Microsoft Manages To Buy a Small Chunk of Yahoo After All

Everyone who's anyone -- at least, anyone who watches Jim Cramer on CNBC -- knows Microsoft tried to buy Yahoo for an amount that would have Detroit execs doing cartwheels (and maybe even restructuring their operations). Microsoft gave up that quest (and actually, buying Quest would've been a much smarter idea) and refuses to be pulled back in, no matter how much Yahoo shareholders beg.

But Microsoft did snag at least a chunk of Yahoo, and though I wasn't privy to the negotiations, I'm sure it wasn't anywhere near the $33 to $55 billion Microsoft almost paid for the company. Instead Microsoft recruited Yahoo's Dr. Qi Lu to lead Redmond's Online Services Group as president.

I make fun of Yahoo for falling behind Google, but let's face it -- who hasn't? Some wonder if Lu can be a liaison and help craft a search partnership between Redmond and Santa Clara, Calif. (where Yahoo's based). I guess this all depends on how mad Yahoo is that Lu left.

Meanwhile, Steve Ballmer says he may be interested in a Yahoo search partnership, but there've been no talks yet.

Posted by Doug Barney on 12/09/2008 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Windows Server 2008 R2 Readied

I hear a lot of complaints about various forms of Microsoft software. But I can't remember any complaints about Windows Server 2008 (if I'm wrong, e-mail your grievances to dbarney@redmondmag.com).

Windows Server 2008 Release 2 is now in limited beta, the company announced to some 6,000 developers at PDC last week. The new server is 64-bit only, and will include live migration of VMs, an advantage VMware brags about at every opportunity.

Posted by Doug Barney on 11/03/2008 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Recessions and Security

I'm not sure if this is self-serving, real or both, but Slavik Markovich, the CTO of Sentrigo, claims that in tough economic times, your computer defenses need to be extra-strong.

That's because layoffs mean more angry ex-workers (or angry new hackers), and that folks that have jobs might be looking for ways to make a buck or two by stealing company data, says Markovich. IT workers may even sabotage the network to show how necessary IT jobs are. Interesting theory.

What do you make of this? Send your malware and keylogger-free e-mails to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/29/2008 at 1:15 PM0 comments


A Sea Change for Project Management

We all know that we need to meticulously decompose projects into tasks. We need to lay them out in a plan, and have a dictatorial project manager wielding a heavy cudgel direct and track their progress. This is simply how it’s done – plan or perish.

Or maybe not: Liquid Planner says that project management is more about probabilities and social interaction. According to founder Charles Seybold, traditional project management has its origins in the command-and-control culture of the 1950s. It is long overdue for an update.

Seybold and company co-founder Jason Carlson honed their project management skills while working at Microsoft and Expedia. They came away convinced that it could be done better. Their answer is Liquid Planner, which is currently in beta. You can log on and try it out at http://www.liquidplanner.com. It’s based on Microsoft ASP.NET technologies, and is intended to be offered as a hosted service. It also uses AJAX technologies. At least in beta, it appears reasonably responsive to user actions.

Seybold and Carlson point out that project participants are often reluctant to provide hard dates for task completion. However, according to Seybold, “If you ask them instead to provide ranges and likelihoods, they will willingly do so.” As a result, Liquid Planner works with probabilities instead of hard and fast due dates. It builds a normal curve around a date based on estimates by the project participants. It aggregates those probabilities to determine the likelihood of reaching milestones and completion dates. (Seybold and Carlson expect the next release of Liquid Planner will take probabilities into account for a series of dependent tasks.)

Seybold points out that listing only precise dates with no expressed uncertainties can result in projects with wildly inaccurate completion dates. If you carefully consider the probabilities of individual tasks, it can give you a much better picture of the likelihood of finishing a project by a specific date.

