Saturday, January 31, 2009

Changes in the Web CMS Market

The year started with a surprise in the CMS market - Autonomy acquired Interwoven. In a way, it makes sense because Autonomy wants to add Interwoven's WorkSite to its compliance products. But the acquisition drastically change the dynamic in the competition between between Interwoven and Vignette in the web CMS space.

It looked like Interwoven had a leg up on Vignette before the acquisition and it was openly talking about going after Vignette. The biggest question in the wake of the acquisition of Interwoven is how Autonomy will manage the integration of the new entity and its long-term plans (or lack thereof) in the web CMS market. It's hard to ignore that it doesn't have a stellar track-record when it comes to integration of new entities.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Amazon Sales - Like a Rocket

Good news from the corporate world is almost news itself these days and Amazon's 2008 fourth quarter sales report is cheerful reading.

The sales for the quarter increased with 18%. Such an increase is, of course, huge in the face of struggling retail sales but Amazon also outperformed the US e-commerce sector which is estimated to have suffered a 3% decline for the same period.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Examining the Case Against Web Apps

Web based applications have been on the raise for many years and the trend is embraced without much exception. So, it's only healthy to consider the opposing point of view in Neil McAllister's piece "The case against Web apps".

The article is a five point critique of browser-based web apps:
  1. It's client-server all over again.
  2. Web UIs are a mess.
  3. Browser technologies are too limiting.
  4. The big vendors call the shots.
  5. Should every employee have a browser?
Neil fails to make a convincing make the case that the drive towards web apps are fundamentally not sound - he fails on two accounts. First, many of his concerns, while valid points, are pain points and challenges in the development of web apps and not evidence of structural shortcomings in the concept. Second, he disregard the overall developments in the computer industry and assumes technology as static.

For instance, Neil points to the challenges of maintaining datacenters. It's a challenge to shoulder capacity for services with a large number of users no matter what kind of applications is used, web apps or not. The challenge of scaling computer power is something that is addressed with technology such as clustering and cloud computing. So, it's a valid point but not really an issue of web apps or not.

The author criticizes the inherit thin-client approach of web apps and points to the fact that a lot of client-side computer power is left under-utilized while the application is running on the server. The development of netbooks and smartphones contradicts the assumption that there will always be powerful client-side CPUs but the fundamental problem with this argument is an underlying assumption that web apps, as a technology, is static. I think it's likely we will see more work pushed over to the client in web apps. Actually, the modest attempts to provide off-line functionality for some web apps is actually a step in this direction.

Again, the author has a point - there are strengths to a more traditional client application architecture but it's narrow minded to assume applications would be limited to the traditional desktop application. The iPhone and G1 phones demonstrates this by using applications as a centerpiece in the customization of those devices. We can have a resurgence of applications in some contexts and it just doesn't contradict the web apps concept.

The bottom line is - the web is already a vital media channel, and all content and service providers will have to maintain some offering on the web. Consequently, moving some applications into the web space is an inherit streamlining of technology.

Looking at the big picture, one of the biggest benefits with web apps is that it provides a widespread platform allowing for new applications to emerge without the traditional barriers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Case Study: My iPhone

In order to illustrate the highly customizable nature of the iPhone, let me share what I have on mine as a small case study.

Address book: My address book is connected to an online contact database provided by ZYB. This provides an ongoing backup of my contacts and it's much easier to add and edit information in a browser. The app for syncing is SyncML by Synthesis AG.

News: I am a newsjunkie. I get general news from AP by the app Mobile News. The current version of the app is a bit slow to update the headlines but it's otherwise a good app and fantastic content. The app Bloomberg is an incredible source of financial news and information about stocks. The app use movement of the phone for navigation in a very smart way. I get customized news with the RSS reader NetNewsWire by NewsGator.

Networking: The apps (in order of importance) are Facebook, TwitterFon, and LinkedIn.

Calendar: I use the Google Calendar and the app SaiSuke provides full access. It costs a few bucks but it's well worth the price.

To do: The app Zenbe by the company with the same name provides the ability to work with to do lists on the phone and online. The lists can be shared by many users and also integrated into web content such as the customized Google page. I use it for work lists, private lists, and grocery shopping lists - it's very practical.

