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January 30, 2006

Home Again

I'm back in London again - had what seemed like an interminable flight yesterday (9 sleepless hours in the back of economy unable to see or hear the movie screen!) on Air India from Gujarat, an incomprehensibly long wait at the baggage claim in Heathrow (never check baggage on a business trip when you can help it) and now am back in the cold weather part of the world fiddling with the pilot light on my boiler which seems to have gotten into the habit of going out every few hours... Time to get stuck in to the work for a new week.. :)

Posted by ndoughty at 8:02 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2006

IE7, AJAX, and ActiveX

I have been running the IE7 Beta 1 for the last week or so (Asite is a Microsoft Partner so we get this through MSDN) and I can't say I've been altogether pleased by it. The first thing that happened within half an hour of running it was that I got my first Blue Screen of Death in recent memory (on my WinXP SP2 laptop). Not an auspicious start. Since then it hasn't caused any machine-crashing errors but there are still a number of niggles to it that I don't like and overall it gives me no compelling reason to want to move from Firefox.

This post, however, is not meant to be a review of IE7 Beta 1 (As per the rumour mill, Beta 2 should be expected soon enough). Instead this is a question from the development team at Asite to the IE7 team at Microsoft.

On Monday, Sunava Dutta from the IE team posted this entry in the IEblog about Native support for the XmlHttpRequest object in IE7. This is very good news (Thanks Sunava!) In both the IE 6 and IE 5 release lines the XmlHttpRequest object was implemented as an ActiveX control - meaning that client browsers were required to allow trusted ActiveX in order to make use of functionality using asynchronous xml calls over http.

Generally, this is not a problem as the DLL used for this functionality is internal to IE and is actually installed with the browser itself. Some users, however, operate under a very strict lockdown on client machines - including blocking of any and all activeX controls - external, internal, trusted, or not. For these guys this creates a problem in that XmlHttpRequest does not work!

Now, this news is good because it will simplify the development process for Ajax developers going forward (in the distant future when IE 6 is no longer used) - however it is not really that major of a deal for the moment - as there is an existing workaround using IFrames in IE which works ok anyway. Plus Mozilla/Firefox already offer native support for this object.

There is another object in the browser which is also fairly integral to the implementation of AJAX (at least the way we do Ajax), and that is the XSLTProcessor object. In pseudo-layman's terms - this is the object that a developer can use to take an xml data feed on the one hand and an XSL stylesheet on the other hand - and push the xml through the stylesheet, outputting some third format - in our case the format is HTML and javascript which then gets rendered to the screen.

This has been done for ages in web apps - on the server side. In the Java world we usually use a framework called Xalan (at least I do) that was implemented sometime back before I started using it in the mid-90s. Only over the last couple of years has it become feasible to do this on the client-side in the browser itself.

The XSLTProcessor object works great - and it means that in a lot of places we are now able to asynchronously retrieve xml data and stylesheets ahead of time for pages which we know the user will be accessing (or is likely to be accessing) a couple of clicks before he gets there, and cache this data directly in memory on the browser. This means that when the user does make that click all of his data is already there and the transformation occurs nearly instantly right there on the client without even making a request to the server at all. Happy user, happy developers!

The problem comes with the XSLTProcessor object which is also an ActiveX control and so won’t work under lock-down either! Same as with the XmlHttpRequest object, in Mozilla/Firefox this object is already implemented natively and can be accessed via the DOM using Javascript. Check out the Sarissa implementation if you haven’t seen this before.

In order to make it work in these cases we either have to get them to change browsers or we have to leave them with server-side transformation. As software vendors we are unable to control the browser choices of our users (and unwilling to get involved frankly). So we have to provide a version for this platform which uses server-side transformation. I hope most will agree that moving away from the synchronous request-response style user interaction is the way we should be moving and that it should be available to the widest possible userbase.

So, my question to the IE team at Microsoft is this: Will you be supporting a native implementation of the XSLTProcessor object in IE7?

And to anybody else out there reading this: are there any other workarounds to this?

Posted by ndoughty at 7:04 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2006

Salesforce.com AppExchange - Embrace Developers

Apparently Salesforce.com was in the UK yesterday pushing their attempt to cultivate an ecosystem of ISVs (sic) and developers building collaborative business applications on top of the salesforce.com CRM platform. The idea, I surmise, is that salesforce.com provides the horizontal, cross-industry CRM services as part of a web-based SOA - other organisations build vertically oriented services on top to an API, and everything is on-demand. I think it is an agressive but entirely sensible play. Microsoft and Oracle have done well out of strategies that extend opportunity out to the wider developer community and Google has made a lot of similar moves over the past two years reaching out to developers.

