Nokia results: demonstrating the Osborne effect?

Here’s Wikipedia:

The Osborne effect is a term referring to the unintended consequence of the announcement of a future product ahead of its availability and its impact upon the sales of the current product.

The reference is to Osborne Computer Corporation, a pioneer of early personal computers, which announced the next generation of its range long before it was available. Sales of the current model immediately dived, and the company went bankrupt.

In February this year, Nokia announced that it was abandoning its Linux-based MeeGo smartphone OS, then in development, and that Symbian would be reserved for low-end phones. Its future smartphone strategy will be based on Windows Phone.

Now here come the results:

The challenges we are facing during our strategic transformation manifested in a greater than expected way in Q2 2011.

says the release, which report an 11% decline in sales quarter-on-quarter and an operating loss:

In the period from January to June 2011, net financial expense was EUR 74 million (EUR 141 million). Loss before tax was EUR 141 million (profit before tax EUR 632 million). Loss was EUR 261 million (profit EUR 279 million), based on a loss of EUR 24 million (profit of EUR 576 million) attributable to equity holders of the parent and a loss of EUR 237 million (loss of EUR 297 million) attributable to non-controlling interests. Earnings per share was EUR -0.01 (basic) and EUR -0.01 (diluted), compared with EUR 0.16 (basic) and EUR 0.16 (diluted) in January-June 2010.

Would these results have been better, if Nokia had not bet its business on Microsoft’s mobile OS back in February? My guess is that they would. Nokia in effect announced the obsolescence of all its current Smartphone range. Smart device sales are down 32% year on year.

Still, even the Osborne effect does not account for the decline in its sales of feature phones, down 20% year on year and 25% quarter on quarter. This is what Nokia says:

The year-on-year and sequential declines in our Mobile Phones volumes were driven by distributors and operators purchasing fewer of our mobile phones during the second quarter 2011 as they reduced their inventories of those devices which were slightly above normal levels at the end of the first quarter 2011. In addition, our lack of Dual SIM phones, a growing part of the market, until late in the second quarter 2011 adversely impacted our Mobile Phones volumes during that quarter. Mobile Phones volumes were also adversely affected by continued pressure from a variety of price aggressive competitors.

Despite the grim figures though, it is too early to pronounce the failure of CEO Stephen Elop’s strategy. After all, no Nokia Windows Phones are yet on sale. The company must be hoping to hang on until it has a decent range of Windows Phones, and for Microsoft to grow its mobile market share dramatically above what it is currently.

Should Nokia have chosen Android rather than Windows Phone? Android’s extraordinary growth suggests that it should; yet there are signs of significant copyright and patent trouble for Android, and by attaching to Android Nokia would have been a me-too behind more established vendors such as Samsung, HTC, and nearly everyone else.

Should Nokia have persevered with MeeGo and Symbian? Although early MeeGo devices are winning praise, I doubt that the OS would have challenged Android and iOS; but that is open to speculation.

The problem for Nokia is that if it was going to make a radical platform shift, some degree of Osborne effect was inevitable. Adopting Windows Phone could not have been done in secret.

That said, perhaps the company could have been smarter. Rather than laying all its cards on the table, could it have announced a Windows Phone strategy alongside MeeGo and Symbian, adopting a more gradual approach to avoid shocking the market?

It is also worth noting that Nokia’s problems started long before the arrival of the new CEO. What we are seeing now is the playing out of old mistakes, not just the impact of what may be new ones.

However you spin it though, the new Nokia is a lesser thing than the Nokia of old, which commanded rather than followed the mobile market.

Wolfram announces Computable Document Format for interactive docs

Wolfram has announced the Computable Document Format (CDF), a document format that enables live computation to be embedded within it. “It’s a new way to communicate the world’s quantitative ideas much more richly than we have in the past, and in doing that a new kind of active document,” says  Conrad Wolfram, Strategic Director of Wolfram Research. That said, the technology here is not really new. There is a close relationship between CDF and Mathematica, Wollfram’s tool for creating mathematical calculations and simulations. The authoring tool for CDF is Mathematica:


The announcement then is really about a new player for Mathematica content and applications, to broaden their usage. The CDF player is free, though there are some limitations. If you charge for your document, or want to display it without the player chrome, then a paid licence is needed. A CDF document can also be compiled into a standalone executable, blurring the distinction between document and application.

