August 2013 Archives

Software patents outlawed & banned in New Zealand

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The national legal system in New Zealand has passed a new Patents Bill designed to outlaw and therefore ban software patents.

Kiwi commerce minister Craig Foss (Foss on FOSS as in Free and Open Source Software -- honest) is calling this a modernisation of patent law for the country saying that it will drive innovation if software development patents are left open (and, effectively, non-existent) rather than tied down with legal red tape.

"By clarifying the definition of what can be patented, we are giving New Zealand businesses more flexibility to adapt and improve existing inventions, while continuing to protect genuine innovations," said Foss.

"Passing the Patents Bill guarantees that genuine inventions are protected, and Kiwi businesses can continue to innovate and grow," he added.

Chief exec of New Zealand's Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) Paul Matthews has backed up the commerce minister's statements.

Matthews has said that the patents system simply "doesn't work for software" due to the fact that it has become almost impossible for genuine technology companies to create new software applications without them breaching some (or many) of the hundreds of thousands of software patents that exist.

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The patents bill is detailed at this link and reads as follows:

This Bill is designed to replace the Patents Act 1953 and update the New Zealand patent regime to ensure that it continues to provide an appropriate balance between providing adequate incentives for innovation and technology transfer while ensuring that the interests of the public and the interests of Maori in their traditional knowledge are protected.

Zen & the art of help-yourself pick & mix helpdesks

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Cloud is a service -- doh, no big surprise there really right?

Why then is customer support and help and succour, sustenance and service not a more up-front message in the message sets used by cloud vendors?

In truth it actually is, open hybrid hosting cloud specialist Rackspace sells itself on its so-called "Fanatical Support" (capital F, capital S if you don't mind) where the company differentiates itself from vendors including Amazon Wen Services -- the latter preferring to post lots of technical documentation online because "developers like it that way" or something close to that.

Surely helpdesks themselves should be cloud-based and redolent and reflective of all the core benefits of cloud computing itself i.e. flexible, customisable, manageable and "turn off and onable" (if you will excuse the technical term).

So it is then that Zendesk proffers forth its Help Center product designed to be considered as a knowledge base, community and customer portal designed for customers to help themselves.

This tool enables a company to create a self-service portal that is relevant for their customers and is as simple to create and customise as a blog, or so it is claimed.

Self-service is more important than ever before as consumers increasingly expect to find their own answers to support questions says Zendesk.

The BIG statistic

The company asserts that "four times as many" customers seek answers for themselves through self-service options than submit a request to a company for support.

Meanwhile, two out of three consumers say they prefer finding their own answers over interacting with customer service representatives, a separate survey found.

"Consumers want customer service on their own terms, and they expect to find immediate answers online," said Adrian McDermott, Zendesk's senior vice president of product development. "The new Help Center makes self-service a first-class experience, both for companies customising it for their needs and for their customers seeking relevant content."

Zendesk has offered self-service options since its founding and last year launched a mobile-optimised interface for self-service.

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Lessons for the future of software application development service and helpdesk provisioning or "customer eXperience" (yes, written like that, honest) spin?

It's getting more real by the day.

Editorial note: this is promotional video for Zendesk the company, it is tongue in cheek and enjoyable and helps embody and clarify the meaning of customer service, so while it is promotional in most senses, it is hoped that it adds to editorial value.

Big data analytics from Henry Ford to 2014

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Data analytics was born among the American industrialists of the late 1800s.

Henry Ford is said to have studied and measured the pacing of the processes down the assembly line when the Model T was produced back in 1908.
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Before Ford, the American industrialist Frederick Winslow Taylor carried out time management analysis to improve efficiency during his time at Pennsylvania's
Bethlehem Steel back in 1898.

Big 'big data' (big(s) plural intended)

Fast forward to 2013 and all the big 'big data' (big(s) plural intended) vendors have a data analytics platform of some shape or form.

Among the most voluble in this space is perhaps SAP with its explanation on in-memory computing efficiency to serve data analytics for "operational insight" (as they say) in the workplace.

So work-time analytics became process analytics became data analytics became data analytics became in-memory data analytics...

... became real-time in-memory data analytics.

But this plateau wont keep us in check for long. Next we have to incorporate the concept of situation-based analytics.

CTO for the UK and Nordics at Software AG Matt Smith explains the scenario for situation-based analytics.

