Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

By Date: June 2011

"Try and Buy" Program for Quickr 8.5 Multimedia Library

IBM Lotus Education is excited to offer you a Free 60-Day Trial of the NEW Multimedia Library for Quickr 8.5 (English edition). Try & Buy gives you the ability to download the full version of the NEW Quickr 8.5 training tool for your organization. It gives you access to courses, lessons and hundreds of video tutorials showing users how to realize the full value of Quickr team collaboration software.

Soon after you've registered for the Try & Buy program, you'll receive an email with product download and installation instructions for loading the Multimedia Library for Quickr 8.5 onto a standard web server. Your organization will then have the ability to use the product for productive use during the 60 day period. The MML product can be used for training any end users in your organization during the "Try and Buy" period.

The Multimedia Library for Lotus Software is a just-in-time training tool in use by nearly 5 million Lotus software users. Contact an Education Delivery Manager in your region or your IBM Sales representative if you have additional questions about this offer or any Lotus Education offerings.

Posted by on 30 June 2011 | Comments (0) | categories: IBM - Lotus Lotus

How eMail encryption works and why it is an utter public failure

You have a message for someone that is both confidential and sensitive, you want to ensure that onl the receipent can open it and that (s)he also gets reassurance that it actually was you who sent this and that the message has not been tampered with. Enter the world of digital encryption and digital signatures.
Notes users are used to just checking the respective check box and their messages get signed and encrypted without any further action required. When sending messages to external parties this is usually is accompanied by error/warning messages that this won't work. So it is a fault in Lotus Notes (usual business practise: if anything doesn't work, first blame Notes)? Far from that. To be able to send an encrypted message one needs to have access to some information about the recipients which today is neither publicly available nor easy to obtain. Lets have a look how exactly signature and encryption are working.
They both depend on the availability of a key pair to operate. So the first step is the creation of a public/private key pair by a certificate authority (CA). For other platforms setting up a CA is quite a task, you can check some public sources and explanations for more details on that. In Lotus Notes that key pair is created by the Domino Administrator when registering new users (using Domino's CA process and kept save in Domino's ID Vault). Public/Private key pairs are very interesting constructs. Using advanced mathematics two strings are created with some interesting properties:
  • You can't (at least not with timely effort) compute one of the keys out of the other
  • When you encrypt something with your private key anybody holding the public key can decrypt and read it. This is useful to check if something really came from you without alterations
  • When someone encrypts something with your public key only you (the owner of the private key) can decrypt and read it. This is useful to transmit confidential information
Creation of a public/private Key pair
So in an ideal world anybody's public key would be accessible for anybody. In Notes the Public Key is saved into the Domino Directory on creation of the ID file. So it is convenient to use. In public the big certificate authorities like Thatwe or Verisign offer query possibilities for their database. Unfortunately there is no prevalent standard nor any of the big email programs or services offers easy access to all of this (I happily stand corrected). LDAP could be used for the task, but I yet see a public service there. I would expect something like a security service that knows where to look for keys and imports them as needed. Fiddling with PKS files is out of question. The complexity and inconvenience of managing your key is IMHO one of the big failures of the IT industry. So millions of sensitive messages go through the internet every single day (I would sniff out eMails from/to private banks for starters). How does it exactly work?
  1. Encrypting:
    An encrypted message can only be read by the intended recipient
    Steps to encrypt a message
    When the sender wants to encrypt a message the email client requests the public key. That key can either be stored in the user's address book or be provided by the directory service. In a corporate environment the availability of a public key is the default for Lotus Notes. Other email systems need extra configuration and key-generation work. Once the key is retrieved the message is encrypted with this key and can only be decrypted with the private key of the recipient. Once the recipient receives the message her private key, stored in the Notes.id for Lotus Notes or the keystore for other applications, decrypts the messages and displays it. EMail encryption only encrypts the body of the message (including attachments), but not the subject line or the from/to fields.
  2. Electronic Signature
    An electronic signature verifies the authenticity of the message content. The message itself is not encrypted when signed. Signatures can be used together with encryption. Used together signature comes first.
    Steps to sign a message
    The signing process computes a check sum (e.g. a MD5 hash value) from the body of the message. The resulting string gets encrypted with the public key of the sender. A recipient executes the same check sum computation and then uses the public key of the sender to decrypt the original result. When the two values match the recipient has the confirmation that the specific message really comes from that sender without any alterations
What would need to happen, so encryption would be available more easily? (Why that doesn't happen makes a field day for interested parties):
  • Addition of a new record type to the DNS. It could be an ENC (for encryption) record type or a convention to use a TXT record like the SPF framework. It would point to one or more LDAP servers that can provide Public keys for the Domain of a recipient
  • The naming standard for LDAP's X509 attributes gets implemented in an interoperable way
  • eMail clients and eMail services would use the new DNS and LDAP entries to retrieve public keys when encryption is requested by a user or a signature needs to be verified. Of course some caching and deferred operation capabilities need to be build into the clients
  • GMail, Yahoo mail and the big others offer certificates to users
  • The other corporate eMail servers implement less painful certificate management
I doubt we see any of this anytime soon. After all the spooks don't want to spend all their CPU horsepower on regular citizens' eMail.

