What users want in Windows 8

A number of blogs are running a coordinated poll on what users would most like to see in the next version of Windows. The results so far are unsurprising but still worth repeating, since there is a good chance that they differ from Microsoft’s priorities.


Note that users are less concerned about new features, more concerned about an OS that works better and faster.

Less bloat, currently number five in the list, will be hard to achieve while PC vendors still insist in bundling poor quality add-ons with their systems.

If you want to vote you can do so at any of various blogs including 4sysops – which has some notes expanding on what each category might mean – markwilson.it and Within Windows.

Apple not Android is killing client-side Java – so why is Oracle suing Google?

Oracle is suing Google over Java in Android; the Register has a link to the complaint itself which lists seven patents which Oracle claims Google has infringed. There is also a further clause which says Google has infringed copyright in the:

code, specifications, documentation and other materials) that is copyrightable subject matter

and that it is not possible for a device manufacturer to create an Android device without infringing Oracle’s copyrights. Oracle is demanding stern penalties including destruction of all infringing copies – I presume this might mean destruction of all Android devices, though as we all know lawyers routinely demand more than they expect to win, as a negotiating position.

But isn’t Java open source? It is; but licensing is not simple, and “open source” does not mean “non-copyright”. You can read the Java open source licensing statements here. I am not a licensing expert; but one of the key issues with Google’s use of Java in Android is that it is not quite Java. Oracle’s complaint says:

Google’s Android competes with Oracle America’s Java as an operating system software platform for cellular telephones and other mobile devices. The Android operating system software “stack” consists of Java applications running on a Java-based object-oriented application framework, and core libraries running on a “Dalvik” virtual machine (VM) that features just-in-time (JIT) compilation.

Note that Oracle says “Java-based”. Binaries compiled for Android will not run on other JVM implementations. I am no expert on open source licensing; but if Google is using Java in ways that fall outside what is covered by the open source license, then that license does not apply.

Despite the above, I have no idea whether Oracle’s case has legal merit. It is interesting though that Oracle is choosing to pursue Google; and I have some sympathy given that Java’s unique feature has always been interoperability and cross-platform, which Android seems to break to some extent.

James Gosling’s post on the subject is relevant:

When Google came to us with their thoughts on cellphones, one of their core principles was making the platform free to handset providers. They had very weak notions of interoperability, which, given our history, we strongly objected to. Android has pretty much played out the way that we feared: there is enough fragmentation among Android handsets to significantly restrict the freedom of software developers.

though he adds:

Don’t interpret any of my comments as support for Oracle’s suit. There are no guiltless parties with white hats in this little drama. This skirmish isn’t much about patents or principles or programming languages. The suit is far more about ego, money and power.

The official approach to Java on devices is Java ME; and Java ME guys like Hinkmond Wong hate Android accordingly:

Heck, forget taking the top 10,000 apps, take the top Android 10 apps and try running all of them on every single Android device out there. Have you learned nothing at all from Java ME technology, Android? Even in our current state in Java ME, we are nowhere as fragmented as the last 5 Android releases in 12 months (1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1 and recently 2.2).

Fair enough; but it is also obvious that Android has revived interest in client-side Java in a way that Sun failed to do despite years of trying. The enemy of client-side Java is not Android, but rather Apple: there’s no sign of Java on iPhone or iPad. Apple’s efforts have killed the notion of Java everywhere, given the importance of Apple’s mobile platform. Java needs Android, which makes this lawsuit a surprising one.

But what does Oracle want? Just the money? Or to force Google into a more interoperable implementation, for the benefit of the wider Java platform? Or to disrupt Android as a favour to Apple?

Anyone’s guess at the moment. I wonder if Google wishes it had acquired Sun when it had the chance?

Note: along with the links above, I like the posts on this subject from Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady and Mono guy Miguel de Icaza.

Firefox 4 as Psychedelic as IE9 with Direct2D enabled

IE9 is much faster than Firefox 4 beta at the Psychedelic test on the testdrive site, which demonstrates drawing fast graphics to the Canvas element. That said, a comment to an earlier post prompted me to try enabling Direct2D in Firefox 4.

As you would expect, the difference is dramatic. Here’s the before and after:

image image

How about IE9?


Really nothing in it. It’s all about hardware-accelerated graphics.

Direct2D is not enabled by default (currently), so it is not unreasonable for Microsoft to show the slower speed in its published comparison; but worth noting that the issue is easily fixed, presuming Firefox 4 is stable in this mode.

If you want to enable Direct2D in Firefox 4, the how-to is here.

New Delphi, RAD Studio XE announced

Embarcadero has announced RAD Studio XE and will be showing a number of “sneak peaks” during August prior to release in “early September”. You can see the previews and further information here.

The suite includes Delphi XE, C++Builder XE, Delphi Prism XE (Delphi for Visual Studio and .NET) and RadPHP XE.

The first preview focuses on integrated Subversion support, a nice feature but hardly a game changer – most IDEs have had this for years, though this looks comprehensive with differencing, file history and so on within the IDE.


