December 2010 Archives

Was 2010 An (I.A.T.F) IT Acronym Too Far?

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There's that terrible moment as a technology journalist when you are in a meeting with a client, vendor, analyst or even a PR person -- and somebody starts using an acronym that you're not familiar with.

Suddenly your palms start to sweat and you jostle with the fact that a) they're being assumptive and using industry marketing-speak or b) god forbid, you yourself are not up to speed with the latest lingo.

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When I was "much" younger I sat though a whole Red Hat presentation listing to the PR person (who was, by no coincidence, wearing a jaunty red Fedora) blither on about RHEL like it was some sort of miracle antacid guaranteed to rid me of acid reflex for all eternity. At no point did she use the term Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so I went away none the wiser and sallied forth straight to Superdrug to ask for a packet.

So in 2010 has the situation got worse? Or have we all started to speak the same language?

Every time I'm in a software change management briefing (note that's SCM folks) I start to wonder whether I should be adding in an extra C and going the whole hog towards Software Change AND CONFIGURATION Management.

When we talk Open Source Software (OSS) there is thankfully a clearer distinction between that which is open contribution-enriched code and that which is indeed free or (FOSS) free open source software to name it in full.

Should it be agile development? Or should it be Agile? Or are we too sluggish to care anyway?

Sybase is already talking volubly about IMDBA (in memory database analytics) - but is the company steering to close to the well known Internet Movie Database website IMDb?

So what's going to happen when we finally run out of IT acronyms? Will we have to pop a 2011 at the start of new terms that we coin next year? Will my IT Acronym Too Far IATF stick? Or will it have to be 2011IATF just to clarify and specify the year of its origination?

kthxbai - right?

Microsoft: HTML5 Lab for IE 9 Developers

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Microsoft has used the launch of its new HTML5 Lab website to provide what it calls "a stable foundation" for developers working with Internet Explorer 9. The company says that coders can use the site in as a foundation-level resource in the knowledge that their sites will continue to work with build updates.

Given this so-called "stability", Microsoft is also open about the fact that specifications presented here are unstable and will therefore be likely to change.

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"Developer code and web pages based on these specifications will break and will have to be re-written. Use these prototypes only to experiment with new HTML5 features and not for production code," warns the site.

Using the HTML5 Labs site as a portal for Microsoft prototypes of early and unstable web standard specifications (from standards bodies such as the W3C and the IETF), the company hopes that the site is used to "share and have informed discussions with developer communities," resulting in (we hope) a better implementation experience for all users.

According to Microsoft's publicity statement on the launch of the site, "As the web is evolving faster than ever before the challenge of interoperability is growing with HTML5. A critical challenge for developers in this new environment is to ensure that developers are writing to stable specifications that will continue to work. Unlike some other browsers, Internet Explorer 9 takes a site-ready approach to HTML5, ensuring that developers can use the capabilities of HTML5 today without worrying about what is stable and unstable. This gives developers confidence that their sites will continue to work in the future."

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The Microsoft Interoperability Strategy Team runs the site itself -- and its raison d'etre (if you will) is to guard against the possibility of specifications being implemented too early (as if often the case), so that developers are at risk of creating sites that appear inconsistently across browsers, requiring additional development cycles.

Microsoft meanwhile insists (somewhat unsurprisingly) that Internet Explorer 9 is eliminating gaps and offering the best browser to start with for writing standard-compliant code. To try and convince us that this is indeed the case, the company's Interoperability Bridges & Labs Centre will also publish prototype implementations for unstable specifications where significant change is expected.

In cyber wartime, the best defence is... software integrity!

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Last week we all got a front seat view of a real cyber war. First it was the WikiLeaks website brought down by massive denial of service attacks (DoS), followed by an army of anonymous hackers launching a botnet-driven distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on PayPal, Visa and MasterCard as a protest against financial organisations that have blocked transactions for WikiLeaks. So has this gentle brush with World War Three taught us anything...?

This is a guest post by Rutul Dave of Coverity, a company that builds tools and technology to equip developers with resources, techniques and practices to help maximise the integrity of software.

