Make Agility More Awesome


Today at Agility Inc, we are taking the entire day to make the company, our products, or any part of our jobs “more awesome”.  We do this every so often to give time to ideas that none of us ever thought we were thinking of, or to give crazy ideas a chance to rise up.
The thing is, days like this remind me why working with technology is so much fun!  It’s the experimenting, the trying things out, the risky stuff that just might work, but we never figured it would be this cool kind of stuff.
Bring it on.

more later – joel

Technology and Patents: It’s like asking if the murderer was guilty

iPhone 4SGalaxy Nexus - Android Phone

From Ars Technica: If Android is a “stolen product,” then so was the iPhone

Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, the courts have made it much easier to acquire software patents. Apple now has more powerful legal weapons at its disposal this time around, as do its competitors. Together, there’s a real danger that the smartphone wars will end by stifling competition.

It’s my opinion that these arguments are pretty much moot at this point. It’s like asking if the murderer was guilty or not, when the verdict itself is only very slim veil over the truth: you don’t need to prove guilt or innocence, you only need to prove or disprove reasonable doubt. How the heck do us folks keep forgetting that? Do you think there will be any sweeping changes in our western justice systems that will cause us to change to a guilt based system instead of a doubt based system? No.

Back to patents, and whether the iPhone or Android were stolen. The only comment can EVER be is that the truth doesn’t matter, only the patents matter.  Actually, that’s not true either, to a certain extent, because before the patent litigation goes through, all of the conjecture and press around the products in question can cause a huge swing in the markets that control these things anyway.

Take an even closer look at the iPhone/Android debate and you get into a very murky situation.

Jobs called Android a “stolen product,” but theft can be a tricky concept when talking about innovation. The iPhone didn’t emerge fully formed from Jobs’s head. Rather, it represented the culmination of incremental innovation over decades—much of which occurred outside of Cupertino.

Really, when you get right down to it, we are arguing about why Steve Jobs was angry. Ironically enough, Google CEO Eric Schmidt used to sit on Apple’s board of directors, ostensibly during the development of Android itself, and Google was a prominent presence at the unveiling of the first iPhone in early 2007.

So why was Jobs so pissed at Google about Android?

I have reasonable doubt that it wasn’t as much a personal feeling of abandonment and betrayal. The stealing was secondary.

more later – joel

SOPA Protest Response

MG Siegler on the MPAA response to SOPA protests. His best line:

“The truth is that the Internet, like all the other technologies before it, is a transformative tool that could scale the film industry to new heights (in terms of both popularity and profit). But such an end requires some work and some rethinking.”

It’s a fun read from his first (I think) post on PandoDaily. Probably because it’s so hard to imagine a corporation like the MPAA or any of the big media companies actually learning about the technology that bills like SOAP would manipulate. Any learning done by these institutions seems to be done after the fact, and certainly not for the same reasons you or I would have. These folks seems to cling to the past as if it wasn’t just as scary and unknown as the present when it first came about.

Back to the SOPA protests. Maybe it’s just me, but yesterday kinda felt like an online version of Washington D.C., August 28, 1963. I wasn’t there, though, so what could I know? The thing is, it’s the only “protest” I’ve ever witnessed that was a combined, concerted effort where folks, led by Wikipedia, Flickr, and others, actually made an effort to educate the public on their stance, and it seems to have worked. And as far as I know, nobody burned any cars, and no police fired rubber bullets at the crowd. And it spawned as really great comic from TheOatmeal.com.

Another favourite writer, Cory Doctorow, puts the shoe on the other foot for MPAA CEO Chris Dodd, noting that his abuses of power include the insertion of contradictory and malignant warnings in the front of practically every commercial video disc ever sold.

Doctorow was writing for the website BoingBoing.  His stuff is always solid, and worth really thinking about.

These two guys, Siegler and Doctorow are becoming my most respected writers about this industry on the web.  I find that I’ve stopped following branded news agencies as much as I follow individuals via their twitter or tumblr feeds.

Image above pulled from PandoDaily

From the Agility Blog: A Plan for Creating an Online Magazine

From a blog post I wrote this week for Agility:

When talking about putting magazines on the web, I like to think of a web where current magazines or “e-zines” or whatever they’ve been called in the past, never happened.

My favourite quote, though:

You see, magazines have the potential to become the “darling” of the web, the kind of destination that will make readers feel good, just like holding a real print magazine ought to feel.

Exciting stuff, if you like magazines…

Agility Blog: A Plan for Creating an Online Magazine

 

more later: joel

MG Siegler: Why I Hate Android

A good look at the history of Android and the Open Handset Alliance from someone who is on the side of the consumer. As far as I am concerned, Google blew it when the distribution deal with Verizon became more important than the original vision for the platform. A free, unlocked version of Android sold by Google (or given away by Google) in a Google-branded phone would have made all difference, but that was not to be.