So how do a series of CRM AppExchanges (aka Hubs) around the globe interact with all the existing procurement and sourcing based hubs already in place around the world? Clearly CRM, sourcing, trading, and collaboration are all part of the same supply chain management problem set.

Posted by ndoughty at 2:42 PM | Comments (0)

JSR 231 - Java Bindings for OpenGL

In yesterday's post about Acrobat 3D and IFC development I mentioned OpenGL. Lo and behold - only this Monday the final results of the public balloting for JSR (Java Specification Request) 231 for Java Bindings for OpenGL became available.

It passed! So the tools would seem to be in place (assuming one would use Java for the implementation, that is).

It is interesting to see the list of participants and their comments in the Java Community Process(SM). All the major industry players bar Microsoft are involved as well as one who seems to be an indivdual, Hani Suleiman... Who is that guy?

As per Google - it would seem that he is, variously -

The author of this blog.
The CTO of Formicary. (scroll to the bottom - about the author)
And the subject of various heated threads on TheServerside.com... (including a post calling him the "Paris Hilton of the Java Community")

Posted by ndoughty at 5:14 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2006

IBM and DARPA target unstructured data - UIMA open sourced

Acronyms galore in this post...

UIMA stands for Unstructured Infomation Management Architecture. This is a Java-based framework for performing semantic analysis on unstructured data such as the text inside of emails, word documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc. In my post earlier today about Adobe I mentioned the use of PDF as an archival format for unstructured documents. One of the features that Adobe has added in recent versions has been the ability to do full text searches within a PDF as part of the reader. The textual contents of PDFs can also be indexed without too much trouble allowing developers to enable search across a collection of PDF documents simultaneously. All of this is quite useful and is available today but doesn't provide much precision or make it really easy for an analyst to spot trends in a large amount of unstructured data.

The UIMA attempts to take analysis one step further by providing a framework for semantic search - meaning that the PDFs (for example) could be searched for concepts and related topics rather instead of straight keyword-matching. The working group to organise this technology was sponsored by DARPA (Defese Advanced Research Projects Agency) in the US and organised by IBM research and now has been released to the open source community and is available on SourceForge.

More technical detail available here on IBM Alphaworks.

Posted by ndoughty at 1:43 PM | Comments (0)

NavisWorks' Results

UK-based Navisworks has issued a press release about their FY 2005 results. There do not appear to be any actual numbers (although perhaps I am missing them?) - but revenue up by 50% and profits doubled against 2004 results has to be good. Navisworks is a commonly used 3D design review toolset in the UK - and as per their reports seem to be finding some success internationally as well. I have seen some particularly impressive clash detection achieved using Navisworks on real-life projects.

Posted by ndoughty at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

Adobe Acrobat 3D

Yesterday, Adobe released a new product in the Acrobat family - Adobe Acrobat 3D - product detail can be found here.

I read about this on both news.com and on Randall Newton's AECnews blog.

Also of great interest to me is this page on the Adobe web site - which details the Adobe offering for architecture, engineering, and construction. Perhaps I have not been paying sufficient attention but this is the first time I have noticed Adobe making so much noise in a specific vertical industry segment. This is definitely a product to watch for those of us providing software solutions to AEC.

That being said, Adobe technology is by no means a newcomer to the game. The PDF document format is a de facto standard for document exchange via the web and is an extremely common format in the CAD space, often preferred to Autocad's DWF format because of the ubiquity of the Acrobat reader and because it is perceived as CAD-vendor neutral. PDF is also commonly used as an archival format at the end of a building project for all of the unstructured data that lives in CAD, MS Office, and other proprietary file formats.

Now, a few months back one of the Bentley senior execs showed me a quick demo of the integration work which they had done with Acrobat 7 - which allowed users to export 3D model information from Microstation into a PDF using the U3D format. So you got a 3D model view which could be manipulated within a PDF document.

