Book got Real

Self Portrait
We've been quite busy recently, writing text books for various publishers. The latest started out as a book doctor job, but ended up as a complete rewrite of a 488 page book in a month and a half. It's been through tech edit, through copy edit, and through page proofing since then, and this morning the FedEx man rang the doorbell and dropped off three boxes of it...

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Hello How To Do Everything Windows 8. My, you are hefty.

On top of a changing world

Self Portrait
Every three years or so I have a handful of incredibly busy days, when I hit strossian word counts, while absorbing and interpreting a fire hose of information. It's some of the hardest work I've done, trying to understand the whys and wherefores and at the same time pushing the boundaries and coming up with what-ifs and ah-has.

That's been my last week, as Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 - both on the desktop and on the server.

Starting with a two and half day closed door briefing up in Redmond, where thirty or so journalists and analysts were introduced to Windows 8 Server, it was followed up with a flight down to LA for another closed door briefing on the Windows 8 Desktop the day before Microsoft publicly unveiled everything at its BUILD conference. At 6 o'clock the night before the conference began, and about 15 hours from the lifting of the first of several hefty non-disclosures I got my hands on a loan tablet PC running the developer preview Windows 8 code.

That left me very little time to write a series of news stories and two in-depth reviews, as well as a long blog post analysing things from a developer point of view. By the time the last piece went live on Wednesday evening I'd written over 12,000 words, including two 5000 word reviews, taken 50 or so photographs and screenshots, editing them in Lightroom and exchanged many emails with editors eight time zones away. Oh, and had about four hours sleep a night. And remember, hotel rooms do not make good studios for device photography.

I did make a couple of personal millestones, with one piece linked on the influential Techmeme site,and another quoted in the San Jose Mercury News. (Oh, and you need to check who favourited my developer blog post on FaceBook!)

Time for a little linkage:

On ZDNet UK, a quick news round up of today's Windows 8 announcements from BUILD. http://bit.ly/pmqkgk
Microsoft has come clean on Windows 8, Silverlight and Metro, and has revealed plans for the future of Windows development, at its Build developer conference in Anaheim.




Now on ZDNet UK, my big review of the Windows 8 Developer Preview:

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/reviews/desktop-os/2011/09/13/windows-8-developer-preview-40093921/
Windows 8 introduces a new interface, Metro, with an 'immersive' look-and-feel that's designed to scale from smartphones to desktops.




Following up my Windows 8 review, here's a hefty first look at Windows 8 Server: http://bit.ly/nc6Mib
Windows 8 Server, now in pre-beta Developer Preview mode, contains multiple feature enhancements — including a new version of Hyper-V — that make




My ZDNet UK Windows 8 Server news story: http://bit.ly/rgWfWV
Microsoft has released a pre-beta version of the forthcoming server update to give developers a look at its Metro interface, virtualisation tweaks and




My first piece for Recombu, a first impressions look at the Windows 8 Developer Preview Samsung Tablet: http://bit.ly/nJyxgf
How do you get developers to build applications for a new tablet operating system that’s not due out until sometime on 2012? That's the problem Microsoft has w




Why Microsoft has put so much work into IE9, and what it means for all developers with Windows 8.

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/blogs/500-words-into-the-future-10014052/the-day-the-web-won-10024352/
"Resistance is futile" intoned Star Trek's Borg as they absorbed everything and everyone into their hive mind collective. That's true for the web, and one of the largest developer platforms in the wor...

So that was CES...

Self Portrait
Now we're back in the UK, and recovered from most of the jet-lag, time to post a quick round up of posts written in other places about our trip to that mecca of gadgets, the monstrosity that ate Vegas, CES 2011... That and over 30 miles of hard core trekking around 7 conference halls and several Vegas hotels hunting stands, meeting rooms and press conferences.

Blog posts:

CES - It's a marathon, not a sprint.
So that was CES 2011. We’re finally sat in our hotel room resting our feet, and calculating the number of steps and miles walked. We’ve met with so many companies we’ve lost count – and have filled a large sports bag with press releases (on paper, CD, and memory stick). It’s been six solid days, from before the show opens to when we finally put our PCs away well past midnight…

As we look back on the themes and trends we spotted as we walked the halls and the press events, perhaps it’s a good idea to pass on the tips we’ve learnt over the last few years on just how to survive the monster that is CES.
Read more.

News stories:

CES: Dell unveils 7 and 10-inch Android tablets.
Dell announced a new 7-inch 4G tablet and a prototype of a business-focused 10-inch device at CES 2011 on Thursday.

The Dell Streak 7 is a 4G Android tablet, to be made available initially for T-Mobile in the US. Powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2 dual-core ARM processor, it has a 7-inch HD capacitive touchscreen.

Michael Tatelman, vice president and general manger of North American consumer sales for Dell, stressed the screen's robustness. "It uses Gorilla Glass, which will take the rough treatment that these devices will get," he said at the press conference at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas.
Read more.

CES: Windows to run on ARM chips, says Microsoft.
Microsoft has demonstrated a future version of Windows running on both ARM and x86 processors, and has announced partnerships with ARM processor vendors Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Nvidia.

The software maker's president, Steven Sinofsky, presented the demo at a CES 2011 press conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Sinofsky said that neither user interface nor development approaches were being shown.

"We're looking at the hardcore engineering work we've been doing to work on a new class of hardware, where customers are demanding a tighter integration between hardware and software," he said.
Read more.

CES: Asus launches Honeycomb tablets.
Asus has introduced four new tablets, three based on the upcoming Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system and one on Microsoft Windows 7.

The Eee Pad Memo, Eee Pad Transformer, Eee Pad Slider and Eee Slate EP121 were unveiled at CES 2011 on Tuesday. They will take on rivals from Apple and Acer by presenting innovative features in a range of product formats, Asus's chief executive Jonney Shih told journalists at the Las Vegas electronics show.

"We admire Apple, which offers great innovation, but they provide very limited choices for customers," Shih said. "A combination of innovation and choice is a better way to serve customers."
Read more.

Photo stories:

CES: Asus Eee tablets add Android, Windows.
Asus has debuted four tablets at CES 2011, so here's a closer look at the three tablets based on the upcoming Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system — the Eee Pad Transformer, Eee Pad Slider and Eee Pad Memo — and the Eee Slate EP121, powered by Microsoft's Windows 7.
Read more.

