Alex Barnett blog


March 2007 - Posts

Last night margaritas, last day @ MSFT

Today's my last day at Microsoft, ending with an exit interview. That should be fun...

Last night I had the chance to catch up with a few Softies over a few margaritas. Thanks for the send-off guys!


Posted: Mar 30 2007, 08:28 AM by alexbarnett | with 2 comment(s)
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The "Amazing Autocar Woman" (she really is amazing!)

I first heard about the "Amazing Autocar Woman" shortly after I arrived in the Redmond / Seattle area from the UK two years ago while I was looking around for a couple of cars to buy. For some reason, and one I regret now, I didn't contact Heidi (her real name) when I started shopping around.

This time we made the right decision in asking Heidi to see if she could find the car I was looking for (a BMW X3 3.0si) to replace our Jeep. We gave her a call and provided her with a spec. In a matter of hours, Heidi called back and let me know she could beat the price quoted by the local BMW dealer (by a significant amount). I found Mike Swanson's recent blog post describing the positive experience he had and his satisfaction with the overall buying process - so went for it. And I concur - very little to do on our part in terms of paperwork and all the hassle and the car was delivered to home at a time that suited. This was a breath of fresh air compared to the hassle and bullshit we had to deal with with the local official dealerships. With Heidi there was none of this.

Here's Heidi and me (looking chuffed with my new motor):

Heidi - The "Amazing Autowoman" and me looking chuffed.

The great thing about Heidi is that she's a buying agent. She's working for you to get the best price possible from dealerships. In this case, it was an Oregon-based dealer who drove the 150+ miles to Redmond to drop the car off at my place. I'm one 900 Microsoft employees that have become happy customers of hers. Amazing!

Here's Heidi - The "Amazing Autowoman" - and Curt who drove the car up from Oregon (and some other chap whose name I can't remember, sorry!):

Heidi - The "Amazing Autowoman" and Curt (and some other chap whose name I can't remember)

Thanks Heidi!!!!

APIs, APIs APIs!!!!! (And Learn As You Play)

We're seeing the beginnings of something very, very big here - Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo!:

"Today's news is that the Yahoo! Mail API that we previewed at last year's Open Hack Day is now available to all developers. It speaks both SOAP and JSON-RPC and is well documented. The SOAP API is the same API that the mail front-end uses to talk to the mail back-end mail system, so it's the real deal. There's sample code too. And even apps it the gallery."

Why is this 'big'? It is a clear signal of where we're all going with the web. APIs, APIs APIs!!!!!

Now, this is interesting too, again Jeremy:

"Oh, I should also mention that if you build the next kill application and convince people to use it and upgrade to the premium version of Yahoo! Mail, we'll pay you $10 per user. The sky's the limit on how cool your mail front-end can be. We'll handle the infrastructure."

So, become a partner of Yahoo! by building on their APIs. I have no idea about the viability of this as business model, but I love this because what is going on here is real-time experimentation with potential business models. It might fly, it might not. But one thing is guaranteed - Yahoo! is going to do a huge amount of learning in this space and that counts for a great deal. Why? Because the ability to monetize web services / APIs is going to be THE name of the game over the next few years. And at this stage of the game, learning has huge value and this learning has potentially enourmous pay-offs down the road. Play, innovate, experiment, make mistakes but LEARN what it takes to succeed in the future - 'cause it's coming at us faster than we think.

This is not a time for analysis paralysis.

More on this at the YDN blog (by Chad Dickerson):

"Yes, cash. With this release, Yahoo! Mail Web Service developers can earn referral commissions by building compelling applications targeted at our premium email users. For a trial period, Yahoo! Mail is offering an incentive for developers to build applications using the full functionality available for premium Yahoo! Mail accounts. Specifically, Yahoo! Mail is currently providing a commission of $10.00 for every new Yahoo! Mail Plus account referred by approved developers. Read the Yahoo! Mail Web Service documentation for more details on how to participate. As the program evolves, we will continue to evaluate and consider additional business models for developers, ISVs, and partners. Let us know what you would like to see in the comments, or post to our suggestion board -- we're listening."

Matt McAllister, also of Yahoo!, has some screencasts he recorded of Jeremy and members of the engineering team discussing and showing the web services at work.