The second unique aspect of Liquid Planner is its focus on the social aspects of any given project. In traditional project management, the project manager owns the schedule -- period. He or she would hold regular status meetings in which individuals or groups would report progress against deadlines and milestones. Then the manager would adjust the completion dates as needed. Missed deadlines would reflect poorly on those who missed them. Since the project schedule is owned by the project manager, that person is the only one with write privileges to the project management software.

Working Together
That’s not how most projects run these days. Today’s projects are collaborative efforts, with participants working together informally. Most make their own decisions on the best way to move the project forward. There may be oversight by a project manager, but it’s definitely not the command-and-control type of oversight.

To support that type of management, Liquid Planner lets all project participants use the software as the project’s focal point. Besides hosting a schedule, the project site also acts as a wiki for project-related goals, opinions, ideas and an informal history. You can use it to make announcements to your team, send messages between team members and float ideas and strategies by the team.

The social component of Liquid Planner also serves another purpose. You can now do a true post mortem of a project. You and the other project participants can make actual observations and interactions at the time of specific tasks and events. One amusing adjunct to that is that Liquid Planner lets you delete items, but they remain in a trash area where you or others can undelete them. You can’t just delete and forget about your mistakes or rash comments.

Smooth Sailing
Since it’s easier to communicate among project participants, you will almost always be able to identify problems and bottlenecks early. Then you can correct them quickly and often informally. If you use Liquid Planner to its fullest interactive capacities, you’ll find that you’re using it as a blackboard, message center, trial balloon launch pad, and perhaps even social calendar.

The social focus of Liquid Planner really captured my attention, even more than the probabilistic scheduling that is near and dear to my mathematics-educated heart. Today’s 20-something professionals seem to thrive in a fast-paced and heavily collaborative environment. My take is that Liquid Planner is made for a young and fast-paced workforce.

Liquid Planner could use more features, such as an expanded collaboration model and better analysis tools, but as a pre-version 1.0 offering, it’s hitting the right marks. If you’re looking for ways to get your project teams to work together and communicate better, Liquid Planner could be a step in the right direction.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 03/05/2008 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Vista: A Dud or Just a Slow Achiever?

We've had a lot of fun with Vista -- not using it, but writing snide, occasionally witty comments about it. (For so many of us commentators, snideness is meant to be funny and imply authority, but admittedly it's often just cutting.)

In the case of Vista, our criticisms are warranted, as they come directly from you, the loyal Redmond Report reader. With nearly all Microsoft tools, as badly as they begin, they almost always end up smelling like roses. And Vista -- as folks get used to it and Microsoft adds some fixes -- will start to smell better soon.

Our latest report indicates that Vista opinions are very much a mixed bag. There are plenty of pundits that don't like it one bit. Research, however, shows that enterprises are slowly getting into swing. SP1 is coming, high-powered hardware is getting cheaper every day, and many users are learning about Vista through their new systems. And most everyone agrees that when it comes to security, Vista is clearly better.

The real answer comes from college students, the future of our country and the ones that will ultimately decide Redmond's fate. My daughter Lauren, an XP user, says that many of her college classmates use Vista because it came with the computers their parents just bought them. They don't all like it, and struggle sometimes to figure it out, but the darn thing does seem to work.

Posted by Doug Barney on 11/15/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Excel Flunks Basic Math

If you were in IT in 1994, you probably remember Intel's huge Pentium recall because of floating point math errors. The errors seemed tiny on the surface (Byte magazine estimated an error every 9 billion calculations), but a small error carried across a massive set of spreadsheets and other apps equals big, big problems.

Today's Excel has a similar problem but since this is software, not processors, fixing this bug shouldn't cost the $200 million or so that Intel shelled out.