Hands-On: Lenovo 10-Inch Win7 Tablet.
While Lenovo’s hybrid U1 Android Slate/Windows 7PC got most of the attention at CES 2011, sitting next to it in the restaurant Lenovo had taken over for the show was a slim 10” slate. This was the prototype of a Windows 7 slate, and we gave it a quick spin. Like most modern tablet PCs it has a dual mode touch screen, with capacitive touch and a Wacom-style pen. It’s a good combination, and the touch screen was very responsive – working well with mouse and pointer optimized Windows user interface. The pen worked well for entering text, using Windows 7’s built-in handwriting recognition tools.
Read more.

Reviews and first looks:

CES: AVerMedia AVerComm.
In these cash-strapped and green days good video conferencing is increasingly important, saving time and money by replacing travel with a meeting in the comfort of your own office. But desktop video conferencing quality isn't reality – and not every business can afford the complexity and the requirements of HP Halo or Cisco Telepresence.
Read more.

CES: Viewsonic Viewpad 10S and Viewpad 4.
Viewsonic's Android tablets haven't particularly impressed so far, offering the usual ODM basic touch features and running a phone OS stretched to fill a larger screen. We spent some time at CES 2011 looking at their next generation of devices.
Read more.

CES: Synaptics "Cervantes" External Trackpad.
Trackpads are ubiquitous on notebooks and the majority of them are made by hardware supplier Synaptics. At CES we saw the Cervantes reference design for an external trackpad designed to use with a desktop PC - or as a controller for home media devices like Google TV.
Read more.

CES: Data Robotics Drobo S.
With Microsoft's next generation Home Server dropping support for its storage fabric technology, Data Robotics' Drobo offers an alternative approach to building large amounts of storage using mis-matched disks. Unlike traditional RAID arrays which require all the disks used to be identical in size, Drobo's BeyondRAID storage array allows you to increase the amount of storage in an array each time you add or replace a pair of larger disks. There's no need to worry about matching disk manufacturers, sizes, or even speeds; the Drobo S handles all that for you.
Read more.

CES: iHealth BP3 Blood Pressure Monitor.
One of the trends we spotted at this year's CES was an explosion in tools for personal health monitoring, from devices that monitor homes for movement patterns to personal brainwave monitors that track just how you sleep. One thing that drew a lot of the devices together was support for cloud services, for sharing information, and the ability to use mobile devices as user interfaces.

iHealth's BPM3 Blood Pressure Monitor caught our attention, as it brought several of these trends together in one device. Looking like a piece of Apple hardware with its smooth white lines, the BP3 is an iPhone/iPad dock with a difference — under the white dome is an automatic blood pressure monitor, with all the control software running on the connected iOS device. That last point is what really makes the difference, as it simplifies what could otherwise be a complex piece of medical equipment.
Read more.

CES: Motion CL900 Tablet PC.
If there's one company you'd expect to deliver a successful, well designed slate format Windows 7 PC, it'd be Motion Computing. Specialising in Tablet PCs since the earliest days of Windows XP Tablet Edition, Motion has consistently delivered powerful and light Windows slates. You probably won't have heard of them, though, as they've been niche devices, selling into vertical industries – especially field service, aviation and health.

It’s that heritage that gives Motion's CL900 an edge over the current crop of Windows slates. It's not going to be the cheapest device out there – but it's likely to be the tablet that gives the best value for money. It's also likely to be the one that gets the most out of Intel's Oak Trail generation of Atom processors. Early Atom slates struggled to perform well, but Oak Trail is not only more powerful, with support for many key slate functions (including hardware accelerated graphics), it's also more power efficient, extending battery life significantly.
Read more.

Dillinger: Legacy

Self Portrait
Here's a snippet of a blog post from ZDNet UK that I put up last night, in which I note that the man who really changed the Real World in Tron was Dillinger. After all, he's the man who gave us the ubiquitous touch screens that replaced keyboards back in the mid-1980s.

Dillinger, the father of ubi-comp:

Tron: Legacy was one of 2010's most anticipated movies, with a year or so's worth of teaser trailers and alternate reality games. We were lucky enough to get to a preview showing a couple of weeks ago, and it's one of those films that leaves you wondering about the technology its designers envisaged. Not the light cycles (as cool as they are, they're clearly fantasy machines!), what we're interested in are the Encom operating system and the touch screen tables used in the Encom offices.

The touch tables used in Tron: Legacy are an obvious descendent of the table Dillinger uses in the original film. In Tron, Dillinger logs onto the Master Control Program through his desk in Encom's offices. It's a desk that as well as having multiple windows (though they don't overlap and the fonts are really really large!) also has speech recognition tools – something we're still only just getting on our desktop PCs. Dillinger's terminal is more like today's Surface or iPad than an early 80s VDU – it's the birth of a ubiquitous computing world. I wouldn't be surprised if the original film's industrial designers had spent some time talking to the folk at Xerox PARC…

Read the rest at ZDNet UK.
Self Portrait
Time for the usual irregular round up of recent posts I've written for our ZDNet blog...

A Little (Digital) Bit Of Me
There's a conversation I've been having with many different people over the years. It revolves around trying to understand how we use context to make IT easier to consume. We keep approaching answers from different directions, from the worlds of search, of knowledge management, of business analytics, from the smartphone platforms, to the tools that power web search. The aim is simple – how do we make sure the right people get the right piece of information at the right time to make the right decision? Call it "right time information" for want of a better phrase.

Science fiction writer friends of mine think of it as "intelligence amplification", tools that make us smarter. There's an aspect of that in our relationship with our smartphones. I often think of mine as a "memory prosthesis", a note taking and search tool in my pocket. Instead of remembering where the pictures hung on a wall we recently painted, I just photographed then with my iPhone and uploaded them into the cloud using Evernote. How often do you quickly look up something on Google or Wikipedia or IMDB in the middle of a conversation? Getting that little bit of an intelligence boost is a big win, especially with such a small device.

But there's also a downside. How many telephone numbers do you remember these days? Or do you (like me) just look them up in your phone's copious address book? And do you find yourself missing that pocket intelligence booster when confronted by rapacious data roaming charges?
Read more.