The CDF player is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. There is also a browser plug-in for embedding CDF documents into web pages.

It is easy to find use cases for CDF. It is for documents where there is value in performing calculations or interacting with data within the page. An example is pension planning:


We have all seen those documents with a series of projections based on different assumptions about retirement age, contributions, investment growth and so on. This works better as an interactive chart where you can enter whatever values you like.

Other examples are statistical analysis and business intelligence, textbooks and course books where students can interact with equations and simulations, business proposals where you want to show how financial projections change based on different assumptions, or even general news reports where instead of a static chart you might want to show interactive graphics that let readers drill down into the data that interests them, or see real-time results.

Along with the computation engine, CDF supports a decent range of traditional content formatting features including cascading stylesheets.

Wolfram is correct in assuming that this kind of interactive document is important, and something we will increasingly take for granted in the era of the Web, eBooks and tablets. But can it succeed in establishing its own new document format when we already have HTML, Adobe PDF and Flash, Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and other formats which are also capable of embedded interactive content?

That is a key question. Wolfram offers a table which claims to show the benefits of CDF versus competitors such as HTML and PDF, but it is as skewed as these tables usually are. Wolfram says a PDF document cannot be compiled as a standalone executable, for example, but a PDF in an Adobe AIR application comes close. It is also worth noting that you can embed Flash in PDF, which would be an obvious route to something like the pension planning document mentioned above.

Nevertheless, CDF does have advantages. In particular, it has Mathematica, and whereas authoring a Flash applet requires programming and design skills, Mathematica is more approachable presuming you have the necessary mathematical, scientific or financial skills; and if you do not, you should not be authoring the document. Mathematica will construct a user interface automatically. It also has a huge range of built-in algorithms, functions and charts. Wolfram claims that authoring a CDF should be within reach of anyone who can work with an Excel macro.

The challenge Wolfram faces is how to make CDF usable across a broad range of devices and clients. Having to install a player or plug-in is a considerable deterrent. PDF or better still HTML5 has broader reach and works on Google Android and Apple iOS as well as on desktop PCs.

I tried the CDF plugin and player on Windows 7 and encountered several issues. The plug-in does not play nicely with Internet Explorer’s Protected mode and I saw this dialog frequently:


I also had some issues with the player. I could not get an example document on Gulf Oil Spill Estimation to work:


The player is currently for Windows, Mac and Linux – what about Apple iOS? Wolfram says it is working on this, with a two-pronged approach. One idea is presumably based on some sort of app, I’d guess either a player if Apple allows it, or some way to compile a CDF into an app. The other idea is to render the interactive parts server-side, so you could use them in a web page without a plug-in. This second idea could also remove the need for a plug-in on the desktop. You will get a performance hit because of all those trips back and forth to the server, but this could be mitigated by high performance computing on the server that will perform calculations more quickly than your client.

I can see CDF being popular within its niche, but whether it can transition into being a mass-market format I am not sure. Established plug-ins and runtimes such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Java on the client are all under pressure, particularly as Apple’s iOS spreads its reach; it is not a good moment to launch a new format that has a plug-in or runtime dependency. I wonder if Wolfram is exploring the possibility of compilation to HTML5 and JavaScript?

Despite these reservations, the broader vision behind CDF seems to me spot-on. There are many cases where we currently see static charts, that would be better served by an embedded computation engine.

Just when you’ve finished paying for Live at Leeds, here comes the Quadrophenia super deluxe box

Details are scant, but Amazon is now listing a new edition of The Who’s Quadrophenia, complete with book and (from the picture) five discs of some description.


