Archive for November, 2010

AppInventor won’t solve your end user development opportunity

November 29, 2010

Once again, don’t believe the hype. Google recently launched App Inventor, a system that claims to enable non-coders to develop Android software.

The principle is sound enough – instead of writing code, interested individuals visually design the way an app looks and use blocks to specify software behaviour. The open platform for developers, meanwhile, could lead to vast array of specialised apps from people who are traditionally viewed as non-developers (see further reading, below).

However, don’t get the party bunting out just yet. The hype might suggest Google has created end-user computing for Android but the reality is slightly more complex.

Yes, the system allows individuals to work with blocks of code. And the system should be intuitive – it has been in development for more than a year and user testing has been mainly completed in schools (see further reading).

But while the drag-and-drop system of App Inventor is reminiscent of fitting Lego blocks together, experienced reviewers believe the fit is not quite as snug as it could be.

TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid, for example, has experience of programming and attempted to put together a couple of apps. He concludes that the Google software is far from perfect and is by no means a short cut to back room, smart phone development (see further reading).

App Inventor, then, is a neat, graphical programming tool. The concept is innovative and refreshing. It is not, however, a tool for non-programmers. Google have created another step towards end-user development but this is by no means an end-point.

Senior executives should not be swayed by the hype and should not expect non-technical employees to start creating powerful Android apps. In fact, there is a strong argument for suggesting that the focus should not just be on the creation of new apps.

For some employees, end-user development is a real possibility – and Google’s App Inventor represents another staging post. At the same time, more apps create more maintenance, especially if increasing numbers of non-programmers are really going to get their hands on code.

 Proper end-user development must consider how apps can be maintained without the need for IT to run modifications and changes. Once again, good end-user development comes down to good management.

 End-users can create apps but only if the IT department is able to support such computing easily and cost effectively.

Further reading

 http://mashable.com/2010/07/12/google-app-inventor/

 ttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/technology/12google.html?_r=2

 http://techcrunch.com/2010/07/12/android-app-inventor-demo/


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Gen Y: Welcome to the era of multi-taskers

November 26, 2010

If you are in your thirties or older, you might remember a working life before the internet. For Generation Y, the equation is more simple – most people in their twenties and younger don’t remember a social life before the internet.

 The up-and-coming cohort wants everything instantly – they can’t be bothered waiting for computers to start and for applications to load. Such youngsters have multiple applications running and want to be in touch with their contacts all of the time.

 Everything stops for interaction: texts must be viewed instantly; email must be always available. This “instant response” culture must respond to all internet-enabled contacts instantaneously.

 Such interactions will also be in multiple forms: several chat session will take place alongside Facebook and MSN, while the youngster is also listening to Spotify and Tweeting their thoughts to the wider world.

 This combination of instant response and multiple forms of interaction has created a multi-tasking generation. This group thinks nothing of always being ready for online collaboration.

 Such multi-tasking also has a significant social effect. The internet has become a way of life for the younger generation; after all, they simply know nothing different.

 Their lives are intrinsically linked to being online and having instant interaction. It is model of collaboration that affects their broader life and youngsters now behave socially like they would online.

 The multi-tasking generation is able to comfortably maintain two or three conversations at the same time. What would seem rude to Generation X and above is simply a normal way of conducting conversation.

 The result is a new way of communicating. What has become apparent is social change driven by technology. Rather than society simply choosing to implement tools, technology has been adopted and appropriated to create a subtle difference in the way that conversations are maintained.

 This transformation is only likely to become more intense. Facebook has just claimed its 500 millionth user and younger individuals are able to boast a contact list across various platforms that includes just about everyone they’ve ever met.

 For the older generation, such connectivity sounds daunting. But it is a social change for which Generation X and above simply must be prepared. Your newest workers will be multi-taskers.

 Eventually, such multi-taskers will run business. Is your organisation ready for the technology-led social transformation?


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The new legacy is HTML !

November 22, 2010

The legacy of past computing decisions is one of the biggest technology challenges facing businesses. What’s more, lessons from the past are not being heeded.

Let’s start with the most famous legacy code of them all – because if you’ve encountered COBOL, you’ve encountered legacy. Invented in 1959, the object-oriented language became a mainstay of business computing for the next four decades.

The legacy, however, quickly turned into a significant burden. Gartner reported that 80% of the world’s business ran on COBOL in 1997, with more than 200 billion lines of code in existence and an estimated 5 billion lines of new code produced annually (see further reading, below).