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The basic idea behind typical denial of service attacks against websites is fairly simple. Rogue software programs running on multiple systems flood the target web server with so many requests that it becomes overwhelmed and unavailable to visitors. Some DoS attacks however are even more basic and don't require more than a single attacker. The attacker figures out how to crash the web server, cause it to loop endlessly, or send repeated requests to it until it runs out of resources. Such types of denial of service vulnerabilities are caused by errors in the code more commonly known as program crashes, hangs and resource leaks.

An example of this is the known NT IIS FTP DoS vulnerability. A denial of service of the FTP server, caused by a program crash, could be executed by any anonymous user connecting to it. The user simply had to issue an 'ls' command with 316 characters, immediately crashing the service and causing it to be unavailable until it was either restarted or the server rebooted.

Basic as it may be, the business impact of such attacks is potentially very large. For a company like PayPal, the direct financial impact would be from the number of lost transactions while their website is down. An even larger indirect impact of lost customer confidence is harder to measure. Ultimately though it is the end users, the customers who need to access the websites and services, who suffer most.

As an organisation, can you protect against this? Can you expect your web server software and web applications to hold up if attackers are looking for exploits to launch against you? Perhaps more importantly, for the software that your organisation creates, how can you ensure that it avoids such errors?

Identifying errors early in development with automated code testing technology, such as static analysis, can be a strong weapon in a developer's arsenal in this battle. Here we are talking about errors such as program crashes, hangs and resource leaks stem from defects in code like pointer problems, memory management and access problems, incorrect arithmetic operations and use of uninitialised variables.

Static analysis engines test code as it compiles to identify these types of programming defects. By not only pointing to the defect, but by also identifying the events that trigger the defect, good analysis guides the developer in verifying the existence of the defect so that necessary changes in code can be made to fix it. Automation, ease-of-use and the ability to find defects that could result in unintended system behaviour, system crashes, or security vulnerabilities as soon as they are introduced make static analysis a potent weapon in the hands of developers creating software applications.

At the end of the day, these types of security problems underline the importance of software integrity. In other words, the software that operates the products and services we use in our daily lives, from planes to online banking, needs to meet the highest levels of product quality, safety and security. This means delivering products to market that operate as intended, products that are reliable, products that are safe to use and products that secure our privacy.

Achieving software integrity begins in development, as the code is being written. The reduction of vulnerabilities in code can be achieved in part through the application of automated code testing in development. By unifying quality and security analysis together in the development workflow, development teams are able to address security vulnerabilities early in the process, in the same way they address quality-related defects today.

Ensuring the integrity of the software that your organisation develops is no longer an option: it's a business requirement and a business imperative. It might just be one of the strongest defences you have when it's cyber war. Fortunately, there are technologies that are on your side in this battle.

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About the author: Rutul Dave received his Masters in Computer Science with a focus on networking and communications systems from University of Southern California. Within nine months into graduate school while learning about creating high-performance networking and distributed systems, he found his passion creating real bleeding-edge technology systems at various Bay Area-Silicon Valley startups like Procket Networks, Topspin Communications and then moving to Cisco Systems. He has years of software development experience in embedded and real-time systems.


Micro Focus: COBOL is modern, honest!

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Micro Focus is serious about COBOL. The last time I attended a Micro Focus press conference it was held in the Houses of Parliament. The company is serious about COmmon Business-Oriented Language, even if its first specification was originally laid down in 1959 by US Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. For Micro Focus, COBOL is where it's at and that's that.

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Grace Murray Hopper, she conceptualised COBOL don't ya know?

Next year the company will reportedly start talking about the latest generation of its COBOL developer tools, Visual COBOL. The company says that it has spent a lot of time talking about COBOL's age and its resilience - and that now it wants to talk about how modern the language has become.

The Micro Focus developer product portfolio is a set of tools for COBOL development and deployment solutions. Among these, the company produces tools to access COBOL legacy systems while "leveraging" the latest advances in modern technologies in standard ODBC-enabled business tools such as Excel, Business Intelligence (BI) tools or Java applications.

The Micro Focus spin doesn't label COBOL as old an outdated. Instead it is, "the world's most established computing language", so quite modern and trendy if you like.

