April 2014 Archives

IBM cloud marketplace: not late, just deeper

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IBM has launched a new cloud marketplace to coalesce its own portfolio of cloud services (and those of third-party providers) and provide a developer-facing ecosystem.

IBM claims that today, there is a US$250 billion cloud market opportunity.

So what is IBM opening up here?

Well, Big Blue says that the its marketplace is a doorway to IBM's Bluemix Platform-as-a-Service with composable services, the SoftLayer Infrastructure-as-a-Service and third party cloud services.

But isn't IBM a little late to the 'marketplace' table though?

IBM standards VP Angel Diaz says that IBM is not late.

He stresses that although other marketplaces do exist from the likes of Apple, Amazon and BlackBerry etc. that these offerings are essentially consumer-level services aimed at proving "apps rather than enterprise tools" -- and, moreover, IBM's marketplace is essentially developer focused.

What has IBM been doing with cloud?

The company reminds us that with the acquisition of SoftLayer, Aspera, Cloudant and Silverpop it has brought its total cloud investment to $7 Billion across 17 cloud acquisitions since 2010.

IBM senior VP of software and cloud Robert LeBlanc says that the IBM cloud marketplace offers an environment where partners including SendGrid, Zend, Redis Labs, Sonian, Flow Search Corp, Deep DB, M2Mi and Ustream feature an array of cloud services.

Do the partners buy the IBM patter?

"IBM has brought together a full suite of enterprise class cloud services and software and made these solutions simple to consume and integrate, whether you are an enterprise developer or forward looking business exec," said Andi Gutmans, Zend CEO and Co-founder. "We will support the rapid delivery of our applications through the IBM Cloud marketplace, enabling millions of web and mobile developers, and many popular PHP applications to be consumed with enterprise services and service levels on the IBM cloud."

Has IBM produced something special here?

Well it is true to say, most (cloud) marketplaces are tied to one specific product offering. If you don't use the particular service for which the marketplace was built - even if you're a customer of other products by the same company, that marketplace is irrelevant for you says IBM.

The bottom line here is -- the IBM cloud marketplace will be available to all IBM and non-IBM customers.

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Content is dynamically served up by job role -- clients can discover, test and experience IBM and partner enterprise-grade cloud services online.

For developers...

From a developer perspective, IBM's cloud marketplace bids to provide an environment where individual developers and enterprise development teams can build cloud apps via leading services and application protocol interfaces (APIs).

According to IBM, "These applications can be easily and securely integrated in hybrid on premise and off premise cloud environments. It is uniquely built on an open environment so developers can choose any open source or third party tools and integrate apps, as needed. Building on IBM's $1 Billion investment in Bluemix, Platform as a Service, today IBM also announced the expansion of Bluemix with 30 cloud services, bringing advanced big data and analytics, mobile, security and devops services to developers and bringing enterprise developers into the cloud."

From a wider IT perspective, cloud marketplace provides a secure set of cloud services built on Softlayer designed to help clients deploy cloud services, support high performance businesses at enterprise scale.

The official line from IBM is that SoftLayer gives the ability to choose a cloud environment and location that best suits business needs and provides visibility and transparency to where data resides.

There is control of data security and placement with a choice of public, private or bare-metal server options.

In terms of what IBM will include here, IBM's Robert Le Blanc has explained:

"We're starting with six categories of services: mobile, analytics, computing infrastructure, a product-development environment, and services for gaming companies, and for startup businesses born on the web," he writes in an IBM blog.

Services include Big Data, Disaster Recovery, Hybrid environments, Managed Security Services, Cloud Environments for Small and Medium Business among others.

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Creative Intellect's Rotibi at IBM Impact 2014: mobile cloud development at ground zero

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During the IBM Impact 2014 conference in Las Vegas this year the Computer Weekly Developer Network (CWDN) posed a number of core questions to a discussion panel -- the panel was hosted to analyse how software application developers should start working to create mobile cloud applications.

Why does this question arise?

The mobile cloud application is obviously the darling development objective of our industry today, but the question CWDN posed tried to go deeper.

