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What Does a Sun Bankruptcy do to Enterprise?

Posted: December 29th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, java, Programming, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

What Does a Sun Bankruptcy do to Enterprise?

Picture of IrvinFor more than a few weeks now, I have been pondering some broad implications of companies that we all rely upon failing. Probably the grand-daddy of these is Sun Microsystems.

Normally I wouldn’t be concerned about tech companies going away. It is part of the normal advancement of the art, but in Sun’s case, it does concern me. While I don’t share many developers’ blind love of Java, or Solaris, or any product really. I do feel that Sun has given a tremendous amount to the software engineering community and would be sorely missed if they were to go belly up. At the time of my writing this, Sun’s stock is at $3.41 per share, and their market capitalization is 2.52 Billion, less than Sun has on hand in cash.

I don’t necessarily think that Sun is in financial trouble, but it does seem that there are a bunch of products that they release that are mostly not for pay. Not to mention that their financial performance may / should, be giving some corporate IT departments pause as to their dependence on their technologies. Many companies rely on support from Sun, and if that were to transition to the community, the level of response may not be sufficient. The question I would ask is, “Will a Sun Bankruptcy Drive Corporations Back to Microsoft?”

Unfortunately, I can’t see any other alternative at the moment. There are millions of lines of code out there written against the Sun JVM, and while the JVM is now mostly open source, and so is Solaris, the companies that count on those lines of code typically are not interested in maintaining that code as well. Without Sun, you could have JVM forking, Solaris forking, etc… where a particular application written against Java or Solaris may not run in a given company. Corporations would have none of these problems if they used the .net stack for application development.

Now, I am not advocating that all corporations out there should drop their Sun implementations and run to Microsoft, but what I am saying is that they should prepare themselves for a little instability. I tend to use Ruby and the Rails framework for most everything anymore, but I have come to be somewhat skeptical of the gems that I am using. I am also aware that there is currently no support beyond community support for most of these items, and the developers working on them could get bored and go away. So for functionality that is more than a nice-to-have, I tend to write it myself.

Hopefully this will go away when we start to see professional gem houses, but in the near term, I would hope that companies would begin to diversify their stack a bit so as to mitigate the cost, such as re-engineering their non-core systems to be less dependent on core software from a particular vendor. The last thing you would want would be to find a showstopper bug in something you were about to release that was based on a technology from a shaky vendor, that holds up your business process.

Most good IT shops already support a variety of technologies so as to not be locked in to any one particular implementation from any given vendor, but enterprise developers should not continue to believe that Sun or Java will be around forever in its current enterprise-blessed, no-brainer form. I think serious unbiased evaluation of technologies to be included in future products should gradually become the norm. If Microsoft wins, so-be it, there is some good stuff in .net, but I would hope that Ruby and PHP would benefit from this situation.


Setting Up VirtualBox Headless on Ubuntu 8.10

Posted: December 28th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Setting Up VirtualBox Headless on Ubuntu 8.10

Picture of IrvinOver the weekend I have been setting up a RoR rig with MySQL replication. The problem I have is that I only have one machine that I can use of all of this. My solution is VirtualBox Headless.

The first step is naturally to install Ubuntu Server 8.10. There is no UI. The next step changed what should have been a 5 minute task into a 3 hour task. Pay close attention… If you use apt-get install virtualbox, you will get virtualbox 2.0.4 OSE version. The open source version does not have the built-in RDP server. So when you try to issue the command sudo VBoxManage modifyvm “vmName” -vrdpport 4389 or whatever, you will get an error back. My solution was to download the non OSE version from Sun’s VirtualBox site. After that, just issue the normal Debian dpkg command to install VirtualBox 2.0.4 non-OSE. There is an issue with the kernel driver not being updated with the kernel that may cause problems later, but I didn’t do anything with that.

After you get it installed, follow the instructions here : https://help.ubuntu.com/community/VirtualBox for getting VRDP up and running. You have to create a new PAM authentication file.

After that things work as advertised. Remember, if you want to run headless over VRDP, you *must* install the non-OSE version directly from Sun’s VirtualBox site. Follow the instructions there if you want for the kernel driver to automatically update and recompile if the kernel changes.


Pentium M iBook at MacWorld

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Pentium M iBook at MacWorld

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperThe Pentium M is definately a step above the G4, in every way, but I still don't think that I'll be upgrading right away because of Rosetta.

Rosetta is really cool. I'll give Apple that. It just isn't fast enough. I do not intend to pay for upgrades to the Adobe Suite or to the Macromedia Suite MX just to make them run faster on the intel macs. Adobe has been pretty clear that they will not be offering a free upgrade for existing users so that means we'll have to pay.

