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January 18th, 2010

In the BIG country

Zion is one of my favourite places.

It's not just the sheer immensity of the landscape, nor the vibrant colours of the rocks. It's not the silence of the winter air, or the contrast between the permanent cliffs and the temporary snow. It's the combination, the poetry of the contrasts of light and shade, of rock and water, of the millions of years that have gone to make this instant.

Deep in the canyon, on the river hike to the Narrows, you can turn around and look down the twisting and turning walls, to Angel's Landing and the surrounding peaks. It's a wonderful view, up there with the classic Yosemite panoramas.

Sunshine and shade

Zion, Utah
January 2010

Recent ZDnet blog posts

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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