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Thursday 13 January 2011

A last look at 2010... and what's in sight?

For a few years, I've tried to recap here some events I've found notable over the past year and offering some guesses on what might be ahead of us. I'm somewhat late on these things this year, due to being busy with other stuff, but I didn't want to break the tradition, no matter how silly my wrong guesses might seem later. And again, others have covered generals, so I'll try to focus on specifics, in particular as they relate to what I do. For a look at what we achieved for Habbo, see my recap post on the Sulake blog.

This time last year Oracle still had not successfully completed the Sun acquisition due to some EC silliness, but that finally happened over the 2010. It seems to be playing about how I expected it to - MySQL releases have started to appear (instead of just being announced, which was mostly what MySQL AB and Sun were doing), and they actually are improvements. Most things are good on that front. On the other hand, Oracle is exerting license force on the Java front, and hurting Java's long-term prospects in the process, just at a time when things like Ruby and Node.js should put the Java community on the move to improve the platform. Instead, it looks like people are beginning to jump ship, and I can't blame them.

A couple of things surprised me in 2010. Nokia finally hired a non-Finn as a CEO, and Microsoft's Kinect actually works. I did mention camera-based gesture UIs in my big predictions post, but frankly I wasn't expecting it to actually happen during 2010. Okay, despite the 8 million units, computer vision UIs aren't a general-purpose mass market thing yet, but the real kicker here is how easy Kinect is to use for homebrew software. We're going to see some amazing prototypes and one or two actual products this year, I'm sure.

In terms of other software platform stuff, much hot air has been moved around iOS, Android, JavaScript and Flash. I haven't seen much that would have made me think it'd be time to reposition yet. Native applications are on their way out (never mind Mac App Store, it's a last-hurrah thing for apps which don't have an Internet service behind them), and browser-based stuff is on its way in. Flash is still the best browser-side applications platform for really rich stuff, and while JavaScript/HTML5/Canvas is coming, it's not here yet. For more, see this thread on Quora where I commented on the same. Much of the world seems to think that HTML5 Video tag, h.264 and VP8 equate to the capabilities of Flash, that's quite off-base.

On the other hand, tablets are very much the thing. I very much expect that my Galaxy Tab will be outdated by next month, and am looking forward to the dual-core versions which probably will be good for much, much more than email, calendar, web and the occasional game. Not that I'm not already happy about what's possible on the current tablets -- I carry a laptop around much less already. An in terms of what it means for software -- UI's are ripe for a radical evolution. 

The combination of direct touch on handheld devices and camera-read gestures on living-room devices is already here, and I expect both to shift on to the desktop as well. Not by replacing keyboards, nor necessarily mouses, but I'm looking forward to soon having a desktop made out of a large near-horizontal touchscreen for arranging stuff replacing the desk itself, a couple of large vertical displays for presenting information, a camera vision for helping the computer read my intentions and focus on stuff, and keeping the keyboard around for rapid data entry. One has to remember that things for which fingers are enough are much more efficiently done with fingers than by waving the entire hand around.. 

Will I have such a desk this year? Probably not. At the workplace, I move around so much that a tablet is more useful, and at home, time in front of a desktop computer grew rather more infrequent with the arrival of our little baby girl a few weeks ago.. But those are what I want "a computer" to mean to her, not these clunky limited things my generation is used to.

Monday 4 January 2010

Happy 2010 - it's review time

I was happily snowboarding and skiing (the latter for the first time in two decades) last week, so here comes the year-end review a week late. Last year, I harped on Facebook's closed nature, and over the the year they've tried to open more of the users' data over to the Internet. Still, there are no decent APIs for a user to pull out everything they've posted to Facebook to have their own copy, though. That doesn't seem to stop them from dominating the Internet for the time being, though, so good for them.

I'm trying to think of what would have surprised me over the year, but given I failed to make many accurate predictions myself, things just seemed to happen in pretty natural direction. Oracle's Sun acquisition over in April was a bit of a surprise at the time, but since then, I've grown to appreciate how it might make sense for Oracle. However, what still baffles me is that EC is going along with Monty's campaign of blocking the completion of that acquisition. Look, guys - the entire world does not need to agree on a commercial transaction in order for one to go through! MySQL is not the important thing here overall, Java is.

We managed to complete a few of major transitions for Habbo, most notably replacing the Shockwave client which was getting a bit long in the tooth with an all-new Flash-based Habbo Hotel and integrating Habbo with Facebook and other social networks. I didn't write about either of those launches here at the time, but these are pretty huge things for us because they make approaching Habbo much easier for a new user, and enable us to create all kinds of interesting features that would not have made sense previously.