Posted by on 24 June 2011 | Comments (4) | categories: Software

Customise your forwarding message layout

One of the big temptations in Notes is to customise the mail template. Done right it can boost your productivity. One very interesting customisation I came across was to display the Job function together with the sender's and recipients' names. That's a neat idea so I know what to expect. The information was lost when a message was forwarded and the default from/to display appeared. A quick check with a custom form showed that it worked as designed. Debbie enlightened me, that forwarding of Memo, Reply and ReplyToReply based documents triggers the use of a form called SimplifiedReply. Once you add your customisation there everything works as expected. Another little customisation nugget: the pink separator line is created using a subform named $FORWARDSEP. So if you like a different color or a different set of information better, that's the point to look for. Of course you promise to be careful when altering IBM provided templates.
Happy customising!

Posted by on 22 June 2011 | Comments (0) | categories: Show-N-Tell Thursday

AIA American International Assurance - You need to learn about proper customer service!

When my kids were born I bought an insurance from AIA as part of planning to pay for their education fees later on. As matters go I had to update some particulars. It turned out that isn't possible online, so after a few calls (luckily done by SWMBO) we got all the paper stuff we needed. We filled it in to the best of our knowledge and submitted it for processing beginning of May. Today I received this computerized response dated June 06 (I seriously doubt that Singpost is so lousy, that they take 16 days to deliver such a letter --- it looks like it is 2 weeks backdated):
Dear Policyowner,


Thank you for insuring with AIA.

This refers to the request for [what I wanted] received on May 09, 2011.

We regret to inform you that we are not able to process the request submitted due to incomplete

For your information, the current position of the policy is as follows:

[Policy details over 4 lines]

Please feel free to contact our Customer Care Executive at Tel No. 1800 248 8000 should you
require any assistance.

We are glad to be of service to you.

Policy Changes Section
The absence of a signature in this computer-generated letter is in order.

(A5)     (M9/NMY)
([name removed to protect the innocent]) (SP-NGEESIM)      CLOSE

Seriously this is the 21st century. There are a number of things very wrong with this:
  1. Singpost's service commitment is delivery +1. So the bulk of their mail gets delivered the next or latest 2 days later. If AIA dates a letter June 06, that means it took them from ticking the box on form letter 473 to getting it out 2 weeks. Embarrassing slow. I also recall having submitted the paper work much earlier than May 07. Points to high operational efficiencies
  2. OK, we must have missed something. But it is an insult to a customer to tell "due to incomplete requirement" without telling WHAT went wrong. Hey it is my money you are looking after.
  3. No case ID: If I contact them I have to explain from the beginning instead of referring to information they already have
  4. Only phone as contact option (and a paper letter of course). No SMS, no web site, no fax
  5. Cynical greeting. "No we don't do what you ask" but "We are glad to be of service to you"
  6. As you might recall: there's Ernest too. So either his form went through or I will get another rejection: failure to bundle correspondence based on recipient
AIA continuing stealing my time. I have doubt if I bought from the right company

