July 2013 Archives

The long arm of the (software & big data) law

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As vendors now work hard to refine their offerings for each and every business disciple, we are seeing a proliferation of carefully aligned message sets intended to examine the more granular mechanics of each so-called "industry vertical" that makes up the economy.
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Cloud firms want to talk to media and retail, it's a fact of life -- these are wildly fluctuating markets that experience highs and lows of consumer (aka "audience") demand ...

... so thus, both media and retail are perfect candidates for cloud computing.

Law = big data

So what of the legal trade then? Well, it has to be big data doesn't it?

As specific conference content now starts to arrive such as the LegalTech New York show, the discussion among legal firms today is:

• How can we conquer big data and make it work for us?
• How do we move document management onward into more intelligent legal information analysis at the big data level?
• How should we harness cloud technologies to give us more big data management control?
• What is big data in the first place?

Interesting comment in this field was written recently by Jobst Elster, head of content for InsideLegal writing on Legal IT Insider.

Elster's "Top 10 Big Data Facts - is it the elephant in the legal IT room?" piece asks what big data means for law firms.

"Law firms don't have a big data problem as much as they are challenged with what a big data world means to them, i.e., their clients' big data issues. Firms will never reach a scale/capacity issue like government or Fortune 500 companies, but they will be expected to offer sound advice on data security, ethics, overall compliance and risk aversion as it relates to big data."

No lawyer gives a hoot about OLAP cubes

"Currently, big data is not always or primarily associated with technology, but it has potential if legal application and service vendors band together to re-educate the legal community on business intelligence and analytics tools. No lawyer gives a hoot about OLAP cubes and data decision points but providing them insight into their business with meaningful metrics will garner a favourable response."

Elster goes on to suggest that law firms need to use big data and technology in general as an aid, not a crutch -- and then start with minimal workflow disruption, a relatable interface and the ability to share and collaborate with colleagues and clients.

You can read the complete piece on Legal IT Insider at this link.

Microsoft evangelist: big data needs tiny data skills

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This is a contributed piece for the Computer Weekly Developer Network by Matt Ballantine, principal evangelist at Microsoft UK.

Ballantine recalls a curious observation taken from a conversation with a colleague who'd just arrived back from UCL with one of their Engduino (http://www.engduino.org/) devices...

Big data, tiny data

The Internet of Things might mean that whilst we need "big data" to collate and process masses of information...

... we might need some very different "tiny data" skills to be able to collect the stuff in the first place.
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We've started to see the emergence of very cheap, very low powered computing devices that are networked wirelessly. Think Arduino, but smaller, cheaper, and more connected. These devices will be able to sense and sample the world around them - temperature, humidity, light - whatever, really, can be built into electronic sensors.

When these devices become really small and really cheap, they'll be able to open up entirely new ways for us to monitor the world around us; imagine, say, tiny networked and environmentally aware devices scattered across agricultural land to give continual data about the growing conditions.

In that kind of application, the amount of data that might be generated en masse will have the potential to be colossal.

Device "frugality"

But the key to success will lie in making the devices themselves as frugal as possible so as to be able to operate at very low power. Batteries have a finite life; solar power is only possible in places where there is light; constant streams of network traffic (as anyone who has a smartphone will well know) drain power sources faster than you can say "remember when a phone battery would last all we..."

Thinking about tiny data might mean a re-alignment of the way in which we think about collecting and transmitting information - certainly something a long way from the "capture everything" approach that seems to dominate the big data world.

There is a story that Nicholas Negroponte told in his 1995 book Being Digital that springs to mind; it went something like this:

A husband and wife are at a dinner party with friends. Conversation turns to the subject of a mutual friend of all those present, who isn't in the room. The husband and wife know that the subject of the discussion is currently having an affair -- knowledge of which the others at the table are not aware. The husband subtly winks at his wife. That single bit of data- the wink - conveys a huge amount of information between the two of them because of the shared knowledge and context.

Contextual data compression

This kind of contextual data compression might hold a key to ways in which the tiny amounts of power and processing available through Internet of Things sensors could deliver meaningful services in the future.

Whether the world of software engineering is ready for this kind of extreme efficiency after decades of Moore's Law giving seeming boundless power (and some may argue bloated software as a result) is a whole other question.

App economy to double to £100 billion by 2017

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Research company AppNation has put forward estimates for the size of the "applications market" going forward to 2017.