So, what do I expect from 2010? Well, did the mobile Internet already happen? If not, at least it has a fighting chance this year. I'm having a hard time identifying any people close to me who're not using some Internet services on their phone by now, and some seem to be doing that almost exclusively on a phone. That must mean the rest of the world is close on their heels. As for more predictions, others have taken care of them by now.

One promise I can make is to try to do my part in making the Internet more fun and more social. At least now that even newspapers are beginning to think that asking their readers for money is not just a utopia, we can focus on the apps themselves, not whether they're ad-supportable.

Have a great year MMX!

Wednesday 11 November 2009

MySQL - could we please move on already?

I've kept away from this debate since last April, but this eternal dragging-on is getting to me. Could we please move on already regarding the Oracle-Sun-MySQL decision? I'm a customer of MySQL, and I don't really savor the idea of becoming a customer of Oracle. Even so, I'd much rather see Oracle own it, than leave it straggling, let alone see this process drag on and on. This is helping no one.

I'm using a product from a company from which I buy commercial support, but I could switch to using a binary-compatible Open Source tool any day I chose. I am not bound to remaining a customer of the company I'm buying support from for any period longer than the current contract. I can definitely live with that obligation. I can live with the OSS-tool (whether we want to call it MySQL Community, Percona, MariaDB or whatever, I don't care) instead of the commercial product - in fact, I'm getting the understanding that the OSS-tool may in fact be better suited to my requirements than the product. So, I have no issue being bound Oracle, should the merger go through, because I am not bound to them. I can see as much interesting related technology being developed outside the discussed commercial unit as inside it, so I'm certainly not worried about the future of the tech.

At this point in time, I could buy support from at least a couple of different organizations to replace and extend that which I've bought from MySQL/Sun. I have absolutely no reason to think that option would go away should the merger be approved, despite what certain founders now claim. If it's not commercially possible to develop and support a database product without being in full control over its copyright, then how come Percona has a business? If it's possible to provide such support for GPL software on a limited basis, but not on a big-business enterprise level, then how come Red Hat is a successful public company?

I use MySQL as an infrastructure component to run a business which could be described as software-as-a-service. I do not redistribute the code base as part of a licensed product. There are companies who do that, but they've always done it with the full understanding that what they're doing is dependent on having to license something from an independent party over which they have no control. If they don't like licensing from Oracle, then they can choose to re-engineer their solution to work on top of some other database engine. It's not like those don't exist, or like technology, licensed or not, hasn't always carried that risk with it.

I can't avoid thinking that some of the parties keeping this thing from reaching completion are dreaming of Skype -- selling the same business twice. Hey, more power to them if that happens, but frankly, that was dependent on Ebay making a stupid deal at the time. I just do not see what that has to do with anti-trust and why the European Commission needs to be involved. THIS is hurting the market, more so that Oracle is likely to.

I have nothing further on the matter. Thank you for your attention.

Monday 4 May 2009

What does Oracle mean for Java?

Over the past two weeks I've been mostly focused on MySQL, but the big-ticket item in the Sun/Oracle deal is not databases, it's Java. However, it's also the domain which is far less clear to predict. It was a big deal when Sun decided to open source Java, but the fact of the matter is that the first fully open source release isn't out yet, and Sun has been keeping the testing and certification kit off-limits for open source communities. This means it would still be far too easy for OpenJDK to be killed off.

I've been keeping clear of Oracle for several years, and can't even begin to guess what their position on this is. Oracle has been a pretty active contributor to Linux in particular for several years, and I'm sure their open source strategy and how it works together with their business is pretty well established within at least the engineering parts of the company. At the same time, their notoriously aggressive market tactics make sure that everyone's wary of their next move. Java is a huge part of Oracle's business, and after they purchased BEA, I wouldn't be surprised if Oracle wasn't already the biggest Java company (in terms of revenue) ahead of both Sun and IBM. After completing the Sun acquisition, that'll be guaranteed.

That's a big balance shift for the overall Java community. Now, Oracle is a smart company. My worry is they might emphasize short-term tactical market advantage (owning all of Java, JRockit, Glassfish and WebLogic to compete against other middleware and business applications) over long-term strategic benefit of a unified platform competing with .NET and the host of open source platforms from PHP and Ruby to Python. With such a wide field, following up on, and improving on the open source platform process would be the right thing to do - and it would help me :)