The Anomaly in WebOS Wednesday, Dec 27 2006 

Was browsing through digg when I came across this, very well written article, WebOS roundup. I have been thinking a lot about web based OSes and when I look at these, it seems that in this whole web 2.0 hype we are starting to fly so high that we can’t really see why we lifted off in the first place. Let’s start from the begining.

First of all answer this question :- Why do most people choose an online web based email client like gmail or yahoomail over their desktop counterparts?

Yup. Portability. You can go to any computer, and more necessarily any operating system and you have the same interface. Everywhere. Now that’s the very reason web2.0 has had any success at all. Let’s be honest here. No web based software can quite match the massive amount of functionality offered by their desktop counterparts. Their sole redeeming feature is their portability.

After the success of so many web based software, the next logical step seems to be the development of web based Operating Sytems that would integrate these varied services into a unified interface. So we look at the endavours towards the purpose and voila! What do we have?

The OSes that I’ve seen all seem to refuse to understand the basic concept of web based services. Every OS has its own, overlapping set of features : its own rss reader, its own calendar, own notemaker…hell it’s never going to work no matter how intuitive and beautiful you make your interface!

I have but one question : Why would I not logon to gmail but go to your WebOS and use a low grade mail client? Why would I not use Yahoo! calendar and use yours? Why would I not use del.icio.us and your bookmarking service?

Give me one good reason and I’ll shut up.

I’m sure you’re being told by your business consultants and magazines that it’s all about marketing and PR. Trust me, it’s much more fundamental than that. You want widespread usage, leverage on the existing services. Give me gmail in all its benign simplcity, del.icio.us in all its innovativeness right here : on your OS and you can punch me in the head if you don’t get everybody on your system even before you know it.

All right. I understand it’s not that simple. The guys at google and yahoo! don’t want us to go to your Web OS instead of going to them. But if you think you’re worth your salt, make them come to you. When Linux came, software vendors didn’t give a damn. But when they saw us flocking around it, they couldn’t stop telling us : And yeah, we support Linux too!

If you can pull off the coup, you’ll have my money. If you think it isn’t worth it, you can bask in the prestine glory of your shiny interface, but you’ll have to excuse me; I need to go and check my gmail.

An apology for Flash Wednesday, Dec 27 2006 

These days I’m usually out of touch of the whole blogosphere discussions, primarily because I’ve been researching on my final year project, apart from enjoying the final months of the college life ; but that’s beside point.

It recently came to my notice that Adobe is planning to release a new cross OS platform, Apollo in 2007. I did a bit of reading and from the looks, I can’t say I really get what they’re trying to sell.

In its barest essentials, its seems like a rendering engine that would be able to render HTML, Actioscript and the rest of them seemlessly. Now the existing browsers do the job quite well enough I believe, and It’s quite hard to see the point, till you realise that Flash has actually failed to be a part of the whole World Wide Web Architecture.

Now, don’t get me wrong over here. I don’t have a personal enimety with Flash. In fact I love it’s ability to create sophisticated interactions. It is pretty good for those cool demos and amazing games but as much as the guys at former Macromedia or the Adobe would like to believe : it was never the driving force of the internet.

The incongruency of Flash and the WWW cannot be expressed better than in the following extract from Tim-Berners Lee’s(the inventor of the world wide web) discussion on the design of Web :

“…In choosing computer languages, there are classes of program which range from the plainly descriptive (such as Dublin Core metadata, or the content of most databases, or HTML) though logical languages of limited power … to those which are unashamedly procedural (Java, C).

The choice of language is a common design choice. The low power end of the scale is typically simpler to design, implement and use, but the high power end of the scale has all the attraction…

… Nowadays we have to appreciate the reasons for picking not the most powerful solution but the least powerful. The reason for this is that the less powerful the language, the more you can do with the data stored in that language. If you write it in a simple declarative from, anyone can write a program to analyze it in many ways… At the other end of the scale is the weather information portrayed by the cunning Java applet. While this might allow a very cool user interface, it cannot be analyzed at all. The search engine finding the page will have no idea of what the data is or what it is about. This the only way to find out what a Java applet means is to set it running in front of a person…”(full page here)

or for a different perspective, consider this by Jakob Nielson, one of the gurus of web usability :

“…Although multimedia has its role on the Web, current Flash technology tends to discourage usability for three reasons: it makes bad design more likely, it breaks with the Web’s fundamental interaction style, and it consumes resources that would be better spent enhancing a site’s core value.