CWDN 'stream of consciousness' question: OK panel hello! What we hear from IBM here at this show are an extensive set of updates on a huge set of tools. To be clear, IBM appears to be offering so many layers of software tooling that one almost wonders whether software developers would be somewhat confused...

... IBM has, after all, this week talked about how its mobile cloud developer offerings span aspects including:

  1. Testing
  2. Data Quality
  3. User-Centric Design
  4. Continuous Integration
  5. DevOps
  6. Tools aligned to business outcomes and requirements.

So where does a cloud developer start? Are reference architectures (which yes IBM does provide here) represent one of the best "base layers" for programmers to focus on?

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Bola Rotibi: Ha, thank you Adrian. Obviously answer is that reference architectures are still valuable and actually important from an education perspective, especially when you think about what key functions are important (e.g. test, security) and how they should and are used for developing cloud solutions.

But given the nature of the event here, I would also say that having easy access to PaaS like environments where developers can quickly try and build out simple proof of concept solutions using services that help support capabilities that would be typically be expensive to come by.

Developers are pretty resourceful people and not adverse to searching out their way to achieving their aims. However, anything can help a broad skill range of developers to quickly understand what technologies are needed and to have quick access to services that support rapid app dev is vital.

So it's about have the right educational support but also a robust platform that can allow developers to quickly implement their strategies using best practices. It is also about having a wealth of service components, API management services that then allows them to understand what is capable, but also allow them to quickly get to a solution that they can begin to easily test and see work out in the field is important.

IBM Impact 2014: composable, unbundled consumable cloud development

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IBM staged its Impact 2014 conference in Las Vegas this week to what is said to be 9000 attendees (IBM clients, business partners, developers etc.) from (probably) most of the civilised nations on Earth.

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One could describe Impact as IBM's cloud event, but this means it is also the company's infrastructure and mobile event. This is logical enough isn't it? Cloud needs infrastructure and delivers (through apps) to mobile surely?

IBM now operates 40 datacentres worldwide and says it has invested more than $7 billion in 17 acquisitions to accelerate its cloud initiatives.

IBM software lead Robert Le Blanc is always good value for a keynote speech. The Computer Weekly Developer Network has interviewed him one-on-one and he's an application evangelist beneath the corporate VP image.

Composable unbundling

But today was about the big picture and Le Blanc spoke of the need to integrate right across the enterprise -- the need to "restlessly" innovate constantly and to realise that now is a time when a really personal computing era starts to arrive and we see that there is an unbundling of business service offerings.

This is what IBM has designed and deigned to call the COMPOSABLE BUSINESS...

Yes this is essentially just a marketing label, but IBM has a lot of guts and intestinal cabling behind its top level messages, so what does the company mean by this term?

They key roles involved when building a composable business:

Business leaders
Developers
IT Leaders

"If I had known where software application development would go I wish ... well, I wish - I would probably still be a developer today because this is such a great time to be a developer," said Le Blanc.

IT leaders in IBM's newly envisioned model are directly responsible for provisioning cloud applications and making sure they are not only available, but always secure --- data does not just reside inside the four walls of the business, so security must come to the fore.

SURVEY: 2/3 of online procurement buyers would stop buying from a vendor if they had a breach.

For cloud developers, access to APIs will be crucial. IBM's newly announced IBM Cloud Marketplace is a large part of the firm's answer here. Over 200 IBM (and third party) software and services will be available on this offering.

So is this 'just' a channel announcement, or is there substance here for real cloud-centric software application developers?

Despite poor Internet connections, IBM Le Blanc engaged in a live demo that leaned towards explaining how its DevOps approach will help real cloud apps start to come to the fore with technology focused on delivering:

GitHosting
Continuous Integration
Agile Development

Plus also big data tools to help real cloud apps come online:

MapReduce
Cloudant
Time Series
Liberty for Java
BLU acceleration

So looking at BlueMix which was announced in February at Pulse (formerly Lotusphere), this technology for rapid application development and integration gets a whole new set of tools right now. These are incremental extras like "cloud application auto-scaling" - really very core functionality needs for real cloud environments.

NOTE: Also in this vein we see that Impact itself features a dev@Impact set of session tracks for cloud developers to learn how to build applications and integrate them on or off premise.

