Archive for October, 2010

Apple vs Adobe: Round two could herald the knockout blow

October 18, 2010

Seconds out, round one! Once the best of friends, technology giants Apple and Adobe have more recently been involved in a fistfight that would do the heavyweight boxing division proud.

 In the red corner, Apple – an experienced but innovative slugger that is now worth more in market capital terms than software behemoth Microsoft. From the desktop to the pocket, Apple has become the consumer – and increasingly, enterprise – product of choice.

 In the blue corner, Adobe – another innovative firm, famed for its multimedia software and rich internet application development tools, such as Flash. And it is the last area that has caused consternation with Apple.

 At times, the heavyweight battle can look more like a schoolyard scrap. In a recent note (see further reading, below), Apple chief executive Steve Jobs made much of the former pals’ friendship.

 “Apple has a long relationship with Adobe. In fact, we met Adobe’s founders when they were in their proverbial garage. Apple was their first big customer,” starts Jobs’ open letter, before taking a swipe at Adobe’s technical troubles.

 Jobs suggests Flash is poorly designed, has security concerns and is ill equipped for the mobile age (see further reading). Apple banned Flash from its iPhone in 2007 and its iPad in 2010, restricting the use of the third party tool for developers.

 For its part, Adobe has issued a staunch defence, concentrating on the inherent openness and innovation of the internet. Adobe co-founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock suggest that Apple’s restrictionscould undermine this next chapter of the web” (see further reading).

 Which is a big claim, but are they right? Flash is undoubtedly a popular web development mechanism. However, its attractiveness will undoubtedly be affected by Apple’s decision to restrict the use of Flash, especially as the iPhone and iPad are the devices of the moment.

 There are, of course, other web development platform options. Jobs’ letter refers to open standards, such as CSS and JavaScript. He draws particular attention to HTML5, which he says is the new web standard, a standard that means web developers do not have to rely on third party plug-ins.

 Currently under-development, HTML5 already boats some big backers and impressive features, such as drag-and-drop and – most crucially, in terms of the ongoing status of Adobe Flash – video playback.

 Round two of the fight is only just beginning but the combined power of Apple allied to the inevitable success of HTML5 could land a knock out blow on Flash.

Further reading

 http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

 http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/060710-tech-argument-apple-adobe.html

 http://www.adobe.com/choice/openmarkets.html


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Fat client / Rich client / Mobile client

October 8, 2010

It’s a given that you’d better get online if you want to reach out to your customers. With more and more people having mobile access to the internet, firms need software that can help clients to interact on the move.

Step forward web-based rich internet applications (RIAs), which are online tools that have many of the features of their desktop counterparts. The use of RIAs date back a decade but their use continues to evolve.

As analyst Gartner concludes in respect to enterprise-level adoption (see further reading, below), RIA platforms are still in a dynamic and early adopter phase of market evolution. What is certain is that the RIA market is highly competitive.

 As well as the most distinct and prominent flavours, Apple pushes the use of its own software. Such divisions are inherent to the RIA market and competition is now taking a specific route.

 Most RIAs are splitting into two distinct groups: client technology, where a specific app – such as Silverlight or Flex – is installed into the client; or the server-based and Ajax route, where users only need a browser and no other client requirements.

 The distinction between the two approaches is such that Gartner considers Ajax and client-based RIAs as similar but separate technologies. Many firms choose to opt for the client approach – but for me, going with the client approach seems like a backwards step. It like we’re re-inventing the battle between desktop and browser apps, only this time both options are in the browser.

 First, users normally need to install a specific framework that executes the RIA before an application can launch. In Java-based alternatives like Ajax, there is no installation requirement – built-in browser functionality means required components are kept server-side.

 Second, the line between the desktop and the browser is blurring (see further reading). The browser is increasingly seen as the operating system, with individuals able to securely access social networking, music streaming and enterprise applications via the browser.

 Take note, however, that going for development via the browser is not a standalone decision. Businesses must also consider mobile development – and must avoid relying on a specific toolset for mobile development.

 Get the decision wrong and you can find your business in a similar platform-specific cul-de-sac, this time on the mobile rather than the desktop. By going with a mix of HTML/Javascript and Ajax-server based technologies, your business can use the same developers on desktop and mobile environments.

 HTML/Javascript and server-based Ajax is the route that will allow you to reach out to an increasingly mobile and browser-based audience. And in the future, it’s a combination that will help your business cope with the increasing range of screen sizes.

 Open source development frameworks like Rhodes and PhoneGap allow skilled web specialists to write once and deploy anywhere, creating mobile apps that have access to local device functions like camera, contacts and GPS.

 If you want to give your software the greatest reach, make sure your web-based developments take a direction that allows you to serve your savvy customers.

Further reading

 http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?doc_cd=164266

 http://www.computerworlduk.com/TOOLBOX/OPEN-SOURCE/blogs/index.cfm?entryid=2389&blogid=22&tsb=comment


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Some screens are better than others…

October 5, 2010

What’s your most important screen? Which device – regardless of application and information – is most important?