Microsoft says that Excel can produce an error when calculating a problem that should return 65,535 or 65,536 as is its result. Somehow, Excel adds 34,465 (or 34,464) and gives 100,000 as the sum. Weird.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/01/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


A New Approach to Application Integration

I'm sure we've all heard that line before. Redmond magazine Editor Ed Scannell and I got a briefing from a company called OpenScan (www.openspan.com) last week that touted just such a claim. The announcement accompanying the briefing was under embargo until today (yes, sometimes we still get pre-briefings), so I decided to wait until today to even post a description of what the company is doing. When I worked at Compuware's NuMega Lab, one of our most successful products (BoundsChecker) injected debugging code into the memory space of a running process (and yes, that is also what a virus does). This code identified traced code execution and determined the values contained in variables, among other things. The important thing was that it could see many things that weren't being exposed by the application.

OpenSpan also injects code into the memory space of a running process, but to identify objects (a term, I believe, used loosely rather than strictly) and interfaces to those objects. OpenSpan CEO Francis Carden referred to those interfaces as APIs, but that is rather a misnomer. Because processes have different characteristics across platforms, the limitation here is that the process had to be running on a Windows box. You explicitly don't need source code.

Now here is the amazing part. Using an IDE called OpenSpan Studio, you could wire together those objects, without programming, so that they exchanged data. Carden demonstrated this by hooking the ubiquitous Windows calculator to an IE session displaying Google. By typing a number in the calculator, he sent that number as a search request to Google, which returned the results in the browser. Were it an appropriate UI for search results, he could have returned those results to the calculator display.

Way cool. I'll be writing more on this in the future for Redmond magazine (redmondmag.com) and Redmond Developer News (reddevnews.com).

Posted by Peter Varhol on 04/23/2007 at 1:15 PM5 comments


More Alternatives to WPF User Interfaces

I spoke to Infragistics today about their upcoming release (Monday, but I got approval to blog something ahead of time) on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) controls. Many of you probably know that Infragistics has somehow been able to make a thriving business out of selling controls for Win32, .NET, Java, and Web. What makes their controls so popular is two things. First of all, they provide significantly more functionality than those out of the box in Visual Studio, especially in the areas of data binding and performance. Second, developers pay a per developer license fee, and no runtime fees. It turns out to be a great deal for developers. These new WPF controls are no exception. They provide ways to abstract the control from its implementation, providing developers with ways to customize controls, and insert controls inside one another. For example, you may want to put a push button in a data grid.

Of course, many developers aren't building for WPF, at least not yet. While my Infragistics contact was primarily focused on the WPF controls, he also acknowledged that Infragistics also had a couple of ways for achieving the Vista Aero look and feel on non-WPF applications. One way was through the use of Microsoft's Crossbow technology (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx? FamilyId=2E1E0AFA-9BD7-4BDF-B43B-BD64F6F622A7&displaylang=en). Another was with a straight WinForms implementation. I didn't get a lot of details on these at this time, but I'll let you know when I do. And, while it wasn't a subject of this call, I also hear tell that Infragistics is also planning on offering straight Win32 controls with the Office 2007 look and feel. If Microsoft can do it (Office 2007 is a Win32 application), then there's no reason why Infragistics can't. And Infragistics has a long reputation for giving developers what they need, not what Microsoft wants them to have.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 04/20/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Finding Our Way in the Muddle

The world has changed. But I don't think I need to tell any of you that. Most of us work in job categories that didn't exist three decades ago, and that are continually evolving as technology obsoletes some of our skills while other doors open to new opportunities. This cycle is exciting, because of the opportunities for learning and growth. It is also stressful, because it's often not possible to step off of the roller coaster of technology change, even for a short time.

But the world has also changed in more insidious ways. Technology, the great democratizer, has lent voice and influence to a broader and in many cases much different set of constituents than traditional media. It turns out that Thomas Friedman was right, although describing the world as flat is a poor metaphor for the massively parallel communications channels that computing power and the Internet have created.

More voices heard sounds like a good thing, especially for those who may believe that louder voices have in the past required greater financial resources, or a position of power. But as we've discovered with the Web in general, the lowering of barriers has also resulted in a corresponding lowering of standards.

