Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Collaboration and productivity

Some promising signs re open solutions for inter-interoperability amongst productivity suites and some moves in the communications space (i.e. email and unified communications)

  • Suites: OpenOffice's new releases will offer better charting/graphics, display improvements within Writer, better compatibility between Calc and Excel.
  • Suites: Lotus Symphony is IBM's version of the OpenOffice (StarOffice is SUN's version, and offered also via Google) offering the potential for document portability across tools.
  • Suites: Google - Capgemini is supporting (consulting, integration, helpdesk, and support services) Google Office into enterprise accounts. A lot of Capgemini people are using Google Apps.
  • Presentation: Google presentations completes Googles suite of productivity tools (Word processor, Spreadsheet etc.) that complement its communications tools (mail, IM, blog, content sharing - and soon hopefully a wiki etc.) and link to its calendaring solution. These applications allow authoring, review and viewing by multiple distributed teams in real time. They are not as powerful as the desktop suites - but the provide most of the features most people need, most of the time. For distributed teams they more than make up for any lack of sophistication with their: simplicity and their support for distributed teams.
  • Presentation: TransMedias' Glide Presenter is designed to work both on the Web and on a wide array of mobile phones (e.g. iPhone) and while it can't produce visuals as pretty as Google's it can annoy people by playing video and music during a presentation.
Knowledge management
  • Tacit's Illumio suppports collaboration and analyzes information (e-mail contacts, documents, browse history) to identify people best-qualified to answer questions that are posted. It lets keyword topics of interest be specified by users to they automatically receive alerts when RSS feeds include the topic. It integrates with t Outlook, blogs and wikis.
  • MS sells hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Office Communications Server.
    (they will also make available a SaaS version of Forefront to address the security issues - that their technologies encourage, a shame they don't just produce secure SW in the 1st place). Only customers buying licenses for 5,000 seats or more will be eligible to purchase the new SaaS offerings. MS will offer rebates of between 25%-100% of subscription fees if SLAs are not met.
  • Thunderbird's new organisation will focus on improving the user experience for a range of Internet communications and explore how e-mail should work with other technologies such as RSS, IM, VoIP, and SMS.
  • Yahoo will acquire Zimbra a Web-based e-mail and collaboration provider (for $350m).
  • FaceTime's Unified Security Gateway devices (starting at $5k) is aimed at the full range of unified communications services. USG will include security, management and compliance for IM, VoIP, P2P and secure/manage Office Communications Server and Lotus Sametime.
See also:
Spreadsheets as service

Virus vectors
Open XML a farce
Collaboration race still alive

Current conclusions
  • IM - still no ideal solution
  • Email - any open (that is portable) client and server is fine
  • VoIP - hard to determine what the best solution is investments should be tactical
  • Video conferencing - as for VoIP
  • Presence awareness - as for VoIP - and likely to be affected by location awareness
  • Integration capabilities i.e. into applications (in-house and hosted)
  • Document production - the focus should be on ODF (and certainly avoid moving to MS's extended document formats e.g. .pptx)
  • Document sharing - not a good time to move away from Lotus if you are using it.
  • Content sharing - as for VoIP

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Microsofts virus vectors

Microsoft is using the approach that made IE (and Outlook) such good virus vectors its Windows Live services i.e. tying them directly to the operating system. Fortunately the Live unified installer is still an option, so the services may not be as tightly linked to Windows as IE was.

Data management

There is more to data management than relational databases. What most enterprises lack are high level views that describe the data and how it relates to other aspects of the enterprise.

These conceptual views are implementation independent i.e. independent of the style of technology. These views should relate to logical views (which have an element of implementation specificity to them) and to other conceptual perspectives e.g. rules, functions, services etc. The logical would relate into turn to physical models and implementations. It the combination of this information allows useful business questions to answered.

Styles of implementation technology
RDBMses "long in the tooth" (to quote Stonebraker) and he suggests columnar databases the way of the future.

The focus on row based storage reflects a transactional orientation - rather than a knowledge or collaboration based orientation.

Apart from the issue of where to store data in rows or columns there is also data that is not suited to either: XML and other documents, images, locations, objects etc.

Productivity - Spreadsheeting

The various SaaS offerings may start making a dent e.g. Google sheets, Zoho, eXpresso - as they are allow collaboration and SOA oriented integation

Storage Q3

Storage keeps getting cheaper - Consumers pay $0.86 per gByte (compared to $1.28) a year ago and already 6% of mobile PCs have a capacity of 160GB+. Seagate's 65mm disk for laptops has 250GB (Momentus 5400.4, Serial ATA 3.0 Gbit/sec).

Storage as a service - starts to get more attention see: Amazon S3, Nirvanix (a fully fledged file system the Internet Media File System - IMFS). Facebook has open Data Store API beta program that may indicate plans to offer a data storage service to developers. MS announces Office Live Workspace a free (initially) online storage, file-sharing and collaboration service for users of MS Office (via a "Save as command). A click on a workspace document previews it in the browser (IE/Firefox) and a double click downloads it.

