AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

Having the right tools for the job

Hmm, so many directions I could go in here. Do I talk about the best OS for the job? The best software toolkit for the job? The best IDE? No, I think I’d rather talk about…screwdrivers.

I’ve been looking for some new tools for working on my computers for awhile now. I’m of the opinion that most precision screwdriver sets and computer toolkits available in stores are of questionable quality. Well, I was recently trying to open up my Nintendo Wii in order to fix the buzzing noise it was making, and I discovered that I couldn’t open it without a tri-wing screwdriver. Upon looking for a nice tri-wing screwdriver, I discovered Wiha Tools. They have a huge selection of screwdrivers. The ones that caught my eye had ESD handles for working with sensitive electronic equipment. They also have the largest selection of precision screwdrivers I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, I decided to give them a go. They have so many precision screwdriver sets that I couldn’t decide which one I wanted, but I did put together a custom set to replace my larger tools. If you need a custom set for computer cases, this is a good place to start. Here’s what I got:

  • Drive-Loc VI ESD Handle
  • Tri-Wing #0 x #1 blade
  • Slotted/Philips 1/8 x #0
  • Slotted/Philips 5/32 x #1
  • Slotted/Philips 1/4 x #2
  • 1/4 Nut Driver
  • 3/16 Nut Driver
  • Torx T10xT15
  • Canvas storage pouch

All these items can be found here. I would like to note that if you not looking to put together a custom set, you can probably find their stuff cheaper on Amazon. I just ordered my set, if the quality is good, I will be buying a nice precision set from them as well. If I just spent over $80 on a set that I don’t like, you will hear about it.

Oh, and one more thing about Wiha tools..they’re made in Germany, and as we all know, Germans always make good stuff.


We use commercial software too

We love open source solutions, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for commercial software here at Ai. In fact, everyone here uses commercial software on a daily basis. I thought for today, I’d cover our servers.

Windows Server – 80% of the Ai servers I manage run linux. But we do have a couple of windows servers as we need them to run Microsoft Exchange, Quickbooks, and our phone system software. We use Windows Active Directory for authentication on our LAN, even on the linux servers. We also use and love the Volume Snapshot Service.  Unlike an LVM set-up on a linux fileserver, Windows just takes care of everything. I don’t have to worry about where Windows is storing its filesystem snapshots. It’s a very nice supplement to our backup plan. It saves me a ton of time when someone accidentally deletes or overwrites a single file.

Microsoft Exchange – I don’t believe we’ll be on Exchange forever, but for now, it has one killer feature that we need. Calendar delegation. I’ve yet to see a cheaper solution that has robust calendar delegation features. If google adds that feature to google apps, we may have a future there. Oh, and if you read my last post, you’d also know that I love push email :)

Shoretel – We use a Shoretel phone system. I bet not many people here realize that their voicemail is stored on a Windows Server :) When we finally outgrew our old Bizfon, I looked into both Asterisk and ShoreTel. I would have loved to build a custom solution with Asterisk, but simply didn’t have the time. Our good friend Lou over at Brightstack gave us such a good deal on the Shoretel system that it was impossible to turn down. However, if you are ever looking for an Asterisk solution, I highly suggest you give Inter7 a ring. I found their prices to be very reasonable, and their sales guy was extraordinarily helpful. I’ve also been using some of their qmail related open source software on my servers for many years now.

JIRA – JIRA is our bug and issue tracker. It’s made by Atlassian. We used Mantis for many years, but outgrew it. We tried and liked FogBugz as well, but JIRA turned out to be much more cost effective for us.

There you have it. Ai uses commercial software too. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.


Nitrodesk brings push email for MS Exchange to Android

I don’t know how I missed it, but Nitrodesk released a major update to their Touchdown software yesterday. New in version 2, push email! I made the switch from Windows Mobile to Android back in January, and push email was the biggest feature that I missed. Now that I have push again, there’s nothing I used my old Windows phone for that I can’t do on my Android Dev Phone 1.

There are also a few other business friendly features in the new version. Remote wipe is nice. They also added ‘Supress Delete from Server’ and ‘Surpress Mark-Read from Server’. I’m guessing these are welcome features to people who have used Blackberrys even though I won’t use them myself. You can see the complete list of new features in version 2 here.

Touchdown cost me $24.99 and it has been worth every penny. It’s nice to see a solid Microsoft Exchange client on such a young platform.


Windows Live Writer

I decided for my first blog post that I would mess around with Windows Live Writer to see how it works with Movable Type.

Setup was easy. I followed the instructions here to create a WLW Manifest file for Live Writer. I was initially unable to log in, but that was my own fault. I didn’t realize that I had a separate API password for logging in via the RPC script. If you don’t know your API password, log into Movable Type, and go to your profile page. It’s at the bottom.

After spending a few minutes messing around with Live Writer, I have to say that I like it. It’s nice to be able manage my blog posts in a single place, whether I’m online or offline. It does a very good job rendering our blog’s CSS, although your mileage may vary here. The program is nice and simple, I didn’t have to spend any time figuring out how things work. With the exception of the authentication error, I was up and running very quickly.

I’ve only run into one glitch so far. The “post draft to blog” action is grayed out. I guess that feature hasn’t been made to work with Movable Type yet. While this won’t be a problem for me, I can see that being a useful feature for others. So for now it seems my drafts can only be kept on my local computer.

I haven’t used any other programs like this, so I’m not sure what else is out there. But for now, this is all I need.