From a current base of GBP £47 billion in 2013, the total worth of the "app economy" is predicted to hit just under GBP £100 billion by 2017 -- an effective doubling.

The research firm's first State of the App Economy Report, which was produced in partnership with Reticle Research, suggests (unsurprisingly) that email, web browsers and social networks lead our global applications usage frequency.

"The largest contributor to this number will be app-enabled commerce, supplemented by forecasted revenue from downloads, in-advertising and virtual goods," said the firm.

NOTE: Viral spread of application popularity by word of mouth will remain "by far" the most popular way that consumers say they discover apps says AppNation.

The number of apps used per day and time spent on mobile devices by consumers is still expanding says AppNation founder and CEO, Drew Ianni.

The State of the App Economy Report analysed the state of the app economy based on platform adoption and intent, tablet and smartphone app discovery, tablet and smartphone app usage, cloud service usage and feature desirability plus analysis of smart TVs.

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The report itself is US based, but its trends appear global in nature -- or at least relevant to the UK market i.e. while smartphones and tablets are driving the app economy, emerging platforms such as connected cars and smart TVs on the rise.

Future integration challenge?

The question now is, how will these emerging platforms interface and integrate with the apps that consumers and business users already have?

Programming in 360-degree panoramic HD video

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What do you mean you don't associate 360-degree panoramic HD video conferencing and "teleprescence" with software application development, what on Earth is wrong with you?

In all honesty, there may be more big data and Business Intelligence focused programmers out there than there are video-link professionals, but this is precisely the problem...

... i.e. these not-so-niche-anymore applications need to be engineered into the IT infrastructures of companies who can afford to pay for them.

Working in this space is Polycom with its video solutions built for Microsoft Lync environments.

TECHNICAL NOTE: Microsoft Lync Server is unified communications software that integrates common channels of business communication including instant messaging (IM), VoIP (voice over IP), file transfer, Web conferencing, voice mail and email. Lync is integrated into Outlook, SharePoint, OneNote, and other Microsoft Office applications.

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Polycom used its turn at the Microsoft worldwide partner conference in Houston this July to unveil the first 360-degree panoramic 1080p HD video collaboration solutions custom-built for Microsoft Lync 2013.

The new Polycom CX5500 and CX5100 Unified Conference Stations are designed to deliver a "groundbreaking around-the-table experience" for all participants, whether they're in the room or thousands of miles away.

But what about integration and -- what about using this technology as a "platform in its own right" upon which to develop specific 360-degree panoramic video enabled applications?

"The initial CX5500 product had been built essentially for Lync in its primary use case. Although we know it is being used successfully with non-Lync clients, as the product becomes fully released we welcome developers, programmers and OEM to integrate this product into specific applications and use cases," said Neil Fluester, product manager for EMEA at Polycom.

The new CX5500 product promises to delivers "enterprise-grade" video and audio collaboration capabilities in an system that can be plugged into a USB port on a laptop -- more video and more video based application development is a future certainty, how open to programmers firms are in this regard is yet to be decided.

How should programmers approach Windows Touch?

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Tablet watchers will no doubt have noticed this week's news of Microsoft cutting the price of its flagship Surface tablet.

Computer Weekly reported details of the 32GB Surface RT dropping from £400 to £279, while the 64GB RT's price was also cut by 30% to £359.

The full Windows 8 Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet starting price remains at £719 for 64GB.

Device streams...

What is interesting here is the difference in perception between the two device streams i.e. where the RT might feel like a tablet (certainly in terms of battery life, applications and weight) the Pro looks, feels and works like a PC.

What we need to question now is how software application developers approach Windows Touch technology across devices.

How different an architectural approach is needed to develop software that runs on the Pro, the RT and (if we're going with the whole "write once, run anywhere" mantra) on Windows Phone 8 devices too.

Have you got a pen please?

The Pro is a lovely machine, make no mistake -- but do programmers incorporate for the use of a pen or stylus inside the Windows Touch world? Or do they rely on finger touch only?

Microsoft is trying hard to provide developer resources in this vein (this is bread and butter for the MSDN anyway) and the Windows Dev Center Hardware pages insist that users touch features as "a more intuitive way to compute" today.

The firm is trying to speak to hardware-centric software application developers inside both independent hardware vendors (IHVS) and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to certify touch technology for Windows 8 -- and also Windows 7.

According to Microsoft, "For Windows 8, things are simplified as you no longer need to create a touch driver for your hardware. Instead, you use the human interface device (HID) driver that is included with Windows 8. This frees you up to focus on creating hardware that delivers fast and fluid user interaction."

