June 2009

I’m an equal opportunity critic of bad decisions, regardless of whether they’re coming from an open source or closed source purveyor.

A few weeks back I wrote that the IE8 “Get the Facts” campaign gets it wrong by showing little respect for the target audience’s intelligence.  Today, I’m calling out Mozilla for needlessly playing the “Get the facts” game (or “See How we Stack Up” in Mozilla speak).

Someone at Mozilla wants me to believe that Firefox is so much better than IE that Firefox leads 6 to 1 in the “handy browser comparison chart”.  I don’t disagree that Firefox leads in the items that Mozilla included in the comparison.  But if Firefox didn’t lead in “Thousands of free way to personalize your online experience”, Mozilla would not have put that item on the comparison table.

Does this comparison really help someone evaluating which browser to download and use?  Absolutely not. Product comparisons are better left to a third party that will include criteria important to users, not simply criteria that the owning vendor’s product is best at.

This is a waste of time, both for employees of Mozilla and Microsoft and for anyone who has stumbles across these “comparisons”.

I don’t know why, but I would have expected Mozilla to take the high road in this comparison game.

Sun’s Thorsten Ziehm of the OpenOffice.org engineering team wrote a post titled: “Does OpenOffice.org 3.x have a general quality issue?”

Unless my mind is playing tricks on me, and I’m 98.2% sure it isn’t, Thorsten’s post was edited between when I first read it in the morning and when I decided to blog this afternoon. The edits seem to have removed any suggestion that OOo could have a quality issue. Even in the original version of the post Thorsten had concluded that OOo does not have a general quality issue. But in the original version he did discuss some information that could point to a quality issue. For instance, the original showed that the total bugs reports had grown to over 13 thousand, of which about 3 thousand were new feature requests. If memory serves me right, the defects and total numbers were much higher than previous releases. But with more OOo users, this increase did not point to a quality issue by itself.

Thorsten concludes that, while there may not be a general quality issue with OOo:

“We have to work still on stabilizing the existing functionality instead of concentrating on newer functionality only.”

This is a similar conclusion that Andre Schnabel comes to in his reply to Thorsten’s post (not sure if Andre’s reply was to version 1 or version 2 of Thorsten’s post).

“While one may argue (endless) if the product as a quality issue or not, the real point is, that the OOo project’s process of identifying, handling and finally fixing bugs is not really satisfying.”

Andre goes on to conclude that we can make OOo better:

“- joint and better coordinated efforts from QA and development to *fix* bugs
– the common goal of the project to work on bugfixing (instead of the separate statement of the QA project that fixing bugs is not within our responsibility)
– the commitment to fix bugs even in old features (and not only regressions). Each feature once was new. Following our current policy you just need to wait long enough to counter the regression argument.”

OOo is facing a difficult balancing act between fixing bugs and adding new features. Software developed using the traditional software business model often has a larger focus, emphasis on “larger”, not all, on their time on the latter. Who’s going to buy version 5.0 of a product that touts “stuff that you expected to work in version 4.0, now does”. But there is absolutely a focus on reducing the defect backlog. Who’s going to buy version 5.0 of a product when version 4.0 crashed all the time? Wait, hold off the Microsoft jokes :-)

The fact that OOo is facing the same issues, and the project is also spending more of its time on new features, vs. defects, is an interesting response to those that view OSS as a panacea. Both the OSS and traditional software business models can produce high quality software or trash. Producing high quality software starts with a focus on not just track, but systematically reducing defects. It’s good to see more talk about processes focused on reducing defects at OOo.

I’ve been thinking more about the Eclipse Foundation over the past day.  As many have written, getting 33 projects, consisting of 24 million lines of code, to deliver one day is truly impressive.

What’s more impressive is the collaboration across 44 competitors and vendors with their own plans and agendas that was necessary to deliver against the release schedule.

By in large, Eclipse projects are shepherded by employees from one or more vendors whose business are tightly linked to the project.  Each of these vendors across different Eclipse projects have different business targets and customer demands they’re trying to address.  As a theoretical example, the Mylyn project, driven by Tasktop, may have been ready to launch on June 1st with key features that their customer base was looking for, while the PHP Development Tools project, driven by Zend, may have needed a few more days to pull in a whiz-bang feature.  And yet, both projects released on June 24th. (I picked the Mylyn and PHP Development Tools projects because they came to mind first.)

