Jul 132014
 

(Awesome stuff!)

Is Java nothing more than the beanie baby of programming languages?

Really?

Java may indeed be man’s best response to the age-old problem of creating cross-platform networked applications, but much of its current momentum builds on a very dubious characteristic of human beings– the herd mentality, or the tendency to be taken in by fads.

That was one of the clearest conclusions to emerge from a report conducted by Zona Research at the behest of Softbank Forums, which is organizing Java Internet Business Expo, to be held in New York from Aug. 25 to Aug. 28.

For example, the study reported that among the 279 companies surveyed, IT managers said the predictions regarding industry trends were the single greatest external influence on their adoption of Java. Meanwhile, the desire to satisfy programmers by allowing them to program in Java was a strong third among the internal corporate reasons for deploying Java, behind Web browser links and cross-platform compatibility.

If you put these two facts together, it appears that IT shops are being stampeded into using Java by a tide of perceptions. IT managers believe “predictions” that Java is the future, and programmers are reneging at programming in non-Java languages.

But hold on–these are not all IT shops. In fact, only a subset of IT departments are acting this way. A close look at the Zona study reveals that it was never crafted as a survey to gauge Java penetration across all corporations. For example, 1,000 or so IT professionals were called on the phone. Two hundred seventy-nine answered affirmatively to a question about whether they plan to do something with Java in the next year. These companies were surveyed, and the others were not. The result is that the report has statements such as “47 percent of organizations are already using Java, and the rest plan to test and deploy Java-based solutions within the next 12 months.”

Well, of course, saying you plan to use Java within the year was a condition of being in the survey sample to begin with! The fact is, only about a third of people who picked up the phone said they intend to implement Java in the next year. (This is what happens when people who are putting on a show about a technology commission a study about that technology.)

Interestingly, our recent Fast-Track 500 study found that many IT professionals who are purchasing new technology are not implementing Java, simply because it is not mature enough yet, and they’re avoiding ActiveX for the same reason.

However, the study was not without value. Yes, some companies are building important applications in Java. But the study revealed some worries about Java, the foremost of which concerned cross-platform portability. Although the ability of Java and the Java Virtual Machine to run on different platforms is an essential promise of Java computing, about half the respondents wondered whether Java applications will indeed be able to run equally on any operating system or hardware platform. Other concerns were Java’s speed and whether it would scale to run on all sizes of computer systems. Respondents also said they’re interested in deploying NCs (network computers), but not because NCs will run Java applications.

So the best evidence is that only a minority of IT shops are doing serious work in Java–and even those users have considerable worries.

Maybe Java is ahead of other languages–C++, for example–at a comparable stage. But we are not nearly as far along as the Java pushers would have us believe.

Jun 052014
 

Some aspects of the Java language are very attractive to embedded designers, especially when compared with the other object-oriented alternative: C++. According to Carl Dichter, senior technical marketing manager at Intel Corp.’s Appliances and Computing Division (Chandler, Ariz.), under Java it is no longer necessary to think about the size of variables, the byte-order in which data is stored by the processor, and which functions are available and how they operate differently on different platforms. Nor is it necessary to concern oneself with the different ways to allocate memory or figure out where to free that memory based on different exit points. And there are no longer different ways to process user events, to write things on the screen, to read from the keyboard or to load additional libraries. Most important, as a stack-oriented, interpretive language it is platform-independent, allowing programmers to write their code just once and be assured that it will run on virtually any platform.

Limbo, quite ironically, ended up in limbo.

Its downside as a language is that its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: It is interpretive rather than compiled, said Paul Rosenfeld, director of marketing at Microtec (San Jose, Calif.), with all of the liabilities that implies: code bloat and execution times that are at best in the milliseconds. “Even with such things as just-in-time, flash and just-ahead-of-time compilers, you still pay a price. What you gain in performance you pay for in code size and memory requirements, and vice versa.”

Where Java as a language may find a place in the embedded market is purely as a programming environment. “It is an excellent environment to program in, especially for less experienced or beginning programmers,” said Tom Barton, director of marketing at Cygnus Solutions (Sunnyvale, Calif.). “It simply will not let you do the wrong things.” What is missing, he says, is the tool infrastructure: native compilers, cross compilers, linkers and debuggers.” Right now, most of the tools are desktop- and workstation-oriented, supporting only a handful of processors with the X86, Pentium and the Sparc accounting for the majority. Barton said: “What is needed is support for a wider number of processors and more tools oriented to the needs of the embedded market.”

For both traditional embedded applications and newer ones such as network computers and Internet appliances, there are alternatives. “The problem with these alternatives is that they have to buck Java’s almost overwhelming momentum in the marketplace,” said Ken Kaplan, president and chief executive officer of Microware Systems Corp. (Des Moines, Iowa).

For designers working in the deeply embedded applications environment who want to move to object-oriented languages but fear the code size and complexity, there is, says Carbonne, Embedded C++ (EC++). “What the developers of EC++ have tried to do is strip C++ down to the bare essentials that an embedded developer will need,” he said. “The result is a language that is very easy to learn and occupies not much more memory space than an equivalent amount of C code.”

