Steve Jobs saying Flash is bad does not make it so

I’ve mulled over the statement by Apple CEO Steve Jobs on why he hates Flash. It’s been picked over by many, so there’s little point in analysing it line by line, spotting what’s true, what’s false, what’s twisted. It doesn’t matter. What counts is that Jobs is disallowing Flash and attacking Adobe – he’s decided it should get out of the runtime business and just do tools for HTML5:

Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future

Apple is a powerful enemy; and what I’ve found alarming watching the reaction is the extent to which Jobs saying “Flash is bad” has lowered the reputation of Flash; it’s as if all the great things which it has enabled – web video that works, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a web browser, an entire industry of casual gaming – has been forgotten because one charismatic and influential individual has called it old stuff that crashes Macs.

The army of enthusiasts which leaps to the defence of all things Apple both amuses and disturbs me. I understand some of the reasons. People warm to Apple because the company has improved their lives, in computing, in music, in mobile phones – especially in contrast to the efforts of Microsoft and its partners who have all too often made computers and mobile devices that are hostile and unpleasant to use. This last factor is not Apple’s fault; and without Apple it might not now be changing. Apple deserves our thanks for that.

That doesn’t make Jobs or his followers right about Flash, which is a magical piece of technology. Yes, it’s been widely abused to make annoying ads and animations; yes, it crashes the browser sometimes; yes, both HTML5 and Microsoft Silverlight are encroaching on Flash territory.

Still, Flash is never going to be allowed on Apple’s new wave of personal computing devices, which by the looks of things it intends to form the core of its business. Nor can we write for Flash and compile for Apple; it’s not allowed.

This is the new model of computing: the web if you want open, or humbly seek permission from the device overlords if you want a local application install, at least on Apple’s platform; and Microsoft is headed in the same direction with Windows Mobile 7. It’s not a model I like; but the trend is unmistakeable.

Office Web Apps better then Open Office for .docx on Linux

I’ve been reviewing Office and SharePoint 2010, and trying out Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, so I thought I would put the two together with a small experiment.

I borrowed a document from Microsoft’s press materials for Office 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, they are in .doc format, not the Open XML .docx that was introduced in Office 2007. That didn’t suit my purposes, so I converted it to .docx using Save As in Office 2010.


Then I stuck it on SharePoint 2010.

Next, I downloaded it to Ubuntu and opened it in Open Office. It was not a complete disaster, but the formatting was badly messed up.

Finally, still in Ubuntu, I navigated to SharePoint and viewed the same document there. It looked fine.

Even better, I was able to click Edit in Browser, make changes, and save. The appearance is not quite WYSIWYG in edit mode, but is the same as in IE on Windows.

The exercise illustrates two points. One is that Open Office is not a good choice for working with Open XML – incidentally, the document looked fine when opened in the old binary .doc format. The other is that SharePoint 2010 and Office Web Apps will have real value on mixed networks suffering from document compatibility issues with Office and its newer formats.

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx great as ever, no game changer

I’ve upgraded my laptop to Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, and I’m using it to type this post. Ubuntu Lucid Lynx is a “long term support” edition,  making it suitable for businesses. The upgrade from Karmic, the previous version, went relatively smoothly. I say relatively because my laptop is dual boot and has two hard drives. For some reason Grub, the Ubuntu boot utility, always detects the partitioning incorrectly, so when I first start up after an upgrade it cannot find the drive. I have to hit “e” for edit, correct the reference to the boot partition, and then fix Grub’s menu.lst once I am back in.

That aside, all went well, Compiz didn’t break and I still have wobbly windows – a fun graphic effect that I have only seen on Linux.

I would recommend Ubuntu to anyone, provided that they can cope with occasional forays into menu.lst and the like. I cannot think of everyday tasks which are not easily accomplished on Ubuntu. Performance is excellent, and it feels a little faster than Windows 7 on this oldish Toshiba laptop. Considering the cost, it is a fantastic bargain for both home and business users. No Windows tax, no Apple tax, no Microsoft Office tax.

There are a couple of other issues though that continue to hold it back. One is what I can best describe as lack of polish. Part of the reason is that less money is spent on design; Linux looks less home-made that it once did, but put Ubuntu’s new Music Store (an extension to Rhythmbox) alongside Apple’s iTunes and the difference is obvious. Personally I prefer Rhythmbox, but for looks there is no contest.

Another problem is application availability. Many major Window applications such Microsoft Office can be made to work on Ubuntu via the Wine non-emulator, but it is not ideal. It’s certainly a problem for the work I do. I’m about to spend some time with Adobe’s Creative Suite, for example, which I could not do in Ubuntu.

One thing that will help drive Ubuntu and Linux adoption on the desktop is cloud computing. I have a separate blog post coming on this; but Microsoft’s new Office Web Apps could help considerably in mixed Linux/Windows networks. Specifically, I noticed that a Word Open XML document (.docx) which lost its formatting in Open Office, the suite supplied with Ubuntu, worked fine in Word Web App accessed with Firefox. Cloud and web-based computing goes a long way towards solving the application problem.

I like Ubuntu very much, but I don’t expect it to dent Windows or Mac sales any time soon.