John Musser over at ProgrammableWeb has already added an Yahoo Mail! API profile to his human UDDI site:

"The API will allow applications to compose and send messages, work with mailboxes, etc. Keep in mind that the amount of functionality available to the API varies by the level of the user account being accessed. So a free account is limited to listing folders and messages while a premium account user has no restrictions. The Mail API leverages other Yahoo! developer services like the Yahoo! BBAuth API to credential the user. The core service is SOAP-based, but conveniently also supports a lighter-weight JSON-RPC implementation. Oh yes, while they make the API as simple as they can, email’s inherently more complex than say bookmarks, thus the API docs PDF is over 100 pages."

Michael Arrington:

"My bet is that more features are coming soon."

I won't bet against him on that one :-)    Back to the YDN blog:

"The Yahoo! Mail Web Service is a big release for Yahoo! and the Internet, and it's only the beginning of what you'll be seeing from Yahoo!. Jump into our code samples for Java, .NET, PHP, Perl and Python, and build your dream mail app today, then be sure to give us feedback on your experience so we can continue to make the API even better. "

Richard MacManus sums all this up nicely:

"All up, this is another great example of a big Internet company 'opening up' their platform and (to some extent) their data, to enable more creative mashups and new apps to be built on top of it. Yahoo is certainly doing more than both Google and Microsoft in this respect."

Thank you Microsoft, Hello Bungee Labs

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain

Why am I quoting this? Well, my desire for new adventures has gotten the best of me once more…Friday March 30th will be my last day with Microsoft and I’m off to join Bungee Labs, a start-up based in Utah. A little more about that in a moment, but first I wanted to say a few things regarding Microsoft.

Old Microsoft, New Microsoft

I joined the 'dark side' 5 years ago (nearly) to grow, learn, do 'stuff that matters’ and have fun while doing it. Along the way, I've had the opportunity to work with truly amazing people on amazing things. During my time here I've seen the company begin its transformation from a company that was perceived to be highly mysterious and "evil" (among certain communities) to one that is arguably now perceived as less mysterious and not quite as "evil" as people thought (although some will probably argue with this last point, but I'm not here today argue...). From the business standpoint, Microsoft has been motoring- here's a tidbit for you: in the past five years, the number of employees since my joining has grown from 50,621 (2002) to over 75,000 today, and revenue growing from $28B in 2002 to $50B by 2007. I think that's amazing.

It's an interesting point in time to be leaving I think. Change has been and is still occurring at Microsoft, but for companies as large as Microsoft this change takes time. What has been unique in some respects, is how some of this change has been occurring right before our eyes via the web: dialogue through employee blogs; magic like Channel 9; Microsoft's Open Source Labs and Codeplex (these are more than just lip service), efforts by product units and individuals to engage with the web development standards community, little signs that Microsoft is 'getting' the web thing ;-P ; doing 'the right thing'; the articulation of the Windows Principles; the ability to not take oneself too seriously; revealing Softies really are made of flesh and blood; blogger dinners with execs; product teams meeting with skeptics; and that we Microsoft can work well with the competition. There's the kind of change that we won't hear about for a while and I'm looking forward to following the continued progress on a number of fronts.

At this point, it would be appropriate to call out some of the people I admire and have influenced me in positive ways and provided me with support and great advice while at Microsoft, but the list would be too long, and I'd risk missing people out. So, look, you know who you are - and I thank you :-)


So now on to Bungee Labs.

As I said, Bungee Labs is a start-up based in Utah and I'll be joining as VP of Community on Monday. That means I'll be leaving leafy Redmond and moving my family to the Salt Lake City are (or thereabouts) at the end of the summer.

A big move for me in every sense, but that said I've gone down the entrepreneurial before (for 7 years prior to Microsoft) and am dying to get back into that mode.

So what is Bungee Labs? Well, I need to respect the fact that I'm still working for Microsoft until Friday, so a detailed pitch for Bungee Labs just isn't appropriate. Bungee Labs is in private beta mode today, so there isn't anything for you to play with today. You can visit the site and there is some information there to give you a flavour of what it's all about and info on how you can learn more.

Once I've joined and I can tell you more (I promise ;-). But I can tell you this today - Bungee Labs is cool, the oh-my-that's-the-coolest-thing-I've-seen-and-I-want-to-be-a-part-of-it-kind-of-cool-thing that gets me very excited. Hey, it had to be to take me away from a job, the people, the company and a city I love!

Oriented Vs Orientated

Harry Pierson (DevHawk) has sensibly considered the use of the word 'Service' in the contexts of the terms (concepts) Software as a Service (SaaS) and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), arriving at the following conclusion:

"Service, in the SOA sense, describes the approach to factoring parts of an software solution. Service, in the SaaS sense, describes a software delivery mechanism. Certainly, you can use both together and take an SOA approach to building a SaaS product. But you don't have to. So having the same term "service" used in both is very confusing."

