Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Silverlight as an alternative to what?

It is truly difficult to keep up with all that is going on in the realm of the web these days and while I can say that I like to try, I think it is virtually impossible to keep up. The latest "keep up" is titled "Silverlight" by Microsoft.

Before I go into this little opinion entry, I want to share a little perspective on what seems to be a "vector revolution" going on inside of Microsoft. I was at a conference not too awefully long ago where I personally witnessed a example of this revolution, but more on that in a second. What you need to know is that Microsoft is busy getting on the Vector train from having spent many years fundamentally ignoring vector (math-based) graphics and simply focusing on what it already knew: raster (the pixelated non-scaleable type of) graphics. So now that WPF at the core of technology like Vista has taken hold, "everything is coming up vector!" So, I am at this conference where a guy is demoing some Vista feature and he shows how you can grab the handle of what is obviously a Raster embeded photo inside a power point presentation, and twist it around to resize and flip it over, "That is vector graphics at work people" (the crowd claps.) Now, knowing that has nothing to do with vector graphics I look around the room spotting smiling faces with clapping hands and the infrequent creatively dressed left-brainer scratching his or her head wondering how Microsoft made it this far into a discussion that it doesn't seem to understand. Oh, well. Back to Silverlight.

So Silverlight, a web-ified version of WPF is a vector based "flash-killer" (so I have read) that can deliver raster images, video, guessing it can delvier audio (though I haven't seen that yet) and can draw vector images. But this is about where Silverlight ends in it's similarity with Flash. The functionality under a Silverlight application is very limited, with a convoluted round-trip model for talking to servers for more data (you would have to use Ajax- also convoluted- to do some of the fetching and then XAML-fy that result to programmatically pump new info/interaction into Silverlight.) So, in short, without attacking more details, I don't see how this is actually a good or healthy competition for Adobe Flash. It is like imagining that some new wrist PDA would be considered a "desktop computer killer," when in reality no wrist PDA could compete with a desktop computer. It wouldn't be close. Since the wrist PDA doesn't do as much, the next question might be, well, maybe it is in a class of it's own? Well, maybe not. When you consider that a typical Ajax app coupled with Quicktime can do about as much as Silverlight... today, you start to imagine that it isn't in it's own class. It is simply outclassed. "But what about drawing vector art? It can do that!" - Yes it can. But IE could draw vector art for years in a little something called Scaleable Vector Graphics (SVG) - a format that just didn't take off. The bottom line is, competition is a good thing, but I think the launch of Silverlight was and is a bit premature. They have about 10 years of catchup to even come close to the category of competing with Adobe Flash. So, for now I guess I am simply left explaining to clients that "want the next Silverlight killer-app" that at best I could offer them is the "next Silverlight presentation" but killer-app it will not be.

We all know that Microsoft is nearly never first-to-market with anything. But they catch up fairly quickly in many cases (and even legitimately overtake the competition with improvements) and the same might be true for Silverlight. So one eye might be well placed on the progress of that technology. But having said that, everyone knows that Microsoft never understood "design" (ie. creative design- not one of the 4 phases of project management) and so I think the subtleties of creative expression and creative needs will be lost on this giant as they attempt to churn out a business approach to developing "creative software" or solutions.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Flex 2 is Open Source: The Web Is Dead, Long Live The Web

Ok, for those of you who have been paying attention to rich internet application development, we fundamentally know that Flex 2 development is XML template for having a server-side process compile a SWF in near real time. This basically means that a flex MXML file is basically just a set of instructions for how a SWF should be created, including actionscript wrapped in CDATA tags in the XML (imagine a Flash project decompiled into a set of XML tags.) Well, Adobe decided at the end of last month to completely Open Source the entire Flex 2 solution, as a part of the Mozilla project, including the server-side Java code that dynamically creates SWFs. A long time ago they Open Sourced the SWF file format (I remember that was when Corel Draw Suite, specifically their animated-gif timeline tool, all of a sudden could output to SWF.) and now they are Open Sourcing the server-side code that builds the Flex files into SWFs.

There shouldn't be any more complaining from purist web geeks about Flash on the web. Technically, they could go read through the Open Source Flex Project and create their own Flash SWF Compilers. This is as open as open gets. The only thing Adobe could do now is to give away the Flash Development tools, which would be rediculous.

Adobe has thrown down the gauntlet. If "open source" really just means free to you, then you will be relegated to a back seat on the ride that is the web. If you don't want to buy the Flash development environments from Adobe then you should team up with some people and build your own "free flash content creation tool" based on the Open Source reality of Flash. My goodness. Adobe has taught you how to fish. Does the world need to catch you a fish and feed you as well, hand to mouth?