Vendor Lock-In

One of our designers recently used her new Sony digital camera to take some office photos. As she did not have the USB connector with her, she looked for a device to pop the Memory Stick into, so she could upload her photos onto a computer. Unfortunately, as we found out, the technology of her camera was too new for anything else in this office.
Sony, it seems, is playing hard to get with its devices. This brings up the issue of vendor lock-in, where a consumer must incur the setup costs to adopt a new product that a vendor is offering.
The Sony Memory Stick in our designer’s camera, a proprietary design, is completely different from the one in my own Sony camera. Further investigation shed some light on the matter, in that Sony had created a new kind of Memory Stick, dubbed, “Memory Stick Pro Duo.” Wow.
This is a completely new technology–the new cards can hold a larger amount of data and have more functionality to work with video capturing and file-transfer rates. Awesome! I am at least glad that Sony is keeping up on their game to push advancements in technology. But they are forgetting about many of their loyal consumers, not to mention other electronics manufacturers who have built-in Sony Memory Stick Pro slots in their products.
What Sony has done is separate its consumer base. Older media will still function but are not compatible with their newer ones. Even the USB cable that comes with a newer model of Sony camera is no longer compatible. I can make a reasonable assumption that a year from now, if I needed to purchase an older model Memory Stick Pro card for my personal camera, I would have to buy it used or refurbished, or I’d simply have to buy in to Sony’s new technology.
This is where vendor lock-in comes into play. If I become dependent on a technology, but said technology advances, I am left with little choice but to upgrade if I want to continue using the product. I could switch to another brand, but in the end I would still be spending money to transition to a new product, whether with the same vendor or a new one.
I have seen similar issues arise over time. Technology changes, which I both understand and accept. Advancements must be made to improve the quality and functionality of a growing technological industry. As a result, consumers are almost forced to upgrade their devices and technology in order to keep up with the revisions that electronics developers and manufacturers come up with.


TechCrunch betas

I’ve been playing with a pair of standout TechCrunch 50 sites the past 24 hours and am enjoying both.

Yammer is a slick little chat application for companies. Two-thirds of Ai signed up for accounts, and we’ve had fun pinging information back and forth today. It’s good for group-think moments, like picking a lunch venue and, um, sharing Yammer tech support theories.

The Yammer AIM client isn’t working well yet, but once it does, Yammer could find a home at Ai, where we’re on IM all day. A one-to-many app that isn’t a reply-all email certainly has its uses.

I’m also interested in Gazopa‘s tagless image search. First things first: yes, it works. Search for bubble gum and the first result is a picture of lots of pieces of bubble gum. A vanity search on my name returned both my official headshot and the cover of my book.

But working and working well are two different things. Gazopa has no pictures of a coton de tulear, my dog’s breed, and searching for “coton” returned lots of fuzzy-logic matches for cotton. Search for a silver Audi A4, and the results include a blue Mercedes, and for some reason a lot of red Audis.

It’s got a ways to go, but Gazopa is off to a promising start, just as Yammer is. I’m looking forward to seeing how each evolves.


SaaS and Appliances

Want to be able to use Google to search your corporate intranet? You can sign up with it as a service, letting its spiders crawl over your side. Or you can buy their hardware. So the product range takes an interesting leap from a remote hosted service, to a piece of rack hardware.

Noticeably missing is the middle-ground of shrink-wrap software to be installed on your own hardware. This is a significant departure from the way software used to be sold.

This is the end-game of hardware commoditization at work. Against the price of developing and marketing software, the cost of hosting the app in some off-the-shelf hardware is pretty minor.

Compare the cost of hardware against that of installation support. Imagine if there was an installable “Google Intranet Search” product, designed to go onto a server run by the IT department. Well, first off, there would have to be a version for Windows, because some companies are Microsoft-only shops. That means at least two platforms to support. And then, now matter how fast and easy installation was, there would be a deluge of installation support calls coming in, because someone has the wrong version of the operating system, weird hardware or a conflicting application. This can get expensive.

The alternative is simply to bundle a computer with the software. This guarantees that the software is always installed on an appropriate operating system, with the appropriate hardware. It also dances around IT Department requirements for tech stacks, such as “we only support Microsoft”. Generally with appliances the operating system is hidden away from view (it’s usually Linux, but it doesn’t matter). The IT Department is simply told – “there is no operating system for you to support – just turn on the box and run the setup wizard”.

Put this together with software as a service (SaaS) and you have a pretty good offering. You can offer your app in basic, pro and enterprise flavors, or you send them a box. The software vendor doesn’t waste nearly as much time with installation support and the customer doesn’t have to maintain the software.


Platform: Proprietary vs Open

Some time in the last 12 hours or so this went live.

OpenSocial is a common API for writing social networking apps. Its being embraced by practically every single social networking site out there, with the notable exception of FaceBook. Basically the promise of this is that an application developer can write an application against one API and then deploy it in any of the compliant social networks.

FaceBook, as the current king, has the least incentive to adopt the open standard. In fact the OpenSocial API can be seen as a check to FaceBook. Its simple to understand really, in place of “Facebook” use the word “Microsoft Windows” and in place of “OpenSocial”, use “Java”. The FaceBook strategy is to add value to their platform by harnessing third party developers to write to their proprietary API. OpenSocial is a counter-strategy to that, by making a universal API that is supported by all social networking sites.

The potential fallout from a successful deployment of OpenSocial is the movement of value in the supply chain away from the social network, and towards the applications. When an app can be deployed on any social network, it doesn’t matter so much which network someone is on.

The natural response to this would be for various social networks to “embrace and extend” the OpenSocial API, to try and create lock-in for their own platforms. In the past Java had several legal protections in place to prevent this (not that Microsoft didn’t try anyway). JavaScript, with none of the legal protections of Java, was forked mercilously, creating a difficult programming environment for JS developers that persists to this day.

Historically, Java failed at driving a wedge between Windows and application developers. It remains to be seen whether the social networking application community will standardize on FaceBook, OpenSocial, or something else.