The Limbo alternative

For embedded designers developing netcentric computers, Internet appliances and embedded Web servers, there is an alternative, from Lucent Technologies, the former Bell Laboratories-the original developers of both C and C++. It is called Limbo, designed for writing programs for use with Lucent’s alternative to the Java OS.

Limbo borrows from, among other things, C (expression syntax and control flow), Pascal (declarations), Alef (abstract data types and channels), CSP and Newsqueak (processes). Limbo is strongly typed, provides automatic garbage collection, supports only very restricted pointers and compiles into machine-independent byte code for execution on a virtual machine. A programming language, even with its libraries, is not enough, nor is it always the right place to solve all the problems of the network, said Ravi Sharma, technical manager at Lucent Technology’s Inferno Network Software Solutions Group (Murray Hill, N.J.). Therefore, Limbo is supported by the full Inferno environment that includes security and authentication, naming protocols, directory services, network interfaces and so on. When a Limbo program begins execution, it has a fixed interface to these services and is therefore inherently more portable than any language-only solution. One example is the network API, which is identical in all Inferno systems, independent of the hosting operating system or the network itself.

To achieve the goal of platform-independence, the JavaOS and virtual machine was created with as many of the platform dependencies removed as is possible, migrating them to platform-independent code. This minimalist kernel and the virtual machine are then used to implement all of the other services such as GUI support, networking, I/O drivers and the file system. Designed specifically to support the JavaOS, the kernel provides three basic types of services: booting, traps and interrupts, and thread support.

Without optimizing or porting to specific architectures to improve performance, the JavaOS, at the time of this writing, performs more than adequately for most network computing and Internet-appliance applications. Its TCP/IP throughput is about 500 kbits/second, more than adequate for most Web browsing. It is the memory requirements that should give Internet-appliance designers some pause and totally rule it out for more traditional embedded designs. At a minimum, without graphics code, no network support, no font support and no browser, the JavaOS can fit into about 128 kbytes of RAM and 512 kbytes of read-only memory. While that is more than adequate for many Internet appliances such as Internet telephones, portable Internet communicators, it is deaf, dumb and blind. Adding those features to make it workable could increase the memory requirements significantly. Also, the designer must factor in the additional RAM needed for applications and run-time requirements. At the high end, a complete JavaOS environment, consisting of the OS and the HotJava browser, can fit into about 4 Mbytes of ROM and 4 Mbytes of DRAM. Not factored into this is the memory space required for downloaded HTML-based Web pages, which amounts to at least 1.5 Mbytes, if you are ready to compromise on performance to some degree.

As far as Windows CE is concerned, it has largely been written from scratch to fill the niche for a small scalable 32-bit Windows-compatible OS, and still borrows heavily from its bigger brothers, supporting the familiar Win32 programming model and incorporating a subset of the Win32 API. In terms of programming space, the CE kernel is less than 150 kbytes and the Windows shell will boot with under 500 kbytes of DRAM. While this is substantially larger than designers of deeply embedded microcontroller-based applications are comfortable with, said Annasoft’s president Dick Eppel (San Diego), it is more than adequate for many high-end applications. Moreover, he said, like its RTOS competitors, Windows CE has been designed modularly, so the memory footprint can be reduced considerably, by removing unneeded functions.

The tougher issues facing both Windows CE and the Java OS are their real-time response characteristics. According to Eppel, the Windows CE kernel has a low interrupt-service routine and low thread latency, allowing threads to be scheduled and switched in less than 100 microseconds with a CPU operating at 33 MHz. And JavaOS, say many developers, looks like it can operate in the same ballpark.

Work is under way in both environments to improve real-time performance. On the Windows side, many of the same vendors who have come up with real-time versions of NT and 95, including Annasoft, Venturcom and Radisys, are applying the same techniques to Windows CE. As far as Java OS is concerned, JavaSoft at Sun Microsystem’s JavaOne conference earlier this year introduced eJava, an embedded Java API that is aimed at reducing the memory footprint and improving response characteristics.

Search for determinism

Beyond response time and memory footprint, the two OS alternatives, said Simon Waddington, senior engineer at Wind River Systems Inc. (Alameda, Calif.), are both seriously lacking in their ability to provide deterministic performance. “Determinism, more than response time or clock rate is the one defining characteristic of real-time systems: guaranteed responses to events at specific times within guaranteed limits,” he said. Of the two environments, said Dan Hildebrand, senior architect at QNX Systems Software Ltd. (Kanata, Canada), Windows CE can probably be made more real-time the easiest. “The real problem will be how to make the Java virtual machine and the Java OS more deterministic,” he said. “The way Sun has implemented garbage collection in the Java model makes it almost impossible to guarantee response times.”

Additionally, both OS alternatives do not have the best disk storage management systems. Often, their usage in RAID storage environments can aggravate hard disk failures at a rate much higher than other some more popular choices. As well, their mobility can sometimes be a risk, and require some form of professional laptop data recovery once usage becomes heavy.