So back to this COMPOSABLE business notion. Compos-ability is (arguably) very close to the consumer-driven model which typifies much of what we see with online services today. As an example, look at Netflix or the growing number of car sharing businesses that sell options to use cars for short periods of time on a membership basis.

THE BIG TRUTH -- Consumers are more interested in having access to goods and services than they are in possessing ownership of those good and services.

The follow on here is that every cloud-based mobile interaction is now starting to become a mobile transaction.

Further analysis of IBM's notion of the composable business is needed here... the keynote is wrapping up. Let's drill into IBM Worklight and abd IBM's approach to MobileFirst application development as we look forward.

... more details will follow.

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Salesforce: how developers should build for 'micro-moment' apps

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Estimates from 2013 suggest that UK users look at their mobile devices an average of 34 times a day, a number that has helped give rise so what vendors like to call the so-called "micro-moment" app experience.

The mirco-moment app

Industry pressure now points towards the need for developers to consider the micro-moment app itself.

HR approvals, purchase order creation, resolving service case issues -- whatever the task -- developers must now create business apps that focus on on-the-go productivity.

The mirco-moment app user him/herself has embraced so-called mobile hyper-tasking and no we're not making these terms up.

But is this all jargon and poppycock, or is there a real developer trend to be aware of here?

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The Computer Weekly Developer Network (CWDN) spoke to Adam Spearing, AVP of platform for EMEA at salesforce.com

CWDN: Firstly, Salesforce is a cloud and data company that specialises at what we would probably define as the back end, why should we listen to you when it comes to application development?

Adam Spearing: Salesforce was the first company to create and deliver business applications through the cloud 15 years ago in 1999 (before Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone were even born), and since then, we have significantly shaped the way business applications are being developed. By making it easy for business users - those who you don't typically think of as app builders - to create and build hundreds of apps to run their business better, the era of "IT backlogs" is over; with our platform, IT is an enabler. To this end, we opened it to be social, mobile and API-first - to make it easy to use and rich in functionality, but not just for trained programmers. Developers and business types are co-building apps on our platform every day using declarative clicks or the latest JavaScript frameworks and programming languages. By working on the same platform, IT enables the business whilst still having the governance to protect it.

Right now the Salesforce Platform manages more than 1.5bn transactions a day with nearly half of them being API calls. In addition, it runs over 6 billion lines of Apex code, our cloud-based programming language. Last year we launched Salesforce1, a re-engineering of our platform into an flexible mobile app, which makes it easier than ever to create and deploy mobile apps, manage the customer experience and ready themselves - whether they're trained developers, admins, business users, or companies - for the connected devices that will shape and drive the user demands of the future.

CWDN: You talk about micro-moment apps in the context of the mobile revolution -- how do you define them and what makes them different from disposable apps?

Adam Spearing: Both types of apps focus on specific needs and tasks, and help users make a very simple decision in a short amount of time. But the lifespan of a disposable app is limited, expiring once an event or conference is over (such as the o2 Matchday app for the Six Nations Rugby), whereas micro-moments within apps are used regularly - and are designed around the user experience, to ensure that they're immediately valuable. Signing up for a workshop, booking a meeting room or finding a parking slot - micro-moments can manage these workday issues. By taking an existing process and making it mobile-first, they help employees to make an instant decision from anywhere, anytime.

CWDN: So how indeed can developers get apps ready for the micro-moment?

Adam Spearing: Here are three things app builders (business users and developers) should focus on when building apps for the micro-moment:

1. The user experience: How can I enhance an existing process and make it mobile-first? Can I use geo-location and the camera on a mobile phone to snap a picture of a defective product, tag it with the city I'm in and immediately submit it to the company's incident management system, all within a micro-moment and the tap of a finger?

2. Design: This goes hand-in-hand with user experience. Today's killer mobile apps are a joy to use. They blend ease of use with modern design, making it possible to be productive even when on a crowded bus, on the tube as it rounds a corner, and in the back of a cab weaving through rush hour.

3. Concept: Micro-moment functions should be short and snappy, and not overwhelm users with too much information -one screen to give me enough information to make a decision and one thumb tab should be all it takes to take an action. Ease of use is crucial, a consideration that all app builders need to balance alongside the users' desire for a consistent and familiar app experience across all devices.

