Keeping up with Technology

Technology companies are usually busy with three stages of technology. The current, the emerging and the future. In my role at Exact, where we create business software, I also have to deal with these different stages. For business software companies the stages are 'on premise' licensed software, 'Software as a service' (SaaS) and the future related to 'Platform as a Service' (PaaS).

'Platform as a Service' is a topic the technology world talks about a lot, but is not really on the mind of our customers. However it's important that technology companies research the future possibilities in order to be ready when the business opportunities rise. The decision makers have moved on in their careers and for the research they rely on very smart engineers, architects and technology partners.

I also left my real engineering days behind me. However I still like some hands-on work and in the last weeks I also started a little hobby project on the Google App Engine. The solution that I will reveal a little later is not really important, but I enjoy to get a better understanding of the changing concepts and how organizations need to adapt. The learning curve is pretty steep for a rusty guy like me, but the experience is good. I already learn that there will be quite some impact on the design of very data driven applications, because during the development the data is a lot harder to access and all relational database concepts needs to be revised for proper scaling.

... and now the moment you have been waiting for. I work, inspired by FriendFeed on a little life streaming application. You can check it out at and remember it's just a little skunk work for fun.

Friday Snow Leopard, the First of many Gadget to come this Winter

Apple announced today, earlier as expected, that Snow Leopard will be available as of Friday. This gives me something to do over the weekend. And Yes, I do think it's worth the 49 Euro for the Family pack. The support for Microsoft Exchange and an additional 6Gb of free disk space alone are already worth the money.

In October Microsoft also comes with an updated operating system, Windows 7. I also look forward to this, because it's a lot better than Windows Vista. However I'm, depending on pricing, probably be a bit more hesitant to upgrade. In this house holds already 1 Vista Ultimate is upgraded to Windows 7 RC out of desperation, but it's a hardly every used PC. Further there is a Vista Ultimate Media Center that unfortunately can not be upgraded to a down graded version without a clean install. Microsoft, please understand that many people don't want clean installs, especially on a media center when you loose all play counts and other statistics. The rumored Ultimate upgrade price of more than 200 Euro is almost the same as an Apple TV. This is gonna be a tough choice.

Today Nokia announced a cool new Netbook with a 12 hour battery life. Nokia phones always have excellent battery life, so I do sort of take this announcement seriously. I would love to have a Netbook that is decent looking and has great battery life and a proper screen resolution. I can't wait for more details. 

And finally I'm waiting for all the rumored tablets. I haven't heard much about the CrunchPad recently. I just hope it isn't dead and it will be available soon. It's gonna be a great device to surf the web while laying on the couch, sitting on a terrace etc. This of course doesn't eliminate the necessity of an Apple tablet too. The CrunchPad for traveling, hanging around in the city and an Apple tablet to carry around to meetings in the office. 

What gadgets are you looking forward to this winter?

Great Example - Engage with your Customer

A warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, a great time for a few drinks on the beach. I'm not the only one resulting in many visitors to a small coastal place.

People are in a good mood, a bit lazy and might not pay attention watching their valuables and locking their vehicles. Some some people this environment is a great place for car burglary. Criminals just don't care you are having a good time.

It's also a great place to have a few drinks and since you are so relaxed and due to the sun you might for the moment forget you still have to drive. Unfortunately this also results in to much driving under influence of alcohol.

Normal warning signs just don't work anymore. Nobody pays attention. What other ways are there to get the peoples attention. When I arrived in town the temporary welcome sign immediately caught my eye and I kept watching. It displayed a set of rotating messages, starting with a welcome and continuing with a few warning. I felt that the police was engaging with me and really wanted to help.

It's all about Speed

This is a story to remind all technology geeks, including myself, that the best features are not always what they seem to be.

The story starts in december 2008 when I was having heaps of connectivity troubles with our Windows Vista 'Home' PC. It let to a lot of complaints from my girlfriend and me having to give her a lot of time consuming support. The practical solution, and one of my best gadget investments ever, was to buy her a MacBook. The Apple completely changed her computer usage, just because sleep mode works and the startup wait was about 2 seconds to get a Wifi connection. All she wants is to email, surf the web and sometimes IM. In the past she would email every other day, now multiple times a day, whenever there are 2 minutes of spare time.

I maintain the software updates of her Mac and usually I hold off for a while and use my own Mac to test first. In recent months I also delayed the update to Safari 4, due to some known compatibility issues with our internet banking. Last week I updated her Mac to the latest 10.5.8 Max OS-X release that includes also Safari 4. The whole week, every day again, she keeps telling me how happy she is that the internet is on immediately. She hasn't noticed the change to Safari 4, but the disappearance of the 2 seconds delay for a  Wifi connection are very noticeable for her. In her own words: It's all about speed.

Now what can we learn from this? We spend hours, days, weeks analyzing all the upcoming new features of our new gadgets that we forget what is really important for the average user. I'm pretty sure that a lot more is written about Safari 4 as is about the improved Wifi connection. It's like the Google What is a browser? videos. Who cares..