I'm not sure about Java. Technically it should just run, but since I am not certain what's involved, and since Sun hasn't said anything about creating a VM for Darwin x86 so that means that until they do ColdFusion is either out of commission, or it will have to run through Rosetta, both of which are unacceptable for me.

I'm sure all of this stuff will shake out, and it is better for Apple to get their x86 machines out sooner rather than later. I am just not sure once the reviews come out with how slow Rosetta is that many people will upgrade. Probably the people who use only the iLife suite, and iWork will be fine. The Apple pro apps will work well, that is probably why they came up with a photoshop substitute and the audio software that they did. The knew that there would be no Pro-Tools for MacIntel. At least not for a while. I can assure you that performance will not be acceptable in emulation. Well, it's OK. My G5 and iBook should hold me until the end of '06 when it might make sense to upgrade my software, but even if I don't they will be fat binaries so I won't have to worry about it.


Solaris 10 Installer

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Solaris 10 Installer

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperOver the past couple of nights, I've been trying to get Solaris 10 to install on my Virtual PC installation. I am using Virtual PC 5.0 for Windows for a while now. I say trying because the installer is needlessly difficult. Now it could be because I am a Solaris newbie, or it could be that it just doesn't install in Virtual PC, but man while it has some cool technology in it, I just flat out gave up on it.

Now I am not a Linux newbie. I've run all manner of Red Hat, my primary machine is a Max OS X box so I can get my hands dirty in the shell sometimes there, I was even able to easily install Ubuntu Linux in the same Virtual PC setup. I did have a slight problem getting the resolutions to come out allright, but I just rebooted to the console by selecting some type of “safe” mode, edited the etc/X11/xfree86conf file with VI. It turns out that the problem was that Ubuntu defaults to 24-bit color depth on install. That would be great if I were installing into a real machine, but on the Virtual PC, especially the version that I am using, it doesn't work. The screen is horribly distended and it is almost impossible to make anything out. Changing the resolution down to 16 bits at 1024 x 768 made all the difference. Upon reboot Ubuntu was up and running in VPC. So far, I really like it. It is pretty user friendly, Gnome looks and works well, and they have a really easy updater. If there is a Linux distro that can take on Windows, this is it. There is still no substitute for Mac OS X, but then again Windows is at least two years behind it, if it can catch up at all.

If Sun wants to make Solaris better, they really need to support more hardware. Even when I tried installing Solaris natively on my machine, they didn't have drivers for the nForce 2 chipset. It isn't like the nForce2 is a super new chipset that no one has drivers for. Maybe if I had a Pentium II? They need to get with it anyway. Perhaps the open source movement can do something with Solaris, otherwise I am not going to touch it until at least 11, if ever. I think that I'll stick with Ubuntu on this machine. It is really friendly and very compatible with me.

Ubuntu Linux


NetBeans Version 5.0 Beta

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

NetBeans Version 5.0 Beta

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperI've been ranting so long about netBeans that I often forget to whom I have mentioned how cool it is. I don't think that I have blogged about it, but I might have somewhere before. With the 5.0 release I think that Sun has hit a new benchmark. Having looked at how easy it is to develop UIs in the new Visual Studio 2005 it is comforting to see a similar UI tool for Java. While there is nothing that a new creation tool can do to help make the JFileChooser any faster, developing your Swing UIs doesn't have to be awful.

It really isn't fair to compare C# to Java. The tools don't compare especially where the UI is concerned. But netBeans makes the differences minimal. I like Java better because I tend to bounce between PCs and Macs, so Swing is my windowing toolkit of choice. I know there are probably all of 3 J2SE developers around and two of them are working for Oracle. But I think that is because using the GridBagLayout or the FlowLayout are pains. With this tool you don't have to think about that, it is purely drag-and-drop UI building. So you can focus on actually writing classes.

There are a bunch more features with this new release, but I think that probably the most critical is the new UI tool. It has much stronger support for Struts and other frameworks, and the integrated tomcat server seems easier to manage. I haven't seen many bugs in the application so I hope for a speedy release. If you are new to Java like I am, then this is definately the IDE for you. Eclipse may be the power user's tool of choice, but for a newbie netBeans is awesome.


Panic Button in Redmond

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Panic Button in Redmond

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperIf the announcement of a collaboration between Sun and Google doesn't set off alarm bells at Microsoft, then nothing will. Even the fact that some states have chosen to use Open Office shouldn't necessarily toll the bell of doom for Microsoft since they indeed still have many, many office users. However, they have taken way too long to bring more web based features of Office for free, largely because of their forced concern over the security holes in Windows XP.

