Mobile Apps and I Wish I Was Anthony Bourdain

I wish I was the Anthony Bourdain of technology. William Gibson came close with No Maps for These Territories but it lacked the right vibe. I think it was because of Bono. Anyway, a tech tourist show with a post modern host is something I would love to do when I retire. Drink beer with project managers, wear dark sunglasses, smoke their clove cigarettes and just jam out with the platform. Who cares if it crashes? Shitty local bands provide the backdrop in the smoke filled bars as we just brainstorm cool stuff over the local deep fried dish.

We’re at the cusp of a new revolution, we’re at the cusp of the old revolution. Sun Microsystems said 10 years ago “the network is the computer”. We saw the tadpole notebook die. “Who would run UNIX on a laptop?”

Who would run Linux on a cellphone?

Solaris and Linux are old news, crushed under the terribly irony of their own success and android is really the dragon risen. Solaris did oracle so well that oracle bought it and made it from a wonderful garden into a toaster. Linux continues on as a desktop, or a server, but Nokia championing a full Linux on a phone never materialized with any success. Google came in the night and hammered it into a legitimate mobile platform by throwing out the trappings of the OS while keeping the enterprise level Java ideas (something lost on Apple) and what do we have now?

We have a mobile app delivery platform. Mark my words, this is huge. It’s so big Ubuntu has been pretending it was their idea and completely missed the boat. Protip guys – your desktop browser doesn’t belong on a tablet. But who’s to say thats not going to change into a mobile browser through theming? Who knows what goes on in their heads at all?

The new internet isn’t going to be made from webpages, it’s going to be made from applications. There’s two particular forces here which caused this: HTML is junk and the OS always got in the way. Cellphones, today, aren’t that different from enthusiast computers of yesteryear. They play games, they capture video, they play music, they take pictures and they do it wirelessly. Think about that for a moment. To make a computer do this, you need a webcam, you need a graphics card, you need fast storage and you need sound. The computers biggest problem was that it didn’t come with these things. Windows always insisted it needed updates, driver disks, etc. The problem was always the OS. Apple ended up going way over the mark and also branded the heck out of an OS. People line up around the block for it, it’s completely bizarre to me. Apple too misses the mark, applications you purchase on your device don’t work on your computer. In a lot of ways apple did these things, but I also think they priced themselves back into the enthusiast market. There’s no reason to use them when only a small minority of people have these features. We were missing the important part of the puzzle – Cheap, Complex Devices.

You get cellphones which do these things for free. Sign a two year contract, pick the carrying case color of your choice and out the door you go. It plays video. It captures video. It’s a camera. Its an audio recorder, a music player, and it surfs the web, all wirelessly.

Why doesn’t it do this on the web? HTML.

HTML has made awesome strides over the years for client side execution, the problem is that the clients have made great strides over the years not to be the executors. Phones are still ARM9, 1ghz (if you’re lucky) devices with processors the size of your thumbnail. While things like terga have gone a long way towards specific work units (nVidia’s GPU, etc), there’s no hardware accelerator for HTML. It just doesn’t exist. Dalvik, of course, is hardware accelerated. See what google did there? Instead of using a presentation language for applications and trying to accelerate that, full well knowing MS was going to stomp them to death with IE, they accelerated the language you can write your presentation layer in. Suddenly, the camera, the audio, the recorder, and the phone don’t require a stack of driver disks. They have very elegantly end-run the presentation problem by making the OS go away. They catered to the idea that no-one cares what their phone runs. A phone is a phone the same way a TV is a TV or a car is a car, except when your TV can play on your phone because of the netflix app and your car gets it’s maps from google via bluetooth. People don’t care, per se. It’s a phone. Netflix is a neat trick. Netflix keeps your eyes on the phone. How many ads does Netflix run? Zero, you pay for it. How many ads does the CNN app run? A lot. You pay for the service with ads like TV, but instead of channels now you have apps.

This is uninspired, insipid horseshit. It doesn’t change how we do things, it merely reassigns TV channels to applications. Instead of tuning to the channel, you click a button. All that’s done is make the phone into the remote control and the TV, or you could think of it as a TV without a remote control. It’s boring. It’s the thing legislation is made of to “protect the rights of consumers” because the MPAA and the RIAA don’t get it, they don’t come up with new ideas.