Note: A month after the MacBook purchase, the early beta of Windows 7 solved most of the connectivity problem. However Microsoft still doesn't come close to the Apple instant on feature.

Image Credit: John Talbot

Lazyfeed, Just Right for Me!

I've written about RSS feeds before and hoped to believe that everybody would be able to use them. Looking around taught me that this is not the case. RSS is great and we should continue to publish as much content as possible, because this allows others to build alternative user interfaces around the content enabling a broader reach for the content.

One of these alternative user interfaces is Lazyfeed, as the name indicates it's for lazy people that don't want to maintain hundreds of feeds in a reader, check them a couple of times a day, scan headlines for something interesting, etc...

Last week I picked up an invite code true Louis Gray. I played around with it over the weekend and I like it. It won't replace my regular feed reader for reading my oh so many RSS feeds, but it's an addition for exploring something new. It's very easy to use, the sign-up barrier is very low and you can start exploring right away.

Just search for your favorite topics and in real-time articles start to stream in. You can save your topics for later and when you return new article are available. This brings you very easily to new interesting content.

Alternatively you can link your favorite sites to you account and automatically the topics of those sites are extracted and a stream of interesting content is created for you. Now your really don't need to do anything and as lazy as you are you can start exploring.

Louis Gray also posted a nice introduction video, much nicer as I can explain it to you. You find it here if the video doesn't show up.

I don't know the current official status of Lazyfeed, but I'm sure if you reach out to Louis Gray he will be able to help you out.

For me, I go back exploring after saying: Louis, thank you for the invite.

Summer and Summer jobs

The summer is a great period, nice weather, outdoor dinners and regular beers on a nice terrace. People are a lot more relaxed and seem to have more time. People take vacation and business is slow, again providing time for other things.

A week ago I already wrote about the hands-on activities in the quiet summer period and how much I enjoyed it. Another joy of the summer is students joining the team for a summer job. This year 2 students joined the Exact Research team for a few weeks to do some design and engineering assignments. I like this a lot, for various reasons.

1. For every team it's good to bring in some outsiders to provide new and different views on work we have been doing so far. It helps the team against tunnel vision.

2. Generation Y are our future customers, it doesn't hurt to have the Generation X team, including me, learn a bit about them.

3. I like to give young people an opportunity to learn something and help them starting their careers, while they help me and the team to do jobs we don't have time for.

4. They inspire me!

Jeffry and Edwin, Thank you for your contribution...

Image credit: Lin Pernille

First post written with Chromium on OS-X

FriendFeed we had a good time together, bye bye, enjoy Facebook

I love FriendFeed from very early on. I clearly remember my buddy Ronald Voets telling me about a cool service some ex Googlers had setup. It was easy to get started, including already then a Facebook application.

It didn't take long before FriendFeed became the center of my life-streaming and until I find a new alternative it continues to power the life-stream on this blog. I even went so far to say that I won't use a service if I can include it in my FriendFeed stream.

I continuously try many new services but there are not many that stick with me. FriendFeed was one of them, although my usage significantly changed over time. In the early days I had limited followers and saw it as an alternative to twitter, but after a while when my followers increased I couldn't keep up. The groups and discussions made it easier, but still too much information to constantly follow. However saved searches and even instant search are great research tools. When you want to dig up some information it's a great way to use the different search capabilities. Further I would almost daily have a peek at the 'best of day' what was just a nice feature too make sure you kept up to date to the most current events.

Now after yesterdays announcement that FriendFeed got acquired by Facebook at first I was confused. Of  course it's great for the FriendFeed guys to make some money and I also understand their arguments of synergies and working in a team with the same spirit. I do recognize this very well, cos engineers want to work with similar talented people. However FriendFeed and Facebook are so different, It's business versus friends, it's open versus closed, it's honest versus deceiving, it's black versus white.

I can now only hope that the 12 people David can turn around the 800 people Goliath and make sure that the great FriendFeed lives on....

Summer break, Time for some Hands-On work!

In the last two weeks I did quite some hands-on work with the research team. Since it's summer, there aren't many management meetings giving me some time to work with the research team. I closely worked with some team members on solutions, wrote some actual code and of course had many questions. I liked it a lot:

1. It gives me something tangible that shows my contribution to the solution. I know it's silly, but at a certain point it's nice if you can touch something.

2. It allowed me to move some stuff forward into the planning, because of my hand-on contribution added some additional capacity. It probably delayed some other projects due to my questions, but I just ignore that for the moment.

3. It made me appreciate the team even more. I used to write a bit of code in the past, but these highly interactive AJAX websites are quite a bit more complex pieces of engineering than I was used to. These guys and gals are real rock stars!

4. It also confirmed that we have been doing the right things. A deep dive into the solution and working with the components really gives you a lot more insight that the stories told.