Although Micro Focus is admirably releasing a new Visual COBOL product early next year, one suspects that the company is quietly delighted about the media commotion that surrounds the equally huge and all encompassing subject of cloud computing. Gifted the opportunity to say that, "COBOL can be used to migrate the world's mainframes to the cloud without risking an organisation's core business," the company has used those exact words.

Next year's Visual COBOL product is built on Micro Focus COBOL 2010, a major reworking of the COBOL platform, designed to simplify installation and reduce memory footprint.

Visual COBOL comes in a few different flavours focused on different development environments, Eclipse (Linux, UNIX, Windows, Java), Visual Studio (.NET) and Azure (cloud).

Micro Focus is also fond of talking about how COBOL can beat the modern skills gap. "COBOL today is not dissimilar to many modern languages like Java and C#, it runs on .NET and on the JVM, it integrates with Eclipse and Visual Studio 2010, and uses modern UI technologies such as SilverLight, giving people who are new to COBOL the tools and environments and even the language constructs that they are used to," says the company.

In advance of next year's product news, Micro Focus goes on to make an additional statement about the benefits of COBOL's plain English approach.

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Image: Wikipedia Commons

Saying that any English speaker can read COBOL and understand it, Micro Focus insists that this not only reduces the need for extensive documentation, but helps to ensure that the core business logic of COBOL applications are maintained and developed, regardless of the handover from one developer to another.

Parallels 'blue-sky' blueprint for 'true-blue' Cloud Services

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Cloud services company Parallels has dried off the ink on its free Cloud Service Provider Blueprint and "complimentary" (no less!) whitepaper designed to help service providers profit from the Cloud.

This piece of 'blue-sky' thinking joins IDC's habitually upbeat predictions for new global IT spending on cloud services. But IDC's arguably well-paid cloud analysts are rarely downbeat about cloud growth, so take that lightly.

Parallels for its part says its blueprint points to and addresses the necessary elements of a complete cloud service delivery platform, from provisioning to infrastructure management to service integration.

"It examines issues such as how to manage the thousands of components and varied technology platforms required to deliver a cloud service, the importance of self-service enablement, and whether to employ a usage or user-based billing business model," says the company.

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Image courtesy of Parallels: the Cloud Service Provider Blueprint

The Cloud Service Provider Blueprint highlights the necessity of leveraging a service delivery platform that is purpose-built for the cloud, with capabilities to provide a full set of services and a seamless user experience for the entire service lifecycle, from ordering to consuming to de-provisioning.

"The cloud is having a major impact on IT prompting service providers of all categories to adapt their strategies to deliver services in it," said Jack Zubarev, president of marketing alliances at Parallels. "However, there has been little discussion about what it takes to launch these services quickly and deliver them profitably, and that remains a significant challenge within the industry. Our Cloud Service Provider Blueprint is the industry roadmap for how to gain a time-to-market edge in a highly competitive segment and how to architect for profitability."

Microsoft Windows Azure clouds condensed

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Microsoft used to charter a small Boeing and fly staff and journalists out en masse to attend its PDC developer conference. But that was before the days of the so-called global economic slowdown and the ensuing austerity that it has brought with it.

For PDC 2010, Microsoft even used its own Redmond campus to cut down the exhibition halls fees. Perhaps the Windows Phone 7 revenues haven't quite filtered through the system yet then?

Regardless - PDC 10 (as it was known) featured a heavy focus on the Windows Azure cloud services operating system with developers being offered the opportunity to try out a number of enhancement Betas and Community Technology Previews (CTPs).

Azure Defined: "Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centres."

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Microsoft says that these latest enhancements are designed to make it easier for customers to run existing Windows applications on the Windows Azure cloud. The company is also aiming to position Azure as a more affordable platform and improve the Windows Azure developer experience.

The new features are available to developers inside the Windows Azure SDK and with the Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio release 1.3 -- and also through the Windows Azure Management Portal.

Tucked away inside one of the MSDN FAQs the latest enhancements are detailed in full, "The (new) features include the Virtual Machine role; Virtual Network; elevated privileges for Web and Worker role; full IIS support; support for Windows Server 2008 R2 in the web, worker and VM role; the Windows Azure Marketplace and an improved developer and operator experience.

