I only recently found out about GigaOm's upcoming Net:Work conference. It's held December 9 at UCSF Mission Bay conference center. While the name of the conference is a bit ambiguous, the actual area of focus is very clear: how will we collaborate in the 21st century?
The impact of smartphones, tablet computing, social networks, Software-as-a-Service and Cloud computing is just starting. As a result, I think there are tremendous opportunities for startup companies to disrupt existing markets with more modern, lightweight applications that foster collaboration inside the company as well as with partners, vendors, consultants and customers.
Companies that can more effectively tap into talent within their organization and across traditional boundaries may end up having a significant competitive advantage. Instead of the traditional top-down view of management edicts flowing from HQ to employees and field offices, you now have the potential to develop, test and refine ideas from any part of the company or community regardless of location.
That was the approach we took at MySQL and it worked very well with employees distributed in more than 40 countries, 90% of whom worked from their homes. We also had a huge community of users we could tap into that contributed tremendous value to the company. Even though we had primitive tools for collaboration (IRC, Skype, Forums, Wikis, conference calls, mailing lists etc), we always operated with a global perspective. This enabled us to develop great talent regardless of location. Managing a distributed organization is not easy, but you get some amazing benefits if you do it right.
Speakers at the conference include Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), Dave Hersh (Jive), Maynard Webb (LiveOps), Tom Kelly (Moxie Software), Doug Solomon (IDEO), Zach Nelson (NetSuite), Aaron Levie (Box.net), Ross Mayfield (SocialText) and more.
I wrote a guest column for GigaOm on how open source software, cloud and software as a service are helping to bring about the consumerization of IT: namely bringing simplicity where complexity reigned. I cited some examples including New Relic, Box.net and Apple.
Open source has gone a long way toward putting power back in the hands of developers, who can download, install and deploy software without having to go through any kind of convoluted sales or budget approval process. You want MySQL? You can download and install in 15 minutes, and you don’t have to talk to anyone to do it.
Software as a service (SaaS) takes this to an even broader audience, enabling employees to get the kind of lightweight, consumer, self-serve capabilities in their job without even having to run their own servers. Platforms like Amazon AWS, Heroku, Makara, RightScale and others put this same kind of SaaS power in the hands of developers...
My view: ease of use trumps a long feature list any day of the week. There are both techological reasons as well as sociological and economic reasons for why organizations are seeking greater simplicity. Part of this stems from the fact that complex enterprise applications grew beyond the ability of most organizations to successfully adopt.
It seems obvious that given the decreasing cost of storage and computation, there's going to be a significant increase in the volume of data that organizations accumulate over the next 10 years. But the type of data being accumulated may be different from the areas where traditional DBMSs dominated. It's not just about transactions; it's search patterns, on-line behavior, click-thru data, events fired off by smartphones, messages over Twitter & Facebook, log data of various kinds.
If an organization can figure out a better way identify prospects, or deliver more targeted ads, or optimize pricing decisions by analyzing terrabytes of data, they'd be crazy not to. Over the long term, companies that don't develop these capabilities will be at a competitive disadvantage.
As to what the implications are from a technological perspective, that's a whole different can of worms. I'm starting to see adoption of Big Data technologies like Hadoop, HDFS, Cassandra, MongoDB, XML databases, analysis with R, Pentaho, and loads of other technologies. And MySQL continues to play a role here as do other traditional relational databases. Over the next few months, I'm going to dig down deeper with people using these technologies to try and discern the emerging customer patterns.
If you're in this space or using some of these technologies, let me know your thoughts. What volume of data are you dealing with? How many nodes or servers are you using? Are you running on a public cloud, private cloud or hybrid? What technologies did you evaluate? What about traditional DBMSs didn't work for this scenario?
I'm the boards of two companies (Pentaho, Revolution Analytics) that are starting to see a lot of customer traction around Big Data. More and more companies in media, pharma, retail and finance are doing advanced analysis, reporting, graphing, etc with massive data sets. It made me wonder what other areas of the technology stack might evolve with the trend towards Big Data. Obviously, there's new middleware layers like Hadoop and Map Reduce, and we're also seeing the emergence of NoSQL data management layers with Cassandra, MongoDB, MemBase and others. But what about programming languages?