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Touchy feely

So are programmers touchy feely yet (i.e. happy and in the zone) on Windows Touch?

QUESTION: Do MSDN coders feel that sufficient levels of advanced gestures have been exposed through the APIs and interfaces provided by Microsoft at this stage? Are desktop emulators providing a satisfactory level of pre-deploy testing and debugging space?

One of the better resources we found was a paper entitled Choosing the Right Approach to Windows Touch.

This piece tells developers that they can enhance applications using Windows Touch features in many ways.

Microsoft says that before you adopt a particular method and approach to touch, you should consider what you want to do with your application.

The following bullets scenarios are typical for Windows Touch:

• You want your application to behave the same as in legacy versions of Windows but want Windows Touch messages to behave consistently.

• You want custom object rotation, translation, panning, or zoom support in your application.

• You want your application to have fine-grained interpretation of Windows Touch gestures or to interpret multiple touches on an application that is specifically optimised for Windows Touch input.

• You have an application that uses the RealTimeStylus object and want to enhance it with Windows Touch capabilities.


What use is an enterprise social network app?

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Five years ago we didn't talk about the development of enterprise social network applications, but things have changed.

Actually, it was around ten plus (some would say fifteen) years ago when enterprise social networks first started to emerge -- so with that progression path in mind, we can now think about where these technologies are cutting new (next-gen sharpened) teeth.

What is an enterprise social network?

Generally speaking, we consider enterprise social networks to consist of three elements:

  • people,
  • applications and,
  • content
When an enterprise social network app is actually useful


Today we need to think about these elements in a framework beyond the simple streaming of notifications around a business network -- but where data from the enterprise social network starts to get integrated back into critical business applications themselves.

Some of (actually, most if not all) these concepts are embodied in apps such as tibbr from TIBCO.

This product now offers users several apps across categories such as visual collaboration, ideation, customer engagement, decision management, discovery, meetings and task management, as well as departmental apps for human resources, marketing and sales.

"Today's modern businesses use a wide variety of apps and what they need now is a flexible, open platform for bringing these myriad services together for employees," said Ram Menon, president, social computing, TIBCO.

"[When you look at] tibbr it streamlines all work-related processes into one personalised interface for each employee within an organisation," he added.

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Adobe explains the real shape of HTML5

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It was right at the start of 2013 when we received news of HTML5 now being classified as "stable and feature complete"...

... this is a development that is almost universally welcomed as good news; web-centric software application developers now have a stable foundation for implementation and planning the next generation of web applications.

NOTE: HTML5 is described as the "cornerstone" of the Open Web Platform, a full programming environment for cross-platform applications with access to device capabilities; video and animations; graphics; style, typography and other tools for digital publishing; extensive network capabilities.

Since January then, further analysis of HTML5 has been comparatively scant given the weight and import of this technical progression.

Stepping forward with some worthy comment this month is online marketing consultant Dave Klein of kleinnewmedia.com Boulder, Colorado.

Klein writes on Adobe's own portal pages saying that HTML5 is going to be a game changer.

What shape really is HTML5?

Pointing out that the term HTML5 itself is a bit ambiguous, Klein very helpfully explains that discussion of this technology very often refers to a combination of:

• HTML5,
• JavaScript and,
• Cascading Style Sheets 3 (CSS3)

He explains that these three technologies work together and help "define the attributes" of HTML elements such as fonts, colours, styles, sizes, or the background image of a page.

HTML5 challenges and hurdles?

"[Although] CSS3 is not fully supported by today's browsers. That aside, all the primary browsers and major web technology companies are acknowledging HTML5 as a crucial part of the web's future and their business plans. While some browser developers are adopting the specification more slowly than others, all are moving toward HTML5 and CSS3 compatibility at a rapid pace. There is nothing proprietary about these technologies, so large and small companies alike are already developing useful software and cloud-based applications that make it easier to deploy HTML5 websites, applications and games," writes Klein.

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Where do we go from here?

We are witnessing a wider "unshackling" of mobile applications from the web stores of vendors who produce online app ecosystems -- this means that browser based apps will start to behave more like native (i.e. desktop) apps even though they are written from first principles in HTML5 as the language of the web.

You can read Klein's full commentary here.

CA's launchpad for skyrocketing mainframes

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Mainframes are exciting. There, we've said it, do you feel better?