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Microsoft has also said that it will be introducing improved enablement of Java, CDN (content delivery network) dynamic content caching, CDN SSL delivery, construction of VM (virtual machine) role images in the cloud, support for Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 R2 in the VM role and improved global CDN connectivity in CY2011.

Windows Phone 7 Developer Delicacies Disclosed

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Late last week Microsoft made four announcements around Windows Phone 7 that should, in theory, be of interest to the thousands (according to Microsoft) of developers who have registered for the platform, as well as those who are looking to begin building apps.

Firstly, Redmond is now saying that the first developer "payouts" for app and game sales will be processed by the 4th week of January 2011, ahead of when was originally planned.

Note: lets hope that this engenders and stimulates the production of some better game apps. I've been playing with a test unit for a couple of weeks now and the GUI is beautiful, the gesture and touch controls are beautiful, the general layout and presentation is beautiful and intuitive (I've not looked once at a manual) -- but the game apps are truly blocky and awful.

Second on the news announcement list is the news that developers are now able to get individual insights into their app's performance within Marketplace, thanks to what is being called flexible "App Performance Reporting Data".

Note: same gripe as above.

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Find Windows Phone 7 Apps & Games on Bing Visual Search (picture courtesy of Microsoft)

Thirdly, a number of fixes and enhancements have been made to streamline the developer registration and application submission processes. This has lead to 91% of applications now being certified and published within two days of submission, while 86% of the 1,000+ new developers that register every week now have their account vetted and validated within 10 days.

Note: Microsoft has poured gargantuan buckets of cash into making Windows Phone 7 work, its is equally generous it is support of all the ancillary arms of the Windows Phone 7 administration, marketing and support. In 2010, mobile is everything and Microsoft can not afford to fail again.

Fourthly and lastly, the Microsoft advertising SDK for Windows Phone 7 has been updated to allow ad-enabled mobile gaming apps using the XNA framework, in addition to the Silverlight framework support.

Full details of these announcements can be found in a blog post from Todd Brix on the Windows Phone Developer blog.

The "voice-controlled" web of the future

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IOVOX doesn't describe itself as a data analytics company, but its approach to creating voice-driven apps that it hopes will modernise telephony could spell the start of some interesting new usage models for developers working in the voice-data space.

Designed to be used by both developers and non-developers alike, the company is hedging its bets on its concept of "voice apps", which it says will revolutionise the traditional telco model.

Voice as a Service (VaaS)

Put simply, this is Voice as a Service (VaaS) -- an open voice platform letting non-programmers build applications that put the functionality of the web into voice services and build an alternative to more expensive telco services.

But what on earth does that mean?

Good question, I'm glad you asked. I spoke to IOVOX CTO Ryan Gallagher this week to ask him why anyone would want to control an online application or web service using a phone call.

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Gallagher told me that there are uses cases here where companies will want to add features to phone calls so that calls can be re-routed, recorded transcribed, used to track sales leads and so on.

"It might be as simple as a teenager sitting up a karaoke competition or as powerful as LiveBookings.com's restaurant reservation system. Customers buy a number, define how the call works -- such as how it is routed, having it recorded and transcribed -- and add functions. Finally, customers can measure results - for example, times of peak activity, sales conversions and where calls came from -- just as Google Analytics can measure website activity," said Gallagher.

This is a developer proposition that offers the opportunity to create "voice-enabled websites", so what does that mean? Well, from a simple application where a Land's End to John O'Groats charity cyclist is able to "dial his website" and post updates, to farmers in Africa using fledgling cellular networks to exchange data with the web -- there is, if you buy the argument presented here, a place for voice control (or enablement at least) of the web.

"The time is right to give the power of web voice services to the public. Despite falling revenues people forget that voice is still growing exponentially and it remains the most compelling, human way to communicate and persuade. There are lots of things you can do with voice that you can't do with email, SMS or other technologies, voice has a human element and a sense of urgency. But the old telco model is broken. Telephony is the same as it was 25 years ago and with our platform we're looking to change this with its innovative functionality. By freeing up the voice services platform we're enabling people to monetise their telephone traffic, be entrepreneurial and give a wave of people the chance to build cool new telephony apps without needing technical knowledge," said IOVOX's Gallagher.