So that clears that up then.

Now, what of the 'O' part of SOA - Oriented? Shouldn't this be Orientated?

I looked around a bit and to my relief I found it doesn't actually matter. I am now enlightened:

"LessSyllablesMoreMeaning It's an extra syllable, but that really should be FewerSyllablesMoreMeaning?."

Posted: Mar 26 2007, 09:13 AM by alexbarnett | with 1 comment(s)
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Top 10 Things that Twitter Can Do

# 7 - Slice bread (NOTE: rye only).

This news might even cheer up Dare.

Adobe on Apollo Compeitors

Very interesting post by Andrew Shebanow (senior computer scientist at Adobe), reflecting on some of the reactions and comments he's heard since Apollo went alpha, including comparisons made with other offerings (Microsoft's WPF, Dekoh, Joyent Slingshot + magnetk, Yahoo! Widgets and Firefox 3.

Highlights for me are:


"Apollo competes with WPF - this meme is attractive to journalists because its easy to write a sexy story about a war between two large companies....Apollo’s can succeed even if WPF proves to be extremely popular, and vice versa.

On comments that Apollo is closed source and proprietary:

"Its true that a number of the pieces that make up Apollo are closed source, but how important this is will vary from developer to developer, and the story around Apollo alternatives is generally even worse."

On Dekoh:

"one thing that they have revealed is that the product relies on a centralized “Dekoh Network Service” for identity, sharing, and so on. The bottom line is that with Dekoh, you are making your application dependent on a closed source, propietary Dekoh service that will own and leverage information about your users and their data."

On Joyent Slingshot + magnetk

"Downsides are a lot of potential security issues (no sandbox?)...More disturbing, though, is that it sounds like Joyent will be charging a royalty for distributing applications based on their runtime unless you are a customer for their hosting service...much less open than the Apollo model where the SDK and runtime are both free of charge."

On Yahoo! Widgets:

"I don’t really get the comparison, but even if you do think they serve similar needs, the fact is that Yahoo! Widgets is just as closed source and proprietary as Apollo, if not moreso"

And Firefox 3:

"its still fundamentally a web browser and it is nothing but vaporware at the moment."

The comments conversation to Andrew's post make enlightening reading too - I'd also be interested in hearing his thoughts on the Dojo Toolkit /

Bob was murdered.

I've been following some of the stories surrounding Bob Woolmer's death the last few days, hoping that the rumours I was hearing about had no substance.

The police have now confirmed the worst news possible regarding how Bob died, he was murdered. I'm stunned...and utterly sickened. I'm very, very, very angry, and I'm crying. My heart goes out to his family.

Posted: Mar 22 2007, 07:16 PM by alexbarnett | with no comments
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Microsoft and Google join OpenAjaxAlliance

I missed this yesterday, but biggish news in the Ajax-o-sphere - Brad Abrams and Brandon Le Roy announced Microsoft is joining the OpenAjaxAlliance. From the press release:

 ""Microsoft is joining the OpenAJAX Alliance to collaborate with other industry leaders to help evolve AJAX-style development by ensuring a high degree of interoperability," said Keith Smith, group product manager of the Core Web Platform & Tools to UX Web/Client Platform & Tools team at Microsoft Corp. "By joining OpenAJAX, Microsoft is continuing its commitment to empower Web developers with technology that works cross-browser and cross-platform.""

This OpenAjaxAlliance blog post also mentioned the confirmation of Google's membership, joining a growing number of Ajax players (full list here).

In case you are wondering what the OpenAjaxAlliance is, here is the blurb on their site:

"The OpenAjaxAlliance is an organization of vendors, open-source initiatives and Web developers dedicated to the successful adoption of open and interoperable Ajax-based Web technologies. The alliance's prime objective is to accelerate customer success with Ajax by improving the customer's ability to mix and match solutions from Ajax technology providers and helping to drive the future of the Ajax ecosystem. "

In a nutshell, Interop.


Thanks to Tommy for the heads-up.

Adobe's Apollo goes alpha

Ryan Stewart has the scoop and links to Adobe's Apollo which has just released to alpha.

For details, check out the Apollo Developer FAQ.