Here’s an idea, take the device and do something with it. Make an Autozone app which lets you pay for a mechanic to connect to your phones camera so you can show him where you’re stuck on the project. They can sell you special phone soap when you’re done because you didn’t wash your filthy hands before touching the display. Make a social network app which lets you define public content you will share with people in an area, then walk around the building with your GPS on to define an area people will exchange info with you. Enjoy the particular vibe of a movie or song? Why not a music player which correlates where people hang out to enjoy the music? People who list their activities as “sports” and listen to upbeat jazz while running a route may have a route which attracts amateur athletes who don’t enjoy complex terrain but want to run for fitness outside.

What we have driving this is association. When we coalesce these different technologies into a single platform, we need to realize that they stop being technologies unto themselves and they can be used in a complimentary fashion. At very least I am surprised that banks haven’t set up internet tellers. Not only do people enjoy talking to tellers, etc face to face but in terms of verifying the security of the account, seeing the customer (and having a picture of them) is worth the security alone. The customer feels like the bank takes a personal stake in them, the queue can be managed by the application instead of standing in line at the bank and the bank has strong identity verification. Phones can scan barcodes too, have them hold their drivers license up to the camera to be scanned for another layer of security just in case they’re some sort of Max Headroom puppet.

The internet presentation is dead, its bones pave the way for the new internet presentation. The future always feels like it’s right around the corner.

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Leaving Novell’s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server

I was trying to ruminate how to write this so it wasn’t an out and out hit piece on how badly Novell shot themselves when it comes to running Linux. Then I realized that this was the company who brought us netware, and they couldn’t ever get ahead of it. Once I realized this, I understood the fundamental truth of the issue: Novell has always stood in Microsofts shadow and this is why they never achieved greatness.

Netware always ran on top of DOS. They were inseparable even as OS2 ran on top of DOS. DOS wasn’t even particularly nice, but the selling point of DOS back then was that it wasn’t UNIX. And it wasn’t even that it wasn’t UNIX in the sense that UNIX was unpleasant to use – UNIX was a great write-once-run-anywhere example with POSIX (for the most part) – it was that it was so darned expensive. The rise of Linux has been documented ad infinitum on this blog and elsewhere. If you’re unclear about it, grab a copy of the absolutely great Revolution OS and watch it. It’s not as much about politics as The Cathedral and Baazar but more about the people involved and their motivation in the face of absolute commercial adversity.

Lets consider, for a moment, the state of a Linux company as a whole in the present. Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 (I’ll just call it “Win 7”) finally has threading and user separation which is actually worth something. Windows 7 scripting is still a crapshoot with power shell but it’s vastly better than it ever was. People are finally starting to take .Net seriously since the Win 7 threading stopped sucking. It’s still hideously expensive to run, but it’s got the critical advantage that people are generally familiar with it. I know most of my readership runs Linux, bear with me, I run it too. When we say that Linux has better, more robust filesystems, this is true. When we say Linux is typically faster, this is true. When we point to Linux and we say that it’s more secure, this is true. The problem here in the present for a Linux company is that Windows 7 is probably good enough for most people. MS has put something out which is so good it raises the bar, and people who were not terribly happy with Linux due to their vendor might take a moment and say “Well now performance is similar for my specific purpose, lets give it a try”. I’m looking at you, Novell, because your tech support sucks, and this is coming from someone who’s been running Linux for 10 years and saw how badly Caldera’s support sucked.

What happened to Caldera? Novell bought them. Sigh.

When the company I worked for decided to shove off Novell’s SuSE, this is exactly the reasoning. Novell’s support sucked, in turn performance was marginal but vastly poorer than their marketing material would have shown, I suggested going to RedHat and the company ultimately decided Windows 7 was “good enough”. There is now balkanization where various departments are spinning off their own IT groups who were happy and satisfied with SuSE, but these IT groups are running OpenSuSE and they’re not using the Novell proprietary services. They would be every bit as happy on RedHat or Fedora or Debian or Ubuntu… as they would with SuSE. To them it doesn’t matter what Linux they’re running so long as the old faithful chugs along and dishes up their applications. To them, Linux is “good enough”. To my group which has to do things like directory administration and file sharing, Novell was a serious problem on whatever OS we ran it on (including XP clients to eDirectory which often crashed or did weird stuff when java was updated) and the new problem was that it wasn’t even “good enough”, it was totally blown out of the water.