Specifically, says Cygnus Solutions’ Barton, garbage collection is not under the control of the programmer and can occur at any time. “That can really play havoc with a real-time application,” he said. In Javasoft’s eJava, said Curtis Sasak, Java platform product line manager at Javasoft (Mountain View, Calif.), the effect of garbage collection on real-time response is not dealt with directly: “However, the fact that the memory footprint is much smaller means that garbage collection can be completed much more quickly,” he said, and at the very least, worst-case numbers for the time it will take to perform the operation can be guaranteed.

A number of RTOS vendors are looking to solve this problem. Wind River Systems Inc., for example, is replacing the Java OS kernel with its own real-time, multitasking, multithreading VxWorks kernel; in essence running the Java Virtual Machine atop its RTOS. Integrated Systems Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) is taking a more direct approach. Working together, ISI and Newmonics Inc. are developing a “clean room” version of the Java OS/VM in which garbage collection can either be eliminated, scheduled or at least speeded up and applied to smaller chunks of memory at a time.

File-based approach

For embedded designers heavily involved in net-centric applications such as Internet appliances and Web/TV combinations, there is also an alternative to the Java OS: Inferno, Lucent’s OS companion to Limbo. Where Java is an object-oriented language deriving its inspiration from C++ and Pascal, among others, and JavaOS is designed to handle objects, Inferno is file-based and draws upon the experience of the past and incorporates many features, such as garbage collection, and eliminates many of the sources of error in past languages, such as overdependence on pointers.

In a significant departure from the Java model, however, Lucent has taken a different approach to implementing a virtual machine. While programs written in Limbo are compiled into byte-codes representing instructions for a virtual machine called Dis, the VM is a memory-to-memory architecture, not a stack machine, that translates easily to native instruction sets. In fact, many Dis instructions translate to a single Pentium instruction. The on-the-fly compilers are small-the implementation for Intel 386 architectures is only about 1,300 lines of C-and result in code that performs within about a factor of two of compiled C. For the same reason, the Dis interpreter is considerably smaller than the implementation of the Java virtual machine.

“The Limbo/Inferno combination looks as if it has everything that Java has and more, as far as networkability is concerned,” said Hildebrand. “Unfortunately, Java has market momentum with it and practically no one knows about Limbo.”

However the embedded market sorts itself out with regard to these new language and OS issues, said Vik Sohal, senior technologist at Lynx Real Time Systems Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), there will be at least two benefits. First, it has reminded programmers that there is still room for interpretive languages. “At the very least, the Java model with its platform-independence has given us something we have tried hard over the years: a common applications binary interface,” he said. “With a few extensions Java will be an ideal way, once the compiler/cross-compiler tool infrastructure has been built, to port code between different processor architectures.”

The other significant benefit is that the embedded market is being forced to move much more aggressively toward object-oriented programming and methodologies than in the past. “The momentum, before Java, was building, but slowly,” said Vladimir Ivanovic, technical marketing engineer at Microtec. “But now the pressure is on in all directions.” The ubiquity of embedded processors, in everything from toasters to network routers and Internet appliances, said Waddington, means that such applications are now a part of the social infrastructure, dictating that reliability and fail-safe operation is important not just in some mission and life-critical applications, but also in all applications. “This means that at the very least a shift to object-oriented programming methodologies even when coding in C,” he said, “and, at most, a shift totally to an object-oriented language environment.”

Nov 172013
 

As you are about to leave the office for a 10 o’clock business appointment with that important client, you do a quick checklist to ensure that you have everything. You open your briefcase and there it is — your notebook. Yes, you have everything.

For most business people, that one piece of equipment holds every needed bit of information required to perform their job outside of the office.

According to Peter Bassani, an account executive with Markham, Ont.-based A.C. Nielsen Market Research, the portable computing market has changed drastically in the last five years. The changes have resulted in improved technology enhancements and price performance.

“You can look at the features of the product and one obvious (improvement) is the power of the portable,” says Bassani. “It is basically equal to that of today’s desktop, whereas five years ago the portable tended to be perhaps years or maybe two years behind the power of a desktop.”

Other improvements made to the portable computer are longer battery life and better screen technology.

Drew Fernandes, vice-president and senior investment advisor for Nesbitt Burns Inc., a brokerage firm located in White Rock, B.C., says competitive demands more than anything else made the company go with the portable computer last year for four of its 12 stockbrokers.

Nesbitt Burns is implementing a project called Genisys, a system which incorporates Windows 95, Office 95, Nesbitt Burns’ internal client database, and Starquote, an internal quote system to access the stock market.

“It is going to take a lot of our client data as well as stock market data and allow us to access it through our portables,” says Fernandes. “It also allows (stockbrokers) to work out of remote locations and still service our clients just like we would in our office, in any city.”

Before going mobile, the company had to rely on an old wire service to get pricing to complete a customer’s transaction. It would only take a few minutes, but in the brokerage business that’s an eternity.

Each client account would have to be printed out and filed. “You would literally have this wooden box with all of this paper on your desk,” recalls Fernandes.

Today, all a stockbroker has to do is go into his or her portable computer and all of the daily transactions for any client’s accounts are automatically recorded into the system. All the needed information shows up on the screen in an instant.

“The productivity gains in our business have gone right through the roof,” says Fernandes. “Brokers are doing three to four times more business because they now have the time. The technology has increased the amount of knowledge that is out there and it speeds up the transaction process.”