CWDN: How will the cloud "bend" in the next five years to accommodate for new use cases?

Adam Spearing: We're entering an entirely new world of connectivity, with predictions of more than 50 billion connected things by 2020. And behind every product, every app and every device there is a customer. This means that the digital and mobile interaction of your product or service will keep growing in importance, and the proliferation of connected apps and devices will turn every company, no matter what they make, do, or who they service, into a software company - and more precisely, into an API-led business. App builders who understand and capitalise upon the fact that APIs are becoming ubiquitous within almost every tool and device we use will be the ones who benefit from this revolution. Remember, mobile in the enterprise is often about connecting to information - much of which still exists in custom apps and on-premise solutions. With the cloud (and APIs), companies have an unparalleled ability to create an innovation layer atop their legacy systems and unlock business-critical information for maximum leverage. Taking it one step further, with Salesforce1, we've made it incredibly easy to then take this customer information and make it immediately connected, immediately mobile. To truly be mobile-first, you need to be cloud and API first.

CWDN: Would you care to postulate and provide some informed conjecture as to what other cloud/mobile/app/development or other trends we will find ourselves impacted by before the end of the decade?

Adam Spearing: We're already seeing the tip of this trend starting to come into play: App builders from IT and business will become increasingly critical to the top and bottom line. They will be a more integral part of the business than ever before, building apps for business users and consumers, rather than systems; whether the app is for an employee to manage their office environment, a jet engine onboard a Boeing 777 flying across the Atlantic, or a thermostat in your home. It will be impossible for developers not to think about how people are connected everywhere, all the time. There's no question about it - it's an exciting time to be a developer.

Wearable technology isn't real yet, is it?

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So we all know that Google Glass is (kind of) available now and it represents one of the most progressive manifestations yet of real 'wearable' technology, right?

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But really real wearables are still (arguably) some way off surely?

Or to put it another way, we might be happy to play with wearable electronically-empowered glasses and super-functional smartwatches, but enterprises haven't actually started using these new tools yet... let alone have software application development professionals actually started to think about programming for these new-age environments.

That may be our general impression, but IFS Labs says it has created a proof-of-concept that shows how users of business applications can benefit from wearable technology, such as the recently launched Samsung Gear 2.

IFS who?

Ah yes sorry, IFS Labs is the "innovation division" of global enterprise applications company IFS.

The company specialises 3-letter acronyms starting with E and so focuses on enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM) and enterprise service management (ESM).

As such, IFS says it is looking to wearables to see where they will be (or "could" be) integrated into real new business application scenarios.

The fully working proof-of-concept demo in question here is allegedly capable of demonstrating how notifications from IFS's business applications can be delivered to wearable technology.

Using Samsung's APIs for notification alerts, IFS connected components of its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems to send alerts in line with updates to certain processes.

FOR EXAMPLE: Field service operatives could be alerted when important items are shipped, key projects are started or completed, or even be notified when invoices are paid.

David Anderson, director of IFS Labs has said that his firm is "committed to mobility" (Ed: who isn't?) and that as an ERP player he wants to test and develop emerging technologies within the context of how they can bring value to users of business applications.

Industry analysts are forecasting formidable growth in the wearables market with Gartner estimating that the wearable electronics market will grow to $10 billion by 2016, and CCS Insight predicting that there will be up to 100million smartphone companions (e.g. smartwatches) by 2017.

Are wearables more real yet then? A bit, yes.

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Jevons Paradox: why better technology leads to 'even more' technology

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Better technology innovation and more intuitive software application development should lead to more efficiency and therefore less technology being needed, right?

Wrong.

Comments made by Ovum's principal analyst for software Roy Illsley at his firm's recent industry congress meeting point to the Jevons Paradox which states precisely the opposite truth to our opening statement.

The Jevons paradox was postulated by English economist William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 book The Coal Question.

Jevons suggested that as technological innovations progress, the rate of consumption of that resource actually increases.

This observation was based upon Britain's use of coal after the introduction of James Watt's coal-fired steam engine which, although more efficient than its predecessors, actually fueled an increase in the use of coal.