The reliance on that rate of production came home to roost towards the end of the last century, when language problems led to the panic associated to Y2K. The story since then has been one of decline. The continued move of business online has led to a clamour for new, sleeker and internet-ready programming languages.

First specified in 1990, HyperText Markup Language (HTML) became the predominant web development language. Its use ran alongside the development of open standards, such as JavaScript and the Cascading Style Sheets of CSS.

Such languages and styles helped to define the layout of the Web. But that is far from the end of the story. Online development in the era of HTML has become increasingly patchy, with more and more developers using varying styles of code.

Additional online tools, such as Silverlight and Flex, create further complexity. The result is that HTML, and an associated collection of standards and tools, are fast becoming the new legacy.

Just as in the case of COBOL, more and more lines of code are being produced. The disparate pace of online development is such that we will end up with reams of legacy HTML, JavaScript and CSS code.

Learn from history and get to grips with the problem now. Make sure you have proper documentation and standards. Select tools that are integrated with the rest of your business processes and which allow users to make the most of earlier development projects.

Think about how certain approaches – such as a mix of HTML/JavaScript and Ajax-server based technologies – will allow your business, and even your end-users, to use the same development techniques on desktop and mobile environments.

Also look to the future and take a look at HTML5, which is currently under development as the next major revision of the HTML standard, including features that previously required third-party plug-ins, such as Flash. Don’t stop there carry on with CSS3, Web Worker and WebFonts all new evolutions of current web technologies that will tomorrow be mainstream.

The end result should be the end of fragmented development and a legacy of useful web applications, rather than unusable and unidentifiable code.
Further reading:

http://www.wired.com/thisdayintech/2010/05/0528cobol-conference/


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Take your IT department forward by putting end user development at the front

November 19, 2010

Here’s a wake up call for the IT department – end-user computing will definitely become dominant; it’s just a matter of time.

 Proof comes in the form of modern business practices. Increasing numbers of executives are now saying that time to market is absolutely critical. A slow moving organisation is one that loses.

 For many firms, the ability to move quickly is underpinned by technology. The pace of change and centrality of IT to contemporary business means every organisation, whatever the sector, relies on technology to help maintain information flows and to help its employees deal with customers.

 Such reliance should be good news for the traditional technology team. But there’s a significant catch. The business wants to make changes and add products quickly. Technology, as the underpinning structure, should be set up to create speed.

 Unfortunately, this simply is not the case for many businesses.  The integral nature of IT to business processes means that line-of-business executives have to go through IT when they want to make changes.

 In many organisations, the traditional cycle of IT delivery is far too slow. One step forwards – in the form of the business’ recognition of the need to create a new product offering – is often several steps back for the IT department.

 Rather than being able to respond with agility to business need, IT development takes place across an elongated cycle, where each change needs to checked, re-checked and checked again. Businesses, if they are going to be agile, need to stop such lethargy.

 Focus remains on the IT department – and the focus has to be on technology because it is at the core of modern business practice. But smart executives are beginning to ask what can be done so that business change can swerve round the elongated cycle of IT delivery.

 For technology workers, such transformations might seem like a coup d’etat. But there is no need to be scared. IT workers that embrace the change and help the business move towards end-user computing will not be overthrown.

 Your role should be at the higher level, helping the businesses to understand how web interfaces – the new desktop – can be used to help executives avoid the traditional IT cycle of checking and testing.

 Employees want to be able to create instant changes to text that can help inform customers. They want to be able to manage data using their own business rules, creating drop down lists of crucial information.

 Permissions need to be granted and re-granted; workflow needs to be easily manageable, so that the business can use the web to drive agile processes. True agility comes in the form of end-user development.

 And the forward-thinking IT department will recognise it needs to help drive the end-user revolution, not hold it back.


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Can End User Development solve the standards puzzle?

November 15, 2010

Have you tried developing for the web recently? Did you find the broad range of forms, formats and requirements to be helpful or a hindrance?

 The chances are that you fell into the second camp; any IT specialist dabbling their programming hands in the complicated world of the web is likely to be left feeling frustrated. There are, quite simply, too many standards – and the only way out is end user development.

 Without standards, web development is a mess. Programmers in different parts of the business create a series of different platforms, preventing integration and creating specific point solutions.

