Fit for business? Google updates App Engine with the Enterprise in mind

Google has updated App Engine to 1.4.3. The new version adds:

Prospective Search API for Python – this lets you register a large set of queries which are executed against a flow of data so you can create notifications or other actions whenever a match is found.

Testbed Unit Test Framework for Python – this lets you create stubs for Google services for lightweight unit tests.

Concurrent requests for Java – a single application instance can now serve multiple requests provided it is marked threadsafe. An important feature.

Java Remote API – the remote API lets you access an App Engine datastore from your local machine.

I have had the sense that Google App Engine is more attractive to start-ups and small organisations than to enterprise customers. It is interesting to see Google working on bringing the Java and Python runtimes closer to parity, as Java is more widely used for enterprise development.

Another initiative aimed at enterprise customers is App Engine for Business, currently in preview. What you get is:

An Enterprise Administration Console console for managing all apps built by your company, with access control lists.

99.9% service level agreement

Hosted SQL:

While many applications can be built on the App Engine Datastore (which uses Google’s BigTable database system), we know SQL is the industry standard for the enterprise, so we’ve got you covered. SQL database support on App Engine gives enterprise developers access to the full capabilities of a dedicated relational database, without the headache of managing it.

SSL to an URL that uses your domain, such as

Pricing – $8 per user up to a maximum of $1000 per month. In other words, if you have more than 125 users the cost per user starts coming down; if you have 1000 users it is a bargain.

Has Google done enough to make App Engine attractive to enterprise customers? This post from a frustrated developer back in November 2010 complained about stability issues and other annoyances that do not really exist on Amazon or Microsoft Azure; the platform does have some throttling limitations. But it does seem that Google is determined to address the issues and App Engine for Business looks promising.

Escaping Apple: trying to switch away is hard

Mark Wadham posts his Thoughts on switching to Android. Last week he sold his iPhone 4 and switched to an HTC Desire S. I found this interesting, since I have an iPhone 4 and an HTC Desire.

The motive behind Wadham’s switch was to escape Apple’s “over-controlling ways”, rather than immediate dissatisfaction with its products, and there is mild disappointment running through his whole piece:

So in summary, android isn’t really /that/ far off the iPhone. It’s missing the cleanness of the user experience, consistency in the user interface and the glorious wealth of apps, but hopefully that will all come in time. This is a great little phone and I’m happy I made the switch. It’s not as fun to use as an iPhone, and if you’re a real UX freak you should probably stick with the iPhone at least for now, but if you’re someone who likes to tweak and customise and play around with your device android seems much more suited than Apple’s offering.

There is also some irony: HTC’s offering is not as free as he would like.

I would have loved to get rid of HTC Sense and install one of the modded roms like Cyanogen, but that currently isn’t possible due to restrictions HTC has placed on these new handsets …The good news is that, according to the research I’ve done, the root for the Desire S (and the incredible S) isn’t far off.Actually the worst thing about this phone is that it comes with a Facebook app that I can’t remove until it gets rooted.

Still, there is no question that Android is a less tightly controlled platform than iOS. The fact that you can install apps from outside Google’s Android Market is all you need to know.

In usability though, Android falls short. It lacks the obsessive attention to design that characterises Apple’s devices and software; and once you are used to iOS it is particularly hard to switch:

Eventually I got the hang of it, but even now after two days of playing and installing apps and tweaks, the UI still feels counter-intuitive and I have to consciously remember how to do things rather than it being obvious and simple like iOS.

One thing I have noticed since getting these two phones is the impact of Apple’s dock connector. There are countless iPhone/iPod docks and although there is often an option to use a non-Apple device with a mini-jack cable it is not as convenient or elegant. You cannot easily build a generic Android dock because there is no exact equivalent.

Another issue is apps. Once you have purchased a bunch of apps, you can transfer these to another iOS device. If you switch to Android, you have to start again.

There is also iTunes to think about. Let’s say you have got used to iTunes and have your music stored there. While it is possible to transfer non-DRM music to Android or other non-Apple devices, it is not necessarily obvious how to do so; and iTunes itself will only sync to Apple devices. Personally I am not a fan of iTunes; but I can see how it tends to encourage users to stick with Apple.

The bottom line is that escaping Apple requires some determination, once you are hooked into its ecosystem.

Does HDCD make CDs sound worse?

HDCD stands for High Definition Compatible Digital and was developed by Pacific Microsonics, a company acquired by Microsoft in 2000. HDCD encodes the signal on a standard CD in such a way that when decoded it has extended dynamic range and supposedly lower distortion – it is claimed to provide the near-equivalent to 20 bit audio despite the fact that CD is 16-bit.

The snag with HDCD is that not all players decode it. The idea is that HDCD is relatively benign in this respect, and HDCD-encoded CDs still sound good when played back without decoding.

Now audio engineer Steve Hoffman, who specialises in remastering classic CDs for maximum fidelity, says that HDCD actually makes CDs sound worse:

It degrades the sound and it bugs me. I’ve tried everything, every way and it just diminishes the fidelity.

Stephen Marsh, of Stephen Marsh Mastering, who works with Hoffman, adds:

In the interest of giving the HDCD system the fairest of all shakes, I again today ran our completed Bad Co. master through it D to D in 2 additional configurations. First I took our fully prepped, edited 24 bit/44.1 out of converter aes through the HDCD box, outputting 16/44.1 HDCD. Second – I took our 24/88.2 captures and ran those through the box to 16/44.1 HDCD. In both instances we found the HDCD box to be at least as detrimental to the sound as we heard while A to D’ing with it Friday – if not more! In particular – I listened to the HDCD encoded material in un-decoded fashion so I could get a sense of what most consumers are going to hear. Even through the best converters in the room the results were very unsettling: Namely – there was a dip at around 8K the took all the snap and sparkle out of the snare and deflated the air out of the tracks. Engaging the decoding circuits and monitoring through the HDCD D to A’s lent an overall ‘generic’ feel to the sound – it sounded fine, don’t get me wrong – but it didn’t sound special and was certainly not an improvement.

The HDCD concept has always bothered me as well. It is fixing a problem that does not need fixing: neither distortion, nor dynamic range is an issue with standard 16/44 CDs. The fact that not all CDs will be decoded correctly is a worry. Finally, any processing risks degrading the sound, and other things being equal the straightest path is the best.

I recall discovering back in the days of compact cassette that recording and playback with Dolby switched off generally sounded best, even though tape hiss on a cassette was a real problem that did need fixing.

Even if Hoffman and Marsh are wrong, and HDCD does sound better when properly decoded, the fact that it often is not properly decoded is good reason to steer clear.

Now that CDs are commonly ripped to a music server HDCD encoding is still problematic. Illustrate’s dBpoweramp has a decoder that creates a 24-bit file from HDCD-encoded CDs.