May 2009


While the future of JavaOne is anybody’s guess, it’s interesting to note that Microsoft and IBM are both delivering keynotes at JavaOne this year.  This is Microsoft’s first JavaOne keynote and IBM’s first in at least 2 years.

Microsoft’s Dan’l Lewin will be discussing .NET and Java interoperability.  It’s great to see .NET and Java interoperability get more industry attention.  For all the .NET vs. Java hype, at least one-third of customers (an old Gartner stat) have both .NET and Java.  In fact, I spoke to two customers in the last month who are interested in the WebSphere CEA feature pack and have a .NET front end speaking to a Java back end.  Good thing we designed for interopability from day one.

It seems there may be a cloud angle to the Sun & Microsoft announcement.  I’d hazard a guess that Sun and Microsoft will announce support for “Java Services” on Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, similar to the .NET Services currently supported.  It’s always seemed awkward to me that Azure would be a Windows/.NET centric (only) cloud.  Why would Microsoft choose not to address the one-third of customers that have .NET and Java in their shop?  I have to believe that Sheila Gulati, Steven Martin, Sam Ramji, Robert Duffner, Bill Hilf and others at Microsoft are thinking along these lines.

IBM’s Craig Hayman, will be discussing Extreme Transaction Processing (XTP) and Elasticity, two hot trends in the enterprise Java arena.  As core business applications built with Java face exponential user and transaction growth, enterprises can’t really rely on a “Fail whale” strategy.  Elasticity and XTP work hand in hand to address this growth with an eye on reducing costs across peaks and valleys.  Craig will also cover how IBM’s efforts in the open community, both through open standards, and open source, are driving developer productivity and innovtion.

I would have liked to attend JavaOne this year, but we’re taking wee Isaac to visit family in Ireland.  If he fares well on this 6 hr flight, the ~20hr trip to India is up next!  Clouds, Java, .NET and XTP will surely be waiting we get back.

Ian Skerrett just posted 6 Insights from the Eclipse Community Survey.  They’re all very interesting, but Insight #1 is really surprising.  Ian writes: “Insight #1 – Linux is doing really well at the expense of Windows.” Ian bases this on the following data:

It’s long been held that developers build applications on Windows regardless of which operating system the (server side) application will be deployed on.  This Eclipse data suggests a change might be underway.

Is anyone else surprised that nearly half (27 percent vs. 64 percent) as many Eclipse users build applications on Linux as they do on Windows?  Frankly, I’ve worked with more customers whose developers build applications on Mac OS X than on Linux; emphasis on the word “on” vs. “for”.  None the less, this data should definitely get some attention from folks over at Microsoft.

Yes, these results are based on Eclipse users and do not account for the Visual Studio developers who are 100% on Windows.  But let’s say Eclipse and Eclipse based tooling is used by (as little as?) one-third of all enterprise developers, it’s still a large enough audience that Microsoft needs to keep on Windows.  Maybe there is work that Microsoft could do to optimize Eclipse for Windows; much like Microsoft has done with PHP and Windows?

More worrisome (to Microsoft) is the fact that Linux has secured the #1 position for deployment operating systems amongst Eclipse users.  In related news, Sun Solaris/OpenSolaris fared no better, declining from 8% in 2007 to 5.2% in 2009.

My data analysis spidey senses are tingling.  I’d love to have more time with this data! But alas, life calls…

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I last wrote about Engine Yard back when they were working to create a language reference for Ruby.  It’s great to see that Engine Yard remains committed to the Ruby community.  Last week Engine Yard & the Ruby core team announced that it has taken over maintenance for the 1.8.6 branch of Ruby.

Ruby 1.8.6 was released in 2007 and the new 1.9 branch was released earlier this year.  According to the Ruby core team, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the 1.8 branch, which most Ruby users are on, and introduce new features into the 1.9 branch.  Engine Yard stepped forward to lighten the load on the Ruby core developers since 1.8.6 users want to see it supported well beyond the time frame that the Ruby core team had originally planned.