Quadrophenia is one album I still play regularly. I am not sure why, but it has some kind of hold on me. I guess it is an anthem for anyone who has felt misunderstood and who likes The Who.

I am therefore keen to hear things like the rumoured 5.1 mix of Quadrophenia as well as any demos, concerts from the period, and so on, that might be thrown in. I would also like a good copy of the photos from the original insert, because mine has fallen apart. Most of them did, since the stitching was not strong enough to hold the booklet to the LP cover.

That said, I do not need new vinyl, nor a book that I will browse through once and never again.

The snag with this type of box is that they are all or nothing; and usually carefully designed so that there is at least one exclusive thing that you don’t want to do without.

EMI did David Bowie’s Station to Station box, making it the only source for the new surround mix.

The other thing all these boxes have in common is an extravagant price. Live at Leeds Super Deluxe came out last year and is the only way to get the complete Hull performance on CD, though you can download from Apple’s iTunes. The box was always expensive; now it is out of print and optimistic resellers on Amazon are asking nearly £400.00 for it.

So I have mixed feelings about the new Quadrophenia, but will probably buy it anyway.

If you let them do it to you You’ve got yourself to blame.
It’s you who feels the pain

Apple’s new Mac Mini ditches DVD drive, promotes App Store

Apple is now selling a new range of Mac Mini computers with Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and a Thunderbolt port.


There is also an HDMI port for connection to an entertainment system, FireWire 800, 4 old-style USB 2.0 ports – not USB 3.0, presumably to focus on Thunderbolt – and an SDXC card slot.


There is one thing missing, though, which is the DVD drive. Want to rip CDs, play a DVD, or install an application from optical media? Here’s what Apple says:

With the Mac App Store, getting the apps you want on your Mac has never been easier. No more boxes, no more discs, no more time-consuming installation. Click once to download and install any app on your Mac. But if an app you need isn’t available from the Mac App Store, you can use DVD or CD Sharing. This convenient feature of OS X lets you wirelessly “borrow” the optical drive of a nearby Mac or PC. So you can install applications from a DVD or CD and have full access to an optical drive without having to carry one around.

Of course you can also purchase an external optical drive, though hanging a device like that off the Mini so spoils the attraction of its small size.

By omitting the optical drive, Apple is also promoting its App Store over shrinkwrap software. This is good for usability, and means the user will get the latest version of the application rather than having to update immediately, as is often the case with shrinkwrap installs.

A side-effect though is that more transactions are subject to Apple’s cut of the sale price. Third-party resellers are hammered. Further, Apple gets to approve what software appears in the store.

The desktop Mac is unlikely ever to be locked down like the iOS devices; though it would not surprise me if some future Mac Mini actually does run iOS rather than OS X. Nevertheless, you can see how well this plays into the overall strategy.

Mozilla CEO fearful of closed mobile platforms. So what next for Mozilla and Firefox?

What next for Mozilla? Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe, posts about some of the issues facing the open source browser project and Foundation. His list is not meant to be a list of problems for Mozilla exactly, but it does read a bit like that, especially the third point:

Google marketing budgets for Chrome are much larger than Mozilla’s annual revenue.

though he does not mention how much of Mozilla’s income actually comes from Google. The Foundation’s last published figures are from 2009, and show that most of Mozilla’s income is from deals with search providers, and while it is not specified, both common sense and evidence from previous years tells us that most of that is from Google.

Chrome is a mighty competitor on the PC, but here at least Mozilla has a large and established base of users. That is not so on mobile, and this is even more challenging, as Nitot notes:

In the mobile space, not all platforms enable the user to choose what Web browser to use. This trend may also be coming to the PC world with Chrome OS, which only runs Chrome.

He also refers to a recent interview in which CEO Ben Kovacs talks about why there is no Firefox for Apple iOS:

The biggest challenge is to get access to the lowest level of the device, these open platforms are not quite open, which is why we are worried about it, you don’t have the true open web.

He adds:

It frightens me, it frightens me from a user point of view, I am not allowed to choose.

