make or break this effort.
(Watch this space.)
Charlie Wood got a little suprise via his phone bill this month. After a call that lasted an hour with someone in the Ukraine:
"Today I got the bill—for $365. Ouch."
What would I do if I were filthy rich? Well, apart from doing the usual charity stuff, I'd have to do what ex-Microsoft exec and billionaire Charles Simonyi is planning to do: become a space tourist.
"Four decades after he fled Soviet-occupied Hungary to help create the U.S. personal-computer industry and key Microsoft products such as Word and Excel, Simonyi is to join two Russian cosmonauts flying a Soyuz TMA10 to the international space station on March 9.
...He's flying with Space Adventures, a Vienna, Va.-based company that flew the first paying passenger to space in 2001. It places clients aboard Russian space flights out of Kazakhstan."
Maybe a little to pioneering for my taste. I'm not sure I like the thought of riding a Russian / Kazakhstan combo with a Mr Borat taking charge of an Aeroflot-inspired spacecraft is asking for trouble...I think I'd wait for Mr Branson's offering instead.
The Long Tail meme took quite a while for it to propagate through memespace. I don't know how long it took for the first spark of the idea to emerge in Chris Anderson's mind, to it being a popular modern economic idea, but it's safe to say it took close to years.
Like others, I suspect Chris Anderson's new meme, 'The Economics of Abundance', will take a lot less time to do the memetic rounds this time around. Not just because of the Long Tail's success - of course the exposure Chris has accrued with his bestseller will bode well for his next literary effort, and not just because the idea itself may have merit, but also because the context within these kinds of memes can spread has evolved significantly, even within the relatively short period of time it has taken for the Long Tail meme to travel from one mind to many minds.
Since the advent of the internet, indeed since humankind's ability to communicate verbally, the environment in which ideas and thoughts can be spread, circulated, discussed and evolve has changed dramatically for the better (from the meme's eye point of view at least) and is changing at an ever accelerating pace.
As we take each new technological step to speed up the rate at which we can communicate ideas, the rate at which the next technological step arrives and is almost universally accessible is itself accelerating. Our first great technological step in this direction was the invention of the Gutenberg press - it provided a massively more efficient way to share ideas. And from there, local newspapers then to international periodicals powered by Morse code, communicating stories and ideas to far reaching nodes of the world; from landline telephones to cellphones to text, then pictures and even video messaging; from letter writing and the postal networks, then fax machines to email and instant messaging; from bookwriting to desktop publishing to websites to blogs; from homevideos shared by foot and post to high resolution videos shared by clicks of buttons; the memetic efficiency of RSS and the great online social networks that are getting built out at a phenomenal rate - each of these technologies, and many others more, have created and are creating an ever more meme-friendly environment for which ideas can thrive. The environment for ideas to traverse from to mind to mind and from minds to networks of minds has never been so friction free, and still, this trend is set to continue at an ever more increasing rate.
Many of the memes that zip along the carriageways and networks of minds are to do with how to improve the environment of the sharing of ideas. This is self-referential magic at work. The exponential curves we experience in the progress of these communications technologies are set to continue. If there is the abundance of anything at all, it is surely the abundance in the numbers of opportunities that these memes have to spread amongst our networks of minds.
We are fast arriving at a critical evolutionary point of the memetic environment, if we have not done so already, where ideas that encourage yet further progress along the open communications paths will succeed speedily, and where those memes that attempt to stifle the propagation of ideas will be rapidly snuffed out. This truth, to me at least on this point, is abundantly clear.
MIT Center for Collective Intelligence sounds like a great project, established to conduct research on the following question: How can people and computers be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?
Other related questions this research effort seeks to answer include the following:
(a) What would it mean for a group of people to be "intelligent"? For instance, if a single superhuman intelligence had access to all the knowledge and resources of a company like IBM or General Motors, what would it do? What strategies would it pursue? How quickly could it respond to changes in the marketplace? How productively could it use factories and money? How profitable would it be? And-most importantly-how closely could we approximate the behavior of this imaginary superhuman intelligence by cleverly connecting real people and computers?