About 99% of the time, the presence of Flash on a website constitutes a usability disease. Although there are rare occurrences of good Flash design (it even adds value on occasion), the use of Flash typically lowers usability. In most cases, we would be better off if these multimedia objects were removed…” (full article here)

You get the picture. The reason for the death of Java, or the failure of Flash is decievingly simple : they both seem to be running in the opposite direction of the very basic principles of the WWW. May be Adobe believes that they are nearing towards correcting the fundamental flaw in these technologies ; but from where I can see, they couldn’t be farther.

Now with this Apollo project, Adobe is once again showing that it thinks it can drive the next revolution in computing by introducing another well-hidden standard such as Java or Flash. They have been pretty clever with this, no doubt because of the years of experiences with Flash and Acrobat : the Apollo enviroment is backward compatible with all the major publishing standtards as well as with all the current browsers and they do deserve credit for this. But as far as the next big thing on the web is considered, I don’t think I’ll be too harsh when I say it falls too short.

This day last year… Friday, Nov 3 2006 

…I was wondering whether I would have a  job by this time? Now I have one, and a pretty decent too(Yahoo! R&D)…

It might be a bit difficult to explain, but there are a lot of new things I’ve been trying lately, and it’s sidelined a lot of things that I used to do. Whether it’s for the better or worse, I do not know. But if you’ve known me long enough, you know that I never do…

I have started reading literature. No, not the “Mythical Man-Month” type; the kind of literature one finds burried in dusty cabinates at the corner of a library: Wordsworth, Tagore, Orwell, that kind.

And Iam pretty much liking it too. This is something I’ve neglected for a very long time, and now that I have lots of it, till joining at least, I am trying to pursue these areas that I always wanted to, but never found enough time.

The point of the matter is, there are somethings that have suffered, my technical reading for one, has declined sharply. I am trying to strike a balance, but it is proving to be difficult… 

meanwhile, those of you who share a literary interest, www.readprint.com might be a nice place to lurk…

summer of code Wednesday, Apr 19 2006 

In case some of you didn’t notice, application for google summer of code is about to begin, so start working on your projects….
I did submit a project last year but wasn’t selected, I would be submitting a few this year too…
One problem with soc is however, that there are only individual projects allowed, and I have been working with a great team for some time, which I do not wish to lose….

Anyways, there are many intresting projects this year, especially from FreeBSD and Apache, so I would suggest having a look at the page even if open source is not your realm….

A new start Monday, Apr 17 2006 

It's been a loooooooot of time since I wrote anything down here, and I've been wondering why….
turns out, that I was trying a bit too hard to write stuff that people would like to read, rather than what I would like to write….
you were right Joel, the few "blogs about blogging" got me there….

not anymore….

from now on, I am going to write small posts about the ideas that I feel about, however immature they might be, rather than wait for them to become "that awe-inspiring essay" that's goona change the world….

I would still write essays though, but I would not wait for eternity before I get to one….

that said, the past few weeks have been extremely exciting, to say the least. I've been reading a lot about open source ideas, chiefly ESR, and have now begun to look towards it as an efficient and low cost methodology of software development rather than as a romantic, but impractical dream that I believed all of it to be(which is quite remarkable given my deep initial love for "The OS from Redmond")…..

personally, I've switched to Linux completely, and found it's not that tough once you get the hang of it. You gotta choose the right distribution though, I found Red Hat to be the best, though Suse wasn't that bad either. Ubuntu was fine, but didn't have a lot of applications preloaded(it didn't have emacs!), and since I do not have an internet connection in my room, I had to drop it…if you have one, go ahead and try it….

Other UNIX variants that I tried were Sun Solaris10, the installation of which blew the heavens out of me, and which didn't turn out to be as good as it is hyped(crashed 3 times in four days!). The next version of this OS, that I found on someone else's system, looks more promising though, so I would recommend anybody intrested to go ahead and give it a shot. 