By now those that work close with me  know what I'm talking about, but the others probably have no clue. We're progressing on one of the Exact Research projects and will share it with you when we feel it's fit enough to do so. I hope this can just be sooner than later

Image credit: Justin

A New Laptop, My Worst Nightmare

My good old Sony Vaio is dying on me. A little bit too often it's giving 'no operating system found' messages. Usually shaking it a bit solves the problem, but it's getting worse and it doesn't give me a lot of confidence. I need to invest into a new one, it's about time, the Sony Vaio served me well.

About 3 years ago I selected it based on a performance weight ratio. It has a 13.3" screen that is big enough for daily work and it's carbon casing makes it not too heavy. It was good to travel around with, although a bit on the larger site. Times have changed and today I defined new criteria. I want more mobility, and I settle for less performance, because for most of my daily work I use the browser and less local computing. So the criteria are very simple: 12" screen, a small SSD, a build in camera and less than 1.5kg.

Now you would think it would be very simple to find something matching these criteria. I'm sure it exists, but the web sites of the major vendors are all a night mare. They all proudly present their cool and colorful designs, the lifestyle value, etc... I like this... but also give me a model selector. Just a few examples how crazy it has become.
1. Dell doesn't show laptops on the home page. I first have to select if I want to use it at home, in a small and medium business, in the public sector or in a large enterprise. I want to use it everywhere! However after selecting any of the above options there is a reasonable product selector. Unfortunately nothing that matches my criteria.
2. Sony offers at the home page some navigation to laptops, but no product selector. They have series based on all the letters of the alphabet that they expect you to explore one by one. After exploring I learned that I need to choose between 11" or 13" screen.
3. Hewlett Packard, starts good. A direct link to Laptops on the homepage that brings you directly into a reasonable product selector. However I again need to choose between home and business use and there is nothing that matches my criteria.
4. Lenovo also provides a direct link to Laptops on the homepage leading to a product selector. However they first confuse me with the question if I need a value line, Idea Pad or Think Pad... I've no idea. The product selector on 12" gives me 5 ThinkPad X200 models with very extensive descriptions. Do they really think I understand this. There is no way I can easily see which one matches my other criteria. I'm guessing there is a model with a build in camera and I really have no idea what is the recommended Mobile Media Base. Anyway... so far the closest to my requirements. Unfortunately they are so ugly

Do I feel good and all excited about getting a new laptop. No, absolutely not, while I was really excited when I got my Macbook Air. May be I should just try to repair my good old Sony Vaio friend.

Kill or Keep?

Last week Plaxo lost all it's value, good moment to think about cleaning up al the registrations for the various services that I've used once in a while. There are always many services worth a try, but only a few stay valuable over a longer period of time.

For most most unused services the decision process to kill or keep is simple. Have I used the services recently, does it provide me value and if not delete the account. However for some services it's less simple and Plaxo is an example one of those.

Although Plaxo has lost it's initial value there is still some value in it.
1. It offers me a public profile that gets reasonably high in a Google search when searching for my name
2. It services as an outpost for this blog and it does generate a few comments
3. There is referral traffic from Plaxo to my blog
4. It provides me a vanity url to my profile:

For now I've decided to keep, maintain my profile, keep it as an outpost but not actively participate in the discussion.

What would you do?  Kill of Keep?

Image credit: Jelene

NUYK - A unique and smart address book

In a reaction of my disappointment by Plaxo, Flavio commented about NUYK being similar to Plaxo in the old days when it was still about the address book. This was a good reason for me to try and play around.

NUYK, what is by the way not the easiest name,  offers and online address book that can easily be synchronized with Outlook, Mobile phones and promises synchronization with Gmail and Hotmail. Clearly the Mac OS-X address book is still missing here. Besides the address book it offers you to maintain a profile with extended information about yourself. The profile has various privacy settings and you can control how much your contacts can see about you. You are all the time in control, what is very important for this kind of service. You can learn more here.

Besides the internal profile for your contacts you have the ability to define a public profile, you can see mine here, and control what will be publicly visible about you. Unfortunately there is no vanity url available for the profile and the options to control the content are limited. However I do believe the UNYK will improve in these areas with proper community feedback.

Some of the improvements I would like to see are:
1. Synchronization with my Mac address book
2. Vanity URL on my public profile
3. The ability to sort my address list by first name, last name
4. More privacy options to make groups of information available to groups of people
5. More information to be added to my profile, e.g. urls of other profiles I have.
6. More options to control the information on my public profile
7. Widget for my public profile, to be embedded in other web resources I manage
8. A less spammy approach for invitations. UNYK will not send anything without your consent, but you have to be very careful. Currently it wants to send to each and every email address in your list. My the looks of it, it will also send duplicate invitations to the same person. Note: I have not send out a single invitation, and will absolutely not do bulk invitations.

However this is all nice and sweet, but a service like this is useless if your buddies aren't using it. Currently only a few of my contacts are known and clearly in my network UNYK hasn't reached the adoption of Plaxo yet. I will continue to play around, provide some good feedback to UNYK and may be the guys are able to create a really nice and compelling service out of this.

Have you tried the service and what is your opinion?