Situation example

• An airline operates out of a major European capital city
• It has to oversell its seat allocation, passengers just don't turn up, it's the only way to operate
• Analytics of annual passenger movements helps to a degree
• But situation-based analytics also takes into account external extenuating factors i.e. if there is a major football game on, or some other factor impacting passenger trends
• Social media stream analysis could also be incorporated into this concept
• Situation-based analytics itself should be a cloud-based application that is supplied as a SaaS service itself, ideally -- developers take note

Software AG may not be the first firm you think of when quizzed on cloud-based data analytics, SAP has given out a whole lot more T-shirts in that regard of late. But the firm is spending money to transform its technology proposition in line with these ideas.

Vorsprung durch Technik

Plus, those Software AG guys are German too right?

The firm's newswires this week pumped out news of its new webMethods Intelligent Business Operations Platform (IBO) and the acquisition of JackBe Corporation.

Real-time visual analytics and intelligence software company JackBe is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland -- not far at all from Bethlehem Steel if you are making the data DNA connection.

Software AG claims that its newly enriched platform will provide real-time awareness of dynamic operations and processes through visualisations -- but crucially here, it will be capable of "mashing data from any source" as it goes.

The firm's big data analysis proposition incorporates situation-based analytics alongside cloud, mobile, social collaboration and big data technologies.

"The analysis and visualisation of huge data volumes in real time will become more and more the basis for fast and intelligent business decisions," said Software AG's chief technology officer Dr. Wolfram Jost.

What did Henry Ford know about big data analytics? Possible more than he let on.

Why Keep the Lights On (KTLO) is a waste

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If you have never used it before, you can be excused for being more than just a little bit delighted to discover TechTarget's WhatIs.com tech definition search resource, which is available directly from Computer Weekly.

The comprehensive resource is really pretty hard to catch out -- but one term crops up this week that may need a little more definition.
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Our new technology acronym of the day is Keep the Lights On (KTLO).

Keep the Lights On (KTLO) technology refers to that portion of information technology expenditure a company has to perform on daily operational tasks.

Crucially (although this hasn't been properly clarified as yet) KTLO involves around those operations carried out "simply to keep the lights on" i.e. and therefore NOT those operations that will generate any business value for the firm itself.

KTLO is where IT budget is dedicated to tasks such as:

• application maintenance,
• change requests,
• standard updates and
• general systems operations

This term has been highlighted by rapid application delivery platform company OutSystems -- the company calls the KTLO dilemma a US$2 trillion IT problem and explains that as much as 85% of total IT spend may be used to simply keep the lights on.

Beating KTLO?

The eponymously named OutSystems (web and mobile applications) Platform version 8 was released this summer back in June 2013. This version introduces real-time user performance monitoring through a dashboard which tracks application performance down to the user and page view.

"Utilising industry standard performance guidelines, graphs and alerts monitor the health of the application and the networks supporting it, to ensure that the application is performing to user expectations," said the company, in a press statement.

Also of potential developer interest, this tool features built-in support for grid layouts so that programmers can use drag & drop (and sizing handles) to resize and move UI elements to create structured user interfaces with "pixel-perfect" alignment.

So where are we?

A cute mention of nice acronym in order to introduce an agile developer tool with some good alert and UI management technologies -- or a real "tech trend" just about to become as hackneyed and overused as big data and cloud?

Don't approach big data cloud deployments if you have a KTLO challenge...

... you heard it here first.

How to debug a website with passive packet sniffing

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This is a guest blog for the Computer Weekly Developer Network from John Thompson, CEO of UserReplay.

The firm specialises in "session replay technology" designed to allow web developers to record, re-run and analyse a visitor's journeys through a website. For ecommerce companies this service is intended to find and fix site bugs, resolve disputes, recover abandoned baskets and prevent fraudulent transactions online.

Not glamorous, not exciting, just frustrating

Bug fixing is an inevitable part of a developer's life. It is not normally considered the most glamorous or exciting part of the job. The most frustrating bugs to fix are the intermittent, hard to replicate problems.

The bug is there, it is damaging, but it just can't be replicated in the lab and so it can't be fixed. The problem is either invisible in the log files, or they confirm the bug is there, but do not provide enough information to diagnose or fix.

On ecommerce websites such bugs cost money, a lot of money.

Eight out of nine users (source: http://baymard.com/blog/cart-abandonment) who encounter a technical problem immediately abandon their transaction.

Every hour the bug stays out in the wild, money is lost.

The real problem with bugs is...