CA (the artist formerly known as Computer Associates) has recently expanded its CA Chorus management platform for the mainframe with new capabilities for network and system management.

So why is this exciting?

Modern software application development environments are being (comparatively gently) pushed towards embracing the manifold virtues and benefits of so-called DevOps (developer-operations) administration benefits.

Bringing network system management problem resolution into focus is exciting news for applications that depend upon a mainframe-based foundation. This is the kind of thing that can reduce outages, increase system availability and improve customer satisfaction.

CA's mainframe division GM Michael Madden makes it clear that the number of mainframe transactions is "skyrocketing" as he puts it.

"But this puts customers under pressure to deliver more IT services while cutting costs," he said. "CA Chorus gives our customers the tools to solve today's immediate challenges while laying the groundwork for the dynamic data center of the future."

So basically this is a product that unites mainframe DevOps management into a workspace where administrative functions such as security, storage and infrastructure can all be fine tuned and managed.

"Administrators no longer have to adapt to a new and different user interface with every application. The look and feel of CA Chorus is the same regardless of whether you are a data base administrator, security administrator or storage manager," said the company, in a press statement.

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Is anyone using Near Field Communications (NFC)?

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A new stream of 'app opportunity' is said to be burgeoning across the software application development landscape.

We are supposedly about to witness the real impact of Near Field Communications (NFC), a technology that can make secure contactless device-to-device communication a reality, or so we are told.

NOTE: Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless connectivity standard (Ecma-340, ISO/IEC 18092) that uses magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices when they're touched together, or brought within a few centimetres of each other.
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A key driver for NFC support is security and access (keycards and dongles, identity, entry and access, boarding passes, and transponders).

Intel explains that NFC technology is intended to be used to transfer small amounts of data. The data transfer rate is low, but NFC is low-power, easy to use, and feels instantaneous (<1/10 s).

Other common drivers for NFC support are social networking, Bluetooth, as well as WiFi connectivity and commerce.

But NFC has not been doing well, a shortage of software combined with consumer caginess over whether to adopt these new payment systems has slowed down the global momentum for NFC to date.

"NFC is the next evolutionary step in mobile computing," said Janel Garvin, CEO of Evans Data Corp. "It's clear that it's going to change the way we perform everyday actions such as opening a locked door, getting on an airplane, or making a purchase at a store. But developers also have plans for the technology that include games, measurements, and connections to appliances, cars, or other devices. The extent to which NFC will impact us is only constrained by the imagination of the developers."

Evans Data Corp's recently released Mobile Development Survey claims that over 31% of mobile developers today are supporting Near Field Communications (NFC) in their mobile apps.

Vendors such as BlackBerry and Intel are keen to tell us now how well NFC technologies will work, but the innovation wave appears to be somewhat still mustering power at this stage.

For further reading, Intel details NFC Usage in Windows Store Apps - a Healthcare App Case Study here.

Did Microsoft get it right with the Start button after all?

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The disappearance of the Microsoft Windows Start button (or "Orb" if you are Windows 7 purist) from the Windows 8 iteration of the firm's core operating system offering caused a considerable public outcry.

The masses appeared to resist change from Redmond's most revered user interface evangelists.

But out it went and Metro came in with its tile-sliding "tablet and smartphone friendly" approach that we were all just "supposed to get used to" right?

Windows phone 8 meanwhile has been doing reasonable well with its arguably better "no manual needed" functionality. More intuitive than even the BlackBerry? Well perhaps yes.

But reaction to Windows 8 proper was harsh -- and even Ballmer was forced to admit that changes made in Windows 'Blue' 8.1 needed to bring the Start button back, because users had demanded it.

Was Microsoft having a "New Coke" moment and reverting back to its old recipe based upon user pressure?

For Windows 8.1 Ballmer promised "a refined blend" of the Microsoft desktop experience and application experience. "You will see we will bring back the Start button to the desktop. You will see that if you want to boot to the desktop, you can boot the desktop," he said.

... and so it came to pass and the Start button came back and everyone lived happily every after -- or is that not the end of the story?

Having just installed Windows 8.1 Pro Preview Evaluation Copy Build 9431 on a Surface Pro machine (see screenshot at bottom of page), you will see that the Start button has reappeared. OK its not as colourful as it could be, but Microsoft has confirmed that the "Windows 8 years" are characterised by what is now a rapid release cycle, so it may get a new lick of paint at the next release, or the one after that.