It is hard to see how Safari will not always be the browser for iOS, and while Mozilla has better chances on Android, it is hard to see how Google’s stock browser will not always dominate there.

At a browser engine level, Mozilla has lost out to WebKit, which is used by Apple Safari, Google Chrome, RIM Playbook and HP WebOS. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 uses Internet Explorer.

What can Mozilla do? Well, it seems that Mozilla executives have in mind to go beyond the browser into the world of apps. Kovacs hints at this in the interview above. In another post, the Chair of the Foundation Mitchell Baker says:

… the browser is no longer the only way people access the Internet. People also use more focused “apps” to do discrete tasks, and often feel a strong sense of attachment to the apps and the app model. This is an exciting addition. Mozilla should embrace some aspects of the current app model in addition to the browser model.

Therefore we find Firefox Home in Apple’s App Store:


That said, it is not clear to me what sort of major contribution Mozilla can make in the app world, and the transition from browser company to app company would be a difficult one to pull off.

I cannot escape the thought that Mozilla’s time is passing. Its success was built not only on an excellent browser, but also on widespread dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and the stifling effect it was having on the progress of web standards. Firefox was a better browser, and gained disruptive momentum. In Germany Firefox currently has a 55% market share, according to Statcounter.

However, while Firefox is still a great desktop browser, Google and WebKit between them are now strongly advancing web standards, and even Microsoft is now talking up HTML 5. Mozilla has largely achieved its goal, leaving it now with an uncertain purpose.

It is good for web standards to have a powerful independent non-profit foundation, rather than having commercial giants like Google and Apple dominate, but in the end this has to be paid for either by a business model, or by sponsors. In this latter respect, IBM’s withdrawal of funding for Firebug author John Barton is not a good sign.

In retrospect, Mozilla was too slow to embrace mobile; but most of the developments which are now impacting the Foundation are outside its control. On a day when Apple has announced breathtaking profits, it is worth noting Kovacs remarks about the chilling effects of closed platforms on Mozilla’s work.

The strategy behind Mono has shifted: ten years of open source .NET

Yesterday, SUSE and Xamarin announced, in effect, the transfer of all things Mono to Xamarin.

The agreement grants Xamarin a broad, perpetual license to all intellectual property covering Mono, MonoTouch, Mono for Android and Mono Tools for Visual Studio. Xamarin will also provide technical support to SUSE customers using Mono-based products, and assume stewardship of the Mono open source community project.

Xamarin is a startup formed by Mono founder Miguel de Icaza following the acquisition of Novell and SUSE by Attachmate, which ceased Mono development.

Attachmate acquired Novell in November 2010. Mono has been plucked from the abyss with impressive speed.

That said, the strategy behind Mono has shifted. Mono exists because de Icaza liked what Microsoft announced back in 2000 when it introduced C# and the .NET Framework. Microsoft made a show of standardizing the .NET CLI (Common Language Infrastructure), which made PR sense at the time since there was controversy over Sun’s ownership of Java, though nobody really believed that Microsoft knew how to steward an open source development platform or indeed believed that it was really serious about it. History largely justifies that scepticism; but de Icaza called Microsoft’s bluff and forged ahead with Mono, implementing not only the CLI and C# but most of the .NET Framework as well.

The goal of Mono, as I recall, was to bring the benefits of C# and .NET to Linux developers, and to enable developers to move applications freely between Windows and Linux. Apple OS X was also on the radar, though it took longer to become much use. Recalling Mono’s early days, de Icaza said:

Mono to me is a means to an end: a technology to help Linux succeed on the desktop.

Mono worked remarkably well from quite early on, but never quite well enough to persuade mainstream developers it was a sensible choice for applications that would otherwise have run on Windows. It did emerge as a viable and productive toolset and platform for Linux and a number of Mono applications became popular, including Beagle search, Tomboy notes, and F-Spot photo management. Some ASP.NET applications run on Mono; I have one on this site. Another Mono success was its use as the scripting engine in Unity, a game development platform.