After failed attempts on trying to get the GUI of FreeBSD running(3 hours of trying different configurations of XFreeServer), I finally gave up and took to Red Hat, the installation of which I must acknowledge is one of the most comprehensive and simple ones I've seen in all the OS's that I tried.

So, wish me luck my dear readers(if any of you are still there), as I march on in the brave world of open source.

and yeah, I agree with IBM on this one….

The future indeed, is open…..

PS. if you are wondering why there is so much personal stuff here, I would like to tell you that my most intelligent system administrators have decided to block a number of "harmful" sites(which includes my personal blog at livejournal! ), all because as a yet again show of their incompetence, they are unable to stop a bunch of kids from persistently downloading episodes of "Desperate Housewives".

 way to go……

Back Again…informally Thursday, Jan 12 2006 

So I’m finally back from the vacations, and I am sorry for not posting anything new all this time. I still have a lot of catching up to do before I post something fresh. Dare Obasanjo has however, posted an intresting article here. I think the post has much more juice than it appears to have on first sight.

So go read it. But remember to come back here, as I have something to add to it.

waiting………………

Hey, welcome back. So basically in the article, Dare observers the strategy google uses to counter its competitors whenever it enters an established market. Take Gmail or Google Talk for example. Each one of them has a feature that would have been extremely expensive for it’s competitors to implement. Gmail when introduced could afford to offer a GB to the users because due to the limited number of users, the total amount of storage they were using was far less than what Yahoo or Microsoft would have to use had they offered the same amount of storage to its users. And they made sure the number of users grew slowly by the invitation concept thrown in.

What I want to say is that the same principle can be applied by small startups also when fighting out a territory that is occupied by bigger competitors. It’s something Paul Graham has been speaking for years. The big company with a million employees also has a lot of added baggage involved and thus it moves slowly. The only way small startups can succeed in an established market is by implementing some features that the big boys in the game would have a major difficulty implementing, either because they are so damn tough to implement that they get lost in the numerous technical and non technical meetings, or they are too expensive given their current user base. Thus, the way to have a succesful startup should be to use the very size of your bigger competitors to your advantage. I believe I’ve read something similar somewhere in The Art Of War (though I can’t find it now), so I can safely say that the principle is quite generic and well tested.
Of course, Iam all theory and no implementation till now, but I’ve been reading very smart people, and whatever little experience I’ve had does confirm most of their sayings.

that’s it guys, for today, I am doing some research for writing my next article, so expect some good stuff here in the coming days…..till then, adios………………..

Performancing for Firefox review Thursday, Dec 29 2005 

Iam writing this post from performancing tool bar, a great blogging tool available here. Performancing is a group dedicated to help professional bloggers succeed(Iam not saying Iam one;-), and I must say, this tool is one great way to do it. I am a recent firefox user, and this tool really has me hooked to the browser(in addition to the tabbed browsing feature). It’s an amazingly easy to use tool, and I recommend it for anyone who post frequently on their blog.The feature that I liked the most is how easy it is to quote from web pages.HOW TO: Using Performancing for Firefox | Performancing.com

PFF gives you an easy way to blog about the webpage you are viewing.
When you right-click anywhere on a webpage, you will find an additional context-menu item called “Performancing” and a submenu-item called “Blog this page (in Split Browser)” .

Clicking on “Blog this page (in Split Browser)” will launch (if not already open) the PFF extension in in-line mode and paste the Title of the web page you are on as an html link to it’s appropriate URL.

Title, URL and Selected text as blockquote

If you have selected text on the webpage, and followed the steps above, you will get the same linked title as mentioned above with the addition of the selected text enclosed by a blockquote tag.

Now that’s really neat. I could go on with this for hours but I guess you can find all the information already at http://performancing.com/node/540
A word though, this page mentions that to add an image from a page that you are viewing, you right-click on the image and drag it to the editor, however, on my XP, I need to left click on the image and then drag it, wait, let me check…

Performancing, Helping Bloggers Succeed

yeah, there, you need to left click on the image to drag it to the editor, happy blogging!…..

