Monday, March 31, 2008

NetBeans 6.1 + Blogging Contest

NetBeans 6.1 is available, together with a contest. Some of the main features are support for Java Beans, JavaScript, MySQL, Spring Framework, Axis 2, Ruby, and many other. The MySQL support added was expected since the acquisition of MySQL by Sun. I personally am an Eclipse user since I started programming (which was only in my first year of college). From some time now I wanted to try NetBeans out, especially NetBeans Mobility, but I never got around to do it. It's funny, if you are not "constrained" to do something, you hardly do it, unless you really enjoy doing it (not that I don't enjoy playing with IDEs, but I got so used with Eclipse that I don't feel the need to try something else).

Do give it a try when you get a chance. I am sure you will find it exceeding your expectations.

P.S. I have not entered the NetBeans 6.1 blogging contest at this point, but I do hope to have some free time soon, and give NetBeans a try.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Motorola insider writes about current crisis

On engadget you can find the publication of a letter written by Numair Faraz, the personal adviser of Motorola's former CMO Geoffrey Frost, to the executive group at Motorola. Some of the claims made their are troubling and point to how Ed Zander, the former CEO, made some unfortunate decisions that diminished the role Motorola played in the mobile phone market.
Some parts that I find disturbing:

"Motorola's current CEO, Greg Brown, is so technologically out of touch he refuses to use a computer for communications, and has all his email correspondences printed by his secretary and replied to by dictation." (not part of the letter)

"But apparently different from the rest of the incompetent senior executives at Motorola -- except instead of merely being inept, you're actually actively killing the company" and "You clearly have no interest in fighting the good fight and attempting to mold Motorola into the market leader it can and should be." (Talking about Greg Brown, current Motorola CEO)

Some of the solutions mentioned:

"... make me a phone that looks, feels, and works like a symbol of wealth and privilege."

"Fully embrace embedded Linux and Google's Android initiative, and take the phone operating system out of the stone age."

"Understand that the next big feature in handsets isn't a camera or a music player -- it is social connectedness; build expertise in this area, and sell it down the entire value chain." (totally agree with this, although I would look even beyond this, to the next stage of evolution, like the Semantic Web).

I wonder how open minded the current executive team is as to incorporate advises and to take critics in a constructive way. Either way, the letter is refreshing and the solutions proposed there need to be incorporated into future directions that the company has to take.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Usability of Applications

I am the kind of person that tries to learn something from anything, or tries to find anything from something. This is an example. For me, it tells everything about the simplicity and usability of the applications we create. Keep your user interface, your application flow, as simple, straight forward, and easy to use as possible . Of course, not all application can be as simple as the first two figures on that web page, so there is a trade off between simplicity and usability versus expressiveness and efficiency. What I think that one should leave with after viewing the three figures is that we should always try to remove the unnecessary complexity from our designs (or just take those drawings as a comic and smile).

Mobile Design and Patterns

If you are looking for a resource on mobile user interface design, the MobileDesign wiki is one place you should check out. What can be found there is information on user interface characteristics (such as screen input interfaces), hardware features (such as display devices, device formats), design patterns, screen design, and many other such useful data.

This is an open repository, based on community contribution, and is run under the Creative Commons License. Some parts of the wiki are still unexploited; there are no articles or white papers, no tutorials, or design recommendation, and information on device classes are still missing, but I am sure that this will change and that the community will contribute in a manner as to increase the number of practical resources.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Online Presentation Solutions (cont.)

As mentioned at the end of my last blog entry, I will go over some online meetings and web and video conferencing solutions, like WebEx, dimdim, and VMukti (formally known as 1videoConference).

The first one is well known I will not go over it in this blog. If you never used WebEx before, there is a 14-day free trial, so go ahead, knock yourself out.