However, few end users phone in and discuss their bugs and those that do are not software testers.

THE TECHNICAL BIG CHALLENGE: The problem here is that your average user can not normally describe their own technical environment, or the detailed steps needed to reproduce the bug. Even if they could, they would be talking to a customer services representative who would not be able to utilise the information in the first place. Vague accusations start to filter through the development team from customer services, but with nothing useful for diagnosis or resolution.

So to server-side session replay solutions?

According to econsultancy.com, session replay technology is now utilised on 28% of transactional websites and customers estimate that it can reduce the replicate and fix cycle for bugs by a factor of 20.
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EDITORIAL END NOTE

The firm's "passive packet sniffing" and tri-state mutex technology records every interaction between the client and the server -- this means that the entire http(s) conversation is captured including every step leading up to the technical problem. Every user journey is recorded and indexed in a database, so impacted journeys can be found and analysed.

UserReplay isn't the only firm in the passive packet sniffing market by any means and there are open source alternatives in the shape of tools such as Wireshark, Ettercap or NetworkMiner that are reckoned to be able to be able to give anyone the ability to sniff network traffic (should you have ambitions to do so) with just a little practice or training.

Given the all-consuming rise of the web and the need to refine our networks and ecommerce channels, this is a technology on the ascendancy.

Microsoft & Amazon establish (unintentional) International Cross-Platform Push Notification Day

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Microsoft's Azure cloud platform has been to the mechanics for its summer service and come out with an oil change and additional sports trim in the shape of Azure Notification Hubs.

Notification Hubs is designed to allow mobile software application developers to produce personalised "push notifications" to customers via Android, iOS and Windows devices.

NOTE: Engineering-in the required code tuning to produce push notifications at the application backend has been (traditionally) somewhat time consuming until this kind of automation/management functionality has been brought to the fore.

In an unrelated piece of related news (that came out on exactly the same day), Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced the Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) with Mobile Push, a managed cross-platform push notification service in the cloud.

Amazon says that with one API, application developers can send notifications to Apple iOS, Google Android and Kindle Fire devices.

It's like its international cross-platform push notification day

Supporting push notifications (at large scale) has been incredibly complicated for mobile app developers.

The technical meat

Amazon aserts that each popular mobile platform maintains a different free relay service that delivers notifications through "persistent connections" to devices running the platforms they own...

... this, in turn, means that to support millions of users on multiple mobile platforms, developers must integrate with each of these platform-specific relay services, which introduces operational complexity and cost -- all of which slows down and/or negatively impacts development.
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VP of database services at AWS Raju Gulabani explains that the nature of mobile app distribution is such that successful apps can become popular almost overnight, exacerbating these push-related programming challenges.

VP of Microsoft's server and tools business Scott Guthrie explains that push notifications are a "vital component" of mobile applications -- he calls them the "most powerful customer engagement mechanism available" to mobile app developers.

This technology (sorry, these technologies plural) are not simply focused on sending one push notification message on one device to one user -- this is about sending simultaneous push notifications in a low-latency way to millions of mobile users.

Doing all of that, simultaneously, with personalisation and with international localisation too is no small task and this is what Amazon and Microsoft are now both focused on.

The more subtle differences between the two firm's offerings is a topic for a more extended and technical analysis -- at the surface level, both firms appear to have produced similar developments on the very same day.

Image credit from http://www.biznessapps.com/

Chalkboards and dusters for the cloud generation

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Generation X children born with birth dates between the early 1960s to the early 1980s will remember chalkboards and whiteboards as standard classroom teaching equipment.

Modern teaching methods have apparently now gone beyond chalk and dusters.

Today it's all about laptops for kids, supplementary online learning channels and building new ecosystems for collaboration in education -- the Beano and The Dandy, sadly, barely get a look in.

New software application development streams now serve the universities and hundreds of K-12 institutions with cloud based collaboration software and tools.

Among the companies manoeuvring in this space is Box -- the company's sales in the education industry grew more than 119 percent in the past year as new "classroom experiences" (oh yes, we did just say that) are created, often in conjunction with tablet use.

The company's Robin Daniels argues that the education industry is seeing the same technology trends as other industries i.e. BYOD, a move to the cloud and more mobile and social communication.

"Future success for students and educators will be dependent on how well we integrate technology into our modern learning environments," said Whitney Bouck, general manager of enterprise at Box.