The Acrobat 3D release carries on in this vein and increases the number of model formats supported (Autocad, Microstation, Catia, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, & Revit plus a list of others...). I am eager to have a play. The model-capture process looks to use OpenGL, which suggests that with an IFC to OpenGL conversion you could generate 3D model views in PDF from data in the IFC schema - without going through one of the major CAD file formats. A couple of years back Asite did a proof of concept with the IAI UK where we converted model data held in the IFC schema (implemented in the object-oriented database Caché) into Java3D - which could then be viewed and manipulated within a custom applet-based viewer. The same idea but output into PDF - would mean a fully standards based BIM implementation for the data store and a "model report" based on the de facto standard PDF -- key concept -- a drawing is only a report showing a view from the BIM. In this case the 3D model output into Acrobat 3D is the report from the BIM. Combine this with a standards based collaboration toolset (such as one from the NCCTP) and hey presto you have a thin-client BIM solution for the whole supply chain.

A possible point of concern is relying on a de facto standard... Food for thought.

Posted by ndoughty at 6:08 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

Another on the less serious note.. My 2005 in cities

Following David Kaspar's example, in turn following Kottke's example, here is my 2005 in cities:

Austin, Texas*
Houston, Texas*
New York, New York*
London, UK*
Bombay, India*
Ahmedabad, India*
Bangalore, India*
New Delhi, India
Simla, India
New Orleans, Louisiana*
West Bromwich, UK
Southampton, UK
Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK
Brussels, Belgium

One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with a * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. This is basically loads of back-and-forth trips between London and India, punctuated by trips to the States with a couple of weekends out and about here and there...

Posted by ndoughty at 3:14 PM | Comments (0)

Groupware News

Two articles which caught my interest in recent days from CNET News about the groupware segment of the collaboration software space... (yes, I do know that Groupware preceded "collaboration" by near on two decades and yes that is the way I classify it. semantics, indeed.)

Firstly - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in the back-and-forth between Microsoft and IBM in the Exchange/Notes battleground. What's amazing to me, the interested third-party ISV, is that Notes and Domino have managed to stick around for so long now in the face of Microsoft's huge advantage in installed base of Windows Server. This is a testament to the quality of IBM's (née Lotus') solution.

And secondly - a bit of people-shuffling news about the Open Source competition to the two giants, Open-XChange.

Posted by ndoughty at 7:58 AM | Comments (0)

Best Blonde joke ever?

Sorry, can't help it!

disclaimer: I am blonde.

Posted by ndoughty at 6:52 AM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

Liferay

In his comment on my earlier post about open source ESB Servicemix, James McGovern from the Enterprise Architecture:Thought Leadership blog pointed me to an open source portal solution called Liferay. I hadn't heard about Liferay before this but I've been doing a bit of reading about it since and I am definitely intrigued.

I've been fairly enthused for the last six months or so by the JBoss Portal offering - but this seems to be a lot more feature-rich and to offer a much more extensive real-world deployment history. I'd be interested to hear feedback from anyone who has any direct experience using Liferay, or even better who has used both Liferay and JBoss Portal and could offer some comparative criticisms of the two!

Posted by ndoughty at 7:23 AM | Comments (0)

Data Logistics (Part 1 of Ω)

I want to talk a bit about the industry space I work in and try to break it down without resorting too much to the dross of marketing-speak or, even worse, consulting speak(!*!).

My company does “solutions delivery” and we do it primarily via internet software. “Solutions delivery” is consultant-speak for saying that we build tools which solve a problem. In our case it means building tools to improve the way people and companies communicate. “Tools”, by the way, actually means internet software.

The conversation has a couple of aspects to it. The first aspect is explaining the business problems and talking about the various industries which face the problems. The second aspect is the solutions. i.e. how can the problems be solved?

Almost all companies today must collaborate with other companies in order to do business. To manage this collaboration companies create business processes which define how they will work together (sometimes they even put in place contracts to enshrine these processes). Something important to note here is that when I say “companies put in place business processes”, I’m really talking about the people in those companies. Some group of people in one company agrees on a business process with some different group of people in another company. Sometimes this even happens many times between different sets of groups in the same two companies – trying to solve the same business problem over and over again. Mostly, these processes are defined ad-hoc and include a variety of paper-based and unstructured ways to communicate. Now, I hate to be the one to bring it up… But we all know people aren’t perfect.

And so… Inevitably, a lot of the processes are inefficient or in some cases totally broken.

Inefficient communication means ambiguous information. Ambiguous information can mean confusion… speculation… misunderstanding… disagreement… bad decisions.
Remember that on a field of war disinformation is the art of achieving all of the above except on purpose – and can result in a significant advantage when used against your enemies. Some examples of these “advantages” are missed deadlines, missing data or, even worse, wrong data, litigation, and reparations (fancy word… means someone screwed up and you’re gonna have to pay up – trust me my sister is a lawyer). Basically, all of this makes the “cost of doing business”™ go up.