Dimdim offers free web meeting, web conferencing, online sharing of presentation, application, and your own desktop. When hosting a meeting, the software did a check of my browser and internet connection; I had to install an add-on (plugin) to my Firefox browser, namely the Dimdim Web Meeting Publisher. After installing it (and restarting Firefox), I was asked to allow or not the use of my camera and microphone. Here is what we get:

You can broadcast the web cam feed, share your desktop, application, excel, word, powerpoint, pdf, or browser, and a whiteboard. Uploading and sharing a presentation looks like this:

From the attendee perspective, I used the full screen option to view the powerpoint presentation in full screen mode. I must confess, I was very impressed with dimdim. I used WebEx before, but for the usual share/view/upload, everything worked fine with dimdim. I couldn't test the scalability of it, so I am not sure how it behaves then.

VMukti offers more control to the user. To customize the user interface, you have to download the VMukti Server. For know, I will go through the demo. You need to install VMukti Client and have .Net Framework 3.5 on your computer. After successful registration, you get the below screen:

Unfortunately, none of the modules worked for me (modules such as Presentation, Whiteboard, Chat, etc). The news widget was working properly, but not the weather one. You can view some module screens to see how is it all supposed to look. I should install the server (which implies having SQL Server 2005 and IIS 6.0 or higher), customize the UI, and see how it works from there. Maybe in some other blog.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Creepy Commercial

When I was waiting in Raleigh-Durham Airport for my flight back to Fort-Lauderdale, I saw a commercial displayed on a panel. It was for an IT company. The text of the commercial was: "Looking for intelligent technology solutions? Pick our brains." Great text! If it would had ended here. Below the text, there were three glass jars and each of them had one brain inside. Are you kidding me? It reminded me of Bodies, The Exhibition. Let me tell you something: when I left, the image I had with me was with those three jars, not the company name, not the services they were offering, not even the intelligent text. Who would approve something like this? Beats me.

Here is the image:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

2008 Jolt Award Winners

At the Software Development West 2008 Conference, the winners of the 18th annual jolt product excellence & productivity awards have been announced. I am just going to mention the jolt winners here.

In the General Books category, the winner was Beautiful Code Edited by Andy Oram and Greg Wilson (O'Reilly Media). The book describes case studies for design solutions of well-known projects.

In the Technical Books category, the winner was Continuous Integration: Improving Software Quality and Reducing Risk by Paul Duvall, Steve Matyas, Andrew Glover (Addison-Wesley Professional). The book presents continuous integration practices and techniques, covering issues in the deployment and automation areas, and showing the benefits of the mentioned solutions.

In the Change and Configuration Management category, the winner was FishEye (Atlassian), which is a source code repository tool that lets you monitor, share, search and analyze source code. A free evaluation copy is available for download.

In the Collaboration Tools category, the winner was Code Collaborator (Smart Bear). Some of the major features of the tool are threaded and real-time chat, version control, asynchronous review, metrics and custom reports, database support, and others.

In the Database Engines and Data Tools, the winner was AquaLogic Data Services Platform (BEA Systems) where data is transformed into information services, thus increasing data reuse.

In the Design and Modeling Tools category, the winner was Corticon Business Rules Modeling Studio (Corticon Technologies), which offers a model-driven for capturing logic in an Excel-like user interface.

In the Development Environments category, NetBeans IDE 6 (Sun Microsystems) was the winner (I believe it also won this category in 2007 ). Whatever you expect from an IDE is available in NetBeans; you can do profiling, web, java enterprise, mobility, SOA, UML, Java/C/C++, and many other. I am surprised that Eclipse was not in the finalists category even (at least it was a productivity award winner back in 2006 for its 3.1 version).

In the Enterprise Tools category, the jolt winner was Kapow Mashup Server, Web 2.0 Edition (Kapow Technologies), that lets you create mashup components from web resources, making thus web data accessible to anyone.

In the Libraries, Frameworks and Components, the winner was Guice (Google), an open source dependency injection framework, providing features such as custom scopes, circular dependencies, static member injection.

In the Mobile Development Tools category, we had Mojax (mFoundry) as the emerging winner. I have been following this Ajax application framework for mobile devices for a while now. The main difference between Mojax applications Web applications is that the former offers access to low-level device features such as Bluetooth, Location Services, etc. When specifying the layout, you use XML-based specifications (something that Android also does). Hopefully I will get around writing a blog about Mojax.