(b) What can we learn from the ways human brains are organized that might suggest new ways to organize groups of people to perform intelligently? (And vice versa: What can we learn from the ways people are organized that might help us understand how human brains are organized?)
(c) The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has, for decades, tried to create computer programs that can behave as intelligently as humans. From the traditional AI point of view, letting people help a program while it is running is considered cheating. But what if that were fine? What if the goal were to create combined human/machine systems that were more intelligent than either people or machines could be alone?
The recently launched initiative has it's own blog and a couple of videos, including this one by Bob Metcalfe (Requires RealPlayer 8.0+). There's even a Handbook of Collective Intelligence (in Wiki format of course), intended to provide a conceptual framework for the whole field of collective intelligence. From the section called What is collective intelligence?:
"What is collective intelligence not?
Some people, when they hear the term “collective intelligence” assume that it implies individuals giving up their individuality to be somehow subsumed in a group. This is not what we mean.Collective intelligence, as we are defining and exploring it, is not about false consensus, cults, hive minds, or Groupthink. As described further in the section on factors that inhibit collective intelligence, each of these phenomena actually represents a kind of collective stupidity or mediocrity. Similarly, although the Borg collective from Star Trek is an example of people and computers connected together to form a higher intelligence, it falls short of the true possibility of collective intelligence.
As a statement of principle, we offer the following:
"Collective Intelligence relies upon the individual knowledge, creativity, and identity of its constituent parts, and emerges from a synergy between them.In its highest forms, participating in collective intelligence can actually help people self-actualize while solving collective problems."
Thanks to Alex Pang for the pointer.
P.S. Two other resources to check out on the topic of 'CI' (not associated with MIT but worth a look) is Blog of Collective Intelligence and Stowe Boyd's /Message blog.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols over at Linux-Watch is not a happy bunny regarding today's Oracle news that it will be charging less for its support for Red Hat Linux that Red Hat itself:
"...In short, this move hurts Red Hat a lot. In fact, I think Red Hat would have been better off if Oracle had started its own Linux, or bought Ubuntu or some other company. In either case, Oracle would have had to fight to win Linux market share even from its own customers. With this move, Oracle simply rips off Red Hat's mind-share, while promising a cheaper price.
...By doing this, Oracle not only wounds Red Hat, it serves notice to all the Linux businesses -- Novell, Mandriva, Linspire, etc. -- that a giant company can come along, and sweep their work and business plan away from them in a minute."
Matt Assay asks 'Who's problem is Oracle trying to solve?':
Another less-than-happy reaction comes from Dave Dargo who was a longtime Oracle employee and started and ran Oracle's open source program office:
"Sometimes you just have to call bull*&#% on something and Oracle’s announcement on Linux is as great a candidate as any I’ve seen lately.
...Where’s the Oracle Database Network and Applications Network and PeopleSoft Network and Siebel Network? Where are the support infrastructure networks for Oracle’s own products to automatically distribute fixes, patches and alerts? It’s amazing that they can provide all that for a mere $399 for a competitor’s products, but not for their own $200,000 product.
At the end of the day they still haven’t answered the basic question of how eliminating choice benefits the customer, and that’s bull*&#%."
Nope, not happy bunnies...
In the meantime, Red Hat is putting a brave face on the matter and provided its own Q & A (called Unfakeable Linux). Here's an example:
"Q: Oracle says they will provide the same updates as Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Can they do this?
A: There are multiple requirements to building binary compatible software. One piece is the source code; another is the build and test environment. While Oracle may be able to take the source code at some point after a Red Hat update release, obviously their build and test environment will inherently be different than that for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. For similar reasons, there is no guarantee that the source code for the Red Hat Enterprise Linux update will work correctly when integrated into Oracle's modified Linux code base."
Well, that's cleared that up then...
The race is on to decypher the Morse Code in the frosting of 'the cake'.
Just came across Richard Dawkins' blog, writing up his thoughts on his current tour of US and A. It sounds like he's having fun...