Posted: Mar 19 2007, 03:08 AM by alexbarnett | with 2 comment(s)
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Cricket has lost a true gentleman

I've just heard the news of Bob Woolmer's death today. This is is tragic news for the cricketing community and am personally very sad to hear this news. My thoughts go out to his family. 

Bob was the reason I went to South Africa in 1992 - he put me in touch with a couple of cricket clubs in Cape Town when I was looking for a winter away in the off-season.  I spent a lot of time with Bob that Cape Town summer. He invited me along to the nets practice he arranged at the Avendale cricket club along with Ashley Giles, Kieth Piper, Graham Welch, Trevor Penney and Herschelle Gibbs. He was a kind and intelligent man, bringing a creative approach to the game pioneering the use of technology and statistical analysis as an aid to coaching and team management, a real innovator.

Bob was highly respected amongst the players he coached and interacted with. These tributes are a testament to Bob's character as a man and his talents as a coach and entirely consistent with my feelings for him. As Dickie said, the cricket world has lost a true gentleman.

Posted: Mar 18 2007, 10:21 PM by alexbarnett | with 2 comment(s)
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Six sixes in an over

Herschelle Gibbs has become the first player to hit six sixes in an over in a World Cup game. This CNN video on YouTube talks through the event. The 2007 World Cup is taking place in the West Indies...luckily I'll be over there next month to catch a few games in Barbados.

I had the pleasure of playing alongside Herschelle while I played for Avendale in Cape Town years ago (in 1992 - before he made his debut for South Africa). He was a talented and confident player in those days with a great belief in his own abilities - a nice guy too. He was also a phenomenal rugby player and could have represented South Africa in either sport, but - wisely it seems - he chose the cricket path.

What is 'Six sixes in an over?'

In case you're not familiar with cricket: a 'six' is when the batter hits the ball over the boundary (the playing area) without the ball touching the ground along the way - similar to a homerun in baseball. Hitting a six isn't that unsual. Hitting two one after the other happens from time to time. Hitting three in a row is getting into the realms of unusual.

The 'six sixes' refers to there being six deliveries (or 'pitches' in baseball) in an over, so hitting all six deliveries in an over for 'six', one after the other, is an astounding feat that requires a lot skill obviously, but also requires lots of luck for everything happen just right. Hopefully the video makes more sense now :-)


Thanks to Korby for passing on the news.

Posted: Mar 17 2007, 12:40 PM by alexbarnett | with 3 comment(s)
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Are you doing OK in your pants?

Weird spam via email today: 

"Are you doing OK in your pants?"

Posted: Mar 16 2007, 02:22 PM by alexbarnett | with no comments
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JSON - are you ready?

Assaf's post cracked me up this morning - JSON Assessment Questionnaire: Are you ready to make the transition?.

Here's a sample:

The problem with JSON is … (item: true)

[ ] I never used it, so I wouldn’t know.
[ ] That’s why I never use it.
[ ] No angle brackets.
[ ] Too simple.
[ ] Not in the J2EE BluePrints Solutions Catalog.

Posted: Mar 16 2007, 10:39 AM by alexbarnett | with 1 comment(s)
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Now my wife will become a Cisco customer instead.

More acquisitions news: this time Cisco will acquire WebEx.

I find this particularly interesting as my wife has been WebEx WebOffice customer for some years now. She runs a small business and in 2001 she was looking for her own intranet-type workgroup functionality: track customers through a customized CRM system, store associated docs and share these with employees (dotted across the UK, now also in the US), etc. I looked around and found - a pure SaaS play. It worked very well for her, no install, just hit an url from anywhere and she could add and remove users with varying perms. I did the initial set up and she has been using it since. As she expanded the business to the US, the system coped with the rejigging required with no problems. She literally runs her business through it.

Then in August 2005 was acquired by WebEx for $45m and it became WebEx WebOffice (Cisco will pay $3.5bn $3.2bn for all of WebEx assets). The cross-sell / up-sell mails started coming into my wife's mail box for other WebEx offerings, but she felt it was stuff she didn't need. So now she will be a Cisco customer. I wonder what they'll start trying to up-sell her now?

I personally can't help thinking that Microsoft has missed out big-time in capitalizing on the early opportunities in this space and the learning that goes with it. When I joined Microsoft nearly five years ago, I'd show colleagues the power and magic of the solution and asking why we weren't doing this - and got I reactions like 'cool', but we...just can't do that. That view is changing, but it's taking awfully long time to turn the ship. SaaS. Really - it's a no-brainer.

<updated with typo errors, thanks 'fred'>

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