With Box's recent acquisition of Crocodoc, the company has also brought HTML5 document collaboration tools to its education partners.

NOTE: Crocodoc technology enables learning management systems (LMS) and education apps to "redefine teacher and student workflows" (oh yes, we did jyust say that too!) with document viewing and annotation experiences.

Leading education applications using this technology include:

Edmodo -- A social learning platform that allows teachers and students to collaborate, share content, and use educational apps

Haiku Learning -- suite of cloud-based tools designed to get students and educators up and running with digital learning in minutes

ShowMyHomework -- The UK's number one product for tracking and monitoring homework

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Box has also announced a new relationship with Canvas by Instructure, a native cloud learning management system. The new partnership uses Box Embed, an HTML5 framework that embeds Box's entire suite of collaboration and management features directly within Canvas.

Now students and teachers can upload, access and collaborate on all their content within Canvas and the content remains centrally managed and secured in Box.

Canvas also leverages Crocodoc's preview and annotation technology to allow teachers to review and grade assignments within the application.

Progress: don't just say PaaS, say aPaaS

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Progress Software continues is unabashed assault (in a good way) on the cloud developer space with new data connectivity and application capabilities as part of its Progress Pacific application platform-as-a-service (aPaaS).

aPaaS you say?

We know that a PaaS is defined as a way to rent hardware, operating systems, storage and network capacity over the Internet so an aPaaS is...

... (aPaaS) is a cloud service offering cloud programmers real development and deployment environments for application services themselves.

In this regard, Progress is offering a data connectivity service in its own DataDirect cloud so that applications can integrate data from popular SaaS, relational database, big data, social, CRM and ERP systems.

In theory here, this "connection management service" allows applications to be built in less time by using a single standards-based interface to execute SQL queries against a wide range of cloud data sources.

Has Progress got its cloud developer blueprint right? Or it is it cobbling together resources and toolkits too quickly?

For application development itself, the firm has provided integrated business process management (BPM) and business rules management system (BRMS) capabilities in an attempt to simplify application customisation.

The offering in this space goes by the name of OpenEdge 11.3 development software.

For real world software application developers, there is indeed a need for flexible processes, rules and workflows -- and this is what Progress is targeting with its Rollbase rapid development platforms.

DMSi Software CEO Cal German has said that after evaluating a number of platforms, including SalesForce.com, SAP and Acumatica, his team chose Progress Pacific.

"In particular, the drag and drop features and robust workflow and triggers in Progress Rollbase will enable us to quickly deliver highly customisable solutions that meet our customers' complex business processes,"

John Goodson, chief product officer at Progress Software, said, "Customer and partner response to the Progress Pacific launch in June has been extremely positive and we are now delivering on our vision. It's clear that the move to aPaaS is gaining momentum as time-to-market and data capabilities in new apps are key requirements for developers and end users. Pacific addresses these needs with rich data, visual design and open deployment capabilities in a single platform."

Surviving the zombie app apocalypse

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In technology terms we use the word zombie to refer to malicious bots set up by hackers to forward transmissions (often spam and viruses) to other computers on the Internet.

But there is a new kind of zombie technology that needs to be defined i.e. zombie business applications.
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The zombie business application resides in a desolate wasteland of zero users and limited functionality.

As such, it is a bloodlust driven ogre of a beast designed to sap the lifeblood out of any user who comes into contact with it.

Gary Calcott, technical marketing manager at Progress Software, points to recent BBC reports suggesting that more than half of all applications in Apple's App Store, are 'zombies', or applications with next-to-no downloads each month.

NOTE: One of the many reasons for the increased prevalence of these 'zombie' applications is that they never appear in any official app store charts.

"These are daily charts, published by the likes of Apple and other app store providers to demonstrate popularity of apps based on specific criteria. As a result, applications that are not listed in these charts are easily forgotten about - doomed to an eternity of limbo, with little or no revenue or engagement passed on to developers as a result," said Calcott.

So what's the secret to surviving this terrifying onslaught of zombie applications and ensuring that your application is built for sustained success?

"As anyone who's seen a zombie film will tell you, survival in the face of the undead can depend on adherence to a number of set rules. It's no different for businesses looking to stop their applications from becoming 'zombified'. Here are my five tips for staying safe and avoiding your own, application-based zombie apocalypse," said Calcott.