Apple no longer loves Mac developers

At least, that’s the impression you get from its latest move: dropping Mac applications from its Apple Design Awards, presented during the its Worldwide Developers Conference. In 2009 there was an OSX developer Showcase alongside the iPhone Developer Showcase. This year? Well, iPad is here, and three’s a crowd, one had to go.

While the Apple Design Awards are a tiny insignificant detail in the grand scheme of things, this is still a clear pointer for anyone who had not yet noticed, that Apple is keen to focus on its locked-down devices ahead of its computers. It’s better business, because a mobile device yields multiple revenue streams: money from the device sale, money from the mobile contract, money from app sales via the only permitted route, the App Store. There is also an argument that it is better for the user, since a locked-down device is more secure and less likely to be break, though you have to set that against loss of freedom, and the impact of a single-supplier market on price and competition. It also fits with bigger industry trends, where devices are mobile and data is in the cloud, that are shaping the computing landscape.

HP hedges mobile bets by buying Palm and webOS

I love that this industry is full of surprises. This week has brought a couple. One is HP getting seriously into mobile by buying Palm – I think this is good news since webOS, based on JavaScript and the W3C DOM, is an interesting platform that was otherwise near to death. But surely HP is Microsoft’s trusted partner and might be expected to back Windows Phone 7? That’s the other intriguing aspect. HP has suffered as Windows Mobile has stuttered, and with mobile fast becoming the computing client that matters most, Microsoft’s platform does not look like a safe bet.

HP’s problem though is that webOS does not look like a safe bet either. In the context of HP’s overall business, Windows Mobile, now Windows Phone, makes more sense; and it cannot afford not to do the Windows stuff alongside whatever is planned for webOS. As HP told the Reg:

HP intends to continue selling Windows-based devices. "We believe in choice," Bradley said. But it sees a brighter future in offering Windows phones and tablets alongside systems based on webOS, which debuted earlier this year on the Palm Pre. "With Palm, HP acquires a strong operating system to deliver a unique customer experience," Bradley said.

It’s a mixed message, which means it is hard to articulate, and hard to make it work.

Nor it is the first time HP has wavered over Windows for mobile devices. Remember when HP rebadged the iPod, back in 2004? It was a short-lived experiment, to nobody’s surprise. This deal makes more sense than becoming an Apple OEM, but it will still be hard for HP to pull off.

The other surprise, also mobile related? Apple no longer lovers Mac developers.

VMforce: Salesforce partners VMware to run Java in the cloud

Salesforce and VMware have announced VMforce, a new cloud platform for enterprise applications. You will be able to deploy Java applications to VMforce, where they will run on a virtual platform provided by VMware. There will be no direct JDBC database access on the platform itself, but it will support the Java persistence API, with objects stored on Applications will have full access to the Salesforce CRM platform, including new collaboration features such as Chatter, as well as standard Java Enterprise Edition features provided by Tomcat and the Spring framework. Springsource is a division of VMware.

A developer preview will be available in the second half of 2010; no date is yet announced for the final release.

There are a couple of different ways to look at this announcement. From the perspective of a developer, it means that full Java is now available alongside the existing Apex language. That will make it easier to port code and use existing skills. From the perspective of a Java developer looking for a hosted deployment platform, it means another strong contender alongside others such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

The trade-off is that with Amazon EC2 you have pretty much full control over what you deploy on Amazon’s servers. VMforce is a more restricted platform; you will not be able to install what you like, but have to run on what is provided. The advantage is that more of the management burden is lifted; VMforce will even handle backup.

I could not get any information about pricing or even how the new platform will be charged. I suspect it will compete more on quality than on price. However I was told that smooth scalability is a key goal.

More information here.

Spotify goes social with Facebook, supports local music library

Spotify has announced a set of new features with the aim of “evolving into a total music management platform”, according to today’s blog post. There are two key features, available to both free and paying users.

The first is a link to Facebook, enabling you to see and share the playlists of your Facebook friends and to send them links to tracks.


Second, you can now Spotify to manage your local music library as well as what is available online. One reason to do this would be to fill gaps in Spotify’s database, formed by artists and labels who have not signed up – The Beatles, King Crimson, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and many more. This music can also be copied to mobile devices. It is not stated what format local music has to be in, but

Clearly the local music option may break shared playlists. Spotify will link to the same track in its own library where possible, or else come up with a replacement – maybe the same track performed by a tribute band, or who knows what?

Spotify is a game changer, partly because  thanks to the high quality of its software, and partly because it comes close to an ideal concept for listeners: play anything you like, wherever you like, and for free. Whether this is a viable business model for the music industry is open to question, though the combination of advertising and premium subscribers does provide some income.

The most interesting aspect is the Facebook link. It is another example of how Facebook is worming its way into other online services and helps its goal of being your key online identity, at least for social matters.

A YouTube video has a demo of the new features.

Microsoft – make up your mind about Moonlight

I’ve been trying out Microsoft’s Office Web Apps, as provided for the release version of SharePoint 2010. The cross platform story is uneven, whether across Mac/Windows/Linux, or across different browsers, or even across different versions of Windows and Office. So far it does mostly work though, even if there are problems with certain tasks like printing or opening an online document in a desktop application.