A study conducted by Frost & Sullivan, an international research firm based in Cambridge, Mass., predicts that world sales of portable computers will more than double from $30 billion (U.S.) in 1995 to nearly $80 billion (U.S.) by the year 2001. One reason is that business people are travelling and telecommuting more than they ever did before.

The study also indicates that the notebook market is expected to grow as twice as fast as desktop computers.

“People will pay premium prices for a portable,” says Bassani. “It allows them to have access to any needed information at any time. The desktop can be limiting because you have to be in your office in order to use it. With today’s business demands, not everyone can work from the office.”

Also not every job that requires the functionality of a computer is in an office. Recently, Quebec’s Sherbrooke Police Force equipped all 27 of its police cars with Latitude XPIs, 75-MHz Pentium machines from Dell Computer Corp.

Rugged notebook used by police services.

“The (portable) is used for a multiple of services,” says Andr Bouchard, director of the Public Safety Division for the Sherbrooke Police Force. “The two main purposes it is used for are for transferring information to a central data centre and for onboard mapping.”

Before the portable units arrived, officers used terminals that could not be removed from the cars. The terminals’ only function was for entering data into the police force’s main data centre. Onboard mapping was not available. The laptops are rugged, and thus far the only issues have been some need for laptop data recovery, ably provided by Irvine, CA’s Hard Drive Recovery Associates.

Today, onboard mapping lets the station know the location of the police officer at all times in case of danger. Officers can also respond to calls more efficiently, enter information into the main data centre and receive information from it as well — an important tool when police are tracking a suspect.

On a scale of one to 10, Bassani rates the portable “around an eight or nine and for some people it is a 10. Some people swear by it, they can’t live without their notebook. It is at the top end for those that need a computer on the road or those that need electronic access on the road.”

Sep 182013
 

So something has gone wrong with your hard drive and you do not know what to do. Here are some of the most common reasons for hard drive failure.

Head/media collisions are responsible for a great number of hard drive malfunctions. Because there is more than one hard disk platter very close to each other, rotating at a rate of 150 times per second, even the slightest disturbance could make the disk malfunction. When dust settles on the magnetic surfaces after entering the sealed drive unit, it gets stuck between the head and the disk causing problems.

Circuit board failure occurs when there is an electrical failure. It is important to keep your system clean and cool so that the components do not overheat. If you happen to notice the following changes in your machine, you should know you will need hard drive repairs very soon. Your hard drive can stop spinning. You get an error message saying that the system does not recognize the device. Your system starts rattling or grinding. You are not able to access information that you were previously able to access.

The 3 things you should do when any of the above mentions situations occur are…..do not shake the system or cause it to jerk…..do not remove the hard drive casing and take it to your nearest, best hard drive repair shop.

Losing information because of broken hard drive could be a real nightmare, especially if you have no back-up data. Although the situation is bad enough to give anyone a severe headache, be assured that there is still a possibility that the data can be retrieved. It can be done through hard drive repair.

Some people may think that hard drive repair means dismantling the central processing unit and taking out the hard drive and fixing it. Although that action is the literal meaning of repairing the hard drive, there are other options for repairing the hard drive without actually touching it, at least not yet. One way is by using system repair software. Such software allows you to fix your computer concern with the efficiency of an expert but without burning a hole in your pocket.

There are various software applications that can fix problems due to logical failure, and such programs are designed with a user-friendly interface for easy use and understanding. Even newbie computer users will not have any problems following the instructions of using system repair software. However, you should also take note that this hard drive repair option only works if the problem of the drive is because of logical failure. If the problem happens to be a mechanical one and you badly want to salvage the hard drive and the data it contains, better bring your computer to a hard drive specialist.

Any piece of equipment will encounter a problem, somewhere somehow. The same thing goes for your external hard drive. If you are trying to do the repair by yourself, make sure that you know the basics so the damage will be contained. There are no right or wrong move but make sure that you know when to say stop, meaning know when the problem is no longer for your handling. Unless you are a technician, don’t do anything and wait for someone who can really help you do your external hard drive repair.

Step 1, you need to know if the problem is hardware or a software problem, this one’s easy. Ask the questions: have you recently dropped the drive? Did you remove the drive and brought it somewhere else? If you answer yes, try to check the physical components, anything loose? If the platters were bent, you may try to carefully straighten it using your hands. Now, try and insert the external drive, did it work? If not, try step number 2. Determine the possibility of software issue, virus attack etc. Now you’re getting serious on your external hard drive repair. Run any of the available software fixes, this is a plug and play so you don’t need to become a computer genius. If still not working, proceed to step 3. Try to insert the drive to another computer, if it worked then your external drive is in tack and the problem lies in your USB port so you may want to check that out. If after trying all of these and still nothing happens, you will need the assistance of the experts to help you through the external hard drive repair.

Every piece of information is found in the external hard drive of your computer. If this becomes inaccessible then any of the two things happen: hardware and software problems. Hardware problems are caused mainly by a physical damage on the drive while software problem can go either way, either a settings conflict or virus problem. Both will result to one thing and that is the prevention of accessing your important data. Doing an external hard drive repair will resolve the issue but you need to do it carefully as not to cause any more in the drives.