 Your business has probably spent years developing multi-channel strategies that allow customers to interact with your firm online, offline and by phone. But now, the level of online interaction is changing and organisations need to prepare multi-screen strategies.

 Microsoft has clearly been considering such strategies and started talking about a three-screen strategy towards the end of last year (see further reading, below).

 The company’s “three screens and a cloud” vision concentrates on how software experiences will be delivered through cloud-based services across PCs, phones and TVs.

 The software giant believes the approach will lead to a programming model that helps create a new generation of applications for businesses and consumers. That belief is spot on.

 Non-believers only have to think about how providers have worked to ensure the new generation of social apps – Facebook, LinkedIn, Spotify – are accessible online through various platforms with different screens.

 As I have mentioned elsewhere, the message for developers is clear: do not make the mistake of creating an application for a single platform. In the future, successful developers will have to accommodate applications to fit more than one screen size.

 In fact, the multiplicity of variable screen sizes is such that Microsoft’s three-screen strategy might be a few screens short. While the underlying sentiment behind the theory is right, big name providers are creating new ways to present information.

 Apple’s iPad is an obvious example, a device that sits somewhere between the pocket size smart phone and the laptop computer. Other less-hyped innovations are always entering the market.

 Take Intel’s recently announced Classmate PC, a hybrid device for education that offers the capabilities of a touch screen tablet and the usability of a netbook (see further reading).

 Some developments leave me to conclude that it’s too early to state that the three screens of PCs, phones and TVs will dominate our lives. Information is being provided in a series of ways across a range of forms.

 Convergence of screens is still far from a reality. Personally, I think we will be using far more than three screens – and the way that most people use a screen will vary depending on the device, location and a range of other contexts. As I have regularly suggested, context awareness is going to be a crucial element in the ongoing development of devices.

 While some people will like the option of having a phone on their watch, other individuals will want a different type of portable device that offers the option of a high quality, rollout screen.

 The end point, of course, will be convergence. Think forward and you can begin to imagine a situation where information on various screen forms is holographically projected. For now, however, such concepts remain dreams for the next generation.

Further reading

 http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2009/nov09/11-17pdc1pr.mspx

 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/intel-launches-new-tablet-netbook-classmate-pc-hybrid-685842


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Can the BBC afford to take their eyes of HTML5?

October 4, 2010

You sometimes read an opinion that stands out and stops you in your tracks – and the below sentiment from a senior BBC executive about the next major revision of the HTML standard left me stunned.

 “I have concerns about HTML5’s ability to deliver on the vision of a single open browser standard which goes beyond the whole debate around video playback,” says the BBC’s future media and technology director Erik Huggers (see further reading, below).

 That viewpoint takes a negative approach to a fast-developing and – most importantly – open standard. The World Web Web Consortium (W3C) recently released the latest HTML5 draft specification, which will include native video support and will reduce the need for additional plug-ins and enhancements.

 It is a crucial step forwards. Providers currently take a disparate approach to web development, using a varied sample of codes, styles and plug-ins to produce the user interface. Such fragmentation often produces a disappointing web experience, with users aware that different browsers have different capabilities.

 HTML5 could be the start of something different. The standard already boasts some big backers and impressive features. Take Apple’s Steve Jobs, who is a passionate advocate and refers to HTML5 as the new web standard (see further reading).

 Microsoft, meanwhile, recently performed W3C Web Standards tests on the forthcoming Internet Explorer 9 (see further reading). For its part, Google has been using HTML5 to enhance the web-based version of Gmail and has even coded a Gmail-themed ‘shoot-em-up’ in HTML5 (see further reading).

 Most of the IT world, therefore, is preparing itself for an inevitable switch to HTML5. Apart from, it would seem, the BBC. Is the organisation right or wrong?

 Criticism of the BBC centres on the suggestion that its support of Flash belies broader support of open standards. Huggers suggests the organisation’s use of Flash is not a case of BBC favouritism and is the best way to deliver high quality video experience to the broadest possible audience. 

 More specifically, Huggers believes there is still a lot of work to be done on HTML5 before the BBC can integrate it fully into its products. But while work does need to be done, progress is remarkable.

 I believe Huggers is wrong to suggest that HTML5 progress is sailing off course and slowing. Backers are lining up to support the standard and, as stated above, the latest revisions to HTML5 have only just been released.

 The bandwagon for HTML5 has started to roll. Organisations either jump on now or get left behind. Way too many people want open standards-based solutions for HTML5 not to be a success. The BBC should not let its current requirements for video playback distract its attention away from the fast pace of web development.

Further reading:

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/08/html5_open_standards_and_the_b.html

 http://www.neowin.net/news/internet-explorer-9-beta-due-on-september-15

 http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

 http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/galactic-inbox-html5-game-inspired-by.html