In the Project Management Tools category, the winner was Rally Enterprise (Rally Software Development). The tool offers program management, status dashboards for multiple projects, planning reports, requirements management, test and defect tracking, quality manager, and many such useful features.

The Security Tools category was won by Fortify Defender: Real-Time Analyzer (Fortify Software), which enables monitoring and protection of web applications.

In the Testing Tools category, Clover 2.0 (Atlassian) won, a code coverage tool for Java, used for test-driven development and refactoring.

In the Utilities category, the winner was VMware Workstation (VMware), a virtualization software that enables users to run multiple operating systems on a single PC.

The Web Development category was taken by Adobe ColdFusion 8 (Adobe Systems). Features include a server monitor, debugger, integration with .NET, Adobe Flex and Microsoft Exchange Server, encryption libraries, multi-threading, etc.

For Websites and Developer Networks category, O'Reilly Radar (O'Reilly Media) grab the winning position.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Online Presentation Solutions

There are two categories that I am going to cover here: PowerPoint-type online presentations and online meetings and web and video conferencing.

In the first category, we have Zoho Show, Zentation, TeamSlide, Scribd, SlideLive, Thumbstacks, ThinkFree, and Google's Presentation.

Zoho Show lets you create a new presentation or import a PowerPoint or OpenOffice presentation. If you choose the former one, you get

After choosing the theme you want, you get to start working on the first slide. What I noticed was that the box, the frame, where you type in the title for example, does not automatically expand when you cross its boundaries. You have to manually drag down the lower part of the frame. When creating a new slide, you don't have the option to include an image. If you want to have an image inside a slide, you need to create a blank slide.
You can send invitations to others by using the "Remote" option:

Other features offered are the option to embed the presentation in a website or blog, export it (make it full screen in another window), apply or insert different objects like shapes, flowcharts, cliparts, etc. The software is easy to use delivers what is expected.

Zentation offers a way to let users view simultaneously your slides and a video of you speaking about them. You need only know how to record yourself; unfortunately it only works with Google Video at this time, and OpenOffice presentations are not supported yet.

With TeamSlide, you need access to a web server in order to install the software. Next, you have to personalize your license of teamslide by filling out a form. The slides for teamslide are a collection of JPG images compressed together into one file with the extension .zip. How you create those images is up to you. Teamslide offers an add-in for PowerPoint users, but you could use PowerPoint's built in support for saving the presentation as a series of JPG images.
There are two versions, a standard free one, and a professional solution that beside having more features, it offers remote URL to the presentation. Having a server side installation requirement is a big downside and I would turn to other similar solutions that have the features of the professional version but for free. Here is an image from their demo:

Scribd lets you share, tag and comment documents you upload. It was originally sponsored by Y Combinator; what I enjoy is the text-to-speech feature that lets you listen to the text of your document in English. Steps are easy and straight forward to follow:

After you uploaded your document, you can add more information about it and approve it:

Finally, your document can be displayed or embedded as html, or you can send invitations via email for others to view your document:

SlideLive offers an easy way to upload documents (ppt or odt), providing feedback on the status of your upload:

while the original one looks like this:

The colors changed a little (which I like more than the original) and the font is less clear, but this should not stop anyone from using it. There is a comparison between ThinkFree and Zoho Show here which is worth reading. It is mentioned here that Zoho renders uploaded presentations worst than ThinkFree, fact which I did not check.

Google Online Presentation is part of the Google's online docs suite. Some of the major features are easiness of use and availability of revisions of your presentations. Google Presentation is still in its incipient state, but certainly new features will be added in time. Automatically expanding the frame where you write is still not supported, but at least you see what you write. Here is a screen shot:

There are other online presentation solutions, like SlideShare, Preezo, Spresent which are also worth reading about if you get a chance.

The second category I am going to cover in the next blog.