Is there still a logical flaw in Apple's maths?
The problem, of course, is not knowing just how Apple calculates signal strength. It's all in the algorithm, converting the received signal strength into those bars.

RF engineers measure signal strength in dBm, a logarithmic scale that has the advantage of being allowing engineers to display both very large and very small numbers in very little space, by referencing everything to 1mW. That means that 0dBm is equivalent to 1mW of received power - roughly the output of a Bluetooth radio at a range of 1m.

0dBm is actually a lot of power for a mobile phone to be receiving. You can expect a phone to be receiving around -10dBm or about 100μW. That's not very much at all, and the signal strength fluctuations resulting from the complex RF environment mobile phones operate in can mean significant variations down from that. But a big change in received power is only a small change in the measured dBm.

It's quite easy to imagine a group of software engineers being given a set of numbers by RF engineers to expect that this nice linear dBm scale is in fact a nice linear measure of power. When writing the code needed to converting those negative dBm numbers into a bar chart, it's also easy to see those software engineers using (say) a 3dBm drop in signal to remove one bar, not actually realising that that 3dBm drop is actually a 50% drop in the signal strength received by the phone.
Read more.

It's a small small (basic) world.
There's a big problem facing the IT world: Where are all the new developers going to come from?

I'm from the 8-bit generation. We had our Spectrums and our BBC Micros, all with built in BASICs of all shapes and sizes, able to start programming from the moment that flashing cursor appeared on the screen, even if it was as simple as printing our name on the screen in an endless loop. Fire up Windows or Mac OS X or even Linux and you're there in a shiny happy world of windows and icons and apps. There's plenty of interaction, but no code.

Is it any wonder that developers have gone to the web? JavaScript is the new BASIC, a simple language that's easy to use and easy to get results. There are plenty of free development tools, and plenty of web hosts were you can show the world your code. But object oriented loosely typed languages like JavaScript are best thought of as secondary school languages, needing a reasonable knowledge of just what programming is before you get started. It's not very BBC Micro…

Microsoft's been making educational computing waves this week. First there was reference to engaging with the hobbyist community in the leaked Windows 8 planning slides. Getting hobbyist developers on board is something that Microsoft has been trying to do for some years now, with initiatives like Coding4Fun and the free Visual Studio Express tools. They've had some impact, but they still need work to get your code online and running.
Read more.

Outlook: Cloudy
It's Wimbledon fortnight, and living in south west London I'm watching out for the inevitable clouds and rain, something that made me think about the other cloud...

I'm not really one to use cloud services. I like my data safe and sound on my desktop or on my servers. It's under control, I know just where it is, and the data protection registrar won’t be asking me where I keep that address book.

At least that's what I liked to think.

Not surprisingly it turns out that that's not actually the case.

I did a little personal cloud audit the other day, while playing with Microsoft's new Live Essentials tools, to discover I seem to be living the "software+services" life without realising it…

First there's the obvious, uploading my photos to Flickr and using Gmail and Hotmail as backup (and disposable) email. My social graph lives in Facebook, and there are all manner of websites and services I use for everything from ebooks to video. Some of the sites and services have even managed to supplant the physical - I use the SkyPlayer in my Media Center PC far more than I do the satellite dish on the outside of the house.
Read more.

The hidden roots of the web: fifty years of PLATO
Imagine a computer network when you can connect with thousands of other users, can play multiplayer games, chat online and share information across the world, explore complex documents that link between pages and between different elements of content – all on terminals with local memory and high resolution touch displays.

Sound familiar?

There’s just one thing.

It’s 1973.

Ten years before the PC, and nearly 30 before the consumer Internet, the University of Illinois’ PLATO laid the foundations for most of the modern computing world, innovating in a unique “can-do” culture and inspiring many folk who would go on to deliver PLATO-inspired software.
Read more.

TechEd. It's all about the Ed, not the Tech.
We’re currently in a hot and humid New Orleans with 11,000 IT pros and developers, at Microsoft’s TechEd North America event. It’s one of those events that helps you drill down into the deep and dark places that underpin Microsoft’s growing technology stack with the folk behind the tools and the services. It’s about what’s here today, and what IT professionals will be using in the next few months at their workplaces and in their and their cloud providers’ data centres.

It’s not an event where Microsoft launches big new tools and features (though it’s happy enough to show some things it’s working on). Which is why it’s odd that people are comparing it to Apple’s WWDC, and expressing dismay that all Microsoft launched was a service pack for server and desktops with VDI enhancements for Windows, an enterprise service bus for on-premises and in-cloud applications, and upgrades to its cloud platform. (Actually, I’d have thought that was plenty enough for the show’s IT pro audience, already working on desktop upgrades, virtualisation consolidations, and massive application roll outs.)

Enterprise IT is a very different kettle of fish from Apple’s refashioning as a consumer electronics company. Microsoft’s TechEd customers are spending millions of pounds and millions of dollars on building and running data centres and on keeping business critical applications supporting the businesses they power. They’re people who think long term, who plan carefully, and test everything several times before deploying. Setting up a stateless application running on top of a set of federated cross-business service oriented components is a long way away from a shiny metal iPhone – especially when the application is being built on top of the AppFabric platform and can run on-premises or on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.
Read more.

Please comment over there!

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Behind the door

Self Portrait
We (along with spikeiowa) went to watch the queue at the Palo Alto Apple Store on Friday night, where the cold geeks in their iCamp were outnumbered by the media, in order to cover the iPad queuing experience for an editor back home in the UK.

To be honest, the idea of queuing in the cold for a piece of technology doesn't really work for me, but the queuees were having fun. We wandered over to look at the TV vans, only to see an empty alleyway, with a couple of traffic cones in the cone of light from over a locked back door. It was the back of the Apple Store, its clinical grey hiding the shiny objects of techolust within.

It made a cool photo...

Behind the door....

Palo Alto, California
April 2010

Pop along to IT Pro to read the resulting article and photo gallery.

And yes, it did remind us a lot of an Easter vigil, with the faithful waiting for the newly risen Steve to appear. Quite creepy, when you think about it.

Social Mail and 360 Video

Self Portrait
The ZDnet First Takes blog is one of the site's group blogs, where Mary and I regularly post quick reviews of devices and applications we've found on our travels...