So why don't I have this language yet? Well, partially because programming language craftsmanship is hard. I'm pretty sure I'm not good enough to do it, which is usually my default criteria for saying something is Really Hard.
But I think as well the k3wl languages coming out are coming out of language requirements of the Top 10% crowd. They're the ones good enough to actually write the languages, and they're going to write a language that makes them happy. But then you end up with Scala, and then you end up with this monstrosity, and then you make me cry. A language in which that thing is even possible will never be a candidate as a Journeyman Programming Language.
You know who's going to do it? Someone like Gosling, who set about with the needs of the journeyman programmer in Java. But the state of the art has moved on, and Java just isn't suitable anymore.
Who I would really like to do it is Anders Hejlsberg. I am a very big fan of C#-the-Language. It's just that .Net-the-Ecosystem is so Microsoft-specific and horrific it'll never catch on in the wider world, no matter what Miguel de Icaza thinks.
This got me thinking about the challenge of the current complexity in Big Data systems. Today, you have to be near genius level to build systems on top of Cassandra, Hadoop and the like today. These are powerful tools, but very low-level, equivalent to programming client server applications in assembly language. When it works it's great, but the effort is significant and it's probably beyond the scope of mainstream IT organizations. (That's one reason that Revolution's R product has appeal, but R is a specialized statistical analysis tool, not a general purpose language.)
Could the Big Data complexity be factored out somehow with a new general purpose programming language? No doubt. Having worked with Anders on the creation of Delphi many years back, this is right up his alley. Or maybe we already have a good starting point with Erlang, Scala and Google's Go. Go is particularly interesting having been designed by Rob Pike and Ken Thompson of Bell Labs / Unix fame.
What's been your experience in programming Big Data systems? What do you think's needed? Let me know in the comments below.
Zack Urlocker is an investor, advisor and
board member to several startup software companies in SaaS and Open Source. He
was previously the EVP of Products at MySQL responsible for Engineering and
Marketing. He built the MySQL Enterprise subscription strategy and product
line. MySQL was sold to Sun for $1 billion and is now part of Oracle
Corporation. He is also a marathon runner, blues guitarist and fan of Interactive Fiction.
I managed to get an "early upgrade" of my iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4 despite AT&T's best efforts. I've had a couple of days using the new iOS 4 operating system on my 3GS and a couple of hours with the iPhone 4. So here are a few highlights of the initial hands-on experience with more updates on the weekend.
Updated with additional information, video & photos.
Low-res video (VGA resolution):
Here's a gallery of additional photos from the iPhone 4: (Double click to see larger versions.)
Other than AT&T's longstanding inability to deal with demand, the upgrade process is pretty simple. I chased the UPS driver home to get my iPhone today and just plugged into the USB cable to restore my last iPhone 3GS backup. That took about 20 minutes. Applications, data, settings etc were exactly where I left them. However, since I manually manage my MP3 files, it didn't restore those, which is kind of a nuisance. You also need to re-enter email and WiFi passwords, which makes sense. During the upgrade process you can sign up for a 60 day trial of MobileMe, which is tempting if you own an iPad and iPhone. And you also need to re-activate the account by calling a toll-free somewhat-automated AT&T service. My hold time was just over 3 minutes and then it took another few minutes to go through the terms and conditions. In fact, I had to type or say my cell number 3 times, zip code twice and agree to the terms twice. All told it took about 10 minutes. But considering it's AT&T, it could have been worse.
But then a few minutes after syncing, I noticed that not all of my applications were restored. The New York Times, Frotz, Wikipanion, Engadget, Guitar Tab Toolkit and several others apps were missing. Not quite sure why. So I plugged in the USB cable a second time, canceled the backup and suddenly the remaining apps were being restored. That took another 20 minutes. Not sure if I did something wrong here or the iTunes Store was overloaded. But if some of your apps aren't restored initially, don't panic. But if this happens you'll also have to re-arrange the app icons back to how you used to have them.