The Missing Link Tuesday, Dec 27 2005 

So it has finally come. The era of web based software is here, isn’t it? Hell, I was all gung-hu about it in my last post. But let’s take a deeper look into the matter today.
Have a look at some of these softwares. Notice something?

Each one has a different interface. A different way of doing things. And each time I find a new site, I have to learn a whole new way of doing things. And what if I have to develop a new software for web. What do I have to learn?

Quite a lot, as it turns out to be. I need to learn at least JavaScript, HTML, XML and a server scripting language. And wait, CSS too if I want it to be all that slick and great looking. And then I need to implement all the controls from the scratch, all the buttons and menus and all the stuff that I should not ideally be concerned about.
And what if I want to develop a plugin for a major web software? No luck there, unless the vendor offers me an API, which if offered in a format like SOAP, again gives me quite a handful of stuff to learn first before I go on with it.

Now suppose I need to develop a software for Windows. What do I learn? For the simplest of these, I can learn VB, drag a few menus here, a bit of code here, and get done with it. Or in the worst case, I might need to learn MFC. Same is the case with plugins. And I don’t need to take care of any menus and buttons, Windows takes care of it for me.

The situation that exists on the web today is very similar to the situation of the personal computer industry in the early days. Multiple vendors, with each one of them offering at least two OS’ and essentially ZERO integrity across applications.
And then came the era of the MAC and the Windows. Now have a look at them. Both of them offered extremely simple API’s to program their systems. And overnight a multitude of applications emerged as developer’s utilized the power and flexibility offered by these platforms that allowed them to concentrate on the software and not on drawing menus and windows. This is the sort of thing that leads to a revolution that we experienced. And this is the sort of thing that creates a multibillion dollar industry as it exists today. As Joel points it out ” …customers go to windows because the applications are there, and developers go to windows because the customers are there….”

My point is this, if the current web2.0 softwares have to compete with the desktop applications, we need to have a solid and consistent framework for designing, deploying and extending applications. Who decides this framework is not important. What’s important is that a framework BE there. If I wish to write software, I should be able to do so without worrying about how I would draw a menu or a window in my system.Get this done and I would not be surprised to see the web software industry completely take over the desktop software industry within 5 years.

WEBbed lately Monday, Dec 26 2005 

Here is a simple question:

Given a choice, would you choose writely over microsoft Word? and let’s keep the money factor out, you are at your office, and both are available free of cost to you. Or let’s take a simpler one, Yahoo! Messenger or meebo?

Well I believe the answer to the first one for most people would be Word. It’s the best word processing software around isn’t it? and if you are getting it for free, hell, why settle for anything lesser?

If you asked me a month back, my answer would also probably be Word. However I had to learn it the hard way.

Here’s my case. I live in a hostel on my college campus, where I have a personal computer. This however, does not have an internet connection. The only source of internet I have is the college Computer Center. Now one fine day we are ready to send a draft to a leading company for some sponsorship work for this society of ours. We need to do a bit of editing, so we sit on a computer and Whoa! it doesn’t have Word!

We check a couple of more computers, and yeah, as you might have guessed, none of these had Word. It turned out that the Adminstrators had decided to format all the computers the previous day, and had reinstalled Windows on all the systems, minus any softwares though. So here we are, a bunch of guys desperate to edit and send an important draft(I can’t express in words how important it was, my seniors were ready to cut my throat for not sending it the previous day!), with 50 computers with an internet connection and no softwares.

And then writely dawned on our minds. I had registered to the service earlier just to check it out, but now I daresay my life depended on it. I logged on to it doubtfully,it’s always the same when you try something new, isn’t it?The same questions trickle in your mind. What if something goes wrong down the line? What if you can’t retrieve the document after all the editing? and what if they ask for a fee later?

Now, we didn’t really have a choice, so we took the bet.

Nothing went wrong, apparently. In fact after the initial hesitation, it was actually a breeze. The services writely offers are really fast, the interface is amazingly easy to use, and the tools are excellent. Hell, it even converts documents to pdf!

So this is where the web based applications score over their desktop counterparts. Your nifty desktop application may be extremely wonderful, but it’s there on your computer. You can’t really take it with you. If you enter a cyberCafe to work on a file and find an incompatible version of the software, bad luck. If you have an updated version of the software on your system but not in your office, bad luck. If you are working on a software and it suddenly crashes, bad luck(or not if you are really fed up with it already)…. and so on.