Here are a couple of recent posts.

Outlook Social Connector beta 2 and the LinkedIn connector
Outlook gets LinkedIn.

Microsoft today rolled out the latest version of the Outlook Social Connector, its Xobni-like tools for exploring the social network in your mailbox. Built around Outlook’s own search tools, the Social Connector adds a new pane to Outlook’s reading view, filling it with links to mails you’ve exchanged with your correspondents, meetings you’ve had and will have had, as well as feeds from external social networks.

This is the second beta of OSC, the first shipping with the Office 2010 beta. The new release adds support for Outlook 2003 and 2007, as well as changing some of the connector’s APIs. Microsoft has been working with social network partners since the release of the first OSC beta, and this release adds functions and features that simplify connecting with external social networks. It’s a quick and easy install, and once you’ve downloaded and installed OSC you can install the first third-party plug-in, from business social network LinkedIn.


Configuring the LinkedIn OSC plugIn
Read more.

Sony Bloggie PM5
Sony’s PM5 Bloggie HD video camera was unveiled at CES 2010 in Las Vegas. They’re Sony’s answer to Cisco’s popular Flip, and they could have been just another pocket video camera. Instead the Bloggie is innovative and interesting, and together with Sony’s desktop software suite, it’s doing something very different with video.



At first glance the Bloggie looks very like a Flip. Designed to fit in a pocket, it’s small and compact, with a lens that rotates 270 degrees. Point the camera lens one way, and it’s a standard video camera, recording 720P HD video and taking 5MP still images. Rotate it the other, and you can film yourself while still seeing what’s being captured. That’s why Sony calls it the Bloggie, suggesting that video bloggers can use it to record themselves before using the built-in software to upload videos to the Internet.

The real innovation comes if you’ve bought the optional 360 degree lens adapter. All you need to do is swivel the camera so it’s vertical, and connect the adapter to the lens. The result is a recording of everything that happens around the camera – in a distorted fisheye view. You can see what’s going on, but it’s hard to parse the images. That’s where Sony’s software comes in. It unpacks the 360 degree view, turning it into a long, thin, undistorted panoramic video.
Read more.

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Three Easy Pieces

Self Portrait
A new issue in the post means that there are a batch of recent hands-on and tutorial pieces at IT Expert.

Backing up Exchange
Like any other database, Exchange needs a little TLC if you want to recover from any downtime.

There’s more to backing up Exchange than just running a server backup. For one thing, like any other database, Exchange’s databases can’t be safely copied without temporarily dismounting the Exchange Store. Installing Exchange on a Windows Server doesn’t add Exchange support to its built-in backup tools, and Exchange 2007 doesn’t have its own backup tool either – unless you’re using Exchange 2007 SP2’s new Volume Shadow Services plug-in (which backs up the entire store but doesn’t give you the granularity of specialised tools).

Finding the right Exchange backup tool can be hard. There are many different tools out there, with many different feature sets. However certain features are essential, and should be at the top of your shopping list. The first, and most important, is a tool that can back up and restore the entire Exchange mail store – including primary and secondary storage groups. Coming a close second is the ability to work with individual mailboxes, allowing selective recovery if an end user manages to completely wipe their mailbox. Then there are archive tools, which can archive individual messages, while still leaving them indexed and accessible, reducing the demand on disk space without causing compliance problems. If you’re considering Exchange backup and recovery as part of a disaster recovery plan, a continuous replication system can help keep primary and recovery mail servers in sync.
Read more.

Working with BES 5.0
A new BES brings a very different way of working with BlackBerrys, with a new Web-based administration console that makes life simpler and more complicated at the same time.
The latest version of Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server is a very different beast. You might think you’re installing the same old BES when you upgrade your customers’ systems, but once it’s up and running you’re going to find a lot of changes – and a lot of really useful features that will make managing your clients’ BlackBerrys a lot easier.

End users won’t see many changes at first, unless they’re using devices that have the new BlackBerry OS 5.0 (which will be new BlackBerry models and upgrades to existing handsets from the start of 2010). Once devices upgrade to OS 5.0, they’ll get significant improvements to the BlackBerry messaging tools, making them behave much more like Outlook. Where BES 5.0 excels over previous versions is the new Web console ‘administer anywhere’ capability, along with improved policies and enhanced management tools.
Read more.

Configuring and Using the 3CX Skype Gateway
Save money by connecting an IP PABX to Skype for low cost international calls from IP desk phones, not just PCs.

Skype is turning into an effective business tool, giving your clients cheap international calls, and free access to 800 numbers all over the world. But not everyone likes making calls from a PC. If you can bring Skype into a VoIP network with IP handsets, it can become just another way to make calls, only at much lower rates.

If you’re using the 3CX VoIP system, this is simple. You can treat Skype as just another gateway for VoIP calls, alongside the supported hardware and software gateways. 3CX has another advantage; unlike many other VoIP systems, it’s both simple and free. It runs on Windows Server and the management tools use the built-in IIS Web server (and run as an ASP.NET Web application). Installation is easy and the free version provides many of the telephony features that a small business will need. If your clients need more, you can add functionality with the pay-for options, which also include support. If you find 3CX popular among your clients, there’s a reseller programme.
Read more.

Don't you just love the little BlackBerry guy they used to illustrate my piece on BES?

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Recent ZDnet blog posts

Self Portrait
We're still blogging away over at ZDnet. In fact, some of our posts over there are getting quite long. Some are also more than a little silly. Here are three more recent entries, on odd naming choices, on unusual places to find multi-touch technologies, and on the Apple/Adobe HTML5/Flash wars. There's a lot of fun stuff happening in the world of technology at the moment, and we're really enjoying finding out about it and sharing it with the world.

So, without further ado, the first couple of paragraphs of each piece, along with a link to the rest.

When product naming clashes with H.P. Lovecraft
H.P Lovecraft's dark, weird fantastic fiction has become the first open source literature, where other writers have taken his mythos and his nihilistic view of human life in a dark and hostile universe and run with it.

