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Our intrepid reporter talks with a software agent; what's up with Ray Ozzie; more

•Thrusday, Dec. 15, 2005

We talk to a real sofware agent
In case you missed our brief interview with UML and process guru Ivar Jacobson, we invite you to go to UML 'Amigo' Ivar Jacobson endorses Microsoft tool. Processes, modeling and methodologies do not easily make friends among programmers. That is because many see all that mush as overhead -- a barrier to the real work to be done, which is problem solving and coding.

But Ivar Jacobson calls forth respect in many programming quarters, and it is worth hearing him out. There is no question that his interest in working with Microsoft as a VIP, after many years of involvement with Rational Software and, subsequently, IBM Rational, is a bit of a feather in Microsoft's cap. There is more than one way to hear out Ivar, in fact.

He has an informational and entertaining web site on which he and his colleagues have deployed none other than "Cyber Ivar," a software agent, or avatar, to which you can pose questions. Cyber Ivar is sort of a cross between Clippy, Max von Sydow and the Wizard of Oz. One of our intrepid reporters interviewed Cyber Ivar a bit back as he wiled away some Internet time. His results are available for your review in My dinner with Cyber Ivar. Included is a link to Jacobson's site, in case you have your own questions.
•Monday, Nov. 14, 2005

Software as a service troubling Microsoft

Product releases as anticipated as SQL Server and Visual Studio 2005 grab big headlines. But, for the last couple of weeks, Microsoft has made front page headlines for different reasons, as memos from Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie about the company's future have been leaked to the Internet.

Both men agree that the era of software as a service is fast approaching. The company, as Gates penned, must act "quickly and decisively" to capitalize on the "services wave" before Microsoft's online competitors speed past them. Ozzie, meanwhile, noted that Microsoft has dropped the ball in a number of areas, among them search technology and Ajax -- which actually came out of Redmond in the late 1990s.

Ajax stands for Asynchronous Java using XML. By making better use of Web browsers and making more efficient calls to Web servers, this blend of development technologies may expand the usefulness of the Web as a light-weight consumer of Web services.

The memos make an interesting read and have been posted, in their entirety, on David Winer's blog.

—Brian Eastwood

David Winer on the Microsoft memos
Atlas means 'Ajax for the masses'
Infragistics Ajax tools ready to roll with .NET 2.0
Microsoft to preview Ajax technologies at PDC

•Tuesday, Oct 18, 2005

Sound-off on workflow
A reader [name withheld] recently took issue with an article that asks the question: "Are you ready to rumble with Windows Workflow Foundation?" In fact, the letter begins with a question: "Has the author of the article been living under a rock?" It continues ....

"Ever heard of Lotus Notes/Domino? Workflow is so commonplace in Notes applications that it has become ubiquitous. And it works on quite a few platforms -- not just Windows. I think Microsoft may indeed revolutionize the "workflow" world with its new offering, but come on...

Statements like: "Microsoft and others have been working toward high-powered workflow app integration for years, although the business analyst who creates flowcharts and requirements lists, more than the developer, has often been the intended user of the software."

Make me laugh out loud and cry at the same time, because some poor sap is going to believe it! I've been developing workflow apps for over 9 years now and have NEVER created one "intended for a business analyst who creates flowcharts and requirements lists."

I would estimate 99% of workflow apps currently in use are intended for use by people in the loop of a given business process: Submitters, reviewers, approvers, etc. Indeed, most of the workflow apps I've written have several departments and even CFOs and CEOs in the loop.

I'll never be able to read anything written by Jack Vaughan objectively again! I feel he has done a great disservice to the readers by not talking about Lotus Notes and Domino when he is talking about workflow. Again, from what I've read, heard and seen, Microsoft is probably going to shake up the workflow world in a big way, but this article basically denies workflow even existed until Windows Workflow Foundation came into play. I suppose Word Processing software never existed until Microsoft Word came around?"