In the commercial software world, or when a single vendor is driving the release schedule of an open source project that they control, cross project release planning is easy, or, at the very least, easier.  Anyone working at a large software company, with different divisions on different schedules will tell you about the fun of lining up releases into a complete and integrated platform.

The Eclipse Foundation deserves the accolades it’s receiving for getting 44 vendors to march in lockstep. Eclipse remains one of the top three examples of meritocratic open source driven by an open community (Apache & Linux being the other two).

And to think, all this started as an IBM Canada project.  Happy early Canada Day (July 1st) ;-)!

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News out today that the Eclipse community has delivered Galileo, the 2009 Eclipse release train, made up of 24 million lines of code across 33 projects, with contributions from 380 committers and 44 companies participating.  As a product manager, I must say this is a pretty impressive accomplishment by the Eclipse Foundation and everyone involved with Eclipse. Well done!

The Galileo release offers new capabilities along these three themes:

1) Expanding adoption of Eclipse in the enterprise
2) Advancement of EclipseRT runtime technology
3) Innovation of Eclipse modeling technology

Details of each are provided below:

Expanding adoption of Eclipse in the enterprise
Adoption of Eclipse in the enterprise continues to grow.  New features in Galileo help expand the use of Eclipse by enterprise developers, including:

–    New support for Mac Cocoa 32 and 64 bit.
–    New Memory Analyzer tool to help analyze memory consumption of Java applications
–    PHP Development Tools (PDT) 2.1 is first PHP toolkit to support the new PHP 5.3 language release, including namespaces and closures.
–    New Mylyn WikiText support for editing and parsing wiki markup.
–    New XSL tooling for XSL editing and debugging.
–    Developer productivity improvements to Business Intelligence Reporting Tools (BIRT) report designer and performance.

Advancement of EclipseRT Runtime Technology
EclipseRT is the set of Eclipse technologies that provide OSGi-based frameworks and runtimes useful in building software systems. The Galileo release includes a dedicated category of EclipseRT components including elements from Equinox, RAP, RCP, Riena, BIRT, Swordfish, EclipseLink, ECF and EMF. Notable feature updates that advance the EclipseRT technology stack include:

–    Eclipse Equinox has been updated to support the draft OSGi Release 4, v 4.2 specification.
–    Target Platform provisioning support in the Plugin Development Environment (PDE) makes it easier to develop, test and deploy software to EclipseRT runtimes.
–    The Equinox p2 provisioning system has been updated to be faster, more robust and make provisioning OSGi bundles to embedded, desktop and server environments easy.

Innovation in Eclipse Modeling Technology

The Eclipse Modeling community continues to create new innovative technology for model-based development frameworks, tools and standards. Key new innovations in Galileo include:

–    Xtext, a new Eclipse project that allows for the creation of Domain Specific Languages (DSL). Xtext will create customized Eclipse editors for the DSL, making it easier for developers to focus on a smaller set of APIs and write less code.
–    Connected Data Objects (CDO) is a framework for distributed shared EMF models focused on scalability, transaction and persistence.  New enhancements in CDO include distributed transactions, pessimistic locking and save points, change subscription policies, an asynchronous query framework and security hooks in the repository.

What are you waiting for? Go download Eclipse Galileo!

Very cool news that a group of independent film makers (with programming skills) have developed a firmware update to the Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR.  According to the team:

“…the software in video mode has limitations, even after the recent 1.1.0 upgrade from Canon that fixed the most glaring manual exposure “bug”.

That’s where Magic Lantern comes in — it turns your 5D Mark II into a 5D Mark Free. We’ve written extensions and widgets that fix many of the annoyances in working with the 5D Mark II on a film or video set. Our first set of fixes are targeted at the audio limitations of the camera, but there are some video enhancements included, too:

* On-screen audio meters
* Disabled AGC
* Manual gain control
* Zebra stripes (video peaking)
* Crop marks for 16:9, 2.35:1 and 4:3″

They’ve released the Magic Lantern firmware under the GPL and are seeking donations, programmers with ARM assembly or embedded systems skills and folks who don’t mind risking their expensive 5D Mark II cameras!

Reading the 5D-II forum, the response has been quite positive.  I’m not a lawyer, but the EULA seems to have terms and conditions that restrict the work done by the Magic Lantern team.  This begs the question, what should Canon do about, or as a result of, Magic Lantern?