Perhaps it is a vision of a dark and hostile mobile future, dominated by uncaring monstrosities that has driven Intel and Nokia to give their new mobile OS joint venture a name that comes straight from the pages of Lovecraft (or near enough for most purposes). It's just that the name they've chosen, MeeGo, is far too close to that of an animated, intelligent, malevolent fungus, the Mi-Go.
Read more.

Touch me somewhere else for a change
Multi-touch isn’t just for tablets. It’s soon going to be everywhere, as the underlying technologies (whether resistive, capacitive or optical) solve many complex user interface problems. Take the humble keyboard for example.

You’d think it was a simple piece of work, and something that couldn’t be made any better. However gamers and CAD users will tell you something quite different. It turns out that there’s a problem with the matrix of connections that connect each keyswitch together. Press too many at once and the keyboard controller can’t detect which keys are pressed. That’s why there’s anti-ghosting controls in your keyboard, tools that block certain key combinations from occurring. That complex combination of keys you need to finish a CAD model or to take down a gang of zombies? Sorry. It’s impossible. And what’s more annoying, different keyboards have different matrix layouts, and different key combinations locked out by anti-ghosting – even the wonderful classic IBM microswitch keyboards.
Read more.

Flash Fried?
The biggest problem with the Adobe/Apple Flash spat is that it’s being fought on the wrong ground.

Flash isn’t just about video on web pages, or animated adverts, or even about plugins versus HTML 5. As soon as you get into talking about those things, Adobe is bound to come off worst. After all, we all love open standards, and above all, we all love the open web. We don’t want to load extra applications to watch video, and we don’t want to have garish adverts thrust at us while we trying to read the news.

If you look at it in those terms, then Apple’s right to not put Flash on the iPhone and the iPad. Why burden users with code they don’t need? Web standards do everything the iPhone’s users want, and if they don’t, well, there’s an app for that.

The trouble is: that’s Flash nearly five years ago.
Read more.

Feel free to comment over at ZDnet!

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Recent ZDnet blog posts

Self Portrait
It's been a little quiet here recently, what with Christmas and CES. But that doesn't mean I haven't been blogging, and 500 Hundred Words Into The Future has been getting plenty of pieces that come out a lot longer than 500 words...

Trust, but Verify
So is it time to kill IE? France and Germany think so. Me, I’m not so sure. The latest versions are solid, support most of the key Internet standards and run in limited user mode, with minimal access to the core OS and the file system.

I do agree with them on one thing, though. There’s really no excuse for still running IE6. After all, IE 7 has been out for nearly 40 months, and IE 8 for most of a year. That’s more than long enough for your developers or your software vendors to have updated the code of any intranet applications. You don’t have to have updated the underlying OS, either, as both run happily on Windows XP as well as Vista. If you’re relying on ActiveX controls for performance and security, then Silverlight gives you all the features (and browser integration) that you want, with the added benefit of a .NET sandbox and a modern JIT compiler for added speed.

One view of the IE 6 problem comes from the Adobe folk we overheard on a bus during the MAX conference. The problem with enterprises who haven’t yet moved off IE 6, they said to each other as they compared notes on customers they’d come across, isn’t the IE 6 front end; it’s that if you’re still on IE 6 now for a line of business app, it’s because you wrote it before you understood Web database programming properly and you have a badly written back end with millions of rows of badly stored but crucial data in that you don’t know how to get out. That means you’re dependant not on IE 6 but on the connectors you wrote between your IE 6 front end and your bodge-tape-and-string backend – and you can’t really blame Microsoft for that. 
Read More.

CES. It's a consumer business world
While the C in CES stands for Consumer, the show itself underlines many trends that will affect business computing in 2010. We’ve already written about the return to slate computing, but there’s a lot more at this year’s event for the IT pro to consider…

The most obvious is USB 3.0. It’s ten times faster than USB 2.0, and with hard drive sizes continuing to increase, it’s going to become an effective way of connecting external drives to a PC (or even a server). It also makes other technologies more interesting, and DisplayLink will be using it to improve the quality of its USB video connections. It’s also here right now – with Sony, Dell and HP all putting it in the latest versions of their business class laptops.

Netbooks are getting a big refresh too, with Intel's Pine Trail Atom giving them more power and more battery life. The real Atom story at CES is the launch of a netbook app store - from Intel. It's a part of the company's developer strategy, helping developers sell and deploy applications built using the netbook toolkits Intel announced back in September 2009 at IDF.

Then there’s universal connectivity. Devices talk to devices, over all manner of protocols. Intel is using multiplexed WiFi to connect displays to PCs without needing any networking (and we’re expecting WiDi connected projectors by the end of the year). Familiar protocols are joined with new ones, like Sony’s TransferJet, which uses a short range personal area network to transfer images from a camera to a PC. Even TVs are getting processors and connectivity, and platforms like Yahoo’s Widgets are turning them into another channel for delivering content and services.
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Slate Engine Time (Again)
If you were here in Las Vegas for CES, you’d think that the slate format tablet PC was here to save the consumer electronics industry.

Everyone has one – Steve Ballmer showed off HP’s Windows 7 offering in his opening keynote, while Dell unveiled a prototype 5” smartbook slate running a variant of Android. They’re not the only slate devices (or rumours of devices) at CES. Even the normally conservative Lenovo has shown off a hybrid notebook/slate running two different operating systems.

It’s a Pre-Cambrian explosion of slates, with as many sizes as there are LCD or e-Paper screens. There are slates for e-books, dual screen Android e-Paper devices with a mix of different size LEDs, and then a whole range of smartbook devices with ARM processors, and then there are the Intel-powered devices, using low power Atom systems. They’re all colours, all shapes, and all sizes, intended for everyone from the stay-at-home mother to the executive pulling together a portfolio of documents. Some devices are aimed at very clear markets, while others are designed to adapt to whatever their users want.

At least that’s the hype.

In reality slates and other tablet devices have been around a long time. I owned my first slate-like device back in the 90s, with the Apple Newton. I even spent some time using a Pen Windows-based device, a large screen tablet with a Windows 3.11-based touch OS. It turns out that tablet-format devices have been around almost as long as the PC itself.
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Killing Windows Mobile (In order to save it)
Analyst and futurist Mark Anderson’s annual predictions often leave you with plenty to think about. He’s one of those people with their finger on the pulse of the world – and not just technology, but economics and science. And even if you don’t agree with him, he’s sown plenty of seeds for discussion and debate.