There are first-aid procedures for an external hard drive repair. Certain steps can be taken. First in the list, check what the problem is. Is it a hardware or software problem? Try to listen for any unnecessary noise every time you open your PC. Most of the times, it’s the discs alignment that is causing the noise. This means that your drive is timing out and it needs a little repair. If you there is no noise and your hard drive is still in good physical condition, no scratches, you might be dealing with a software issue. If it’s software, there are many software fixes available on the internet, run one. If it works, problem solved. If not, then it’s time for a little handy work, meaning you will need to open the device. If you’re not comfortable in doing this, then it’s time that you ask for the expert’s assistance. Charges for external hard drive repair will cost $500 to as high as $3000, depending on the damage and the extent of work that needs to be done. If you need some kind of server or RAID recovery, that price will be more. See here.

Aug 162013
 

A simple laptop enclosure adapter

Most laptop owners think that laptop hard drive recovery is a very costly thing to pay for. This is actually not a situation to panic, and really isn’t as expensive as many users assume at the outset. But this job is known as something that requires high technical skills. But, with the right tool and the knowledge about the tool it is an easy task. It is just a matter of having the knowledge of how to recover the data from a dead laptop hard drive. And in the case of software failure, this is the kind of recovery that can be accomplished within a few minutes or less.

Most laptop owners are not aware where their data files are stored. The hard drive in a laptop is a removable part of the computer which is about 2.5” wide and 4” long. It is quarter inch in thickness and weighs about 2 ounces. You can easily take it out by removing a single screw from the backside of the laptop. This should be done with care. After removing the hard drive of your laptop, there are many options you can follow to transfer your important files. There are many types of equipment for simple file recovery such as Hard Drive adapters, Hard Drive disk enclosures, USB Shells etc, are available in order to ensure that your damaged files can be transferred and fixed safely.

Heavy Laptop Usage and Drive Failure

Because laptop hard disks are mechanical devices, heavy usage may mean that the life of the hard drive is shortened. In such a situation, your important files may get lost and things can be very tricky, especially if you do not have a solid and consistent backup. Therefore, you should be aware of the ways and means to get your files recovered from your dead laptop. For the most effective laptop hard drive recovery, it is very important to find out who can best help you with this, such as a cheap data recovery service like this one. Then you will be able to select the right equipment for your laptop. Out of several different types of file recovery tools available in the market for this kind of recovery, it is worth to know about the laptop hard drive adopter kit, which is exclusively made for this purpose. This kit will enable you to directly connect the laptop’s hard drive to a compatible desktop computer. You should be careful of the model of your laptop when buying the adapter. In addition to that, the desktop that you are going to must be compatible with the model of the laptop. The operating systems of both laptop and the desktop should be matched with each other. Also, the desktop computer should have enough hard disk space in order to take on all of the files currently located on your laptop.

Drive Crashes and Blue Screen of Death

Has your laptop suddenly shown a blue screen and it hit ensuring that you cannot boot your computer? You might be in a panic situation due to the loss of your important files. If your laptop is dead due to a software failure, it will probably be quite easy and inexpensive to recover your important files. A portable hard drive disk enclosure may be used, but you may want to look into some kind of data recovery software first. Using a hard drive disk enclosure is an external system. You can place your dead laptop’s hard disk in to this disk enclosure and make it run with another working computer. The hard drive disk enclosure is connected to the working computer via a USB port and the files in your dead laptop can be transferred to the working computer.

However, if you want to get a hard drive disk enclosure for your laptop drive recovery, you have to choose the right size of the disk enclosure which fits with the hard drive of your laptop. Otherwise, you will not be able to use the disk enclosure as the size of the hard drive varies laptop to laptop. Therefore, before buying the disk enclosure, you should be aware of the model of your laptop and the features of the hard drive.

Sep 062012
 

Microsoft won another marketing battle in the object wars last week by finally agreeing to submit its ActiveX technology to the Open Group for ratification as a de facto industry standard.

ActiveX in the house!

Although the software giant has criticized such organizations in the past for being too slow and unwieldy, it has ostensibly handed its object crown jewels to a body packed full of Unix rivals which will help develop, brand, test and license them

The Open Group will receive source code, specifications, reference implementations and validation tests. In return, Microsoft will get special treatment. After achieving a lifelong aim and earning a rumored $1m (667,000 [pounds]) in executive membership fees, the Open Group intends to set up a separate unit, the Active Group, to look after Microsoft’s interests.

This will comprise a steering committee to decide the future technology direction of ActiveX, which Microsoft has taken the precaution of filling with friends such as SAP and Hewlett-Packard. It will also include members which license the reference implementation, and technology and market development subgroups to promote the adoption and development of the software.

This contrasts with the Open Group’s agreement with the Object Management Group (OMG) to brand and test compliance to its Common Object Request Broker Architecture (Corba) standard. This deal is lacking in special promotions.

There are two questions arising from Microsoft’s move. First, why go through a standards body after years of paying lip-service to the concept of openness? Second, why not choose an object standards body rather than a Unix organization which is trying to reinvent itself?