 Where those solutions work, problems are hidden. But when the business tries to bring together and consolidate existing developments, IT specialists are left with an almost impossible migration effort.

 Lack of standards mean coders are left with an incomplete puzzle of different approaches to web development. Trying to establish order in such a fragmented world is very, very tough.

 Help should come in the form of cross-platform integration, such as Representational State Transfer (REST) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). But concerns arise there, too.

 As Jeff Vroom suggests in his recent excellent article for The Register (see further reading, below): “I haven’t found one platform that offers all features in a portable, open way that would gather enough momentum to establish standards.”

 Don’t look to the big vendors, either. Vroom – like many other commentators – believes the big players are unlikely to prevent fragmentation by the removal of extra frameworks that can be used to create more expensive, but more complex, standard platforms.

 Options need to be cut; formats need to be reduced and code needs to be easily re-used. So, what is the answer? Most likely – and as I have suggested a number of times – end user development (EUD).

 We need to give power to the people in the business, allowing end users to create tools from their desktop. EUD can help cut costs and boost efficiencies across a wide range of technology areas, such as web design, collaboration and modelling.

 The user knows what they want to achieve. We should give them the framework independent-means to achieve that objective. End user development really is a means to slashing the amount of forms and formats.

Further reading

 http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/14/vroom_forms/


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Microsoft wake up to smell the coffee

November 11, 2010

Another month, another confusing set of stories relating to Microsoft’s web framework Silverlight and the next generation mark-up language HTML5.

I wrote about the relationship previously, referring to Internet Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch’s suggestion that the future of the web is HTML5. More specifically, I questioned whether Microsoft’s support for HTML5 left Silverlight out in the cloud.

The answer for a few weeks, at least according to the team in Redmond, was at the centre of the next generation web. In a blog posting (see further reading, below), Microsoft’s director of product management for developer platforms Brad Becker stated that Microsoft remained committed to Silverlight – and that the framework extends the web by enabling scenarios that HTML does not cover.

That comment, in itself, was not surprising. HTML5 remains a work in progress, with developments on various platforms continuing to be developed. Silverlight, as Becker states in his own posting, is already installed on 600,000,000 desktops and devices.

But success is not just about numbers. Take the related area of mobile operating systems, where Symbian remains the leading mobile OS with about 40% of the market, according to analyst Gartner (see further reading).

Those figures, however, include the legacy of Nokia’s previous success. The smart phone market is leading to the ever-increasing growth – and inevitably the dominance – of Research in Motion, Apple and Android.

The same will be true in web development. Do not assume people will use a specific platform just because a provider has a ready-made user base. More to the point, Microsoft seems to be coming round to that way of thinking.

Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s head of servers and tools division, gave an interview at the company’s Professional Developers Conference and said that Silverlight was still “core” to Microsoft but the company was looking to other technologies to allow people to access online services (see further reading).

Muglia attempted to cool the situation in a blog posting (see further reading), suggesting his comment that the company’s Silverlight strategy had shifted was simply a comment on how the industry had changed. It was a suggestion that, rather then cool the situation, helped to add petrol to an already well-stoked fire.

Developers rounded on Muglia, posting comments on his blog which suggested they felt hurt and that Silverlight’s reputation had been left damaged: “The effort needed to restore our confidence in Silverlight is tantamount to unringing a bell,” suggested one poster.

HTML5 is a work in progress, but its progress is also startling. Non-believers – even at Microsoft’s Redmond HQ – are beginning to wake up and smell the coffee. Confusion reigns but sense, and HTML5, will win out in the end. Now somebody needs to pass the coffee cup to Adobe !

Further reading:

http://team.silverlight.net/announcement/the-future-of-silverlight/?utm_source=timheuer

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Midmarket/Sony-Ericsson-Drops-Symbian-OS-for-Android-OS-107191/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11673384

 http://team.silverlight.net/announcement/pdc-and-silverlight/

Mobile User Experience Matters…

November 8, 2010

I don’t want to just knock mobile phones. I might, at times, seem like I’m picking on handheld devices – but nothing could be further from the truth.

 Looking back on my blog posts during the past year-or-so, it’s notable how many times I’ve written about mobile phones. It’s not that surprising. Mobility, after all, has changed consumer and business life – the mobile interface is fast-becoming the new desktop.

 Yet while I appreciate the potential positive nature of this trend, it’s also clear to see that I loathe media and vendor hype. Just because people are using smart devices doesn’t mean we all need to jump on the same bandwagon.