The first two of this year’s predictions left me with one interesting thought: It’s time for Microsoft to admit that Windows Mobile has reached the end of its life and cancel all current and future development - and possibly to go a whole step further and do the same for Windows CE.

Mark’s predictions are this:

1. 2010 will be The year of Platform Wars: netbooks, cell phones, pads, Cloud standards. Clouds will tend to support the consumer world (Picnik, Amazon), enterprises will continue to build out their own data centers, and Netbook sector growth rates continue to post very large numbers.

2. 2010 will be The year of Operating System Wars: Windows 7 flavors, MacOS, Linux flavors, Symbian, Android, Chrome OS, Nokia Maemo 5. The winners, in order in unit sales: W7, MacOS, Android. W7, ironically, by failure of imagination and by its PC-centric platform, actively clears space for others to take over the OS via mobile platforms.

Why’s this? Well, Anderson suggests that 2010 will be the year that two big technology conflicts come to a head: The Platform Wars and the Operating System Wars. They may sound the same, but they’re very different – platforms are a lot bigger than operating systems, and services like Salesforce.com are on the way to becoming platforms, as is the combination of RIM’s BlackBerry OS, its BES and BIS servers and a whole new generation of web services. The OS Wars have been with us for a long time but they’re starting to coalesce around more than just desktop PCs.
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Feel free to comment over at ZDnet!

Feeding the 500

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I've created a syndicated feed for our ZDnet UK techblog 500 Words Into The Future.

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Enjoy.

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Bye Bye Browser?

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We've been ferreting through Microsoft's job adverts, looking for hints about just what might be behind the viel of secrecy that has risen over Redmond since they started work on the Windows 8 series of operating systems. One came up with something very interesting, that fitted in with conversations we've been having with other IT journalists for some time:

What’s the future of the web?

On one side there’s Flash and Silverlight and the rich internet applications world, which is working on ways of taking the web outside the browser and onto the desktop, where it “lights up” applications and plugs them into a connected world of APIs and services. On the other is the HTML5 working group, and their vision of a browser that can do, well, pretty much anything. With HTML 5 there won’t be any need for applications – it’ll all be web pages running on super-speedy JavaScript engines and with CSS for look and feel.

Here comes the difficult bit.

They’re both right. There are things a well written RIA can do that a web page can’t, and there are things that web page can do that are impossible for a traditional application. With traditional code you need to push new applications to every desktop every time there’s a change. Even .NET’s click-once and AIR’s self updaters don’t make much of a difference – you still need the latest version of the code to get the latest features, and that (with a flagship RIA like Morgan Stanley’s Matrix) can be a hefty chunk to download. At least with a web page, one change and then everyone who uses it can get access to the latest version.

It’s all a trade off. Not every web site suits every user, nor does every RIA have a fully engaged audience. That’s why so much work is going into getting those experiences right, whether its online design tools like Mozilla’s Bespin, or Sketchflow in Microsoft’s Expression or the designer developer workflow between Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder. But a web page and an application are outside the operating system, and if web-centric OSes ever become common, they need to have some way of supporting and interacting with the web. That’s why there’s so much interest in Google’s ChromeOS and Microsoft’s Windows 8. They’re going to be the first real operating systems of the modern web.
Read more at 500 Words Into The Future on ZDnet...

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Waving The Words

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I've been playing with, and writing about, Google Wave this week.

You can see the results of that deep dive up on ZDnet:

Google Wave arrived back in May with a blast of publicity — including a keynote of its own at Google's I/O conference. The initial story from the Google team was impressive, with Wave touted as a revolution in collaboration from star developers the Rasmussen brothers (the team behind the first iteration of Google Maps).

Wave certainly builds on the company's strengths, running in the browser and hosted in the cloud. Lars Rasmussen has a lot of ambition for Wave, wanting it to replace email. At I/O, he put it like this: "While email is an incredibly successful protocol, we can use computing advances to do better. Wave is our answer".

The Wave team has thought hard about the structure of a conversation, and how this can be replicated online. Each wave is a collaborative space comprising groups of 'wavelets', which are themselves built up of 'blips'. A blip is the basic unit of conversation in a wave, hosting an XML document. Blips don't need to be human readable — they can contain files or even executable code. Developers can build on these by using what Google calls 'robots' to interact with wavelets and blips. For example, at I/O Google demonstrated a robot that could handle real-time translations.

Read the rest.

Oh, and take a look at the gallery of screenshots too...

Recent words

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A couple of recent pieces at ZDNet, as I flex my newswriting skills.

First, a piece on the Conservative Party's commitment to privacy rights and the roll-back of the database state. It's the first time I've seen folk from Privacy International, ORG and Liberty agreeing with the Tories...

The Conservative Party has promised to reduce government databases and introduce stronger measures to protect people's privacy, if it wins the next general election.

The shadow justice secretary, Dominic Grieve, on Wednesday introduced a policy paper, Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State, that outlines 11 measures to achieve these goals.

Overall, the Conservatives are calling for fewer massive central government databases, stronger data-protection rules and fewer access rights — for both central and local government — to the information that is already been stored.

The party also pledged to introduce a greater focus on privacy, in both the public and private sectors.

"Government should be guided by the principle of proportionality, which means that fewer personal details are accurately recorded and held by specific authorities on a need-to-know basis only, and for limited periods of time justified on the basis of operational necessity," the Conservatives said in the policy paper.

And then (only just online), a quick first look at the Technical Preview of Microsoft's Office Web Apps. Is there finally competition for Google Docs from the Office suite? (The quick verdict: not yet, but there's still a long ways to go...)

Microsoft has unveiled a technical preview of its newly christened Microsoft Office Web Apps services.

The preview is an early first look, according to Office client product manager Chris Adams, who told ZDNet UK that the release was "by no means feature complete".

The technical preview was released on Thursday to a limited group of users, with a public beta due later in the year. Promised functionality that is missing from the preview includes cloud-mediated collaboration features — only Excel will support co-authoring for now, and only in the browser.

Out of the Web Apps, Excel and PowerPoint are the only Web Apps in the preview that allow the user to edit documents, leaving Word with only a viewer. According to Adams, "the goal with the first release of Web Apps was really to provide lightweight editing functionality and a high-fidelity viewing experience".