If then we look at the use of mobile technology (for example), then will better, faster more intuitive tech tools mean we still use more of them?

Ovum's Illsley comments to say that for CIOs, the shift to a world where automation becomes intelligent (and UIs have become intuitive) is leading us towards a world where technology is just a tool that most business users are happy to interact with.

"IT department's role will change and the skills needed will also change as the power of cognitive automation drives more efficient IT operations, increased service levels, and reduced IT costs. But just as Jevons paradox predicts this will see greater demand for IT services," said Illsley.

Fusion-io's SQL Server-snuggle

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Second only to the programming spin that focuses on DevOps is the emergence of what we might call the rise of the true 'data developer'.

The data (or database) developer is focused on tools that can reduce transaction latencies inside modern data warehouse environments, very often now employing in-memory computing speed where possible.

This is the target zone that Fusion-io is looking to with its news this week that the Fusion ioMemory platform has been optimised for performance with Microsoft SQL Server 2014.

First the Earth cooled

So first the Earth cooled, then the dinosaurs came... and then Microsoft adorned SQL Server 2014 with in-memory capabilities with perhaps half an eye on what SAP has done with its HANA IMDB flagship loveliness.

The Fusion ioMemory platform is said to be capable of running the in-memory SQL Server 2014 proposition at a 4x improvement in transactions per second with lower data latencies.

So just to restate the facts... SQL Server 2014 delivers new in-memory capabilities built into the core database for online transaction processing (OLTP) to speed real-time transaction data.

Cut-through architecture

Fusion-io now claims that SQL Server 2014 In-Memory OLTP combined with the Fusion-io "cut through architecture" drives the highest performance level of transactions with the simplest, most cost-effective approach compared to legacy architectures.

"The move by Microsoft to adopt in-memory on-line transaction processing (OLTP) for SQL Server 2014 is a huge step forwards towards the needs businesses around the world have for in-memory databases. In-memory provides businesses with a competitive advantage by allowing real-time access to information, by adding flash memory technology to this it removes additional data bottlenecks to provide faster transactions, faster queries and faster insights at lower costs for businesses," said Fusion-io President and COO Lance Smith.

Fusion ioMemory offers tens of terabytes of high-performance flash per server at "a fraction of the cost" (it says here) of scaling out disks for performance.

Fusion-io's persistent, high capacity ioMemory platform gives servers native access to flash memory with the intention of increasing datacentre efficiency.

Fusion-io also supports Buffer Pool Extension, a new feature in SQL Server 2014.

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Image 1: Fusion-io's understated modest low-key home page imagery, do you think they're trying to tell us something?

The geek is dead: a new superhero power-class emerges

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IT automation company Chef has played its annual PR joker trump card this week and suggested that a new 'power-class' of developers is emerging.

NOTE: The firm produces a model for automating IT infrastructure and applications that drive what it calls 'self-reliance' across development and operations teams.

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The firm says claims that developers are starting to be recognised as a "highly influential population" both in business and in society.

NOTE: There's an old saying in PR: when there's no news, do a survey.

So then, according to a new survey, 93 percent of developers feel empowered to experiment in their companies, with 94 percent believing they will be a "revolutionary influence" in the private sector, government and non-profits during the next five years.

Chef surveyed 1,000 software developers in the U.S. to determine trends in their business, societal, financial and political behaviour.

The average software developer plans to stay at his or her current company for nine years.

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of developers describe their profession as "recession-proof.

Chef CEO Barry Crist says, "Developers are a stable class and are the engine powering our economy today and in the future. Despite the ups and downs of technology companies, the developer population remains stable, maturing and growing in size, influence and financial power."

TIBCO: data integration is more than just plumbing

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Never shy of a long product name, TIBCO this week is hanging out the bunting and flags to celebrate the arrival of TIBCO ActiveMatrix BusinessWorks 6.0 -- a "technology-neutral platform" for data.

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Although there is BPM here (Business Process Management)... in fairness, ActiveMatrix is more than just BPM...

... the company's latest release includes products for service creation and integration, distributed service control and data grid management, tools for dealing with packaged applications, BPM (ah there it is!) and governance.

In terms of usage by data-centric developers, the product allows users create their own "functions and connectors" for data integration.