 Sometimes my stance seems strangely isolated. From iPhones to iPads, commentators are queuing up to pay homage to the latest Apple device. While Apple has undoubtedly created a tectonic shift in the traditional geography of computing, some semblance of moderation is always required.

 First, the mobile market is actually fragmented. Rather than being simply dominated by the iPhone, Symbian and Research in Motion are able to command a larger proportion of market share – in fact, almost 50% of phones sold in 2009 included the Symbian operating system, according to analyst Gartner (see further reading, below).

 Second, many businesses are designing the wrong kinds of apps. Just as in the case of cloud computing and social media, the technology associated to smart phones is over-hyped. The result of such hype is that the business starts to become interested.

 Just as an executive might read a feature in a business magazine on the cloud or Twitter, they’re also going to be aware of consumerisation and mobility. The result is an over-enthusiastic and technology-illiterate FD or CEO knocking on your door and asking when the firm is going to release an Apple-ready app.

 You need to be prepared for such a conversation; if you’re not, you’ll repeat some of the mistakes of other leading organisations. Take smart phone banking, which research suggests is one of the fastest growing categories in mobile applications.

 Yet as much as 40% of banking customers are not satisfied at all by their smart phone banking app, according to software firm Work Light (see further reading).

 Most worryingly, almost a quarter of users indicate that a poor user experience is the main reason they do not use their app. Such figures illustrate quite clearly that there is absolutely no point designing an app without careful consideration.

 By all means, be swayed by the call for marketing and create a smart phone app. But don’t be platform specific, not everyone has an iPhone. And don’t – above everything else – forget the customer experience.

 Fail to create a great user interface and you will be left with yet another poorly supported IT project that still needs to be maintained. There is another way, so think before you develop.

Further reading:

 http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1306513

 http://www.finextra.com/news/announcement.aspx?pressreleaseid=34183


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Ditch your mobile strategy…for a multi-device one !

November 1, 2010

Blue-chip enterprises are doing it, technology providers are doing it and networking giants are preparing for it: the smart guys are already moving from a mobile strategy to a multi-device strategy.

 Long gone are the days when you would expect your development team to create a single application for a single device. Rather than converge on to one device, the world – both in the consumer and enterprise space – is going multi-device and multi-screen.

 Let’s take three recent examples (see further reading for more details). First, media company Blockbuster has announced it is using APIs to deliver movies, product reviews and real-time inventory availability to customers on various devices including phones, set top boxes and gaming consoles.

 Second, technology provider AT&T has launched U-verse Online, part of a strategy to make content available to consumers across multiple screens, including the TV, PC and mobile devices. Finally, network giant Verizon has announced plans to charge for a block of data and the allowance to share it across as many devices as the user owns.

 Such broader developments help to show that the media’s skewed attention towards individual device launches is misguided. The media would have us believe that the nature of a single device is all-important; that a new device is crucial because it provides a new platform to receive and view information.

 Apple’s iPad and new iPhone, for example, are beautifully thought-through computers. But while the launch of such devices is important, they are simply stepping stones towards a multi-device future.

 What is important – rather than the device itself – is the wider approach being taken by companies like Apple, which is demonstrating how applications and data can be accessed in a similar format on different devices.

 Apple’s iBook application – which is coming to the iPhone and iPod Touch – received more than five million book downloads in the first 65 days since its iPad launch (see further reading). For it’s part, Amazon is also pursuing a multi-device strategy and is releasing free Kindle apps for Apple devices, PCs, BlackBerrys and Google Android.

 Access to data, then, is becoming significant across different kinds of devices. And that importance will only increase. What is perhaps perplexing is that the media is not dedicating more time to the importance of the multi-device strategy.

 At the time of writing, a Google News search for “multi-device strategy” returns just 12 results. Expect that to change and quickly. After all, the smart guys are already preparing for a multi-device future.

Further reading

 http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Blockbuster-Selects-Sonoa-Systems-to-Power-Multi-Device-Strategy-1160292.htm

 http://www.von.com/news/2010/05/at-t-debuts-u-verse-online-touts-multi-device-str.aspx

 http://www.electronista.com/articles/10/05/27/verizon.4g.may.cost.for.bandwidth.not.devices/

 http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2010/06/apple_brings_ibooks_to_iphone_stepping_up_competiton_with_amazon.html


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