"Last night in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of the infamous Jerry Falwell, was memorable. The large hall at Randolph Macon Woman’s College was packed. I gave a fairly short program of readings from The God Delusion, and then the bulk of the evening was given over to much more than an hour of Q & A. The first questioner announced himself as coming from Liberty (Falwell’s 'University'), and he began by saying he had never been so insulted, yet simultaneously so amused, by any lecture. Many of the questioners announced themselves as either students or faculty from Liberty, rather than from Randolph Macon which was my host institution. One by one they tried to trip me up, and one by one their failure to do so was applauded by the audience. Finally, I said that my advice to all Liberty students was to resign immediately and apply to a proper university instead. That received thunderous applause, so that I almost began to feel slightly sorry for the Liberty people. Only almost and only slightly, however."
In this post, Dawkins shares his thought on his recent appereance on the Colbert Show:
"While I was waiting, he came in to see me as himself, introduced himself and made sure that I understood his act: “You know I play a complete idiot?” I must say, when he is in character, he does it extremely well. The real Colbert is obviously highly intelligent and a very nice man. Aficionados seem divided about 50/50 over whether the real Colbert is religious. He is obviously too intelligent to be religious in any simple conventional sense. I suspect either that it amuses him to blur the distinction between his ‘character’ and the real Colbert. Or perhaps he is religious in the Einsteinian sense that all of us are, and goes to church because, like Martin Rees, he ‘believes in belief’ (Dan Dennett’s happy phrase)."
Adam Wiener, Lead Program Manager for Data Programmability / XML Technologies, has worked closely with the IE team in the lead up to the IE7 release. As part of that process, Adam looked at the use of XML in the browser and concluded:
"During this investigation one thing has become immediately obvious – there is a lot of confusion around the versioning story for MSXML and how to instantiate the “right” MSXML object in the browser.
In this post, Adam has provided details on best practices for use of MSXML in the browser and written up a short history of the different versions of MSXML, where they ship, and its long term strategy.
The usual sledging between the old rivals has begun in ernest, and the battle songs have started to echo in the stadiums.
Not surprisingly, the Aussies are stooping low from the start:
"There's the song for injured captain Michael Vaughan, set to the tune of Daydream Believer:
Cheer up Michael Vaughan,
How bad must it be,
To a be a poor pommie whinger,
And you're watching on TV?
But Livingstone seemed proudest of his song for Monty Panesar - a player routinely called "Monty Python" here down under.
Set to the tune of My Old Man's a Dustman, it goes something like this:
Monty Panesar's useless,
A poor old English chap,
And when he's not spin bowling,
No fan will ever clap.
He's useless in the covers,
He's useless in the slips,
And when he straps the pads on,
He'll pass out with the yips. "
He's my suggestion for the Barmy Army, sung to the chorus of Queen's 'We Are the Champions':
We have the Ashes, and you don’t
We have the Ashes, and you don’t
We have the Ashes
We have the Ashes
We have the Ashes
And we have the Ashes
And you don’t.
14 13 tickets left for Seattle Mind Camp 3.0 (I just got mine...)
Amy Bellinger and O'Reilly Media have released a new 'Short Cuts' - Getting Acquainted with OPML.
As its title suggests, it is a great starter if you want get going with OPML...Congrats Amy!
"You've put off figuring out what Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML) is all about and what it can do, right?
We'll bring you into the picture quickly with 14 wide-ranging uses for the OPML format including:
- Reading lists and RSS subscription lists
- A wholly new sort of intranet
- Process documentation
- Instant outlining and collaboration
- Distributed directories
Included in this Short Cut are step-by-step how-to examples with illustrations to get you started using and remixing OPML right now."
...Disclaimer: I reviewed the PDF book a couple of times before going live and so I got a free copy :-)
Quick snark: I know of at least one company that could (and should) shell out $7.99 for a copy :-P
This is the colour of Pi:
If you stare at this for long enough...well, I won't spoil it for you.
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