—Jack Vaughan

•Thursday, Oct 6, 2005

Framework book of note
Clearly, a look inside Microsoft's thinking on framework design is welcome. Such a view comes now via Framework Design Guidelines by Krzysztof Cwalina and Brad Abrams (Addison-Wesley, 2005). While this book may arise out of efforts inside Microsoft to formalize approaches to creating .NET framework architecture, a glance at the flock of people scooping up copies of the book at last month's PDC05 showed that developers too feel they can benefit from looking inside a framework. In fact, this book is a significant addition to the literature on software development. We were glad to speak recently with author Krzysztof Cwalina, and, naturally, our thoughts turned to VB. We asked how .NET Framework improvements were aimed at Visual Basic developers.

For more, go to
Mono Man Miquel di Icaza agrees "it is a wonderful book."

—Jack Vaughan

•Friday, Sept 23, 2005

Amazon contest targets .NET developers, or Let's have a mashup
The expo floor at Microsoft PDC [Sept 12 to 16] was the usual mix of the cool and useful, but you had to be there to see that. We came back with enough rubber toys, nylon Frisbees, glow-in-the-dark pens, books and demo CDs to entertain the kids until the next show comes around. A slew of new software was being demoed, including Acrylic, Indigo and Office 12. If you caught any of the business press lately, you would think the Microsoft situation was dour. But the PDC show floor was busy and enthused.

It seems Google with its Web services API, at least according to the Pandoras at Business Week and Forbes, was ready not only to map the world and index its content, but to flat out take over the world as well. Let Google enjoy its youthful glow. was the first big timer to the Web services API battle, and it is much more in the mainstream of electronic commerce – Google, as of this moment, is still just a big advertising company.

To remind people that Amazon and Microsoft are still in the Web API hunt, the companies announced the Microsoft Visual Studio 2005/Amazon Web Services Developer Contest at PDC05.

For more go to

—Jack Vaughan

•Tuesday, Sept 13, 2005/From PDC, Los Angeles

It's Dynamite

A highlight of Gates' presentation was a humorous video pairing him with actor Jon Heder, from the film Napoleon Dynamite. In the video, Gates dreams he shares a home and job with Napoleon Dynamite, whom he meets at a high school career day. Together they solve problems with Microsoft's new software. In the video, Napoleon's boss asks, incredulously, "Do you guys know how to do this?"

"Yeah," Napoleon responds. "Bill's like 80 years old."

One great moment: Gates and Heder hoofed near the video's in the clunky Napolean Dynamite tradition.

—Jack Vaughan

•Tuesday, Sept 6, 2005

Marconi and Tesla
A reader responded to my recent [Aug. 21, 2005] note entitled "Recently Noted," commenting that Nikola Tesla and not Marconi was the inventor of the radio. I did not mean to imply in my piece that Guillermo Marconi was the inventor of radio, but I understand that the piece could be taken that way. I thought I'd take a moment, and put aside Indigo, Acrylic, My Spaces, and all the Windows technologies of the moment, to look back at wireless, and try to improve the record, if not entirely straighten it out.

Wireless was widely envisioned and of broad interest after Heinrich Hertz proved that electric signals could travel through open air, as had been predicted by Maxwell and Faraday. The original source of the working wireless radio was an object of patent dispute for many years. Tesla's patented work initially held precedence, but it came into dispute and Marconi's assertions held sway for a long time. Marconi was far more successful in commercializing radio than was Tesla, and his powerful financial colleagues were better able to field legal teams that won for Tesla important court decisions. Yet, in 1943, the year Tesla died, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Tesla the true inventor of the radio.

Tesla is best known in the U.S. for his Tesla coil, patented in 1891, which combined capacitors and coils to create alternating current motors. This approach, expanded and backed by Tesla's then-employer, Westinghouse, came finally to surpass Edison's DC approaches. But Tesla's following work on high-frequency and high-voltage phenomena was just as pioneering as his work on power electrics. Working mostly as a lone inventor, he envisioned extensive follow-on use of the Tesla coil as a means to power high-voltage radio transmission.

In 1896 he filed a basic radio patent. He demonstrated the radio elements at a world's fair. Marconi was aware of Tesla's patent, and improved his initial design with circuits similar to Tesla's. Unlike Marconi, who principally focused on the commercialization of radio, Tesla envisioned very broad use of high-frequency electrics, most of which he was unable to commercialize.