This is a win-win for Engine Yard and the Ruby community.  Rapid bug fixes for the widely used (amongst Ruby users) Ruby 1.8.6 release ensures current Ruby users can continue to run those apps without having to migrate.  New features faster into the 1.9 relapse stream means it’ll be easier for the Ruby community to attract new developers to build new applications with Ruby.  This in turn is goodness for Engine Yard’s hosting offerings for Ruby applications.

I often forget how much I dread migrating my application to newer, supported, runtimes.  I only do it when I absolutely have to. I’m certain that I’m not alone.  Kudos to Engine Yard for recognizing this and helping Ruby users.

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Recently the news about the inevitability of open source has been everywhere.  Just today I exchanged tweets with Matt after he blogged:

“Indeed….open source has won”.

Seeing that I’ve always advocated the happy balance of open source and traditional software used in conjunction to address customer needs, news about A winning over B is somewhat hard to accept.

When I pressed Matt on what he meant by “open source has won” he replied:

“Won in the sense that 5 years ago no one, including IBM, would have thought it would be a part of all software”

Well, IBM was ahead of the game in terms of contributing to. and using open source within its products.  Whether Steve Mills (the head of IBM’s Software division) every thought or does think that open source will be “part of all software” is up for discussion.  But at least as far back as 2002 we used reasonably important open source components in a major IBM software product, WebSphere Application Server.

In any case, a discussion about the use of open source components within traditional software products is only mildly interesting.  It was/is inevitable that any software vendor with a budget to worry about will choose to consume open source components versus building from scratch when the customer value point is higher up the stack.

The interesting discussion centers on the open source versus traditional software business model.  In this discussion, far from “we won or they won”, I’d argue that we and they learned from each other and evolved our collective business models.  We have added free and open source offering to our product portfolio.  We have opened up our development practices to become more transparent. (Could we be even more transparent? Sure, give us time).  They have moved beyond selling support to selling proprietary products.

We and they have taken steps that would have been sacrilege just 2 or 3 years ago.  As a result, we, they and our joint customers have benefited.  But this angle doesn’t get the news coverage it deserves.

To be fair, Matt gets this and retweeted my tweet: “…so to me, “we both won” (we= the overall software industry, oss or traditional vendors)”

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I’ve been reading the recent Linux & Netbook blogs/analysis with great interest as my wife’s Thinkpad T40 is nearing death.  I asked her if she wanted a Mac, a Netbook, or another Thinkpad.  Her response: “I don’t care. I just want to read email, do some Excel and Word and clean up pictures with Picasa.”  Based on how I interpreted these requirements I suggested a Mac ;-)  She nixed that idea quickly saying: “if you want a Mac, like I know you do, go get one.  But I don’t want to pay extra for one”.  Bruised, I suggested she buy a Netbook.  She’d seen them at Costco, and liked the low price.  I told her we could get one with Linux so it’d be even cheaper.  Her response: “how much cheaper? Because I know how my Windows works and how to access my folders with explorer”. I made the mistake of saying that the Linux version was about $50 cheaper than the Windows version.  Game over.  She wants nothing to do with a Linux Netbook.  Not surprisingly, she wants nothing to do with Vista and its whole new UI either.

The discussion with my wife is exactly why I disagree with Sam Dean’s view that:

“… product differentiation–a better product strategy–is the holy grail for Linux netbooks. They should be more compelling and exciting than Windows netbooks, no matter what it takes to make that happen.”

Trying to make the Linux netbook more compelling and exciting than a Windows netbook goes against consumer demand.  The average Netbook consumer (i.e. my wife) doesn’t want a more compelling laptop/netbook; she wants a cheap and Windows-based user experience.  Nothing different, nothing more.

To get my wife, and countless other consumers to use Linux, the primary task has to be something other than personal computing. My wife knows what user experience she expects during personal computing tasks; her experience with Windows has cemented that expectation.  However, she doesn’t yet know what user experience to expect when, for instance, reading on an eBook device.  The primary task supported by the device is reading a book, magazine or web content.  Adding support for personal computing tasks such as checking her email or creating simple spreadsheets to this device, could introduce a different user experience than she is accustomed to on her laptop. This is because the device’s primary task is not personal computing. She has never complained that editing spreadsheets or saving files into folders on her Blackberry is different than how she is accustomed to on her laptop. (Note she does both of these tasks on her Blackberry often).  This is because the device (Blackberry) is focused on a different task than her laptop.  For the average consumer, the only difference between a laptop and a netbook is the name. Consumers expect these devices to perform similarly.  This is why Linux will face challenges in the netbook device market.  However, if we’re talking about a new device, focused on a new primary task, the sky’s the limit for Linux with consumers.