Files are stored in Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service, which gives users 25GB of storage. Applications have a similar look and feel to the desktop Office suite, featuring the familiar ribbon user interface and the same icons. Excel has many of the formatting features shown in the desktop Office technical preview, such as Sparklines, while the Word viewer includes in-line search tools.

More to come, I'm sure!

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Recent words

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A couple of recent news pieces on ZDNet UK:

First , on the RTM release of Windows 7:

Microsoft has finalised the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 code and released it to manufacturing.

The announcement, made on Wednesday, marks the last engineering stage for both products before their scheduled release to the public on 22 October. Microsoft has spent nine months working on Windows 7 and the Windows Server update since demonstrating them at its Professional Developer Conference last year.

There is very little difference between the RTM (released it to manufacturing) versions and the release candidates that have been widely available since May, according to Microsoft executives who took part in a conference call about the announcement.

"Frankly, we didn't anticipate any major changes, and that's proven to be true", said Rich Reynolds, general manager for Windows commercial marketing. "The code is ready for the masses".

Read more.

And then, on the Windows 7 family pack, and the fact that it may not make it to the UK (where I get to share a byline with CNet's Ina Fried):

Microsoft plans to offer a 'family pack' for Windows 7 that can be used on up to three PCs in the US, but is not sure whether it will be sold in the UK.

The software maker acknowledged it would sell the bundle, which allows three installations of the Home Premium version of the operating system, in a blog post on Tuesday. However, in a conference call on the release to manufacturing of Windows 7 on Wednesday, Microsoft executives acknowledged that the family pack may not be released in Europe, including the UK.

"We're evaluating that, to see how attractive it will be to the market and how effective, as it's been designed for upgrades, and in Europe we will be having the 'E' versions, which are full versions," John Curran, director of the Windows Client group at Microsoft UK, said in the call.

Read more.

Living la vida beta

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Folk have been asking me what I think of Windows 7, and whether it will be ready by the October 22nd release date. It's probably easiest to point you all at the piece I wrote about the RC code for ZDnet:

Windows 7 has entered the home straight, with the appearance of what looks likely to be its one and only Release Candidate (RC). Microsoft's VP for Windows Platform Strategy, Mike Nash, is confident enough to suggest that users and businesses should "Treat the Beta like a RC, treat the RC like a final product". He also expects that the RC will be used to test deployment and applications, so that businesses can jump straight to Windows 7, without the traditional wait for the first service pack. It's something that Nash felt that Microsoft "Had to earn the right to do — by making the process more predictable".

With a feature-complete Beta release, and remarkable transparency on the Engineering Windows 7 blog, there are very few surprises in the Release Candidate.

Read more to discover that yes, I do like it. In fact it's running on most of my machines already.
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At Google IO last week I got to be part of a press round table attended by Sergey Brin, one of the search engine's founders. He spoke candidly about why Google is creating its own browser, on the future for newspapers (and how that relates to the history of Google), and the future of Google's search engine.

Here's the piece I wrote for ZDnet on the session:

In a conversation at Google's I/O developer event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Brin pointed out how software gets twice as slow every 18 months — an effect he named 'Page's Law', after his partner Larry Page and in an ironic reversal of Moore's Law. Brin committed Google to bucking this trend: "I want to break this law. I want to make software increasingly fast," he told an audience of reporters.

Brin, whose company launched the ambitious Google Wave collaboration platform a day after his remarks, looked back at how things have changed for web-application development since the early days of Google. Describing the development of Gmail as a web application, he discussed the internal debate inside the company about building it as a JavaScript application, and the arguments about whether it was even possible. Now he thinks the debate is over, and the web-development model is becoming dominant.

"Clearly browsers have been improving, and programming models have improved too. Nobody asks today 'Can you have this on the web?' But we still have a long way to go, particularly in respect to performance," he said.

Read more.

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DEMOnstrations

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We've finally made it back to San Jose, with a long run over the mountains and up I5 from Mojave to San Jose. In the mean time the first of our pieces from DEMO09 are up at TechRadar, where we've been choosing our top ten demonstrations from each day:

Day 1: Asurion, Pixetell, cc:Betty, Gwabbit, Avaak Vue, Touchbook, Qualcomm Mirasol, Coveroo, CO2code, 7BillionPeople

Day 2: Xmarks, the semantic web gets real (Ensembli, Primal Fusion), Evri, Symantec Guru, the smart grid (Google Power Meter, Tendrils), Kinoma Play, Purewire Trust, Gazaro, IBM PIE, Sobees.

Enjoy!

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Opening the Phone

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My first piece for The H, an interview with John Forsyth of the Symbian Foundation. We talked about how you can take 40 million lines of code and make them open source, how you choose a licence, and how you learn from the open source community:
How do you take a project with 40 million lines of code that's shipping on millions of devices around the world and make it open source? That's the Everest of a problem facing the Symbian Foundation as they start to deliver on the promises made when Nokia brought Symbian under its wing.

The sun was burning through the freshly-painted walls of a misnamed "hospitality suite" at the 2009 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona when we sat down with the Foundation's John Forsyth, the former VP of Strategy at Symbian and member of the Symbian Foundation Leadership Team. The big question was: just how do you plan to do it?

There's been a lot of work needed to get the Symbian Foundation to where it is today, as Forsyth pointed out, it's been a matter of "Getting people on board, the transition into operating mode, putting together the business plan, budget, the objectives and vision." You need something in place before you start to open source an operating system, and what Forsyth calls "the sprint to Day One" has been about getting the infrastructure in place, so that there's a repository for the code.
Read more.

My cellphone, my self

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It's nice to see people reading your copy, and knowing it's getting plenty of exposure. That's why I was pleased to see Gemalto giving out copies of their house magazine, The Review, at MWC in Barcelona last week - as it contains an interview I did with IBM's cloud computing folk (go straight to page 28) and a column (on page 34) on mobile identity I wrote while at the Internet Identity Workshop last year.

With more than 30,000 people at the show, there'll be plenty who've now read my thoughts on just why we get so attached to our mobile phones, and why the smartphone is a sensor platform that helps mediate identity and context.