Cast's application 'intelligence' platform - simples!

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Technology wastage is everywhere; from the private sector to the hallowed halls of Whitehall, if data management expenditure is not wasted directly then it's hemorrhaging out via some poorly thought through outsourcing streams.

OK -- that's a bit strong, but you get the picture.

Software analysis and measurement company Cast Software has used the recent wastage uncovered in the UK's NHS system to highlight the badly executed provisioning and billing that had led to serious overspend in this sector.

So shouldn't these processes be simpler?

Cast says that its solution allows both the customer and the outsourcer to measure the amount of work required to complete a project as well as identify the so-called 'Technical Debt' (or flawed code), which remains outstanding in the existing code base repository.

The recently launched CAST Application Intelligence Platform (AIP) v7.0 is said to make it easier to detect, measure and take action to minimise IT software costs and risks.

So then - simples!

Olivier Bonsignour, VP of product development at CAST has highlighted the product's new capabilities that, if used effectively, should give users greater analysis and measurement power, greater visibility and greater control.

Included in this version:

• An all-in-one-pane Investigation View saves users from clicking through many screens to get all relevant information on a problem.
• 
A Transaction-Wide Risk Index (TwRI) groups the impact of critical violations by transaction for smart prioritization and action.
• A new version of the Cast Management Studio with intelligent auto-discovery for faster configuration, easier administration, and automated report generation.

"Looking at the structure of business critical applications is becoming more and more important for IT executives to manage cost of ownership and cost of quality related to their investments in custom business technology," said Gartner Research VP Jim Duggan.

RunRev's Speedy iPhone/iPad Compile-free App Programming

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Immodestly named Runtime Revolution Ltd. has introduced what it claims is the "fastest way" to create applications for iPhone and iPad with its LiveCode compile-free deployment pack for the iOS operating system platform.

As a cross-platform development solution, RunRev says LiveCode for iOS allows developers to take advantage of the many OS-specific features on each device by using a single code base. The LiveCode Deployment Pack for iOS is said to open up a channel to create active prototypes for designing fully functional apps and uses a high-level language and an iterative development environment to view changes in real time.

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"LiveCode for iOS is an easy yet powerful alternative to Objective-C or MonoTouch as it enables development of fully-featured apps in a fraction of the time as other tools," said Kevin Miller, chief executive officer of RunRev. "With the number of iOS developers and demand for applications increasing daily, there is tremendous competition to create high-quality apps for App Store distribution. LiveCode delivers the quality and speed necessary for developers to create exceptional applications quickly either for sale or in-house use."

The LiveCode development environment is described as a fully featured cross-platform solution with the following features:

Compile-free Coding: Developers can achieve project goals in a fraction of the time using a compile-free workflow, with the ability to make changes to the interface or code while the application is running;

English-like Programming Language: The LiveCode programming language lets users write code that makes sense using expressive, memorable syntax.

So -- amazingly useful features or dumbed-down gimmicks that will only appeal to hobbyists, juniors, students and code-phobic dropouts afraid of the command line?

You decide.


Microsoft eyes business app market with Silverlight 5

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Were it not for the snow, sleet, sludge and slurry that is currently icing up England's nether regions I would yesterday have been meeting with Microsoft to discuss the launch of its Silverlight 5 application framework for rich Internet applications (RIAs).

So snowbound and broadband engaged, I tuned in to what I could of Microsoft's 'Firestarter' event in Redmond, where corporate VP of the developer division Scott Guthrie said that the beta of Silverlight 5 will be available in Q2 of 2011.

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Since the inception of its first iteration, Microsoft has sought to prepare some really enjoyable graphical demos to illustrate what Silverlight is capable of. For myself, I have always been impressed with Deep Zoom, which you can try out at the following link to see it for yourself.

Silverlight 5 is said to introduce more than 40 new features, including support for running Silverlight apps with desktop features in the browser. Microsoft is also hedging its bets on what it calls "dramatic video quality and performance improvements", as well (thankfully) as some features that improve developer productivity.