The truth of the situation is that Microsoft has taken its customers for granted. They have felt that since they own the way that companies store and access their data, they could dictate how they used that data. Microsoft decided that integrating their office suite with rich web services wasn't something that their customer base wanted. They were wrong.

Now, that isn't to say that everyone everywhere will just stop working on spreadsheets and word processing documents online immediately. They won't. Sun's CEO was right in that customers want more services and less software. Still, there are those who won't feel comfortable with Google storing or having access to their powerpoint financial statment due to go out to their customers while they are working on it. Nor will many businesses truly want to work on their sensitive data online. Google and Sun will release a version of Star Office that will be for corporate users who want secure internal collaboration. They will bundle it with a new version of the Google search appliance. This could definately be an Exchange killer.

I had thought for a while that Google was going to bring it to Redmond in a way that would make everyone go Ooooh. But never before has Google's intentions been clearer. They want to push Microsoft to the periphery to make the environment better for innovation in computing. They were very conscious about how they worded things in the press release and they are being very careful not to tip their hands, but it was interesting that Google's stock price dipped slightly after the announcement. It would seem that at least a few of Google's shareholders aren't too convinced about them taking Microsoft head on. I for one think that they have to do it, because they are the only ones who can do it. If the end result is only that we end up with a better Microsoft and a better Google, then the consumers still win.


Microsoft’s Back Alley Deals

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Microsoft's Back Alley Deals

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperIt is normal for Microsoft to be afraid. I mean Google recently announced an alliance with Sun. My question is why are they making deals with Yahoo and Real. Let's take a look at both.

The deal with Real is clearly a stab at Apple. In order for Microsoft to fight its way back, they have to work their way back into the user's PC space. Right now Apple has that. They have the first thing people do when they get back to their PC and the last thing they do before they leave their PC. This is something that must be difficult for Microsoft to accept. So the partnership with Real is supposed to make this better. Now, I want to understand this properly. Microsoft initially is considering a partnership with Gator, known for their unscrupulous behavior, placing adware and spyware on users' computers unaware. Fortunately they decided against this suicidal path.

Now they are interested in partnering with a company that “reverse engineered” Apple's algorithm to prevent their death. Real still has large contracts with education who would much rather be using Apple's QuickTime algorithm. Apple has accused them of adopting the ethics of hackers. Real is claiming that they are forced to use these tactics because Apple has an unfair hammer lock on the industry. This is bull, do you steal from your neighbor because they have a better house than you do? Would that justify stealing from them? Why would Microsoft want to partner with a company like this then? Microsoft knows how short their time is. They know that Google is dictating to them. They are desperate.

Now, for the second part of its dealings. The partnership with Yahoo for sharing IM solves a need for both companies. Microsoft can begin a strategic alliance with Yahoo to challenge Google on their level, and Yahoo gets a wider audience and possible cooperation with its software on the OS level. It could also mean breaks on their licensing of the windows media codec. So what is wrong with Micrsoft doing this? Well, nothing. In fact this is one of the best strategic moves that Microsoft has done in years. It will help them punish AOL for refusing them, and it will hopefully force Google to do something rash, which is what Microsoft desperately wants. They need an opportunity to take the lead on Google. The question is whether or not Google will take the bait and waste a bunch of money on AOL. Indeed the battle for the future of computing is actively moving out of the cold war era and into the active armed conflict stage. Things could get strange for a while with interoperability, but ultimately it will benefit consumers.


Do You Own the Software You Buy?

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Do You Own the Software You Buy?

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperTecmo recently announced that it has sued some of its customers over posting modifications to its games on the internet. Perhaps the most parental paranoia inspiring fact is that they have modified the game DOA volleyball, which features incredibly buoyant, unrealistically gorgeous, women playing volleyball. Some industrious individuals who are interested in sexy pixels have figured out how to modify the textures that comprise these digital vixen's bikinis in order to render them non-existant. That's right, nude volleyball. Most of us probably don't think that kids seeing nudity is all that bad, especially when completely out of context as far as sex goes. I don't think that is all that bad either, especially when they can freely see people cutting other people's heads off with lightsabers on Sunday night prime-time TV.

The larger issue is, however that these people have modified software. Most X-Box users can't enjoy these modifications unless they have modified their X-Boxes to do so. These kits are available all over the internet, and have made the X-Box a great cheap linux workstation. The thing about software though that most people don't get is that even though you go to the store, pay money, get a box, and take it home, you don't own that software. The company that made it still owns it, even though you have installed it onto your computer. What you have purchased is the right to use the software in accordance to the terms and conditions that the company has stipulated. Usually by installing the software you have agreed to these conditions whether you have read them or not.