Lets take a step forward and get out my Penguin Crystal Ball. Novell’s in trouble because they’ve allied themselves as a partner with MS and touted their AD compatibility. The problem was they did this before Win 7 really got a foothold out there and now the Big Push from MS was Windows 7 as a server OS. Now Novell, once again, finds itself competing with MS in MS’s own ballpark. This is from a simple technology perspective, nevermind that Novell only recently fixed up eDirectory to AD support to make it robust. From a money perspective it’s a no brainer – the cost of the license + the cost of support is about what you would pay for a similar amount of performance from MS. I’m not going to say they lied here, but the performance numbers were definitely padded in my opinion and it only got worse once the virtualization craze hit because it was even slower. RedHat here is a great example of doing this correctly – the price is competitive and the numbers are correct, but more on the point RedHat understands that MS is the Big Dog in the neighborhood and RedHat’s claim to fame is that they serve as AD replica servers flawlessly. Now you have a MS product which is fully supported, but if you have a branch office that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, you can throw a RedHat Enterprise Linux server out there for $100 and serve up a full replica of AD. You can’t even buy Windows 7 for $100. Redhat’s other great idea – It doesn’t care if you’re a Mac or an MS client. It can serve up the domain and filesystems wholly transparently. Try joining an AD domain with an Apple sometime, see how that works out for you.

Novell, as a company, I am fairly sure will persist. There’s a lot of people such as ourselves who have legacy applications which run on Netware but want some bridge to the future. There’s also a place for companies right now who do Linux distributions because Linux’s kernel is going through growing pains at the moment with regards to hardware and “kernel module loaders”. The question is – how long can they hold on with both Apple and MS going for two different market segments? Apple is quickly becoming the defacto desktop to run for people who think buying a new computer is the solution to computer problems. They made a great choice putting a pretty face on the good old UNIX workhorse and they weren’t so vain as to make broad sweeping changes to POSIX (looking at you, Novell) or hide the command line. It even runs Linux software almost 100% so it has a wealth of applications. Win 7 in this respect is too little, too late. However, on the server side, Windows 7 is just what it needed to be to compete with UNIX deployments. Java, threads, scripting, POSIXy stuff and great privilege separation are all there. If I were Novell, I would be doing some serious soul searching.

If I were looking for a new way to update my infrastructure, I’d probably give Windows 7/Windows 2008 a try and put RedHat into service as a performance enhancer for my new, shiny system.

Update: In case anyone is wondering “what do I do if novell tanks?” – you can install OES (the Novell enterprise software) on top of RedHat. It works perfectly with a bit of librarly versioning work, but it can be done and it does run correctly.

Lets Talk About: FUTAR GAS TECHMOLOGY

First, I am going to review this page about fuel saving technology:

Multistage Oil Pump: Talk about craptacular, oil pressure does little or nothing for an engine. Oil viscosity does a lot more for the engine. But, underflowing oil will destroy an engine. A multistage oil pump is only good for pumping failure. Better alternative – electrical oil pump.

Shortened Head: I sort of like the idea. But making the valve guides shorter means that the head is more prone to valve deflection. Toyota figured this out with the 3SGTE engines back in 1991: A bucket is used to shim the valves. Better alternative: Lighter metals = less mass, but this is a neat idea if they can pull it off.

Variable Compression Ratio: Good idea, terribly poor execution. This is traditionally accomplished with a dual-lobe cam similar to VANOS. Introduced in 1992, BMW’s system allows for 12 degrees of timing change. What could possibly go wrong with individual pistons? When the actuator dies, you’ve got a dead piston, and you need a new shortblock. I’m absolutely sure if the pistons get even a hair out of sync, the main bearing on your engine is toast.

Guided Spray Turbo: Anything that improves fuel economy through turbos is good. Buy stock. Best idea of the set. It’s tried and true.

Electromagnet Valves: Another really good idea. This engine is so tunable it’s stupid, and could probably run on CNG, LPG, E85, whatever. With a high pressure fuel pump and the right injectors, you could tune the dwell and timing to run on absolutely anything. Hell, you could even switch it from diesel to gasoline.

Hydraulic Power Electrification: Electric pumps are a good idea, but not a 100+ MPG idea. Still, every little bit helps. Or you could just be a man and learn to drive without power steering (LOOK AT YOU RED MR2).