Microsoft UK's web product manager Mark Quirk has commented that this release builds on the strengths of the last two versions of Silverlight to bring version 5 of the application framework closer to deployment inside business use cases.

"Silverlight 5 will enable the highest quality live and on-demand media experiences, while improved support for applications running in or out of the browser increases Silverlight's appeal to application developers - with businesses enjoying the benefits of rich desktop-style interactivity, simple web deployment and rapid development in a single platform. Both HTML and Silverlight continue to have a role to play in delivering the experiences consumers increasingly demand. Silverlight builds on the standards-based web to enable scenarios that are not covered by standards in a consistent way. Silverlight and HTML are complementary technologies serving different needs, and Microsoft is committed to both," said Quirk.

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But it's not all good news; as developer journalist Tim Anderson points out, although Silverlight 5 implements some 70% of what users have voted for on the Microsoft feedback forum -- the top feature request from developers has actually been to be able to implement Silverlight on more platforms.

Instead says Anderson, "Guthrie has introduced more Windows-only features - showing that concerns about divergence between Windows and Mac implementations when Microsoft announced COM support at the 2009 PDC were justified."

So what has Microsoft done to push Silverlight towards greater business application development?

Graphics improvements - there's support for cross-platform Graphics Processing Units (GPU), an accelerated 3-D application programming interface (API) to provides rich graphics on the web and an immediate mode graphics API which allows direct rendering to the GPU.

Microsoft's Guthrie has said that, "Silverlight offers a new class of trusted applications that brings desktop capabilities to the browser for the first time. These features, when enabled via a group policy registry key and an application certificate, mean users won't need to leave the browser to perform complex tasks."

Guthrie also says that out-of-browser trusted applications are further enhanced: existing unmanaged code can be called directly from within Silverlight with PInvoke -- and a fluid user interface enables smoother animation within the UI.

In terms of performance, Microsoft says that Silverlight 5 engine room improvements include reduced network latency by using a background thread for networking, XAML parser improvements (that speed up startup and runtime performance) and support for 64-bit operating systems.

HP Software Universe 2010: the "partner" position

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It's always hard for partner companies who attend large scale IT shows under the auspices of the industry behemoths to feel like they've got enough so-called 'share of voice' in many ways.

Oracle's Developer and JavaOne exhibition this year in San Francisco was a case in point with some firms (Embarcadero for one) opting out of expensive exhibition show floor stand space and in fact hiring a micro-brewery pub across the street from the Moscone Center -- quite a shrewd mood you might argue.

This year's European leg of the HP Software Universe 2010 roadshow was in Barcelona after the US portion had been played out in Washinton DC earlier this summer.

So this year the academy would like to award the BAFTA for "The Partner Most Likely To Shout Loudest About Its News," to ComTrade.

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The company's new enterprise application and infrastructure management products for HP Software (and revamped product website) are designed to be heterogeneous and suited to multi-vendor environments. ComTrade Citrix and Siebel Content Packs for HP Business Service Manager Software have been announced.

So is this all just jolly good news? The answer is both YES and NO.

YES it's good news - ComTrade is arguably playing an effective small fish in big pond game with its tools that also include Smart Plug-ins for Citrix XenDesktop, XenApp and XenServer, Siebel CRM, Oracle Business Intelligence and EMC Documentum. The company is also currently sharing more details on its upcoming ComTrade Citrix and Siebel Content Packs for HP Business Service Management (BSM).

So what's not to like?

Well, the only bad news is that HP held a marvelous event in Barcelona; the company had some great spokespeople, some enthused analyst pals, an impressive selection of world press attendees and a compelling enough IT proposition... yet they wouldn't let us wander the exhibition halls ourselves unattended without a chaperone to go and meet the likes of ComTrade face to face.

I still have a few grumbles about HP's "distance" from anything resembling its own IDE, toolkit or even a development methodology -- but I understand what the company is saying about cross-platform agnosticism in the face of its own approach to ALM i.e. they are not here to shake up Java or re-write coding paradigms, they are here to provide an ALM layer.

So next year chaps -- how about a full show pass too?

NB: end note - in fairness to HP, I did miss even the hosted exhibition floor walk-around due to snowbound travel pressures, so it may have been excellent.

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