Posted by on 22 June 2011 | Comments (0) | categories: Business

It isn't a standard if it isn't broken. Today: webDAV

In my last life I worked on a Tomcat servlet that allowed to access Domino resources using webDAV. With XPages and the arrival of a decent J2EE stack on Domino I saw a great opportunity to fold that servlet into an XPages extension. This proved to be rather easy. One still extends javax.servlet.http.HttpServlet and adds a plugin.xml that can be as easy as
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<?eclipse version="3.4"?>
    <extension point="org.eclipse.equinox.http.registry.servlets">
          <servlet alias="/files" class="com.ibm.xsp.webdav.WebDavServlet" />
Why webDAV and not something more modern like CMIS? Simple answer: lack of File system support for the later. CIMS requires a plug-in on a client machine to make a CIMS server look like a file system, I'm not aware of any file system plug-ins available yet. Libraries or application - yes, but nothing is visible on the file system. webDAV on the other hand has been supported on Mac, Linux, Unix and Windows for a long time efficiently. So I thought. Having mostly Mac and Linux at home my tests looked promising. However Microsoft broke the webDAV redirector and the web folders in Windows. This is quite surprising since webDAV was/is in use in both Microsoft Exchange as well as in Microsoft Sharepoint (via IIS) but not without trouble. While poking around I learned a thing or two:
  • webDAV works as designed on Linux and Mac. It needs special care on Windows
  • For Vista and XP you need to install a patch provided by Microsoft
  • There is nice summary how to connect on webdavsystem.com who also make tools to get the Windows webDAV experience up to par with the Linux or Mac functionality
  • Windows XP has trouble to connect to anything but port 80 and you still want to include :80 in the connection URL. SSL without the patch won't work
  • Windows 7 tries to use digest authentication by default. Big issue for Domino unless you use Puakma SSO or PistolStar
  • Basic authentication is off by default, but might be on for SSL if you have Sharepoint installed. Using a DWORD registry key you can change the behaviour: 0=off, 1=on for https, 2=on for http/https HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \SYSTEM \CurrentControlSet \services \WebClient \Parameters \BasicAuthLevel for Windows 7 and Vista. Vista still might screw it up. For Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 use HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \SYSTEM \CurrentControlSet \Services \WebClient \Parameters \UseBasicAuth
  • Explorer tries in every folder to read the desktop.ini file. So you either end up with a lot of 404 errors in your log or provide one for your folders which you can customise
As usual YMMV

Posted by on 21 June 2011 | Comments (1) | categories: Software

When are thank you eMails good manners and when are they spam?

For those of us who got manners it comes natural to say please and thank you. So every time I get a question answered in eMail, I have that reflex to hit the reply or even reply all button to say Thank you. I'm starting to wonder if that is still always appropriate. In IBM Connections we have a widget for " Giving thanks" that separates the process from the daily stream of eMail. Why do I think it might not be appropriate all the time: I just adds another item to a long list of items that want one's attention. Of course if the answer was a big help and you have to share how it helped a reply is indicated. Also you need to gauge the sender of an answer: do they fancy or expect a simple thank you for each message? I like the little thank you messages arriving in the blog comments or tweets and the occasionally larger thank you messages dropping in at quarter or year end, but I don't care too much about a thx in eMail for something obvious. And I definitely don't care for the thx someone else gives in a reply-to-all. After all I believe we all have manners by default . But I still wonder where and when to draw the line for that little thx in a reply.

Posted by on 20 June 2011 | Comments (3) | categories: Business

The leader, the rules and the community

The centre of Buddhist reverence are the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They are not only subject to reference, but also serve as refuge for Buddhists to find calm and strength to face life's suffering. Religions, being bases in ancient times tend to use language that shrouds the everyday meaning from a contemporary reader. Transcribing (not translating!) these three terms into contemporary language reveals an important business lesson :
  • Jewels and refuge: In a rough world of more than 2 millennia ago to find a place one could feel save for a foreseeable future was valuable as a precious stone. It also outlines the need for anybody to find a place of strength that can serve as the base for daily endeavours. The modern workplace should provide such a base. Does yours?
  • Buddha: translated it means "Fully Enlightened One", looking at the historic Buddha you can transcribe it as: visionary leader. He had the insight what needs to be achieved, a vision how to get there and the charisma to rally his supporters to follow his cause. His vision provided one of the three strongest motivators for excellence: purpose. A leader is the first servant of the people he follows
  • Dharma: "The teachings" In the corporate world that would be: the core values, the unspoken contracts, the business processes. Dharma is not a collection of rule books, but is what is actually lived. So that gold framed Vision and Mission statement in the board's office is worthless when corporate reality paints a different picture. Core values are like the constitution of an enterprise. Whatever you are asked to do (executive order) or process rules implemented need to be able to stand the scrutiny of being measured against the mandate outlined in the core values. I like IBM's core values a lot:
    1. Dedication to every client's success
    2. Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
    3. Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships
    You see "making money" isn't a core value (it is the goal of the game called "business", so no special mention in values is needed) neither is "being #1 in ...". The values are quite simple, yet powerful: Dedication, Do what matters, Trust. In the heat of the daily battle, especially around the surprisingly appearing quarter ends, these values sometimes get out of sight, but at the end they are what sustains IBM. There are other outstanding examples of core values/ground rules, the Rotary 4 way test among them:
    1. Is it the truth?
    2. Is it fair to all concerned?
    3. Will it build goodwill and better friendship?
    4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
    So looking at the core values, their lack of or the discrepancy between stated and demonstrated values are a good indicator for corporate health. Having clear values contributes to purpose and allows to strive for mastery, the second motivator for excellence
  • Sangha: The "Community". IT is all enraged about social businesses. Kawasaki mused about The Art of Creating a Community, people form communities around simple things like "Getting a discount". We exist in communities: the family, the horde, the village, the college/university alumni, the soccer team etc. etc. Likeminded people help to maintain the level of motivation, encourage to stay on course and push further. They catch you when you stumble, praise you when you succeed, deepen your comittment to the cause. How does your enterprise form communities? A performance review for a team? Give incentives to a department? I haven't seen much of this, it is mostly the individual who stands in the limelight. Interestingly communities still form, just look at the success of enterprise social software. The need to belong is strong, harnessing it could be just that next level of productivity a company is looking for (a community still needs leadership). This can be a challenge when the office no longer serves as the cave where the horde assembles before the hunt
So the question is: are you working for an enlightened enterprise? Think about it and speak after me:
Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.
Dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.
Saṅghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.