Google Docs: I sometimes use Google Docs and the app MiGhtyDocs provides read access to the docs while on the go.

Wikipedia: The app Wikipanion provides easy access to Wikipedia. It's fast and easy enough to be used while engaged in conversations or in meetings.

Personal finances: I use the generic Banking app and it provides basic access to my accounts. That's just perfect, not too much access but limited to looking up information easily on the go. The app Pageonce is interesting and I use it to centralize account info and access information of services such as my AT&T billing information, rewards programs, travel info, etc. It can be used for other matters such as credit cards but I am not comfortable to go that far.

There are a bunch of other good and nifty apps, such as AIM, What's On? for looking up the TV schedule, iSSH for server administration, AirSharing to carry files on the phone. I also use the app for shopping and researching products.

There is actually something for everybody on my phone and my five year old daughter love to play with the app iDoodle2lite.

There are also decent games for the phone and apps using the GPS.

Of course, the phone is also a phone and an iPod, it provides access to email, web browsing, camera, and alarm clock - those are important features but it's not what makes this thing rock.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

IT Trends 2009

Baseline magazine lists 10 IT trends for 2009. There is considerable overlapping among some items and the ranking can debated but it's not a bad list:
  1. Software as a Service (SaaS)
  2. Virtualization
  3. Enterprise mobility
  4. Energy-efficient data centers
  5. Security, risk and compliance
  6. Social networking
  7. Web 2.0
  8. Document management and e-discovery
  9. Project management and project portfolio management
  10. Web and video collaboration
This list captures the general trends, beyond enterprise computing - the main thrust is still the convergence on the Internet. The convergence includes moving traditional activity into a web context and the birth of new ,web based, means of interaction between people and storage of information.

The convergence is increasingly apparent and accelerating for computer devices. The traditional division between cell phones and laptops is blurred by the iPhone and the G1 on the cellphone side and the netbooks on the laptop side.

The delivery of computer capacity is also increasingly delivered over the network and cloud computing is now delivering more server computing power and storage over the Internet.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Windows Infection - Possible Botnet

The worm has a few names - the most common are: Downandup, Downadup, Conficker. The underlying problem (vulnerability) was found some time ago and Microsoft released an update in mid October. The worm came about by the turn of the year and the infection rate has been something extraordinary - estimated at about 9 million about a week ago.

It's not terribly hard to fix an infection with removal tools provided by a number of companies but the purpose of this worm in unclear and it has a remote-control mechanism. Consequently, the worm can produce a very large botnet. Huge. Much bigger than anything we have seen.

The original infection was somewhat new by installing from memory devices and tricking the user to actually do the installation. The worm is then spread automatically from the infected machine.

The worm is a mutating code piece of code - this is not a new technique but it's used to disguise the control mechanism making it harder to shutdown. The worm is also packed with self-defense measures making modifications to security and network settings.

Now what? Well, we'll see if the worm will in fact be used to marshal a botnet. If so, this sucker may pump a good deal of spam or conduct other mischief such as powerful distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's Different with SaaS?

What is the impact of introducing Software as a Service (SaaS) in the enterprise? No fundamentally new IT issues are raised by SaaS but there is a shift in focus and some adjustments to the infrastructure may be needed.

There will be a stronger reliance on the SaaS provider compared with traditional software. If the SaaS provider is down - well, that's it. The troubleshooting will be limited to figuring out when the provider will restore service. The loss of control is very uncomfortable for many IT professionals but it can (and should) be addressed by managing expectations.

Another consequence of SaaS is a higher degree of dependency on the connectivity to the Internet. The biggest change is that the quality of the connection will be more important than previously.

SaaS will also affect the user experience and the change with be in both positive and negative terms. Communication is key - my experience is that a mixed bag of changes doesn't usually cause too much of a problem with users as long as it's properly communicated.

Monday, January 5, 2009

iPhone and G1 Driving the Market

A few years ago, who would have guessed that Apple and Google would drive the cellphone market? Well, here we are - these two companies are now the high-end cellphone market. OK, RIMs Blackberries and a few similar gadgets are trying to adapt to hang on but they are not in the driving seat.