Better battery life, better screen, better audio, better camera and for those who actually need to talk on their phone, better cellular coverage. Admittedly, it's still AT&T, but I believe the new antennae built into the casing will help. On my 3GS, I've had calls drop 4 or 5 times while driving on 280 (which has a black-hole for cell service near Sand Hill Road.) But so far, so good.
The iPhone 4 is slightly skinnier than it's predecessor, and a bit more squared off, but to me the differences are subtle. Its the same weight and doesn't really feel much thinner, not that that was an issue. If you had a third-party case for your old iPhone it may or may not fit the new one, depending on how snug it was to begin with. My old soft rubberized case seems to hang a bit loose, like pants a size too large, but it's not far off. If you're into design then yes, the iPhone 4 has got a modern-retro cool style. But to me it's not a big deal.
The new screen is better, but again, it's a fairly subtle improvement. However web sites with small fonts, like the mobile version of TechCrunch, are definitely more readable. And even existing built-in apps benefit from the higher res fonts. In side by side comparison, the new screen is sharper and seems to have better contrast, making it easier to read. For news applications, it's almost like reading a printed magazine, albeit a very small, fussy one.
Similarly, performance is a little faster for some apps. For example, Google maps screen refresh is noticeably snappier than before. And in side by side comparisons, for example, updating stories from the New York Times or AllThingsD, the iPhone 4 is consistently faster. Not a lot faster, and not in itself enough to make a huge fuss about, but I'll take it.
The camera, on the other hand, is noticeably improved. I often end up at conferences panels or blues clubs where I don't always have my trusty Canon G9. In these cases, the lighting conditions are never ideal and as a result, the iPhone 3GS camera just doesn't cut it. And in my experience, the 3GS video was completely useless as any volume of live music (say 100 db, which is loud but doesn't require earplugs) gets clipped and distorted by the built-in microphone.
The iPhone 4's camera is much improved. The pictures are high-res (5 mb versus 3) but the real improvement comes from being more sensitive in low light conditions. The iPhone 4 also has a front VGA (640x480) low-res camera used by the FaceTime video conference call app that is also suitable for quick self-portraits with less fumbling around. While the camera isn't perfect, it's miles better than the 3GS and can match low-end point and shoot or Flip video cameras. I've posted two photos in crappy lighting and the iPhone 4 makes a decent job of it.
Sample high-res shot:
Sample low-res VGA shot:
The video is ok in low-light but the result is a very grainy image, almost on par with the latest Flip video camera, but not really comparable to a high-end point and shoot camera such as the Canon G9. But it is definitely much better than the iPhone 3GS and more convenient than carrying an iPhone and a Flip. Here's a quick and dirty use of the low-res VGA video capability:
(My apologies for the guitar playing!)
And some live concert footage at about 100db:
The audio is definitely better than the 3GS, but the picture is very grainy.
Improved Cellular Reception
While there has been some questions and comments about reduced cell reception depending on how you hold the iPhone, I haven't had any problems. (Hint: avoid directly touching the antenna in the lower left corner when you hold the phone.) Still, I put a piece of tape over the lower left corner antenna just to be on the safe side.
In fact, as the video at the top of the post demonstrates, I was able to make continuous calls on several notorious silicon valley dead spots, including Highway 280 near Sand Hill Rd and Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. However, I did lose reception in a tunnel (to be expected), on the Bay Bridge and on rural Highway 9 in Saratoga. But this was still fewer dropped calls than usual.
If you've been frustrated by dropped calls with the 3GS, this improvement alone may be worth the upgrade price.
The speaker is also slightly clearer which is useful if you do conference calls or play music from the speaker (which I do on occasion.)
The new iOS 4 is good on the 3GS but it really rocks on the new hardware. Not only is the multi-tasking quick, but the better hardware makes even existing applications look better and run faster. Hopefully in the weeks to follow we'll see more applications updated to use the new multi-tasking.