According to Microsoft’s Internet tools product manager, Mike Pryke-Smith, the aim was to ensure ActiveX became cross-platform. The quickest way to achieve this was to get help from a standards body.

Doing so would also serve to reassure customers scared of Microsoft’s industry dominance. Hand-picked delegates at Microsoft’s meeting in New York voted 63-19 in favour of putting ActiveX through the Open Group process, rather than opting for a completely Microsoft-controlled and operated consortium.

However, Pryke-Smith added, the OMG was considered too Unix-centred to house ActiveX, and was unable to confirm whether Microsoft would renew its membership.

Neil Ward-Dutton, a consultant with research firm Ovum, believed Microsoft had nothing to gain from the situation on a technical level, though it would score a marketing coup. “The Open Group has a high profile, but it’s not known for doing anything wild, so Microsoft will keep the technology all its own,” he said. “It also wants to be seen as being nice to its friends, in line with the Net culture, but there’s a potential bun-fight on the horizon.”

The Open Group could end up being positioned as a head-to-head rival with the OMG, creating confusion in user and supplier organisations because they do not know which horse to back, while the Open Group could also run the risk of being torn apart by internal politics.

“The Open Group will have to watch it doesn’t turn into a Microsoft vehicle,” said Ward-Dutton, “but it probably will. Whoever ended up with ActiveX was doomed, and the only thing that can save the Open Group is if the likes of Sun and IBM stand up for it.”

But Annrai O’Toole, OMG member and technical director of Iona Technologies, did not see the move as a serious threat, rather a rubber-stamping of Microsoft’s technology by the Open Group.

“It’s a closed cartel,” he said. “Microsoft’s doing this because it was getting beaten up by its customers for ActiveX being proprietary. It also has to make it cross-platform because it’ll be used to link different technology together. But Microsoft doesn’t want to do that. It wants everyone to buy Windows NT, but realises it won’t even get a foot in the door without cross-platform ActiveX.”

What is Activex?

ActiveX is a set of technologies for creating, integrating and reusing software components. These can be pre-packaged and re-assembled in the form of applications, graphic elements, scripting languages or hypertext markup language pages.

ActiveX was formerly as object linking and embedding but Microsoft changed the name after integration it with the distributed common object model. The technology had evolved from being a simple compound document specification for swapping information between desktop applications on the same machine to being network-enabled.

ActiveX forms the basis of Cairo, the object-oriented version of Windows NT, and Microsoft’s Internet strategy. It has some help from an Irvine company called HDRA.

Sep 032012
 

Will it be Intel inside or Java everywhere? his month, a recent story  highlights the most radical bid in years for a new computing platform: Sun Microsystems’ Java chip/Java language combination. This is not just an alternative to Intel/Microsoft computing, a la the PowerPC/Mac OS package. It’s a reinvention of the computer into a more universal, versatile, and interoperable device. The Java model could obliterate many of the distinctions between standard computers, embedded systems, and products still to come, such as intelligent cable boxes and cellular phones.

For years, we’ve lived with chips that will run almost anything and languages that will run on almost anything. Java chips will give us performance where we need it–running Java applications–while the Java environment will give us interoperability with every other hardware platform.

Sun hopes that electronic designers, corporate information technology (IT) departments, and, ultimately, end users will find this so compelling that they will leave behind the Intel architecture. However, it’s a tall order. Look at how hard it’s been for the mighty PowerPC troika of Apple, IBM, and Motorola to make headway against the x86 line.

Still, I think Sun will win a significant place with its Java chips. In the last year, we’ve started to hear some awful gnashing sounds coming from Redmond, as Microsoft grinds off a few gear teeth trying to keep up with the paradigm shift toward the Web. On the hardware side, Intel hasn’t made any major adjustments to the infobahn. Check out our story on Intel’s road map (“The x86 Gets Faster with Age”) on page 89, and the only new signs that you’ll see are those for multimedia. Keep those MIPS coming!

There’s no question that simpler, cheaper, faster PCs will spread computers to people who have never used them before. As business communications and public commerce march relentlessly toward computerization, the network computer (NC), or Web PC, or whatever you call it, will proliferate. Ditto for new devices we haven’t named: the wireless gameboyphonebrowseremotecontrol and such.

But Sun may be ahead of its time. When will the network infrastructure arrive to make fully networked computing possible? It will definitely be a year that begins with 20 before we have the kind of end-to-end digital broadband network we’ll need.

So don’t put all your money on one horse just yet–you’ll need both Java and Wintel for the foreseeable future. Java chips and the Java language will solve some of client/server’s thorniest problems. (Do you really want to individually maintain hundreds of PCs that are nothing more than cash registers or data-entry terminals?) The Java duo will also make lots of cool but dumb stuff like cellular phones much smarter. What it won’t do, however, is protect people from hard disk failures, as noted at http://www.harddrivefailurerecovery.net/hard-drive-failure-solutions/

Yet our familiar OSes and applications make the classic PC–Intel, PowerPC, or whatever–much more flexible than those devices will ever be. Throughout the next decade, I may want a Java unit for the office and a self-sufficient but connectable machine for computing on airplanes or when I’m otherwise outside the wired urban hubs of the world.