Canon could open source its firmware and encourage community contributions. The thinking follows that Canon’s hardware (CMOS, lenses) is a whole lot more valuable than its software.  While competitors could potentially reuse Canon’s open source software firmware, these competitors would not be able to match Canon’s hardware R&D and manufacturing processes.  And in most cases, the firmware is pretty hardware specific to Canon.  Or one could argue that Canon’s software is very important to its value proposition, but that opening up to an open community of developers will help Canon innovate faster than it could using its internal resources only.  On the flip side, Canon’s camera product portfolio would be disrupted if a programmer was able to add some firmware-based capability to a lower end model that is only officially offered in a higher end model.  But even here, one could argue that the vast majority of Canon users will only install the official Canon firmware which would not have to include features that Canon didn’t wish to add to a given product level. On the other hand, wouldn’t these folks be the exact users that Canon wants to upsell to the higher end model?

I could, and have, gone back and forth on this one.  What about you?

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Reading the Windows Internet Explorer 8: Get the Facts marketing campaign instantly made me wonder “When did Microsoft hire Oracle’s marketing team?” While Oracle is getting much better, they were legendary for making bold claims by cherry picking “data”.  It used to drive me nuts when I was in the IBM market intelligence group and was asked to pull background data to refute these claims.  Not because the work was hard.  But because I felt that the work was unnecessary.  After a while, readers and customers learned to discount the bold claims.

In any case, back to the current story at hand.  I’m probably more pro-Microsoft than most open source folks, which is why the IE 8 Get the Facts marketing stings more than it probably should.  I have nothing against IE 8, and it may very well be an excellent browser.  For what it’s worth, I use both Firefox, the “View in IE” Firefox extension and IE 7 daily.

When I read a comparison table and one product has a check on every item and the other two competitors have, at most, 4 checks, I am instantly weary of the comparison.  Markets are way more competitive than the story Microsoft is painting with this comparison table.

I’m really wonder who Microsoft is targeting with this campaign.  For most Windows corporate and consumer users, IE is on their desktop and they’ll continue to use it.  This campaign doesn’t mean much to them, and can’t really be targeted at them. If these users are using Firefox, it’s because someone they know or someone in the IT department has convinced them to use Firefox.  To get my little cousin to stop using Firefox, Microsoft has to get me to stop using Firefox and wait for me to tell her that IE 8 is much better than Firefox.  But this comparison table treats me like a moron.  Especially when you consider that I’m using Firefox and have pre-existing views on many items on the comparison table.  Only IE 8 gets a check for “Security” “Privacy” and “Ease of Use”?  Really? At a minimum, Microsoft should have used Harvey Balls to show that the competitors have capabilities, which may not be as strong as IE 8.  Microsoft could have posted videos that show how easy it is to carry out a common task in IE 8 and compare it to Firefox with the relevant add on installed.  Show us what happens when a session crashes and how much better the combination of “tab isolation and crash recovery” is in day to day use versus Firefox.  In this case, simply having two features versus one or the other, doesn’t tell me anything about my day to day experience.

If Microsoft wants me and others like me, to take IE 8 seriously, I expect them to treat our intelligence with some respect.  Anything less, and after a while, we’ll have been taught to discount their bold claims.

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Very cool news from Amazon that they’ve released the source code used by the Kindle device.  The code is provided as is, off course.  There doesn’t appear to be a license file in the distribution.  But the folder is named “gplrelease” and they’re using Linux 2.6.22 so I suspect it’s GPLV2.  This means that competitors can utilize the Kindle software to build a competitive device.  But I think the more important news is that Kindle aims to become an application platform in the future.

I seriously doubt that a competitor will try and beat Amazon in the ebook reader device market by using the open source Kindle software.  Amazon would have access to any of the competitor modifications to the Kindle software.  Amazon gains little by open sourcing the Kindle software if there isn’t a value to the marketplace.  So, what is that value to the marketplace?

We Canadians can’t get Kindle devices so I don’t know what restrictions Amazon puts on running other software on the Kindle.  I see today’s news foreshadowing Amazon opening Kindle up as an application platform, akin to the iPhone/iPod.  Why else open up the Kindle code if not for helping developers get a better sense of the platform itself?  Clearly an SDK would be the next thing we should expect from Amazon.

What do you think?

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