Note that the multi-tasking on the iPhone is not the same kind of flat-out full-on multi-tasking you may be used to on a desktop compute. It's really more of an intelligent quick-restore of an application with some limited multi-tasking for maintaining cell connection, playing music, getting notifications etc. On a handset, this seems to work fine. It's not like I need a massive spreadsheet to recalc or some kind of long-running DBMS transactions to go run in separate threads. But we'll see in the fall whether this same model works as well on the iPad.
Nonetheless, the multi-tasking, is a intuitive as you could imagine. Double click the iPhone button below the screen to pull up your recent or running applications. So you don't have to go back through the home screen and scroll through pages of apps when you, say, confirm a calendar appointment in an email while talking on the phone and looking at a map. It's not as good as multiple desktop apps on the screen at once, but the experience works well on the small screen of a smartphone.ns.
Some of the built-in apps are also improved. For example, iPhone email now has a unified in-box and threaded conversations. With a unified in-box, I can now finally start to move off hotmail and over to gmail without having to manually check email in two places.
You can also now run the iBooks application on the iPhone with bookmarks and content synchronized. If you're happy with your 3GS and just want multi-tasking and a unified email inbox with threaded messages, and iBooks, you can get all of that with an upgrade to the iOS 4 platform for free.
Apple has also introduced FaceTime an iPhone4-to-iPhone4 video conference call capability. Unfortunately, it runs only over WiFi. Still, it could be a useful application for those who travel a lot.
Overall, iPhone 4 is an incremental improvement. I am not sure whether I would label it game changing; that depends on how much you use FaceTime, iMovie or other new applications that have yet to be created. But it is certainly a worthwhile upgrade, just to get the improved battery life, camera and cellular reception. But if you do the upgrade, note that it can take about an hour to backup your old phone, restore on the new one and activate the account with AT&T. Don't attempt this if you need to use the new phone in 10 minutes.
If you can get the subsidized price or early upgrade and can live with AT&T, then it's $200 well spent. Otherwise, you may have to wait for Verizon to pick it up next year.
With the iPhone 4, Apple has once again set and raised the bar.
Oracle managed to score a major victory last week at the MySQL Conference by announcing performance gains of 200-360% in the forthcoming version 5.5. This is a tremendous improvement and comes in part due to closer collaboration between what were historically two distinct (and occasionally competitive) groups: the InnoBase team and the MySQL Server team. Bringing the InnoBase team under the direction of the MySQL Server team under Tomas Ullin is a great benefit not only to MySQL developers, but also for MySQL users. No doubt these performance gains are a result of many months of hard work by not only Tomas, but also a good number of folks on both teams including guys like Mikael Ronstrum, Kojstja, Calvin Sun and others.
It seems that in the MySQL 5.5.4 release, several performance bottlenecks that really affected scalability beyond 4 cores have been either eliminated or seriously mitigated. Some of the changes were in MySQL itself, while others are InnoDB specific...
The benchmarks presented that compared MySQL 5.5.4 with 5.1 show substantial improvements in a variety of workloads. And given how many shops are still running MySQL 5.0.xx in production (including us), that means there really is A LOT to look forward too–especially on newer hardware.
I, for one, cannot wait to see what this stuff does for us.Thanks to the MySQL and InnoDB teams for their continued hard work and dedication to making MySQL faster as hardware evolves.
For those who have been skeptical, these results should go a long way towards demonstrating Oracle's commitment to ongoing investment and improvement of MySQL. Who knows, maybe this will help eliminate some of the rhetoric and FUD from the splinter groups in the MySQL community. And of course, Oracle will need to continue to ramp up investment in other areas of MySQL to make good on their promises. But they're off to a better start than anyone could have expected.
I've included some video excerpts from keynote presentations by Oracle VP Edward Screven and from Open Source maven Tim O'Reilly below.