The web based software, however rudimentary it may be(which is actually untrue in most of the cases, the apps are pretty neat), is there wherever you go, all you need is a browser and you get going. And there is no such thing as version incompatibility here. You ALWAYS HAVE THE LATEST VERSION, and you have it everywhere.
Wordpress, is another classic example of this, I can save my entries in a draft and then edit them and publish whenever I want and more importantly, wherever I want. I don’t need to carry any documents anywhere. And I don’t need to argue for hours with the lab adminstrators to let me install the software. Just give me a browser Sir, and I’ll take care of myself.
As for the meebo question, all my friends love it. Since we are not allowed to use Yahoo Messanger in the computer center, this really came like a boon to us. Thus, the whole UG section in DCE now worships meebo. (Well I was an early adopter, and I told a lot of people. If I could have my ways, I would definitely ask for an evangelism certificate from the guys over at meebo;-)
I don’t know why all my posts tend to become so long. Sorry if I couldn’t give anything useful till now. To settle the scores, I’d give my best wishes to you for a great and prosperous new year!

No engineers in here Thursday, Dec 22 2005 

I was at emergeTech 2005 this tuesday.It’s organised by the CII(Confederation of Indian Industries) and focus of this year was on MEMS and RFID technology and how to integrate that with the current business practices around the industry. The speakers were quite great and came from a variety of backgrounds. The discussions were quiet rich and though I didn’t know a lot about any of these technologies, it did give me a great insight into how newer technologies can be combined with efficient business practices to achieve great results.

Though I liked all of the speakers, what I loved was the talk delivered by Prof. Rudra Pratap. He works at the IISC bangalore, one of the very few institutes in India which can boast of great research facilities. Prof. Pratap is one of the most clueful guy I’ve seen in a long time. He had great knowledge not only of his field, but also of how it can be applied to business to obtain real value.

 I had a long talk with him after the event, wherein he expressed his dismay over the current scenario of Indian colleges. He said he was amazed at how clueless  engineering students being produced across the colleges are about technology.

” ….Our engineering colleges are not producing engineers…..”

was what he said. He did not however lay the blame over the students as a lot of people do. He said…

“…….when we are interviewing students(for internships etc.), we are amazed at how little they know about the fundamentals, people that come to me would easily answer any question, no matter how tough it is if it can come in their unversity exam. However, they are not able to answer the simplest of the question that require undertanding of the concepts……”

Well, I completely agreed with him.But I don’t think we really have a choice. Iam in my fifth semester, and I believe that of the 25 courses I’ve studied, not more than 5 actually relate to computer science. I’ve read and studied things that I would never touch given a choice, but I read them coz if I don’t, I won’t have a good percentage, and I won’t be able to sit in the companies,  and I won’t be able to apply to any college for MS: in short I’ll be doomed.

The result? more than 50 % of my batchmates are preparing earnestly for MBA, and can’t wait to get out of this field, and those who want to stay, well they toil on mindlessely over coursebooks, cramming anything and everything that has the slightest chance of coming in the exam, because great companies like google like to have only the best of the people, which they invariably assume are the ones with the highest percentage, and so no matter how good you are at UNIX or JAVA, if you don’t have a great percentage, you can’t even appear in their tests. And this seems all the more ridiculous since the core subjects are less than 5% of the total subjects till the time these companies come for interviews. And we can’t really choose our subjects like foreign universities, so there is actually no option for us….. 

And then we join consultancy companies, or IT companies(or even finance companies), burry all our marksheets in some dark corner and move on.  I’ve never heard of a software startup till date and I’m in the capital of this country! 

In the end, it all comes down to this…..as long as the institutes in this country continue to force its students to cram their textbooks to get better grades and the industry continues to remain unconcerned, we can easily forget our dream of becoming a software superpower. For that, we need to become the producer of technology, rather than just the user, and for that we require real talent guided by great teachers like Prof. Pratap, who can take the limited resources that we have and transform it into something that the world can marvel at…………. 

 

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.