Even though we know it is happening in FireFox (Firefox will have native support for running actionscript in the browser instead of writing javascript), if IE implements that as well, I see the end of javascript, we would have been completely right about fjax (as a concept/idea) and rich internet applications will be the new norm.

Traditional HTML tagging embedded in a text document will be viewed as "something we did once when the web was far less dynamic." For those who are exhausted by the forever steep learning curve that is the web industry, buckle up (and read my last blog). We are just getting started and those who do not "enhance" will be left behind ("left behind" is a fairly long curve in itself. I am willing to guess that one has about two years to ignor the trends before one has to go find a new industry to stagnate in.)

For more info on Flex Open Source, check out:

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Learning In an Industry That Never Sleeps

I hate computers. Actually, I really like computers and I hate that fact, because they are like these sense-less infants with insatiable appetites for knowledge and mobility. You can feed them all day long and into the night and they never stop growing. In fact, if you feed a baby it only ever has two arms at most with which to wield havoc on your life (though I know parents who might want to disagree with that.) But with a computer, you feed it and feed it and the next day it has ten arms reaching in every direction. This baby is no typical baby. And once your friends and family (and employer) catch a glimpse of this amazing baby they want to see it do trick and want you to raise one up for them, too. Pretty soon you find that you are doing all that you can to keep up with this monster of a baby as the world around you begs to see more tricks.

Like parents of human babies, you begin to realize that it takes far more than 9 to 5 to keep up with this toddler. You can’t sedate it or pawn it off on relatives or a sitter. Every day it is growing out of control and within a few days you catch yourself saying, “Where did that new appendage come from?” and now you have to quickly “master” the abilities of this growing baby, so you can remain the respectable teacher of it.

My baby’s most recent new appendages are PHP, Ajax, WPF/E, XAML, and SharePoint. I see these suckers reaching and grabbing and throwing and warbling every day. There are a countless number of fingers reaching everything within the grasp of my available time.
So I have decided to cut back. I am cutting back on sleep, personal time and most importantly anything else that may have critical importance to my life or career, as I get completely absorbed and enveloped in the weeds of this gigantic organic/dynamic playground. I have been trying to cut out frivolous stuff like eating and time in the bathroom (two things that are like a perpetual cycle unto each other) to make more time for baby, but I find I am getting weak fast, so I have to get back on the trough.

Back to Reality: I would give anything for this silent competitively growing tech-revolution to plane off and give the proverbial “parents” a little break, but I don’t see that happening. The fact is that we are on the very early upward trend of a massive technology parabola that only just started in the very late 1970s. Soon, meaning in my lifetime, there will be a nearly vertical adoption curve of growth and change around how we think about and live with technology (from the inevitable evaporation of the cube sitting on the floor called a computer – it will be completely integrated into other products and not be an end in itself, to the ways we interact with the request and delivery of information- no more keyboards, mice and monitors, but something altogether more intuitively integrated) and we will need new technology just to keep track of the old technology that just became outdated.

So, here is my prediction: Wetware is what is next. In 1997 I imagined I invented the term when I found myself thinking about the future interface between human biology and digital appendages. I think we will see the creation of wetware products that will help deliver stored and indexed information to us in a faster more intuitive manner. It will be like a Bluetooth device that attaches to our glasses and displays information related to as many human interactions as possible, automatically cross-referencing and indexing information in their contexts at an incredible rate. Kids will wear this stuff their entire lives and when they get old, everything they ever experienced will be available at their fingertips, sorted by statistical relevance by the age in which they found and reflected on it. Gone will be the days of getting old and forgetting stuff. Our “brain” will be managed externally. And big brother will pay big bucks to get a peak at your bit-matter ( not quite grey-matter.) Companies will specialize in helping sift through your digital preferences and help you articulate your opinion better than you could ever do. In fact, you won’t have to show up at the hardware store and ask for “one of those puddy slash tapey things that help the pipe stop leaking.” Your wetware will cross-reference “puddy-slash-tapey, pipe,leaking” with the product catalog of the store you walked into and ask for the right product by name, on your behalf. Business Intelligence will take on a whole new meaning and Marketing will be reduced to intense logarithmic calculations about the probability of your interest in their product rather than blanketing you with a shotgun blast of eye candy to try and get you to buy their products. This is how advertising dollars will be saved. You will volunteer your statistical interest via wetware, without you even knowing it, and the ad will move along to a slightly more likely candidate. Our time will be focused on things that seem to add value while the rest of the digital planet rolls forward on the boring details that we would never have even attempted to collate on our own.

Next blog entry: "How we will survive an energy crisis in the future when we let technology manage our preferences" or "How to grill a ham sandwhich"