A big problem for Mono though was the lack of a business model. There was support and servicing of course, which must have generated some revenue for Novell, but most Mono use is free. Novell possibly had in mind that Mono could be significant as an application server, but it has never become a really trusted platform in the Enterprise. For example, as Alan Radding (Dancing Dinosaur) notes:

DancingDinosaur has not found any SUSE on z user that has successfully implemented .NET apps on the mainframe. A few have tried but reported that Mono on z wasn’t ready for prime time.

Even among the free software and open source community, Mono was hampered by suspicion of Microsoft. If Mono became successful enough to threaten Microsoft, would lawyers appear? Given the way Microsoft is currently behaving with Android, filing legal actions and signing up licensees, those fears might not be unwarranted.

So what is Mono today? The answer is that Mono is now primarily a mobile platform. The Xamarin home page makes this clear, as well as making it apparent that the Mono team has discovered the value of a business model:


Xamarin is tapping into two real business needs. One is the need for a cross-platform mobile development platform that works. The second is a way for Windows developers to use their existing C# skills for mobile development, given that they might not be happy with the tiny market share currently achieved by Windows Phone 7.

When I had a quick try with Monotouch I was impressed, and I would like to spend some more time with it and with Mono for Android.

Mono has touch competition though. In particular, PhoneGap, Appcelerator’s Titanium, and Adobe AIR. I was interested to see that Adobe is coming up with a packager for AIR on Android, which may significantly improve it as a cross-platform mobile toolkit.

Still, Xamarin is small and nimble and I expect it to succeed. It has also has Visual Studio integration, which is an advantage. One of the pieces Xamarin has now licensed from SUSE is Mono for Visual Studio.

The downside of these latest developments is that if you depend on Mono for the desktop or for ASP.NET, you may find these parts of the Mono project getting little attention from the new company. But Mobile is all that matters now, right?

I write this on July 19 2011. According to Wikipedia:

Recognizing that their small team could not expect to build and support a full product, they launched the Mono open source project, on July 19, 2001 at the O’Reilly conference.

Well, if there was a launch there it was low-key. It is not mentioned in this report. But de Icaza does recall:

We planned the announcement to come by July 19th 2001, so we could announce this at the O’Reilly conference, as Tim O’Reilly had been very supportive of this effort, and had offered his help since the early stages, when it was still a very young idea. When we announced the project launch we had our team in place, and we were shipping our metadata framework and our C# compiler as well as a few initial classes So officially the Mono project was launched on that date, but it had been brewing for a very long time.

Happy Anniversary!

When remote desktop does not connect: changing Windows DNS setttings remotely

This was an annoying. I tried to remote desktop into my Hyper-V Server today and could not. The message:

Remote Desktop cannot verify the identity of the remote computer because there is a time or date difference between your computer and the remote computer.


Hmm. I typed:

net time \\myhypervbox

and it was the same as the time on my desktop.

A Google or two later, and I discovered that this message is caused by an incorrect DNS setting on the target computer. That made sense, since a DNS server died recently. I had changed the settings on the VMs but forgot to do it on the Hyper-V host. Thank you Microsoft for a misleading error message.

Of course my Hyper-V server has no screen attached. So how to change the DNS setting? Umm, not by remote desktop.

I fiddled with netsh for a bit. This looks promising, but it was not playing ball. I tried to list the interfaces and it gave an error saying it could not do so when remote access is not running. Further, I have two network cards in this machine, and Hyper-V creates virtual interfaces, and I was not sure what the correct network interface name was.

Next up was the registry editor. Run Regedit, choose File – Connect Network Registry. That worked. I went to:


This lists the network interfaces as GUIDs. I went through them one by one, and in the two cases where the NameServer entry was set to the dead server, I changed it to the new one.

There is also an entry for NameServer in the top level Parameters key but this was blank and I left it alone.

If you want to know what all these keys do, there is a guide here.