It's significant to consider the background of these two companies - one is an old computer company and the other born in the waves of the web. Apple may be a traditional computer company but it's a highly innovative player and it created a new market with the iPod. Google's lifeblood is innovation and they have been successful so far even if they made a number of PR blunders leading up to the phone.

The successful quest of these two companies is not a coincidence - the high-end cellphones are convergence gadgets. They're not phones and they are not computers - they are bit of both. I noticed that my usage the traditional computers changed when I started to use the iPhone. I also started to do some new things thanks easier access to information.

The access to the web browsing on the iPhone is good but that is far less important than what I anticipated - I don't browse the web that on with it. Instead, the apps provides easy access to the information I need and want. This represents another aspect of the iPhone/G1 concept - it's a highly customizible platform. Apple still controls the districution channel of the applications but they rely on others to produce the programs - this results in leveraging innovation on a scale no single company can compete with. The Google product has relinquished control completely and the total openess of the Android platform will probably respresent an important feature in the competition with the iPhone.

One important aspect of many of these third party applications is the integrate of the iPhone and G1 phones with other systems and information. Hence, the value proposition of these gadges is not only access to email and web but access to all other kinds of stuff we aready use (mostly on the computer). Additionally, Google and Apple have developed some new features and those are nice but they are not what makes these gadges fly.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Watch Out with Secure Certificates

You may have heard it, there is a problem with an aspect of SSL - namely MD5 hashes. The practical implication - it's possible for an attacker to "impersonate" a site with what would appear to be a valid https certificate or eavesdrop on the traffic (MiM - Monkey in the Middle). Vulnerabilities in MD5 have been known for years but exploiting this has now been done and demonstrated in public.

The problem and the remedy for rest with the Certificate Authorities (CA) issuing and verifying certificates. The fix is simply to use the SHA1 hashes instead and that is already done in many cases but the problem is that as long as MD5 hashes are accepted is there a risk that a false MD5 hash can be used.

How easy is this to do? Well, it requires some effort - the demonstration in Berlin involved 200 Playstatation3 machines working for a few days. Of course, any kind of computer power can be used for this kind of work, even (and maybe in particular) rough computer power such as hijacked computers forming bot nets.

It's noteworthy that other things relying on SSL, besides https certificates, may be affected such as SSL VPNs.

State of the Browser Market - Firefox Hits 20%

Firefox has exceeded a 20% market share according to Net Applications. The survey is primarily focused on the US browser market. Firefox appears stronger in Europe and a recent survey by Xiti Monitor of France pegged its market share to just over 30% in Europe. The trend is clear and it's even more pronounced in certain segments such as the web tech crowd using the W3Schools resources. The site has tracked browser statistics of its users since 2002 and Internet Explorer's started with a 85% share but this number has been decimated to 47% in November 2008.

Let's examine the competition between Firefox and Internet Explorer by looking at the value proposition of Firefox. Firefox offers rich functionality provided by the large number of available extensions (add-ons). This is a very successful way to leverage the community based nature of Firefox/Mozilla and it's difficult for Microsoft to replicate. Security is another aspect. Firefox has not stayed clear of security issues but the problems have not been on the same level as with Explorer. The recent vulnerability in December 2008 affecting all versions of Explorer was one of those very bad vulnerabilities putting the system of the user in jeopardy.

Microsoft has two major advantages - a fundamental lock on the enterprise browser market and the ability to integrate the browser with other products such as the Windows OS and specific applications. However, it's apparent that the company has been unable to use the latter to its advantage without getting in trouble with regulators or creating security problems. But the company still has time for a turn-around considering it claims 60-70% of the overall browser market.

There are also some smaller players in the browser market such as Apple's Safari, Opera, and the most recent addition - Chrome from Google. These browsers are not in any way serious competitors in overall market share but they change the landscape by reinforcing that the web is not a single browser environment. Safari and Chrome may actually not primarily aim at maximize its market share in the short run but create a narrow and specialized market around products such as, in the case with Apple, related to iTunes and iPhone. Nevertheless, the benefactor in the browser war at this juncture is definately Firefox.