There’s also a look at RadPHP, which is a new version of Delphi for PHP. It is reminiscent of ASP.NET Web Forms, in that it gives a drag-and-drop visual designer and lets you quickly hook up code to event handlers such as a button click. There’s also a component model and the ability to set breakpoints for debugging. We even get the old listbox and editbox demo which I recall from Delphi 1 days.


Embarcadero’s Mike Rozlog blogs about the new product here.

I am a big fan of Delphi and C++ Builder, but my initial reaction is that developers are going to say, where is cross-platform for Mac and Linux that was talked about last year, where is 64-bit Delphi? None of this looks remotely cutting-edge.

The published Roadmap is short on dates, but I’m guessing some of this may come next year.

Render SWF in JavaScript – a solution for Flash on iPhone/iPad?

Looking at the blazing-fast JavaScript in IE9 Preview 4 made me wonder if anyone had tried to write a SWF renderer in JavaScript. SWF is the Adobe Flash file format and a published specification.

Of course someone has. Tobias Schneider has been working on Gordon and built his first full release in June.


Gordon is a little behind in terms of version support:

In this build, Gordon can read and parse all valid SWF’s, even if they are compressed with ZLIB, but plays only SWF1 files completely, as well as the most of the SWF2 features.

The Adobe SWF specification is now up to version 10.

It is still an interesting exercise. Consider Google Web Toolkit, which compiles Java to JavaScript. What if Adobe did something similar for Flash? In fact, if you look at the Smart Paste “sneak peak” from Adobe Max 09 something like this was demonstrated.

The Flash player includes some proprietary codecs that could not easily be replicated in JavaScript. Still, given such limitations, “Export to HTML 5” would be a nice option to find on some future version of Flash Professional, and would help Adobe’s tools business even if it also dented its ambitions for Flash as the universal runtime.

Dynamic language slowdown at Microsoft?

Jimmy Schementi, until recently a Program Manager at Microsoft working on IronRuby, has posted about why he is leaving the company; and in doing so answers a question I posed a few months back, Why F# rather than IronPython in Visual Studio 2010?

When my manager asked me, “what else would you want to work on other than Ruby,” I started looking for a new job outside Microsoft …. a year ago the team shrunk by half and our agility was severely limited. I’m omitting the internal reasons for this, as they are the typical big-company middle-management issues every software developer has. In short, the team is now very limited to do anything new, which is why the Visual Studio support for IronPython took so long. IronRuby’s IDE support in Visual Studio hasn’t been released yet for the same reasons. While this is just one example, many other roadblocks have cropped up that made my job not enjoyable anymore. Overall, I see a serious lack of commitment to IronRuby, and dynamic language on .NET in general … I invite the Ruby and .NET communities to come help us figure out how to continue the IronRuby project, assuming that Microsoft will eventually stop funding it.

The dynamic language work at Microsoft is very interesting and has done a lot to persuade the world that .NET is not just a C# and Visual Basic story. Personally I’d add my voice to those encouraging the company to re-invigorate its investment in IronRuby and IronPython.

A couple of other observations though. Schementi is talking about efforts to continue work on IronRuby irrespective of Microsoft’s funding, and if that succeeds it could bring the project to a better place rather than a worse one.

Second, one thing I learned in talking to Don Syme, the F# man at Microsoft, is that functional programming is in high demand in financial institutions, one of Microsoft’s most important markets. IronRuby and IronPython win Microsoft plenty of kudos, but the benefits in terms of revenue are presumably harder to identify.

Whatever happens to these languages, the impact of dynamic languages on the .NET platform has been significant, and C# now also has dynamic capability.

Testing the Canvas element in Internet Explorer 9

I’m impressed by the demos at the IE9 Testdrive site, which is full of fun and interest. Of course it’s good to try the demos in other recent browsers, though as you would expect on a Microsoft site, IE9 tends to work best. For example the great Beatz demo scored 8510 in IE 9 versus 1560 in Google Chrome 6 (developer build):


But are these demos slanted to favour IE9? I looked around for some independent demos, especially for the Canvas element. Here’s one on developer.mozilla.org, for example:


Hmm, it looks like some of these demos do not allow for the possibility of Internet Explorer supporting Canvas. What about this one?


Not too good either. I tried downloading it and hacking it to work in IE9. I disabled the script that conditionally displays the Chrome Frame offer and tried again. Another failure, because IE9 loaded the page in IE5 document mode. When I have a moment I’ll work out why. I forced IE9 mode (Debug menu) and at last was in business, sort-of:


Chrome is on the left, IE9 on the right. This is an animation with speech bubbles, and there is some problem with the text handling because the bubbles do not appear in IE9. Still, it did run. I noticed that IE9 ran slightly faster than Chrome, but with nothing like the big Testdrive difference: 209fps versus 164 fps, for example, but varying considerably as the animation proceeded.