Win, lose, or draw in the commercial war, Java has already changed the way we think about computing. Can it be a coincidence that Microsoft has revived its hand-held computer OS project, now called Pegasus? Or that Oracle hopes Intel will buy into its Network Computer concept? That’s not the end of it: Look for traditional OS vendors to let you turn the desktop GUI into a screen onto which you project server-based applications, NC-style.

Users’ interests lie in being able to flexibly combine the best elements of the Java concept with the best of what we have now. For example, products such as Notes and higher-end database managers can choreograph local and centralized data management. Make that skill widely available to all sorts of applications, and we’ll have the best of both worlds.

Aug 242012
 

Get this. The President needs a portable printer only it can’t weigh anything. Zero pounds. I am pacing the floor in her office, trying to explain that they do not make such a printer but she doesn’t want to hear it. Instead she folds her arms and says, “I think you’re being unreasonable, honey.”

It’s OK for her to call me honey. We’re married.

“I’m being unreasonable?” I do the math again just in case she’s right. “You want a portable printer, but you don’t want to add weight to that laptop you lug around. Am I on the right track here?”

She throws her hands up in despair. “You’re not going to bring up the laptop thing again!”

The Classy Canon notejet!

I told her to buy a notebook. People who travel should not lug around eight pounds. A good 4.5-pound notebook would have done the trick. But she purchased an eight-pounder because it was cheaper. This is the trouble with being an unpaid technology guru. The President is always asking me for advice but never taking it. And who do you think gets blamed for being right?

Why does she need a portable printer anyway? She started her dog registry business more than a year ago and has been doing fine without one. When she needs to print something on the road, she can always duck into Kinko’s and get it done there.

Of course things are changing for The President. Her business is growing and she’s starting to travel more. And some towns don’t have a Kinko’s or anything else that stays open late at night, which is when emergencies arise. In fact last night she was in Danbury, Connecticut, when she got a bright idea that she wanted to add to her presentation, which she did in the hotel room. But then she needed to add that new slide to her handout. Her moming meeting started early, so the hotel’s business center wasn’t open. Opening the yellow pages, she looked for a Kinko’s but found nothing. She wound up telling the crowd that if they wanted a copy of that particular slide they could leave a business card and she’d mail it. Naturally, all 53 people attending the meeting asked for a copy.

I know of one possible solution to her problem. Canon is about to ship its new Notejet laptop with built-in color ink-jet printing, grayscale scanning, and plain-paper faxing. The whole thing weighs about one pound more than her present laptop. The NoteJet IIIcx I have been testing in the office costs about $7,500 on the street. With the new Federal tax regulations for business deductions, she can reduce the outof-pocket expense to about $3,800. The Pentium-powered NoteJet is well-engineered, comes with 16MB of RAM, Windows 95, a 28.8Kbps modem, and an 11.8-inch active-matrix color screen.

During two weeks of testing, I fell in love with its graphical step-by-step instructions and easy-to-handle printing, scanning, and faxing modqles. You follow the animated onscreen instructions, point and click on some icons, and the system practically loads and unloads cartridges for you–with no mess. This seems to be the perfect solution. Everything snaps in and out of the system with ease.

“What happens if a function goes bad?” she asks. “What happens if it suddenly can’t scan or print?”

Welcome to the age of technology. Ten minutes ago The President was looking for a printer. Now she wants a system that includes a printer, scanner, laptop, and fax–all in a nine-pound package guaranteed never to break down.

“But if the printer, scanner: ever goes, then I lose the war,” she says with impeccable log

The President is no different from any other consumer of technology, always expecting more for less. Often that sets them up to be ripped off, because they become willing to buy overloaded behemoths in their lust for features. More often, the expectation creates a monstrous situation that 1, as defacto technology manager of my wife’s little company, cannot solve.

A growing number of entrepreneurs find themselves in my wife’s position–you need to lug an entire office wherever you go. There aren’t many solutions to such a problem. I’m not sure there’ll be a better one than the Notejet for many years to come, despite her objections. What do you think? I’d still like to sell her on it. But is she right? Drop me a note at deskowhoc@aol.com. And meet me in this spot again next month.

Aug 102012
 

What if you could go back to the days of Windows 1.0 and influence Bill Gates to build Windows just the way you wanted it? I can’t actually help you change the past, but I can give you the chance to influence the future. If you have the time to send me a short E-mail, you can join with me to help shape the direction of the Java platform.

This ombud’s for you. Here’s how it works. I’m going to act as your ombudsman. You tell me what Java needs to grow into a robust, dependable, cost-effective enterprise platform (my “starter set” is listed below). I will deliver your consensus opinions to Scott McNealy (Sun Microsystems’ CEO), Eric Schmidt (chief technology officer) and Alan Baratz (president of the JavaSoft subsidiary). After I gather their responses, I’ll report back to you here.

Java is going to be part of our future. Rather than wait passively for it to arrive–and then complain about it–let’s be proactive this time.

The cup runneth over.

Along with the excitement about Java, there’s also a lot of confusion. Java has become a container into which the technical community pours all sorts of different definitions. First and foremost, Java is a language related to C++. However, the word also is used to refer to a “virtual machine,” a fictional processor that is emulated on different platforms (so that Java code will run identically on all of them).