That's why Tim O'Reilly has proposed standards for blogging. These are not onerous; in an earlier day, we would have called them common courtesy, an act that might be increasing uncommon on the Web. My favorite is #2: We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person. All too often people resort to the impersonal postings and e-mails for what they lack the courage to say face to face.

You might argue that any attempt to censor the Web is a bad thing, and I have some sympathy with that argument. So does O'Reilly; he suggests putting a distinctive symbol on sites where anything goes in the discussion and comments.

But in a larger sense, Tim O'Reilly has the right idea. With freedom comes responsibility to use it wisely. The Web, and its unique ability to flatten the world and enable all voices to be heard, is a privilege owned by no one individual or group. If we don't each take care of our gathering places on the Web, they will degrade to the point that no one will come and visit.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 04/14/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Less Than It Appears

The announcement by Google on CNN, also in Wall Street Journal and other general media outlets that it was going to enable Google Maps users to create their own mashups without programming was a real disappointment to me. I was hoping for a real leap in usability and flexibility, given the great strides the company has made in the past. However, the capability announced by Google did no more than bring it up to approximate parity with what Microsoft had with Live! Local for around a year. After playing with it for a while, I came away wanting much more. If I wanted to do a feature by feature comparison, there are areas where Google Maps is a little better, and visa versa, but I've been doing much of what Google says on Live! Local for our conferences since early last fall.

You might argue that I have a built-in bias, but that's simply not true. In the past, I've said there is value in both approaches. I prefer using Google Maps and Google Earth, but prefer programming with Microsoft Virtual Earth, where I can code my mashups from within Visual Studio.

Rather, I have come to expect better of Google. There was no question that Microsoft Virtual Earth was a hastily-assembled imitation of Virtual Earth. But with the Live! Services, Microsoft is showing some initiative. I look to Google to be the engine of the industry innovation, however, and this announcement, with as much play is it got, simply didn't deliver.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 04/06/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Consolidation in SOA

I woke up this morning to six inches of new snow in New Hampshire, a tree down in my driveway, and the news in my inbox that German firm Software AG was acquiring webMethods for somewhere north of half a billion dollars. I don't often comment on mergers, acquisitions, or other corporate financial gymnastics; I don't have a background in business, and often have nothing worthwhile to say. But there are a couple of points of interest here. First, few of us have likely heard of Software AG, or if we have, don't know quite what it does. That's not unusual, for a couple of reasons. First, except for a few international brands (Nokia and Siemens come to mind), we don't necessarily think of European high tech companies as technology leaders.

Second, for those of us who do know Software AG, the reason is probably because of its mainframe products, Adabas and Natural (confession – I was a mainframe coder for a brief period about 20 years ago).

But the company has also been making a push into the SOA market more recently, with products such as Crossvision, a Web services development suite. In that sense, the webMethods acquisition enables Software AG to accelerate its movement into SOA.

I was also wondering if this announcement was presaging a more general consolidation of SOA tools vendors. I don't think the SOA business is going away by any means, but it is certainly possible that we are entering a time when larger vendors in this field are going to start buying up smaller ones to round out product offerings and acquire their customers. This might be the transition to a more mature SOA business. Think of it as the large fish eating the small ones in the food chain.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 04/05/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


UML Modeling and Agile Development

I had a talk with the modeling people at Telelogic at the end of last week, and one of their announcements timed for this week revolves around modeling using its Rhapsody product in conjunction with an agile development process.That sounds dubious on the face of it, because modeling tends to be far more heavyweight, with a lot of up-front work writing specifications and building models.Agile processes, on the other hand, tend to work incrementally, with minimal design work, constant user feedback, extensive unit testing, and rapid turnaround. Still, there seems to be a role for modeling in agile development.Telelogic VP George LeBlanc explained that many projects still had a need for project and design documentation, and modeling incrementally back and forth with code generation can serve that purpose well.As long as the model doesn't have to be complete in order to generate code or otherwise begin development, it's possible for modeling and agile development to reside at the same address.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 04/03/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


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