Being a bit of a gadget freak, I decided to pick up an iPad on Saturday when they went on sale. My wife and I went over to an Apple store near her father's place in Michigan and while there had been an early morning line up by mid-day you could stroll in and get the model of your choice in under 10 minutes. That's assuming you were willing to go with what they had in stock, which was the slightly more expensive 32 or 64 gig models. While 16 gig is probably fine, I figured more memory is never a bad thing, especially since there's no SD slot. At any rate, what follows is my somewhat rambling review following 3 days of usage. No doubt things will change in the coming weeks, but these are my initial impressions. And for kicks, I'm writing this review from the iPad itself using Typepad's crappy mobile site --hence no formatting or links for now.
When you get your iPad it's fully charged, but you still need to connect to iTunes on a PC or Mac. I'm not sure why this is, but it felt weird. I mean, isn't this supposed to eliminate my use if a laptop? And what if you're a devoted Linux head? No idea. Still, the process worked quickly and getting wifi working and access to the Apple store was simple. While there are 150,000 apps for the iPhone that run on the iPad, the bad news is they look about as ugly as you can get. I mean Java-desktop-app ugly. You can run them in standard iPhone size dead center of the screen against a black background or double pixel, making the app look like some CGA resolution relic blown up on a VGA screen. For games or apps you can't live without that may be fine, but these things are so ugly you're gonna be embarrassed to show them to anyone, especially after paying $500 or more for your iPad. The good news is this is likely a temporary situation and most of the popular iPhone apps are being re-written to take advantage of the larger screen real estate. And native iPad apps are gorgeous.
About the Hardware
The iPad is slightly smaller than the size of a standard magazine and weighs about a pound and a half (under 1kg). It feels pretty sturdy in your hand and is heavier than a Kindle but lighter than just about any laptop or netbook. The screen is absolutely gorgeous, especially when browsing or watching video. That said, you can see every fingerprint smudge. Overall, apps feel fast due to Apples optimized ARM processor called the A4. Battery life is also impressive 12 hours continuous use, with wi-fi on. That's enough to get through a decent day of work, conference or travel and certainly better than the iPhone and most laptops. While I would really like to have a real slide out keyboard, the on-screen version works better than I expected given it's propensity to correct my mistakes. It's especially good in landscape mode. You can also use an optional Bluetooth keyboard or Apple's forthcoming keyboard dock.
There have been some reports on TechCrunch of wi-fi flakiness, and I've seen that at my father-in-law's place, but I've had no problems elsewhere. Update: Here's a link to proposed fixes described by PCMag if you're impacted by these issues.
Out of the starting gate there are more than 3,000 native (e.g. High res) apps for the iPad available on Apple's app store, with new ones coming out daily. While that sounds like a lot (and is certainly more than Palm, Win phone 7, Symbian etc) by iPhone or Android numbers it's still slim pickings. There are some nice apps out there from Apple and others, but I expect it will take a couple of months before we see the depth and breadth that the iPad warrants. Apple's iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) sets a high bar at a reasonable price ($10 each). The New York Times, USA Today, NPR and eBay apps are innovative, good looking and free. Wikipanion, also free, is great. If you play guitar, you should buy Tab Toolkit which is awesome; basically an iPad-optimized tab file player that works with standard Guitar-Pro as well as ASCII files. There are tons of games from the latest 3D driving simulators to retro 80's style text adventure via with the truly outstanding Frotz Z-machine interpreter.
The iPad's built-in browser is excellent, so that lessens the need for native apps in some cases. If you don't want to use a dedicated app for viewing the New York Times, just go to the web site. Which is great except if you're offline. Or if the site uses flash. Or if you want multiple tabs. You can have multiple browsers, but for now the iPad is pretty fundamentally single-tasking. So you can only view one site (or app) at a time.
Notably, Apple did not include 5 basic apps from the iPhone: the calculator, voice recorder, compass, stock quotes and weather apps are all missing. You can download equivalent free third party apps, but it's rather perplexing. My hope here is that by summer Apple will provide some form of multi-tasking that enables you to pull up simple applets like this while not totally ruining the simplicity of the user experience. There are some rumors / conspiracy theories about this, but who really knows?
Update: Earlier this week Apple announced multi-tasking will be available in OS 4.0 in the summer on iPhones and in the fall for the iPad.