SANs - Dell MD3000i, uses iSCSI, $10k to support up to 16 host servers, room for expansion, and backup and recovery SW - it uses SAS/SATA drives to store up to 18TB on 45 drives

Solid state disk
- In Q1 next year BitMicro Networks will ship E-Disk Altima 416GB ship solid-state disk (throughput of up to 100-133MB/sec).
- Solid-state drives (64GB NAND flash memory) in be a $1k option in all professional series laptop HP PCs (faster, use less power, more durable/shock resistent than disk drives) allowing the PCs to be 25% lighter. Samsung already offer SSDs (32GB/64GB)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Open XML standards process is a farce

How many Office document standards does the world really need. Surely the answer is one.

When a perfectly good standard already exists (ODF) and it is can be supported by all the tools - why does the world need another standard. It is just irresponsible.

Politicking within countries (e.g. paying organisations within countries to vote) and to getting countries with little in the issues of outcome to vote (Cf. the recent entry to JTC-1 of those technology power houses: Malta, Côte d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela) is ridiculous.

ODF allows the exchange and retrieval of information in office documents.

It reusing existing standards - (instead of reinventing the wheel or using proprietary technologies) like HTML, Dublin Core, SVG, MathML, XForms, XLS:FO, XLink and SMIL. The next version supports RDF-based meta-data - so developers familiar with any of these standards can apply their knowledge to ODF. It also internally reuses concepts (e.g. the definition of a table in a spreadsheet, is almost identical to the definition of a table in a text document - so code written for processing a spreadsheet table can be reused for a text table). The reuse of standards and concepts makes ODF manageable and easy to learn.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Collaboration race still alive

Full collaboration solutions would ideally allow a number of services, from a range of devices (phones, PCs, Web devices) and be fully integrated. The various services include:
  • Instant text messaging (i.e. IM, SMS)
  • Non-instant text messaging (i.e. Email)
  • Voice communications (e.g. VoIP)
  • Video conferencing
  • Presence awareness
  • Document production (e.g. Office suites)
  • Document sharing
  • Content sharing
  • Integration capabilities i.e. into applications (in-house and hosted)
The key enablers to open solutions are standards i.e. for IM/presence, document production and video conferencing. The other are already defined by standards. If standards in remaining areas are adopted the landscape could change quickly.

Instant Messaging and Conferencing
The battle over collaboration technologies remains alive. The different types of players are in and of themselves interesting e.g. SW vendors, NW vendors, eCommerce vendors, Search engines/Portals - as it is the convergence of modes i.e. voice, messaging, video and desktop sharing e.g.
  • Microsoft's latest IM acquisition (Parlano/MindAlign) provides them with persistent IM. Of course they also have MSN and integration into their office/email/document suites.
  • IBM's - Sametime offers most of what WebEx/Skype/IM vendors offer.
  • Cisco's - Webex remains a strong offering from a powerful vendor, but it is hard to see it not getting marginalised as the other suites start to offer most of the conferencing and sharing capabilities.
  • eBay - Sykpe while mainly used for voice offers a IM capability
  • AOL/Yahoo - holds a significant portion of the IM market
  • Google's - Gtalk, seems to not taken off (despite its support for standards).
Document production
There is not common agreement on the use of Microsoft's proprietary formats, but nor has OpenDoc yet established itself as an open defacto standard for document interchange.

On-line office suites: Zoho, Google etc. are starting to offer the off-line capabilities that are necessary to them truely viable for most users.

PC based suites: Microsoft's suites continue to get more bloated and now seem intent on consuming screen real-estate in the same way they have historically consumed CPU and memory capacity - with little if any benefit it terms of productivity or ease of use. OpenOffice provides a perfectly viable i.e. functional, fast, efficient, open alternative for Windows /Linux users. Apple users already have good alternatives.

If the on-line suites become viable, and along with all other suites all adopt an open document interchange standard - then the market could quickly change and people would become agnostic regarding the tool set.


The email market remains open as while Microsoft dominates the PC based suites - it does not hold the same dominance in on-line email, nor does it hold the same position on the mobile/phone based market (and increasingly this is where email is being read).

Document sharing

This is a large and complex area with a range of technologies e.g. blogging, wikis etc. IBM probably has the best solution (on-line, off-line, synchronisation etc.) now based on open-source Eclipse Rich Client Platform, but Microsoft has a popular solution.

Content sharing

This area is evolving so quickly it seems that the traditional vendors will struggle to establish dominance except through acquisition e.g. Youtube, Facebook, Flicker etc. Though if anyone can get dominance it is probably be someone like Google.

Search - excluded for no good reason from this.

Some conclusions

  • IM - there is no ideal solution for IM at present - and most people continue to need to use a range of products/services.
  • Email - any client except Outlook (which is closely couple to the OS) should be fine.
  • VoIP - hard to determine what the best solution is investments should be tactical
  • Video conferencing - as for VoIP
  • Presence awareness - as for VoIP - and likely to be affected by location awareness
  • Integration capabilities i.e. into applications (in-house and hosted)
  • Document production - people should not allow the use internally of the extended document formats e.g. .pptx. It probably matter too much what Office suite most people use.
  • Document sharing - It would not be a good time for organisations using Lotus to move away from it. Sharepoint doesn't offer the same synchronisation capabilities - and is fairly closed (Cf. IBM's standards oriented offerings).
  • Content sharing - as for VoIP