Ask any finance director and he will gladly tell you that the cost of doing business should definitely be going down and not up. So (ergo and reductio ad absurdum), there is a clear need for solutions to standardize the way that companies work together, to improve communication, and to make the cost of doing business go down. In a macroeconomic sense, what we do contributes to the increase of that mysterious measure called “productivity growth”. This is all well and good of course – but let’s leave the macroeconomics to the Greenspans of the future and focus on how companies (that means people don’t forget) make money down here at ground-level.

So in consulting speak we might say that at the ground level (in a microeconomic sense that is) our solutions can be shown to result in clear cost-savings and productivity improvements and this, in return, has a clear economic value. Hot heaving hellions.

That means if your business is all about how well you communicate with other businesses (not least your customers – but also your suppliers and your business partners and even your own employees) – then solutions that improve how well you communicate will actually help you make even more money than you do now. That will mean you can give everyone another raise, issue a dividend to the shareholders and donate part of your profits to save the sea otters. Or whatever it is you see fit to do that is.

Now… you might be saying, “No nattering neenaws Nathan… Everybody knows all of this. Not least Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, IBM, BEA, Sage, etc etc ad infinitum. You certainly do go on. What can anybody else not in the tech titan stratosphere bring to the proverbial table?”

Fair question. And let me just take a moment to note how much I enjoy having such an intelligent and engaged reader as you, dear citizen of the blogsphere. I promise that, if elected, I will answer this question and many more which you did not even know you wanted answered in parts II, III, IV…Ω of this post, coming up as soon as I get an hour or two to spare.

TBC…

Posted by ndoughty at 3:59 AM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2006

Abroad Again

I am back in India now for the next couple of weeks while we roll out the next version of our web platform. The weather here in Ahmedabad is a welcome change from that in London last week and New York the week before.. It takes me back to Texas three weeks ago -- without the mexican food and beer! For those of you unfamiliar with Ahmedabad, it is in the state of Gujarat, which is situated here within India (click on the yellow bit for more detail!). There is a bit more background here.

Posted by ndoughty at 2:47 PM | Comments (0)

Win32 in the browser

Check out the sample function calls (with implementations) on this site, Bindows - "The leading object-oriented platform for developing AJAX applications". If you've ever done any Windows interface programming you will find them familiar. These are designed to produce zero-footprint rich interfaces...

While I am pointing to AJAX frameworks I would be remiss not to point to General Interface, which as far as I am aware was the first serious entrant to this space back in 2003-04 (acquired by Tibco in late 2004) - which impressed me greatly back then and from what I hear has advanced greatly since...

Of course there is always the roll-your-own approach to AJAX such as we have done at Asite using the DWR framework for making J2EE function calls via javascript - giving you the ability to bolt-on asynchronous messaging capability to your existing enterprise web applications. Where these commercial packages excel is in the client-server-style interface capabilities they enable.

Posted by ndoughty at 2:31 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2006

Collabits - more Free Collaboration

Hello again...

I am back in London, post-holiday mode getting back into work and home. In my inbox this morning there is an email from Dustin Evenson at collabits.com. They offer a mixture of free and paid (depending on number of connections, storage space requirements, and ASP-model or installed model) collaboration. This is "real-time" meeting-based collaboration in the WebEx / MSN Messenger mode, with session recording and playback. The basic free version seems to offer one-to-one connectivity without any document storage. This would be competitve with Glance, Webex, or MSN Messenger in the ASP space or VNC in the more "traditional" enterprise space.

They also have licensing models for more extensive collaborations with multiple users and the option to persist documents to their servers, which puts them into a lightweight document collaboration space, without any process management capability and with the requirement for a sharing user to have all applications on their local machines (ie it does not appear to have any capability for server-side document publishing a la Informative Graphics, eReview, or Cimmetry) - all of which come out of the CAD document visualisation space.

The technology on the client is applet-based, works with the Sun VM, and installed fairly easily on my machine (of course I already have the VM..). The offering is primarily interesting due to the free entry-level price structure and to the relatively low price-point of the multi-user and persistence-based options.

The commoditisation of collaboration and project extranets proceeds apace!

Posted by ndoughty at 1:26 PM | Comments (0)

 
     
     
     
 
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