Java also has many derivatives. There are “Just-in-Time” Java compilers, which compile portions of the Java code into native instructions on the fly. There is Java Beans, an object architecture. There’s also JavaOS, an operating system that executes Java instructions natively. In other words, Java is evolving into a complete platform. Let’s make sure it gets built right. Herewith, my starter set of five areas that need improvement:

1. Open says me. Remember when Scott McNealy toured the world, alternating snide remarks about Bill Gates with arguments that Windows should be in the public domain? Now he has a platform that (he hopes) can replace Windows. How can he do any less than what he demanded of Bill? JavaSoft should turn over the Java API to an open, neutral standards committee.

2. Cache as cache can. Why should we download the identical applet every time we need it? Java needs better methods for local applet caching and versioning.

3. Safety patrol. Better authentication and verification.

4. Put it to the test. An independent testing facility to verify that Java applets meet specifications and that they interoperate correctly with other applets, plus a logo that lets customers know which products have passed the test.

5. Tool time. Better tools. I have some ideas, but I know you’ll have much better ones.

What else do you want? Send an E-mail to the address below. For those of you who stack PC Week in a corner and go through a month’s worth at a time: no responses after Nov. 15, please. That’s when I’ll be gathering your opinions together and sending them on to the Java execs. You’ll hear back from me a few weeks after that.

Aug 102012
 

Call it in-your-face EPS. The computer screen is strapped to a visor that hangs a postage stamp-sized monitor in front of one of your eyes. This visor, which resembles the goggles currently in vogue with virtual-reality pioneers, is connected to a computer attached to your belt. The computer is about half again as large as a Walkman-type portable radio and weighs about 3 pounds. The final element of the system is a microphone, also attached to the visor, that transmits verbal commands to the computer.

This bodyware is connected to a larger network of computers using a built- in wireless LAN (local area network) card. With this connection, the employee can access any information on the network while still moving freely about the factory floor. The wireless device that gives the cyberworker full access to the company’s network has an effective range of 800 feet, says Thompson.

While this kind of mobile EPS is very new and still undergoing development, it’s not just an academic experiment. Thompson is working with Cagle’s Inc., an Atlanta-based poultry processor that hopes to outfit some employees with FAST systems as a way to get crucial information to and from workers in the chicken-processing plant.

Checkin’ on chicken!

The quality-assurance people on the floor would use the FAST system primarily to input data about the quality of the chickens and other environmental factors via the microphone. While they may access classic EPS information about how to do a certain task from time to time, says Thompson, they mostly would use the bodyware to send information to the network so the number crunchers have the most current data.

The more data-intensive users are the people who maintain the chicken-processing machines, and for them the mobile EPS is designed to be an information lifeline. According to Thompson, the machines that measure and cut up the chickens are becoming more and more sophisticated. (One such half-million-dollar machine records a computer image of the chicken breast and then figures out the optimum slicing configuration to chop it into nuggets using high-pressure water jets.) No need to take the time to train technicians in all the arcana of fixing these machines; the FAST system lets them get instant documentation and repair procedures for the chicken choppers.

Because the Cagle’s plant processes between 100,000 and 300,000 chickens a day, the company can ill afford to have these machines break down very often. The FAST bodyware helps employees diagnose and fix these machines as fast as possible – an important consideration when dealing with perishable food products. If you have to shut down the line, Thompson explains, you have to get the chickens into refrigerated environments quickly. The EPS not only helps technicians fix the machines, it also tells them the availability of parts and even where in the inventory to find replacement parts.

Voice activation, which allows hands-free communication with the computer, is a key functional requirement of the system. It’s also one of the trickier challenges. Voice recognition is still very young technology, and all the bugs haven’t been ironed out Moreover, Cagle’s employees work in a very noisy environment. Thompson gets around this obstacle by locating a directional microphone very close to the mouth of the user. He also discovered that phrases like “show me how to measure” are better than one- word commands like “show” because there is more variation in the sounds when you use a phrase. That helps the software differentiate among commands.

Limiting the vocabulary of commands that the employees use also helps. A quality-control worker dealing with dead chickens will not be using a huge variety of words to describe what he sees during inspection, so the voice recognition only has to learn the job-specific terms.

For maintenance workers, Thompson also must consider issues like battery life and safe hard disk storage. As the EPS provides more sophisticated support for those who repair and maintain machines, the portable computer will need ample hard disk space to store the multimedia instructions. It will also need RAID support, which is currently provided by these technicians. The wireless LAN built into the computer is sufficient for uploading and downloading data, but it’s too slow to access multimedia off a server. Consequently, maintenance people will need bigger (though not physically larger) hard drives than those used by the quality-control workers.

The future of bodyware and EPS systems that can follow workers around is encouraging, says Thompson. He can already see military applications. For example, when the army has to fix one of its high-tech tanks, it needs a truckload of manuals and two people: one to stand on the turret and shout instructions from the documentation, and a mechanic in the tank to actually fix it. A variation on Thompson’s FAST system could be a natural solution for applications like that. No pun intended at his poultry client, Thompson says about his work, “We’re definitely on the bleeding edge.”