Most of the conditions in the software contract have to do with modifications and re-distribution of the software. It is these clauses that have inspired Tecmo to sue these people. There is a minor difference with this case that the Judge in the case wisely caught on to. The software, distributed on a DVD-ROM is not modifyable, meaning that no one can permanently modify the code on the disc. The modifications are made by putting the software on the X-Box's hard drive and calling it through the X-Box hardware modification, therefore the party in question did not violate their software agreement as far as modification goes, also, they are not distributing any of the company's propriatary code. The Judge also seemed to think that the disc, belonged to the purchaser. I find that to be extremely interesting.

If the disc belongs to the purchaser, but the code contained within the disc does not, it seems that there could be a potentially ambiguous understanding of the EULA, or end-user licensing agreement. Technically, no matter what happens I can not modify that company's code, however once it is off the disc and onto my computer, if I have never installed it and therefore not agreed to the EULA, I should be able to do whatever I want to it right? Wrong, courts up until this recent case have almost always sided on the side of the software company. The reason is obvious, how could anyone stop the reverse engineering of software if a company could install and steal that code. The truly interesting thing is that most software development companies engage in reverse engineering all the time and get away with it, just take a look at Microsoft's MSN search. It seems just like Google, doesn't it?

I think the larger issue here is what it means to buy something. No one ever has had the understanding that when they pay rent every month for their apartment, they are buying it. If someone were to freely allow the tennants to believe that they were buying the apartment by paying every month, the tennant's lawyers would have a field day, citing fraud. The competing apartment's lawyers would also go into frenzy, citing an unfair advantage due to fraud. The landlord of the fraudlent apartment building would be forced to pay damages to the tennants who thought they were buying property. The same should go for software. Most people think they are buying the software, that they own it. That is another reason why piracy is so difficult to stop. If I think that I own a piece of software, then there is nothing wrong with my copying it off the original disc and onto my own disc to give to my friend.

Bill Gates has even said that software patents are useless. There are too many ways to write code. The only way to protect software is to either make it impossible to copy off the disc, which is owned by the buyer and therefore unacceptable, or to make the software unusable once copied off the disc. Tecmo should have known better. You can't sue someone for modifying their own property. The buyers own the X-Box. There is no EULA saying that the X-Box is still property of Microsoft, therefore there is no case. It doesn't make sense to try to litigate to keep your software from falling into the wrong hands, either just admit that when someone buys software it is theirs to do what the want with, and bring litigation only if they start selling your intellectual property. People think its theirs anyway, and unless you can sue millions of people, you won't win. The RIAA is learning that the hard way, all of the money spent litigating and people are still downloading music illegally. They haven't stopped anything, they have just made it harder to track.

(Read More abut this at CNET.)


Windows 2000

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Windows 2000

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperIt is very suprising that in the light of the stupendous failure of Windows XP to lure businesses away from Windows 2000, due to its awful mangling of a resonably solid code base, Microsoft would persist in attempting to bring Windows to a unified code base.

I understand that for them it is much cheaper to have a single team working on Windows, than to maintain different versions for their professional audience as well as their consumer space, but they really should look at some real-world use cases. In almost all of the corporate environments where Windows XP Professional is used, the individuals using those workstations almost always change the interface back to the old Windows 2000 look. They are doing this because the visual clutter associated with Windows XP is apalling. I remember the first time I installed XP and showed it to some friends, they told me that it looked like a circus and they weren't interested in it. I eventually found myself changing XP back to the old look, before switching completely to the Macintosh platform.

Microsoft would be well served to rethink their position on the combining of their “professional” and “home” code. I know that there is a “Home” version of XP that is awful, and there is a “Professional” version that is just bad. For the remaining PCs that I own, and I own many, I have reverted all of them to Windows 2000 because I am a developer. I want my software to work and I don't need a bunch of visual garbage.

Most people would then ask, “Why did you switch to OS X then?” Apple's visual garbage is not in my way. There aren't wizards to attempt to do every little thing for me and it doesn't hide icons or settings in little acordians making things hard for me as a user. Everything is where I need it or where I expect for it to be, and they don't change that. Windows 2000 was the same way. It is rock solid, I have maybe half of the crashes with 2000 that I have with XP, and I think much of that is due to Microsoft still trying to support software that ran on Windows 95. Microsoft should go back to peddling their buggy user-friendly code to consumers for $79.99, and give the solid consistent no-nonsense code to businesses for $299.99. Its more expensive, but which is better saving 2 million dollars on revenues of 3 million, or spending 17 million dollars on revenues of 100 million, and re-establishing your reputation. I think any businessperson with half a head on their shoulders would figure out that the latter is the way to go.