The biggest problem I’ve had is on Linux. Supposedly Firefox 3.5 on Linux is supported. I ran up Ubuntu and Firefox 3.5, and went to look at a document in Word Web App. When I selected the document, Firefox quit. Every time.

After checking that Firefox was up-to-date it occurred to me that the problem might be related to Moonlight, the Linux implementation of Silverlight done by the Mono team. I disabled it. Suddenly, everything worked, even Edit in browser.

Moonlight is not just an open source project like the original Mono. It has a certain amount of official blessing from Microsoft. Here’s what VP Scott Guthrie said back in September 2007:

Over the last few months we’ve been working to enable Silverlight support on Linux, and today we are announcing a formal partnership with Novell to provide a great Silverlight implementation for Linux.  Microsoft will be delivering Silverlight Media Codecs for Linux, and Novell will be building a 100% compatible Silverlight runtime implementation called “Moonlight”.

Moonlight will run on all Linux distributions, and support FireFox, Konqueror, and Opera browsers.  Moonlight will support both the JavaScript programming model available in Silverlight 1.0, as well as the full .NET programming model we will enable in Silverlight 1.1.

You would think therefore that Microsoft would test the Firefox/Linux/Moonlight combination with its shiny new Office Web Apps. Apparently not. Here’s what the user experience is like for Office Word App. I figured that the solution might be to upgrade Moonlight to the latest version, so I did, installing what is now called Novell Moonlight 2.2. I went back to Word Web App. Firefox no longer crashes, but I now get a blank area where the Word document should be shown, and an error if I resize the browser window:

Now let’s see what happens if I disable Moonlight:

Everything is fine – except now there is a banner inviting me to “Improve my experience” by installing Silverlight. If I follow the link I eventually get back to the same Moonlight install that I have just enabled, which would actually break rather than improve Word Web App.

It is obvious that if users have to disable Moonlight to work with Office Web Apps, this will not help Moonlight adoption on Linux.

Office Web Apps are new and I’d hope this is something that Microsoft, Novell and the Mono team can soon fix between them. One reason for highlighting it now is the hope that something could be done before the full roll-out of Office and SharePoint 2010 on May 12th.

The real point though is what this says about the extent to which Microsoft cares about Moonlight and Linux users, and how much or little communication takes place between Microsoft and Novell. Silverlight isn’t required for Office Web Apps – as you can see from the above – but it is used to good effect where available, and this Office release is therefore an important release for Silverlight as well.

Microsoft should make up its mind. Is Novell really a trusted partner for Silverlight on Linux? Or a third-party product that has to take its chances?

DevExpress merges its Silverlight and WPF UI controls, says VS 2010 is light years ahead

Developer Express is a component vendor with add-ons for Visual Studio and Delphi. It has offered a library of components for Silverlight for some time, and a separate set for WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), but now says that Silverlight and WPF are close enough that it can merge the two into a single codebase to be called XPF (Express Presentation Framework). CTO Julian Bucknall says:

Silverlight in v4 has the ability to create desktop applications that aren’t sandboxed into triviality. In fact, Silverlight, more than ever, resembles a WPF-lite on the desktop side, to the extent of pundits considering their eventual merging. At long last it is possible to write one set of non-trivial code and compile it both for Silverlight and for WPF without having to reinvent so many wheels on the Silverlight side (and to a much lesser extent on the WPF side).

Even though Visual Studio 2010 is only just released, DevExpress is focusing all its new Silverlight and WPF development on the new platform and IDE:

The Silverlight and WPF controls in DXperience v2010.1 will require .NET 4 and VS2010. In particular, you must use the new Silverlight 4 and WPF 4; the controls will not function with the previous versions of WPF and Silverlight, such as Silverlight 3. Similarly, you cannot use VS2008 or earlier, but must use VS2010. To my mind this isn’t that much of a downside: VS2010 is light years ahead of its earlier brethren in terms of user experience and its use is de rigueur if you are creating applications with either Silverlight or WPF.

Of course it’s in Bucknall’s interests to move developers on; he’s keen to sell upgrades. I still find this interesting. Like him, I find Visual Studio 2010 a major advance on earlier versions. More significant though is the idea of a common WPF and Silverlight codebase, though presumably still with added capabilities when running on WPF. I don’t think Windows-only development is dead; the success of Windows 7 may even stimulate the market for applications that take advantage of its new features. That said, for the large subset of applications where cross-platform is desirable, Silverlight seems to me a better choice than WPF.

Keeping track of Microsoft financials

I’m in the habit of drawing up a simple table to summarise Microsoft’s quarterly results.

Quarter ending March 31st 2010 vs quarter ending March 31st 2009, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 4415 +967 3061 +788
Server and Tools 3575 +84 1255 +31
Online 581 +59 -713 -302
Business (Office) 4243 -265 2622 -134
Entertainment and devices 1665 +36 165 +206

Windows 7 booming, Office a bit slow prior to the release of the 2010 version, Online still draining money. Xbox doing OK. In other words, nothing much of interest.