This then is all about the ability to integrate applications together and influence them with what's about to happen, not what's already happened.

TIBCO CTO Matt Quinn asserts that data (and applications) integration is no longer just "a matter of simple plumbing" and that new agility is needed.

A model-driven development approach allows users to develop, debug, configure and deploy integration processes without having to write any lines of code.

According to Quinn, "Organisations are no longer just integrating internal ERP, SaaS, custom or legacy applications; today they're exposing the data that fuels their mobile applications, web channels and open APIs. This data allows them to engage in real-time discussions with customers."

Image credit: Grinning Planet

Portuguese developer event hosts HTML5... to ZX Spectrum and Atari inspired retro coding jam

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A new Silicon Valley here in Europe?

A Portuguese Costa do Silício (coast of code) perhaps?

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Could Portugal really be the "next great technology hub for Europe" or is the country's national investment authority curiously adept at the black art of spin?

SAPO Codebits is named thusly as SAPO is a subsidiary company of the Portugal Telecom Group -- the event itself is held this week and features 900 participants from more than 10 countries, 25 workshops, more than 100 talks, 64 speakers and a selection of Piri Piri spiced frango asado (roast chicken) to feed the attending masses.

Now in its 7th year, SAPO Codebits will focus on computing and hardware with 3D printing, digital manufacturing, augmented hardware and simulations, robotics, drones and virtual reality retro computing.

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There's even going to be a retro gaming and computing session:

"If you have a ZX Spectrum, a Commodore 64, an Amiga 500, a Dreamcast, the first PlayStation, an Atari 2600, a GameCube, an Amstrad or an IBM PC or something else that will rock our collective geek nostalgia, it's time to blow out the dust of that relic and see if it still works."

The event will also hit the modern edge of programming with a presentation from the very excellent Christian Heilmann in his role as principal developer Evangelist at Mozilla.

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Heilmann's "Firefox OS - HTML5 for a truly world-wide-web" session will feature the following abstract:

"HTML5 was promised to developers as a truly open and simple way to create applications without restrictions and the need to learn new technologies. Sounded too good to be true, and in many platforms it actually was. With Firefox OS, Mozilla created an operating system aimed at emerging markets that delivers the promise of HTML5. In this keynote Chris Heilmann will explain what you can do to be part of this and how the browser is your editing environment. Be part of the creation of the next generation of apps that empower people around the world."

Microsoft CTO for cloud: Azure Preview Portal will fuel real cloud programming

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Developers are getting their hands dirty inside the mechanics of the cloud to an increasing degree every day.

Given this truism, we can expect cloud players to start producing new "code spanner friendly" services suited to the way software application development pros need to work within the big data environment of the cloud.

Microsoft has been vocal in this space recently and has just announced its Azure Preview Portal, a service for developers to build and manage their apps inside already-running cloud instances -- in place, using the tools of their choice.

The firm claims that this new offering brings together all the components of a cloud app into a single development and management experience (effectively then, blending infrastructure and platform services) -- and this could indeed mean that developers no longer have to work in multiple, disparate environments.

Microsoft plans to deliver the new portal across the public, private and hosted cloud.

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With these new services in mind, cloud services CTO for Microsoft Rob Fraser has said that the ability to really start to tune up custom-aligned clouds is going to be crucial game-changer for cloud developers and the CIOs to which they report:

Fraser's comments are as follows:

No two companies will have the same requirements, so hybrid IT solutions that can be customised for each engagement and deliver flexibility regardless of whether the customer runs on premise, on a service provider, on public cloud or any combination.

Best of breed cloud providers need to deliver a complete range of cloud services at scale and that provide coherency in term of key services, like identity and directory services, across whatever device and service infrastructure is selected. Ultimately, cloud providers need to ensure they are able to provide solutions that give the customer as much flexibility as possible to drive efficiencies and allow IT to respond rapidly evolving business requirements.

Microsoft, as an example, has recently provided this with its Office for iPad release. This enables Microsoft customers to take advantage of Office 365 and drive business efficiencies no matter what devices the customer has in place, enabling a flexible and agile service that delivers a return on investment.