The anti-zombie gospel according to Progress Software

1. Take one step at a time - As aficionados of the zombie movie genre will tell you, it's important to take things one step at a time. Circumstances can change quickly, which makes pragmatism a vital quality. The same is true for developers of business applications. Too many look to achieve too much, too quickly. Instead of developing every feature and function all at once, developers should instead manage their resources and focus on shipping incremental value in the short-term, in line with demand.

2. Don't be a hero - We're all familiar with the scene in the movie where one brash, arrogant upstart bites off more than they can chew in a bid to take all the glory for themselves. It's a lesson that developers and software developers would do well to learn.

One of the most common developer pitfalls is a lack of connectivity with the developer community.

These communities can be an invaluable means of identifying where demand lies, and the best way of ensuring that applications are built in line with what users want. Anything else is just guesswork.

3. Be prepared to run...quickly! - One of the identifying characteristics of zombies is that they are slow and cumbersome, which makes speed a vital asset when combatting them. This is equally true for business application developers and the platform they use.

It doesn't matter how well crafted your application is - if the development process is slow and difficult to manage, it's far more likely that the zombification process will catch up with them.

If, on the other hand, it's quick and fluid, it'll leave the zombies trailing in its wake.

4. Think on your feet - Although speed is important and can help you to out-run zombies, it's important to remember that it can only get you so far.

Different situations can require different skillsets, and so it's critical to remain resourceful in the face of the undead.

For this reason, application developers rely on the ability to remain flexible in the face of changing circumstances, new technologies and innovations. There's no room to be restricted in your movement when fighting zombies of any description, which means that agility, combined with speed can be a perfect combination.

5. Buddy up - When faced with a zombie invasion, the old adage of safety in numbers rings true. Instead of fighting a lone battle, it can help to find somebody else you can trust, who has your back when you are most exposed. Similarly, software vendors rely on the reassurance of finding a partner they can trust through thick and thin. In both cases, the partner of choice will need to be agile, quick on their feet and, above all, intelligent if they are to work together to overcome the zombie threat.

Calcott suggests that when all is said and done, survival in the battle against zombie apps is, primarily, a matter of common sense.

These rules are a useful starting point for developers, but it's important to remember certain fundamental principles. By ensuring business applications are timely and relevant, and that they meet a gap in the market, most will, hopefully, avoid ending up as re-animated zombies in the app store graveyard.

Why you need more than one Twitter client

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Software application developers don't always get it right. Project skew can take a product off in one direction or another and it can be hard to get it back on track.

User requirements can filter through to the programming team and be misinterpreted, or worse still, ignored.
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Even worse, software applications can be developed in ways that none of the users wanted in the first place.

Much has been written on how Tweetdeck was "ruined" subsequent to Twitter's purchase of the social media desktop client. Mostly its all about how we can control columns, Tweets themselves and perform the various ancillary actions that we have all come to know and love with Twitter as a platform.

There are other apps we could turn to of course, Hootsuite is popular, as is Seesmic and Twitteriffic and a few other lesser known names such as TweetCaster.

Janetter is extremely functional and does many of the things that you want Tweetdeck to still do (like be able to drag photos straight from the desktop), but it doesn't do everything well (like update you properly on who has just followed you) and here's the point...

... when the application programmers just can't get it quite right in any one place, then you need to run two applications of the same genre in the same place at the same time in order to get all the functionality you need.

It's a bit like putting a tea bag in with your coffee as neither product satisfies on its own.

Tweetdeck has an incredibly annoying centralised input dialogue box for you to enter your Tweets into. This infuriatingly annoying function is apparently "not as important as other functionality needs to fix" -- I spoke to a Twitter developer on DM (direct message) who shall remain nameless.
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Janetter pops the input box sensibly up at the top of the screen so you can still see what is going on, but its DM functions are sloppy by comparison to Tweetdeck and the user can't simply slide the DM panel in and out (which you can do on Tweetdeck) -- and some users won't like the auto-flag that pops up on your desktop dock to tell you that have a new DM.

You can move some of the functionality around between the two apps using "Preferences" ... but not to the degree that you can rest happy with just the one app i.e. it's actually easier to run the two one of top of the other and periodically switch between the two.

Would we find a perfect Twitter client developed as some fabulous bionic hybrid beast if the Tweetdeck and Janetter development teams were to merge?

It's hard to say....

... one wishes they would take a closer look at each other and try to emulate what each other does best.

After all, Windows 8 changed itself after getting the idea that tablets and touch would be popular -- now where do you suppose Microsoft got that idea?

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

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