I also tried with Mozilla Firefox 3.6, which is much slower than Chrome on this example, around 71 fps.

No conclusions yet, but watch this space. It would also be helpful if more of the folk doing Canvas demos would test with IE9 as well as Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. The experience bears out what Microsoft is preaching: test for the feature, not the browser version.

Where is phpinfo() for .NET?

I’m moving an ASP.NET project to a different ISP, and rather than grill the ISP about the setup I cast around for a .NET equivalent to phpinfo(), which generates a web page giving comprehensive information about the server configuration.

The closest I’ve found so far is this Codeplex project by Aarron K Jackson. I downloaded the source, compiled (I had to delete the private key included by the author) and ran it on the new server. It did in fact answer most of my questions. Information includes the Windows and .NET version, number of CPU cores, memory available and used, environmental variables, path to the web site, IIS version, trust level, and all the server variables; there is even a test email form.


According to Codeplex the project has fewer than 100 downloads so I thought it deserved a plug. One caveat: I suggest you password-protect it or delete after use, since the information could be valuable to hackers.

Internet Explorer 9 Preview gets to 95% on Acid 3

Microsoft has released the fourth platform preview for Internet Explorer 9, which you can download here. This is the last preview before the beta release, expected in September.

When IE9 was first previewed, back in March, it scored only 55% on the Acid3 standards test – well ahead of IE8 which scores around 20%, but far short of rivals like Google Chrome and Apple Safari which achieve full marks. Mozilla Firefox is at 94%.

Acid 3

The new preview is at 95%. IE9 is now up there with them – but why not 100%?

According to UK Web Product Manager Mark Quirk, it is down to three features, two of which are related to SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). Two points are lost because of SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) presentations, which Microsoft does not intend to support because a similar feature will be part of CSS in future. Two points are lost because of SVG fonts, which again Microsoft does not intend to support because it sees WOFF (Web Open Font Format) as the future standard here. One point is lost because of the inability to draw SVG fonts on a path, though there are other ways to draw fonts on a path.

The bottom line: IE9 will most likely stay at 95% right through to its final release.

Incidentally, IE9 JavaScript performance is wildly faster than IE8, thanks to the new “Chakra” engine. IE9 is on the left, Firefox 4 on the right :


So when will we get IE9? Although it is not long to September, there is a major difference between the preview and the coming beta, which is that the preview does not have a full user interface. It is mainly to show off the rendering and JavaScript engine. Therefore we can expect new features in the beta versus the preview. Despite that, Quirk says that Microsoft intends the beta to be “good quality for any user”, not just for brave developers and testers.

But how long before the final release? Microsoft is not saying, though when I suggested the first half of 2011 as a reasonable guess, Quirk reminded me that the beta will be high quality and that the release should therefore follow “not too long” after.

Since we will get much of HTML 5 in IE alongside the other popular browsers, do we still need Silverlight?

“As the number of the things you can implement with HTML clearly goes up, the need for Silverlight and Flash goes down,” said Quirk, though he added hastily, “The value that those players add needs to go higher.”

I’d add that even if IE9 is all that we hope, it will take years before older versions fall out of use. Recently the UK government said it will stick with IE6, and whatever you think of that decision, it shows how hard it is to get browsers upgraded everywhere. By contrast, plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight get updated rather fast. I noticed on Riastats today that over 50% of browsers now have the latest Silverlight, and 39% already have Flash 10.1 – over 90% have Flash 10 or higher.


If you combine that issue with things like video playback that are problematic even in HTML 5, it suggests that plug-ins will be with us for the foreseeable future, though it is quite possible that their use may decline.

Another factor is tool support, mature for Flash and Silverlight, but not for the newest features of HTML. After IE9 appears, will Microsoft come up with tools that properly support it, in Expression Web and Visual Studio? “We have to, it’s as simple as that,” says Quirk, though he adds, “we haven’t said when.”

Apple iPad replacing PCs as well as paper?

Now here’s an article to strike fear into Microsoft. Stuart Sumner reports on iPad trials at the BBC and in the Army. The BBC’s CIO John Linwood says:

We’re seeding the organisation [with the devices]. We put some iPads into production and some into management and other roles to see if people would be able to give up their desktops.

He goes on to say that the iPad may enable paperless meetings.

What makes an iPad better than a laptop or netbook for a meeting? I find it curious, incidentally, that the report refers to replacing desktops rather than laptops.

Well, one reason I have always liked tablets is that they are more interactive and don’t put a barrier (the screen) between you and others. A stylus is actually nice for meetings – good for quick diagrams as well as handwriting. Apple’s iPad lacks the stylus, but has other advantages over Windows tablets – smaller, lighter, instant-on, long battery life, and so on.

Still, the humble netbook at one third of the price will do the job too, better in some ways. You have Excel, for example. Unfortunately it lacks the elegance, usability and desirability of Apple’s device.

Any excuse to justify handing out cool devices, then? Maybe; but there’s no law that says business equipment has to be dull and unpleasant to use.