Perhaps the Department of Justice had something when they suggested that Microsoft split up. I think it would have made the company a lot stronger, and that Microsoft should pursue this course of action of its own volition. They should spin off their search, home OS, professional OS, and office divisions into their own pseudo-corporations with budgets and little to no interference from the top. These modules should be able to come up with their own software and product agendas, and be able to act more independently. Then perhaps Microsoft would get back the innovative scrappy spirit that made it what it is. The home group could develop a killer version of Windows that worked with the XBox in some previously unimagined configuration that would revolutionize home entertainment, and it would work with everything under the sun. Maybe for kicks it could even be stable and in true Microsoft style have a strange bulbous UI that would appeal to characters who might make cameos on the saturday morning cartoon Tokyo Pig.

Then on the other hand, they could release a slick sexy OS for business that used the 3D performance of nVidia and ATi's graphics cards for purpose and not for eye candy. The OS wouldn't be based on 10 year old technology, and it would use biometrics for security. The business OS would be focused on speed, security, and efficiency, and would be a perfect platform for software development. It would bundle IIS and the standard version of the visual studio tools. The business release would create new avenues of developemnt for Microsoft, since with these tools it would be more work to badly code interface elements and other interactions with the underlying OS. It would continue in the true Windows 2000 fashion.

While all this is a dream, the reality is that “Longhorn” has too much visual garbage. The 3D, in the most recent betas, seems tacked on and is not used to any particular effect. The look of the betas is much better than Windows XP, but it is still not really dialed in. Apple did the brushed metal thing, and I am hoping that Microsoft can get a little more original than that. Apple has some three different interface looks going on in “Tiger” which is ridiculous. I have to commend the “Longhorn” UI designers on their consistency of the interface.

There is no reason for businesses to upgrade to “Longhorn” since the hardware requirements to get it to be any different from Windows XP will not be worth it. Microsoft can try to release Office to require users to upgrade, but they haven't really innovated in this space since Office 2000 anyway so that won't work. What they really need to do is to get the OS figured out in tandem with some new really cool way for their customers to work. If they can not do this they'll figure out the hard way that business users are pretty happy with what they've got and Redmond isn't releasing anything that makes them want to change. This is the core problem, and it has a lot to do with the compatability garbage built into Windows XP Pro and Home. On paper, Microsoft is way out front, but in reality Bill Gates is right, any kid anywhere in their garage can put Microsoft out of business. At least he still has the sense to know that. Hopefully he can inspire that same level of paranoia in his team, or it will be a long ugly decay for Microsoft, and all those little companies they stepped on heading up will have fun picking at their bones on the way down.


The Microsoft Trinity

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, Google, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Microsoft Trinity

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperThis maneuver makes sense in the business world, but it has yet to be seen if Microsoft can truly let these vast entities they have created within the company function independently enough to behave like companies. I think that Microsoft didn't go far enough with the reorganization. It may have been better if they had broken the company up further.

The MSN group should remain on its own, however it should have the full backing and cooperation of the other units. They should focus on adding more web functionality to their applications, like automatic backups for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to a virtual drive so that you could work on things on the road and away from your personal computer.

What Microsoft has done may improve their ability to react to Google, but that is the operative word, “react.” They will not gain a greater ability to innovate. Their organization won't allow it. They are too tied to their established business cash cow. What will happen however is that Google will see this as throwing down the gauntlet, and they will accellerate their pace for world domination.

In a nutshell, here's how I see things shaping up. Google will launch their nationwide Wi-Fi service that will be free, mostly secure, high-speed internet for everyone. This will be followed by a huge surge in advertising revenue, anticipating the expansion of their market. Microsoft will launch something that is vaguely the same, several months to a year later. Then Apple will release Mac Mini's with Intel CPUs first. This will prompt many PC users to buy a mini just so that they can get their hands on OS X for intel, which will by some amazing feat be cracked at launch to run on any PC. This will do two things for Apple. The first is that it will undermine sales of Windows Vista, second it will increase their Mac sales numbers because they will be moving product. Google will follow with more business oriented applications based entirely on the web, using their desktop application as a vehicle. They will start building widgets for the macintosh that mirror those available through the dashboard. This dual-attack on Microsoft will prove to be too much. Microsoft will remain around, constantly behind Google and Apple and will end up like Sun supplying products to the top 1% of the market while enjoying none of the fame of Google and Apple. Apple will be back where it should have been all along; as the dominant computer manufacturer. Microsoft will remain a close second, but they will continue to slip away until they perform another reorganization.

That is the future. Put it in your pocket right next to your iPod nano!