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Monty’s explanation of why he founded the Open Database Alliance focused on the Alliance being able to target customers that need more personalized services than Sun/Oracle could provide.  This jogged my memory about one of the early benefits marketed around purchasing open source support.  Namely, that customers could speak directly with the developers of the product.  In this brave new world, of 3 years ago, customers wouldn’t have to explain their issue to one or two levels of support professionals before reaching the actual developer of the code.  This was even while most questions related to configuration, settings, or other issues that a level 1 or level 2 support professional could handle easily.  But, when it was a tough problem, and/or the customer was down, going directly to the developer definitely had its appeal.

The ability to “speak directly with the developer” could not scale with the growth of an open source software business.  Vendors want their developers writing the next feature for the next release, or out doing professional support, not manning the phones to answer configuration questions.   I remember struggling with this issue  when we were crafting IBM’s Apache Geronimo and WAS Community Edition support offerings back in 2005.

I know some closed and open source companies rotate their developers into the support organization so developers can get customer exposure and better understand how their work and the product is used in the field.  However, this staffing procedure is seldom marketed to customers.

I checked the JBoss and MySQL subscriptions to confirm whether they market the ability to speak directly with the developer. As best as I could tell, they do not.

Customers don’t prefer a support triage system.  But maybe they’re not willing to pay a premium for it?  Or maybe larger open source vendors have acknowledged that this feature does not scale, and hence, aren’t offering it?  Maybe it’s a little from column A and a little from column B?

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The executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission (EC), is considering holding software vendors liable for damages caused as a result of defects in their software products.

Glyn Moody wonders about the impact of this proposal on open source coders.  However, as Bruce Schneier, a proponent of the idea, points out:

“Free software wouldn’t fall under a liability regime because the writer and the user have no business relationship; they are not seller and buyer.

….

There would be an industry of companies who provide liabilities for free software. If Red Hat, for example, sold free Linux, they would have to provide some liability protection. Yes, this would mean that they would charge more for Linux; that extra would go to the insurance premiums.”

Bruce is correct in pointing out that the writer of free and OSS code and the user of said code have no business relationship.  Hence, there is no liability for the writer.

There is absolutely a buyer/seller relationship when a vendor, such as Red Hat, decides to build a business around the OSS code.  Adding liability to the software purchase discussion would almost certainly impact the growth of open source vendors.

Since no software vendor can envision and test for every permutation of how their software will be used, liability insurance premiums must be added to the cost of doing business. This added cost would surely be passed on to customers.  One could argue that equivalent costs would be added to established and open source vendor list prices alike.  On the other hand, established vendors have a lot more paying customers to spread the insurance premiums over. So maybe this proposal would close the list price gap, making it more difficult for open source vendors to grow beyond the startup stage.

Since most open source business models are predicated on providing customer support when a defect does arise, I wonder whether open source vendors would have to reposition their subscription value propositions. I am not a lawyer, but it seems odd that a vendor could sell a subscription offering that assists customers with defect support if the customer could sue the vendor when a defect causes harm to the customer’s business.

Finally, I found this quote amusing:

“EU consumer commissioner Kuneva said that more accountability for software makers, and for companies providing digital services, would lead to greater consumer choice.”

Attractive profits are the #1 business reason to enter a market.  The risk of getting sued for damages caused by software defects would introduce a barrier to market entry.  With fewer market entrants, the goal of “greater consumer choice” is a pipe dream.  The software industry already has attractive profit potential, and there is nothing in this EC proposal to increase profits.  Unless the EC thinks that software vendors will be able to raise prices higher than the associated liability insurance premiums?  I’m not sure how this is in the consumer’s best interest.

Like many others, I think the EC needs to go back to the drawing board on this one.

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