Best quote? I’ll take a partial so I do t spoil his punch line for you:

“I hate Android for the same reason that Severus Snape hates Harry Potter.”

parislemon.com: Why I Hate Android

UX Fail: IE 9

image

The people who designed IE 9 did a poor job of copying Chrome’s nice and clean interface.

Why oh WHY would the little button to change into compatibility mode (which shouldn’t be necessary at all) be the same size as the refresh button?  And why does the “stop” button never go away? 

It’s all just wrong.  And IE 9 STILL causes layout issues all over the place.  Chrome, Firefox?  No problem, they update every few weeks with nary an problem that has even come close to the shitstorm that happens after an IE update. 

Unacceptable. 

I will only ever use it for testing.

more later – joel

Windows 8–One step forward, the same giant leap backwards–UPDATED

Microsoft showed off it’s “Start Screen” skin (and that’s just what it is, not an OS in itself) on top of Windows yesterday.  It’s pretty great – a melding of the Metro UI from Windows Phone and Media Center.  I love the description of “tiles” and I think this will be a great way to get rid of “widgets” (which I hate) and replace icons (which are pretty lifeless).

Check it out…

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Looks great no?  Except for the part where they showed that it’s all just a skin on top of regular Windows.  This is not a good idea.

Wired’s Charlie Sorrel said it well:

Microsoft is almost there, but it needs to lose its obsession with putting Windows on everything. Take this cool, tile-based OS and put it on a tablet, sure. But leave the mouse-based, legacy desktop OS out of it. And for God’s sake, don’t call it Windows. [Wired]

This could be a chance for Microsoft to finally come to terms with the idea that real innovation won’t happen in the developer community until we are forced to make a break with all the legacy crap out there.  The one line in the video that was supposed to make us feel better, “it still runs the existing Windows apps that you use and that you love” is really a disclaimer saying that this is NOT a revolutionary OS like Windows Phone.  It’s just a skin that will be, in most cases, ignored because it covers up the apps that are underneath.

I argue that OS X became revolutionary when Apple switched the Intel processors and forced all the developers to re-write their apps.  In some cases this was just a re-compile, yes, but it caused a revolution – a break with the old and the out-dated.  Only newly supported apps would work in the long term.

We could let ourselves get stuck into the notion that people won’t upgrade to the new OS, or heaven forbid, request a downgrade to Windows XP on new hardware, because it’s different or that it won’t run the old crap that it needs to run.  That’s why you still need the “regular” version of Windows.  Let that be what it is and fill its function, it’s different from what the “Start Screen” is trying to be.

The thing is, we’ve been down this road with Microsoft before, way back in the Win XP days with the whole “tablet” add-ons that didn’t go anywhere.  Adding a skin on top of Windows for touch doesn’t make Windows touchable.

There are moments of genius in what Windows 8 is starting to show, but I think we need to see a definite break between Windows for PC, and Windows for touch interfaces. 

more later – joel

UPDATE: Okay, I am starting to come around to the need for a convertible tablet.  Something as thin and light as a Macbook Air, with a swivel screen that becomes a touch-screen when flipped.  At that point, the entire OS should change into “touch” mode and ONLY apps that have been touch enabled should show up.  NOTHING ELSE.  I totally want to be able to read a book on my tablet, flip the keyboard, write some code or write a novel, and then flip it back and continue reading.  Please.

The world is different than it was twelve years ago

I started working as a software developer twelve years ago.  I was coding LotusScript (hard to write that without cringing now) and Java for web enabling a CRM app on Domino server.  I think those products are still available now – although IBM bought them and changed the message.  I gave it up when the transition to DB2 from NSF never materialized and writing Java on the backend never got better.  Maybe that’s changed now – I don’t know.

I moved to .Net and haven’t really looked back.  Everything in ASP.Net has made sense to me – even when it didn’t make and sense.  For instance, the whole idea of server controls was a great idea at the time – it was certainly a reaction to the crap we’d seen from ASP 3 and it was vastly different from PHP.  Server controls are still there, but we’ve moved past them (at least for new stuff…).

Now the focus is on MVC style ASP.Net apps, which makes the world way easier to understand.  Beyond being able to test each layer of the app and to more easily separate the concerns of each of them with tighter rules, we can finally draw a direct line from the start of the web request all the way through to the end without having to recurse through all the various events on each server control that may or may not be rendering at any given time.  Life is a bit easier.

I’ve moved from just getting things onto the web (which funnily enough was a tough sell back in 1999) to making things easier to develop with (which ASP.Net web forms is essentially) to making things more robust for apps and sites that can be built upon and expanded over time without losing their underlying usefulness of design.  Oh, I worked to build this little thing in there too. 

What’s really cool, is that Agility CMS hasn’t really changed in six and a half years.  We’ve just expanded the base and tried to make it simpler and easier.

Funny.  12 years.

More later – joel