There’s one device that knows more about me than anything else does – my mobile phone. It knows who I talk to, and when I do it. It knows where I am, and when I’m going to be there. It knows who I’m meeting, what I’m meeting them for. It holds my social network, my business network, well, pretty much everything. It’s my life in my pocket, and it goes everywhere I go.

My mobile phone has become my identity, and my context. That’s a blessing and a curse. I have one place where I can find everything, and one place where I can lose everything. If my battery is flat, I lose that memory boost, and I can’t get it back. And what if it gets stolen? A stranger can be walking through my life, seeing my LinkedIn contacts, pillaging my online relationships and my favourite web sites and applications, taking advantage of any stolen passwords, destroying my finances and my reputation.
And now you get the chance to join them (without running the gauntlet of Barcelona's pickpockets and bag thieves) by just clicking on this link and then scrolling through the pages of the PDF edition of the magazine.

I rather like what they did with the image of me on the column, somehow they made me look suitably Byronesque!

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We started watching Leverage this week. Best thought of as an American version of the BBC's rather fun grifter story Hustle, it pits the wits of a crew of assorted thieves against the dark underbelly of America's corporate kleptocracy. The thieves are the good guys, robin hooding their way through assorted cons and capers, extracting money and revenge from the corporate crooks.

Leaving aside the obvious parallels with the current state of the economy, there's an interesting thread that links this and other caper stories.

They're tales of project management.

No, really.

If you look at Leverage as an example, we have a team of misfits, creative people who under normal circumstances can't function in society, let alone as a team. Then along comes a man with vision and project management skills, who can find ways to fit those skills and resources into a project plan, and then execute it. He only operates on the fringes of the action, listening and guiding.

The same is true of George Clooney's Danny Ocean in his trilogy of films. Danny and Rusty are a project management team that builds on the strengths of the various individuals, manipulating them where necessary. Danny Ocean leads from behind.

The list goes on. How about Mickey Bricks in Hustle, running a crew and training a successor at the same time? You could argue that the fourth season of the series was Danny Blue learning project management skills on the fly. And how about Michael Caine's role in The Italian Job (and yes, even the role played by Mark Wahlberg in the film with the same name)?

I'm finding it interesting to rethink old favourites in this light - and it's giving me more ideas around the caper story I've been noodling with on and off for some time now. Somewhere out there are a firm of consultants who outsource caper management.

"Crime process management", anyone?

A measure of balance in these troubled times

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Today I am most amused.

As you know, I strive for balance in my journalism, striving to find a middle road between the various extremes of advocacy and evangelism. So it was a sad day when I was accused of being a "paid shill for Microsoft" when I interjected some facts into a heated irrational discussion a few years ago. The resulting imbalance in my writing karma has stayed with me, leaving me unrooted and, well, unbalanced. Most un-zen.

But time was on my side, and I have been restored to balance.

Last week I posted a little rantette to our blog at IT Pro, pointing out some, err, problems with the way Microsoft was rolling out its much vaunted, and much promised, browser-upgrade for its mobile devices. Nothing unusual, really.

Then I got a comment, one that cancelled out the age-old remark. Yes, I am now apparently a "hitman hired by el Jobso."

Oh joy! All is right with the world.

Or is it? What of the free software movement and its relationship with the proprietary world?

A "volunteer for Ubuntu" really doesn't seem to have the same sort of ring to it...

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One week in October

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Neither marypcb or I have been posting much recently, due to being incredibly busy. We're technically having a couple of days off between conferences at the moment, but we're actually holed up in a motel room writing articles on Windows 7.

Last week we were at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. It promised to be an important event, and we certainly got a lot of information in a very short time. Even though we had early access to Windows 7 (and a couple of laptops to run it on), we had a pile of commissions waiting for us to have the code. The result was that we had about 36 hours to write around 8000 words of copy. Various other pieces and techblog entries during the week took that to a round 10K words or so, not counting this weekend's work, which should round things off at a hefty 16 or 17,000 words in less than a week.

Unveiling 7
Steve Sinofsky unveiling Windows 7

PDC2008 was a fascinating event, and we had great fun talking to new people and learning about new technologies. A Surface-based scavenger hunt gave us something to do in the occasional breaks, and we also managed to spend time with old friends we rarely see.

Here's a round up of what we've written so far:

Right, it's back to work. Our editors want their copy...

Crossing the Streams

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Sometimes you get the chance to bring several interests together. One of those was when one of our editors asked us to cover a panel at January's Consumer Electronics Show. Most people imagine CES to be nothing but halls full of teh shiny, and to be honest, that's a goodly part of the show. It's not the whole thing though - CES is so big that it manages to run two or three normal sized conferences alongside the various keynotes and special events.

This panel was particularly interesting. Inventor/entrepreneur Dean Kamen, actress Lucy Lawless, author Neal Stephenson and columnist Walter Mossberg would be discussing the influence of science fiction on technology. It was a fascinating panel, with Kamen and Stephenson providing an interesting counterpoint around their shared engineering backgrounds. It also turned out to be one that allowed us to write a piece that brought in an email interview with Charlie Stross and a brief look at one of my favourite novels.
The Consumer Electronics Show's (CES) myriad strands of conference sessions sometimes throw up the most unusual panels. One such event brought together a journalist, a science fiction writer, an inventor and an actress to talk about the influence of science fiction on the world of technology. The conversation ranged from the optimistic to the dystopian, and from the flying car to the handheld communicator.

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, was sceptical about the role of science fiction. "The subtlety of the real world and nature and the surprising things in real science generally are even more exciting than the other stuff." But he also saw it "as a very valuable tool that will bring people to the table."

One influence kept coming back - Robert A. Heinlein's novels. Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson reminisced: "When I was a kid I read all of the usual suspects - the golden age writers - the one who stuck with me was Heinlein. I don't know why that is, but he stuck with me more than the others did."
Read on at IT Pro to see what Charlie thought...

That's Amaz'ning...

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I've just discovered I have my very own Amazon listing for a report on Software As A Service I wrote for the folk at the ICAEW last year. I was quite surprised, as I thought I was just working on a supplement for their house magazine.

I suspect my current rating of 1,223,190 will not compare well with others of you out there...

Thanks to Armand for pointing it out to me

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