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Sound as a development factor

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We have speculated previously about that oft-overlooked software application development parameter: sound.

If sound is not the next (social media) killer app, then surely it could be the next killer application consideration.

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We talk a lot about what makes a great application and what makes a great device; factors including processing speed, graphic capabilities, Input/Output and connectivity capabilities, playability, usability and even plain old storage get talked to death.

But why is sound such a poor cousin to these so-called 'killer' factors.

Here's why this discussion comes to light...

I've been using an iPad, iPod and Xbox for a number of years with a well known brand of headphones from a company beginning with the letter B (rhymes with hose) and been happy enough.

But this weekend I switched to a pair of (and I'm happy to name them) Sennheiser Momentum On Ear Headphones Red and had something of an epiphany. The sound is so rich, deep and crystal clear that I was honestly taken aback.

Soundgarden has a free concert video on iTunes right now where the band plays the whole Superunknown album back to back. I literally sat at my desk and worked on Sunday just so I could sit there listening to the music.

If sound can be "that much better" with quality headphones (or speakers), they why isn't it up there with TOUCH and GESTURE RECOGNITION as a killer app factor?

This brand from Sennheiseris powered by 18Ω proprietary transducers, which use (says the company) technology from the high-end headphone sector in order to deliver full stereo sound with (and this is the important bit) "extraordinary rendition of detail" for the listener.

Why then isn't sound detail rendition more openly discussed and/or targeted as an application development objective?

Yes obviously you can make sound quality as wonderful as possible but if the listener uses a pair of cheap earphones or speakers from a Christmas cracker then it won't matter anyway, so factor should be down to the device manufacturers to start championing anyway.

Some years back now, Sennheiser Communications announced that it had joined the Cisco Developer Network in the Unified Communications technology category -- so it is now out of the realm of firms like the German audio company to get involved at this level.

Better sound for apps and better sound all round please.

A severe case of the "-ilities"

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This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Developer Network written by Mark Warren of Perforce Software.

If you're struggling to find out what's going on inside your production servers...

(i.e. what's on them and why... and how on Earth you're going to make them grow to keep up with demand)

... then you may have a severe case of the "Ilities".

This is a common ailment.

Sysadmins across the planet are struggling with traceability (knowing what got deployed, why, when and how to clean up if anything goes wrong), auditability (being able to show you know what's running and that, honestly, all the testing and compliancy stuff got done)... and scalability (more people keep wanting to use the systems and for them to run faster).

For all sorts of historical reasons (and some of those apps have been around for decades) a whole raft of different tools have been adopted across development and operations teams and more are still being added, for example some developers are adopting Git while most of the rest of the team are using other tools.

The first part of the solution is to realise that at the core of all the problems is what we call the System of Record.

This is the foundation on which all the development, build, test and deployment tools sit. If you can get that foundation right, with a single "source of truth" then you're well on the road to recovery.

The single source of truth is your version management tool.

That tool needs to be able to handle all the digital assets (source code and outputs from the build system including: test cases, documentation, artwork and video), plus high performance and manageable, robust security.

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As a first step, companies need to audit what they have - including how many version management tools are being used, admins, different back-up or HA/DR processes and then rationalise or retire anything that is superfluous to requirement.

Regardless of what software is used to get there...

... please understand where you are without worrying about how you got there; review what you need and how your current systems match up; develop a modernisation plan to migrate to a version management platform that can take care of your "ilities" for you."

Does Windows 8.1 Update have usability, at last?

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The great and the good among the software application development coding community were invited to Microsoft's Build 2014 conference in San Francisco last night.

The Computer Weekly Developer Network was fortunate enough to attend a series of London-based briefings detailing much of the same information.

We had the Windows 8.1 update (lower case) back in May 2013 -- so this instead is Windows 8.1 Update (CAPS) -- and the distinction is important.

We have known about the forthcoming next build of Windows from as far back as January of this year due to a number of leaks -- initially, our interest has been focused on Microsoft giving users first and then manufacturers the ability to ship machines that boot directly into native desktop mode.

This action eludes to part of the deeper problem Microsoft has had with Windows 8 i.e. slapping full screen apps at desktop (and laptop) users who do not want what is essentially a "tablet experience" on their keyboard-driven machine.