[This piece is largely derived from a reading of "Tesla: Master of Lightning" by Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth, Barnes & Noble Books, 1999. See also]

—Jack Vaughan

Some Windows Developer Blogs
and Sites

Computer Zen
A View from Elsewhere
Brad McCabe's WebLog
Brad Abrams' Blog
Dan Fernandez's Blog
Don Box's Spoutlet
Rob Howard's Blog
ScottGu's Blog
Adam Machanic
Jason Mauss' Blog Cabin
Krzysztof Cwalina blog
Sells Brothers
Rick LaPlante's WebLog
Sam Gentile
ShankuN's Blog
Somasegar's WebLog
The Visual Basic Team

•Sunday, Aug 21, 2005

Wireless, RSS, Ajax, Acrylic and PDC
Big technology breakthroughs like .NET don't come every day. But small breakthroughs come at a regular clip, and keep things interesting as the bigger breakthroughs percolate. has been glad to be able to cover some of these doings of late.

RSS – let's say it stands for 'RDF Site Summary' – seems like one of those smaller steps forward, although RSS could yet turn into a stampede, and change the way the Web is navigated. As writer Mike Gunderloy pointed out earlier this summer in Microsoft joins the RSS party, RSS and information syndication are not all that new. A few of us remember Pointcast, which fed information over the Web to subscribers using proprietary "push" protocols. What is new these days is use of XML standards, which can be applied far and wide. There is no question that Windows developers are being asked to incorporate RSS into applications, and that they want to play with the software ahead of Microsoft's adoption of RSS in next year's Windows Vista client operating system. Assistant Editor Brian Eastwood last week posted an RSS Learning Guide to our site, so that implementers can get going with RSS.

Wireless technology goes back as far as Marconi. Again, it is nothing new, but integrating e-mail and data entry with wireless devices is gaining momentum, if the Blackberry key pokers we see on the street and the white-smocked Windows CE users we see in hospitals are any measure. Of course, we come to wireless integration development today after a few false steps. One of the big mistakes a few '90s apps made was to insist on total synchronicity between device and home station - something hard to achieve in the real world of dropped signals and underpowered handhelds. If you need to get up-to-speed fast on wireless integration technology, we invite you to visit our newly minted Mobile and Wireless Development Learning Guide, which was created by Brent Sheets, long familiar to faithful.

When looking at technology that is neat and recent, let's not forget AJAX - let's say it stands for 'Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.' was glad this week to feature content from sister site, in which writer Colleen Frye previewed AJAX-technology due to be demoed by Microsoft at the upcoming Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles. As Frye points out in Microsoft to preview Ajax technologies at PDC, we have seen AJAX before in XML HTTP and other manifestations. Some might add lonely Curl (using Perl and XML) as an antecedent. AJAX seems to be the right mix of standards effectively addressing a system bottleneck (application lag time) using the magic of asynchronicity at the right time. Look for more on the topic here in coming days.

Have you heard about Acrylic? It is a new Microsoft software preview that allows user interface designs to be exported to XAML (extensible application markup language) used by the Windows Presentation Foundation. This is a technology in the early stages of development that could bring "software through pictures" back into the mainstream. Read about it in Microsoft Acrylic graphics tool churns out XAML.

Acrylic and AJAX and much more will be on display at PDC. But much at PDC should be viewed as technology previews, not as ready-for-prime-time tools, says our columnist Mike Gunderloy in VB 9.0 and beyond: Tea leaves from PDC agenda. Such advice is welcome, because it is important not to get carried away with the technology, as cool as it is, but, instead, to keep an eye on what is deliverable when.

With that in mind I close out this letter with a note that the long-troubled Denver airport automated bag handling system is going into mothballs. The system has long stood as a warning as to what can go wrong when implementing technology, although the reasons the system failed will long be argued. Such arguments are worth perusing. At the least, they remind us to damper down the hubris and keep and eye on risk when we implement cutting-edge technology.

—Jack Vaughan


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