So here's the point.

It's not really a Start button. There are no "flyout menus" emanating from the Start button.

A left click takes you straight to Metro tile anyway.

A right click gives the option to Shut Down or select Programs and Features, but this is a link to your installed programs system folder.

This is not the Start button of old and many would argue that neither should it be... allow us to explain.
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Image credit: http://www.thewindowsclub.com/

All of the functions offered by the new Start menu are easier to access by hitting the Windows key to get you to Metro (if you are not there already) and physically typing the word of the function (or app, or setting, or whatever) that you are looking for so that the Search Charm automatically pops up and locates this function for you.

This was something of a personal realisation after owning a Lenovo Windows 8 desktop, then coming to an Intel based X1 Carbon ThinkPad and finally to the Surface Pro.

While I had struggled with the desktop Windows 8 non-touchscreen to start with, the touchscreen Carbon ThinkPad obviously eased me slightly closer to the world of Windows 8... but it wasn't until I hit the Surface Pro that I started to get it.

... and here's the REAL point of this story.

I then went back to the desktop non-touch Windows 8 on my desk, which is not running Window 8.1 yet and started using Windows much more naturally and intuitively. At this point, the non Start button Windows 8 starts to feel completely normal.

Now then -- not everyone is going to be lucky enough to play with three form factors and try things out on this kind of learning curve. But at this point I am wondering did Microsoft get it right with the Start button removal after all?

Oh and the point for software application developers?

The impact of touch, Windows 8 and Metro may yet have a far deeper impact on the programming landscape -- for those users who may chose to make the Surface Pro their device of choice especially.

I'm feeling no pain without a Start button and I don't need it back. OK it is back, but you get the point right?

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With the chat app kill the SMS?

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Will software application developers who build online chat apps be in some part responsible for the ultimate demise and passing of the SMS communication?

This is the question we now face as free chat apps like 'WhatsApp' help chat app messaging overtake SMS texts.

Research group Informa's Pamela Clark-Dickson says there is "a lot of life still" in SMS at the end of the day.
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NOTE: WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app to exchange messages (across device platforms) without having to pay for SMS -- it is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia.

According to the BBC, Clark-Dickson has explained that most of the chat apps were used by consumers who own smartphones. "However, there are a large number of consumers, especially in emerging and lesser developed economies, who use normal mobile phones and rely on SMS as the preferred messaging tool," she said.

Technical marketing spokesperson and self-confessed ninja warrior Nathan Pearce of F5 explains that free apps aren't just muscling in on the messaging territory of mobile service providers; WhatsApp is now rumoured to be considering a voice chat function.

"If we can text and make calls for free on the go, what does the future have in store for mobile service providers? It seems likely that free messaging apps will follow in Skype's footsteps by making traditionally paid-for services free for all. As communication apps continue to take their piece of the pie, mobile service providers will need to look for alternative opportunities to generate revenue," said Pearce.

F5's Pearce insists that context will now play a truly crucial role.

He says that in order to remain competitive in this changing market, "Mobile service providers need to understand context; offering intelligence that allows them to deliver the right data to the right user at the right time, quickly and securely."

Is the SMS dead? No, not yet.

Is the software application development marketplace for chat apps at some kind of fulcrum or inflexion point?

Oh yes indeed.

What is a platform anyway?

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The term "platform" has been somewhat hijacked in recent times by various database (and other) vendors who feel they can get away with using the term in a slightly twisted context.

Platform used to mean the ability "to develop on".

Platform is now being used in the context of "to develop to".

So in the new reimagined platform world, a platform is any base of technologies upon which other technologies, applications, data blocks or even dedicated computing processes are built.

Purist view

While the purist view might remain that a platform must consist of an operating system consideration and connection points to the instruction set of a microprocessor to carry out application logic, we are increasingly getting used to both definitions of the term.

In the "develop to" world of platform we do not necessarily also find a dedicated computer programming language, although some specific alignment to language will often exist.

Should we baulk at this wider use of the term?

Consider the fact that Microsoft has just graduated Bing from search engine to higher-grade platform status. Say what you like about Microsoft, but the company does know how to contrast fully-fledged computing platforms.

What comes next?

The new developer services in Bing are being described as an 'Intelligent Fabric' to use across Microsoft products and this will -- "help people interact with the world's knowledge and their surroundings in a more human way" -- so there you have it.

If you hear the term "Intelligent Web Platform Fabric", you may officially run and hide.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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