NOTE: As an example, Microsoft's full screen Skype is "snappable" into a quarter of the screen, but is still arguably too intrusive -- the native desktop version is thankfully available.

It is after all called Microsoft WINDOWS -- not WINDOW.

But has Microsoft got around this problem now and does Windows 8.1 Update have real user usability?

The shorter answer is yes, it might well have.

Of course this would be quite a hard trick to pull off. That is to say ... can you imagine Microsoft unveiling a so-called "more converged platform" across desktop, phone and 'other', yet still managing to fix user interface usability for (mouse and keyboard using) desktop users at the same time?

So here's the money shot...

Key features of the Windows 8.1 Update include the ability to access the taskbar from any screen and pin Windows Store apps to the taskbar alongside desktop apps and favourite websites.

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What this means is: if you find yourself constricted inside a full screen app on a desktop and want to change what you're doing, you can pull your mouse downwards to the bottom of the screen and identify all your open apps and switch between them pretty easily.

To add to these "why didn't they do this in the first place" improvements, Microsoft has also added a POWER DOWN and SEARCH icon right in the top right hand of the Windows tile home screen. The option to power off via the desktop "new start button" still exists.

Spotlight or Search?

So that Metro SEARCH option button (ok sorry, we're not allowed to call it Metro anymore) then, is that a good idea?

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Yes of course it is, it makes search much more accessible and it works a lot like Spotlight in Apple's OS X -- so should that be a surprise?

Computer Weekly Developer Network reporting staff last attended Microsoft Build 2004 (it was called PDC back then) and comments were made at that time about "natural migration of features between competing operating systems" and, in fairness, that's what natural selection is all about so we see no reason to criticise Microsoft for this transmigration.

Going a little deeper here, Windows 8.1 Update aims to offer improved Internet Explorer 8 compatibility on Internet Explorer 11.

This is quite a nice enhancement i.e. what Microsoft has done is to make IE 11 more sensitive to older Line of Business apps that might run as web services written for IE8 and ensure that backwards compatibility has been preserved. There are plenty of these kinds of apps around, so this makes good sense.

In terms of the converged developer platform...

Microsoft detailed a new common platform across devices, a single toolset, a common infrastructure across the Windows and Windows Phone stores and what it wants us to call a "clear commitment" to interoperability.

NOTE: Microsoft started employing interoperability specialists somewhere around the start of the millennium and talking about how interoperability should be "baked in" from the start. We sniggered back then (TechEd Amsterdam 2003), but hey look -- now we have Office of iPad and MS DOS has just been open sourced, so you can stop your childish sniggers now please.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president, OS Group at Microsoft said, "[Something nice and gung ho about things that] benefit our customers, partners and developers alike." You can imagine the rest - he probably said "vibrant ecosystem" too.

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Windows Phone 8.1

Although we've not touched on it here so far, Microsoft also unveiled Windows Phone 8.1 and introduced the Cortana digital assistant with a persona inspired by a "Halo" character.

"Powered by Bing, Cortana gets to know you and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behaviour and checking in with you before she assumes you're interested in something," said the company, in a press statement

So getting back to the guts of it, for developers -- Microsoft Visual Studio will now be enhanced through Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 Release Candidate.

This update comes in line with the release of TypeScript 1.0, Microsoft's JavaScript superset language with support for static typing and we know that TypeScript 1.0 is available as part of Visual Studio 2013 and Visual Studio Web Express 2013 Spring Update.

NOTE: TypeScript 1.0 is now a fully supported language in Visual Studio.

Universal Projects - 90% code share

Among other new capabilities, Microsoft is talking about the introduction of "universal projects" for developers so that code can be shared across Windows and Windows Phone 8.1 now.

"Universal projects allow developers to use approximately 90 percent of the same code, a single packaging system, and a common user interface to target apps for phones, tablets and PCs," said the company.

And finally (although it's not, there is more bedsides) later this week, Microsoft will release the next version of Windows App Studio, a web-based tool for non-developers that enables the creation of universal Windows apps in a single project.

The Windows 8.1 Update is available to download for MSDN subscribers now and will be generally available via Windows update through the Windows Store from 8 April.

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