I rebooted the machine, remotely of course:

shutdown /m \\myhypervbox /r

and when it restarted remote desktop worked again.

SQL Server 2011 Denali publishes tables as Windows network folders

I’ve been testing the new Community Tech Preview of SQL Server 2011, codenamed “Denali”.

Here is an intriguing feature. You can now create a new kind of table called a FileTable. A FileTable is mapped to a folder on the filesystem, though you are not meant to access it directly once it is managed by SQL Server. However, you can access the folder in Windows Explorer, or over the network, as a network share. When you do this, a SQL Server component intercepts the Windows API calls and updates the FileTable. FileTables build on the existing FILESTREAM feature in SQL Server 2008, and the documents in the folder are stored as FILESTREAM data.

The illustration shows a folder in Windows Explorer that is also a SQL Server FileTable.


Is this the return of WinFS, the fabled relational file system which was originally planned for Windows Longhorn, but abandoned? Not really. According to the docs:

FileTables remove a significant barrier to the use of SQL Server for the storage and management of unstructured data that is currently residing as files on file servers. Enterprises can move this data from file servers into FileTables to take advantage of integrated administration and services provided by SQL Server. At the same time, they can maintain Windows application compatibility for their existing Windows applications that see this data as files in the file system.

Embarcadero RAD Studio XE2 will have cross-platform compilation

A Google search for RAD Studio XE2, presumably the successor to RAD Studio XE which includes Delphi, Delphi Prism (for .NET), C++ Builder and RAD PHP, throws up the following page:


The actual links need a login for a closed beta unfortunately.

Hmm, what caught my eye is the entry for cross-platform applications. Good to see this coming soon.

Adobe releases 64-bit Flash Player 11 beta, AIR 3 with packager for Windows, Mac, Android

Adobe has released a beta version of Flash Player 11 and AIR 3. The AIR release is of limited interest since as yet there is no public SDK; Adobe mainly wants to test compatibility.  That said, the announcement describes a key new feature, the ability to package AIR applications as standalone executables on Windows, Mac and Android. You can already do this on Apple iOS, a feature that was forced on Adobe by Apple’s refusal to allow application runtimes on iOS – unless they are WebKit or FileMaker. This is new for the other platforms though, and I assume comes as a result of the popularity of the iOS packager. The effect is that you no longer have to advertise the fact that your app runs on AIR or require users to obtain the runtime; your app will just work.

Adobe may have its eye on the Mac App Store, which will disallow applications that require a runtime. Extending the AIR packager to desktop OS X should get around that limitation.

64-bit Flash Player is also a big deal, and really long overdue, though there has already been a preview codenamed Square which offered 64-bit. Although there are probably not many Flash applications that really need 64-bit, this is good for compatibility with 64-bit browsers and of course desktop applications when compiled with AIR. There could also be value in 64-bit for business intelligence clients which manipulate large datasets.

Another new feature in Flash Player 11 is Stage3D, codename Molehill, which is a new API for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. Stage3D has its own shader language, called AGAL (Adobe Graphics Assembly Language); my heart sinks a little when I see vendors inventing new languages rather than using one that is already available, such as OpenGL Shading Language, but Adobe says AGAL is simpler and more secure. If you would like to use GL SL with Stage3D, check out the 3rd-party Mandreel framework which comples GL SL shaders to AGAL.

Flash Player 11 also has a built-in H.264/AVC software encoder for cameras, which will improve video chat and video conferencing, and adds potential for applications that stream video out as well as in.

Native JSON support will simplify and accelerate the handling of data in this popular format.

Another feature that caught my eye is socket progress events. When transferring data, it is important to give feedback to the user on progress. A new property lets developers monitor the number of bytes remaining in the write buffer, and a new event is raised when data is being sent, enabling more informative data transfer applications.

LZMA compression for SWF files, the compiled format for Flash content, is claimed to reduce SWF size by up to 40%.

When do we get a full release? Adobe is taking its time, but my hunch is that it will be in 2011, maybe in time for the MAX conference in October.