Best eReader Ever?
I travel a fair amount and always seem to be lugging 3 or more books and half a dozen magazines and newspapers. While I've been jonesing for a Kindle for quite some time, I always came away feeling like the speed of eInk page refreshes were going to drive me nuts. Not to mention the fact that web browsing would be limited. The iPad, on the other hand, has a built-in iBooks reader and also offers a native iPad Kindle app. While these are still closed systems (you have to buy your books from Apple or Amazon respectively) at least you've got two choices. And since Apple's iBook reader supports the open ePub format, you can add third party books from other sources easily. For now the iBook selection of 60,000 titles is a fraction of Amazon's, but both have a fair number of free eBooks from Project Gutenberg. If you're dying to read some out of date public domain Sherlock Holmes, HG Wells or Jane Austen, its all there for the taking. Or if you want something from this century, you can download creative commons Science Fiction from Cory Doctorow who apparently hates the iPad.
I used the GoodReader $0.99 app to load up and view PDF articles from management gurus Peter Drucker and Clayten Christensen as well as some old Mad Magazines from the "Absolutely MAD" DVD. (Yes, it does fold-ins.) So with a little bit of fiddling, it's a very versatile reader.
While the iPad is not perfect, it is pretty cool and depending on what you need, it may or may not do the job for you. It's annoying that it doesn't include some form of multi-tasking, an SD slot or a USB port. A camera might be handy for some folks. My guess is some of these deficiencies will be addressed in the future. But as cool as the iPad is, it's very much a closed system and that takes some getting used to. You don't have access to the underlying system as you would on a regular computer. While that makes for a simpler experience, it can be frustrating. Doing something simple like adding PDFs to the iPad requires working around the system. Luckily third party apps (in this case the aforementioned GoodReader) can help.
For me, the iPad provides an additional tool --an instant-on eReader, browser, email system and media player. But the iPad, like the original Mac, also paints a picture of where computing is heading: a multitude of devices with different form factors that access data, applications and media in the cloud. Five years from now today's Windows laptop experience will be completely obsolete, replaced by iPads, iPhones, Super Kindles, Androids and Courier devices. For developers, this is a great time to dive in and invent that future.
How cool is that?
Update: I have added some formatting, links and updated info based on Apple's announcement of OS 4.0. Unfortunately, TypePad from SixApart still doesn't let you access the full functionality from the iPad itself, so I made these edits in a web browser running Windows. If anyone has a workaround to access the full typepad app from Safari on the iPad let me know. SixApart claims they are working on it, though I see no evidence of that so far.
I happened to run into Robert Scoble at the South by Southwest tech conference and did a quick video interview to find out what he thinks is hot technology these days. No surprise, it's location, location, location with services like FourSquare, GoWalla, twitter and others. Check out this video to get @scobelizer's thoughts on mobile computing, the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and more.
When the FTC announced that it would require disclosure of fees and endorsements by bloggers starting Dec. 1, some complained this was overkill. I have several personal blogs outside of InfoWorld, and I don't mind disclosing that I've occasionally received review copies of books, CDs, and the like. I also run Google ads on some of my blogs. All told, the money that comes in is less than the price of a decent guitar, and I dont believe I've compromised my integrity as a writer. I suspect many bloggers are similar; if they make any money, it's to fund their hobby.
This isn't just a simple case of some over-zealous fan astroturfing as happens from time to time in open source projects (and elsewhere.) As I Googled around, I noticed these scam review sites for not just piano and guitar lessons, but exercise equipment, language learning software, vitamins, even web development tools. So its not just an isolated incident. Doug Marks has complained to Google that these sites violate their policies, but so far, there's been no response. Hopefully the FTC will crack down on these sites or force Google to do so.
To be clear, I have purchased Doug MarksMetal Method DVD Course and have no hesitation recommending it to others. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm an affiliate. I have not tried out the competing courses, but I'm suspicious of any company that engages in these kind of misleading campaigns.
Have you seen these scam review sites for other products? Let me know.