Posted by on 18 June 2011 | Comments (0) | categories: Business

Echelon 2011 - day 1

I took leave (literally) to attend Echelon 2011, allegedly Asia’s best startup launchpad event. Having contributed to its Twitter stream throughout the day some of my thoughts needed a break and a little sorting, so here you go:
Registration did not work. A huge queue formed in front of too little registration counters with the badges not ready for fast retrieval. This wasn't a good first impression since it delayed proceedings by an hour+ (which made me miss some of the pitches). Worse even since Flickevents, one of the startups (located conveniently in the NUS Incubator), offers registration services and its founder Yan Phun clearly knows what she is talking about. So next year please use her!
The exhibition space wasn't very organised, mainly consisting of bar tables and banners, which I found quite refreshing (and economically). Looking for a specific company made you scout around between all of them, which is the purpose of a startup conference after all. Having Nespresso pitch their corporate solution in the middleof all that ensure a high quality supply of free caffeine. All in all it was good to see a lot of energy, confidence (partly bordering at naivety or arrogance) and we-can-do-that spirit.
Compared to the product manager driven corporate culture with its " Which customers demanded this feature" or " How much more will we sell if we fix this" or " Please provide a 5 year revenue projection for this feature" or " We have existing code we cherish more than innovation" the spirit was rather refreshing.
The opening session aptly titled " Uncommon Sense" was delivered by the hilarious and down to earth Derek Sivers. The best quote: " I made 23 million and then gave it all away". His session was followed by a series of panels, which were - well panels. At least they didn't read from a teleprompter. What made them slightly interesting was the use of Pigeonhole. Pigeonhole = ( IdeaJam meets twitter). Users with the right access code can post live questions and/or vote on questions asked. A summary screen shows the top 12 questions which then were projected behind the panel. A neat way to both ask questions and let the panel know what you think about them.
Before the main attraction, the 11 elevator pitches (5 minutes each with 10min Q&A), Jason Wishnow of TED fame walked us through " what makes TED - TED" and how they got there. TED is 100x times more entertaining than TV.
The elevator pitches I saw were quite surprising. Surprising since none of them went down well. While ideas and potential were often visible, they were not prepared very well (I might be a little hypercritical here)
  1. Tribute Balloon is a social site for mourners (I can hear them howling reading this summary). Might actually work, but lies dangerously close to a possible Facebook feature trajectory. The presenters didn't have their numbers ready
  2. WorkCrowd is social software for enterprises in the cloud. It is actually the closest competitor I have seen so far to IBM Connections. They took their visual clue from Facebook and their business model from Yammer, allowing them a stealth adoption I discussed here before. Interestingly they see Facebook and LinkedIn as their competitors, not IBM and Socialtext. While I think they have a market, their pitch was hopeless. Social Sandy could have answered any of the panels question without blinking, while they didn't get their point across at all
  3. SixReps is social software for fitness fans. The founder lives in Indonesia's fitness community and realised that ganging up to achieve a fitness goal improves your odds tremendously. Knowing his target audience and monetisation options (e.g. take a cut from the gym membership) this will fly. The pitch didn't make that really clear (personally I'll stick with Dr. John Beradi - who also advocates community!)
  4. JellyBus allows you to assemble and edit picture collages on mobile devices with the capability to edit and adjust them. The makers designed it as an excellent fit for their home Korean market. The presenter struggled with English and I'm sure the same pitch in Korean would have just rocked. Will be interesting to see if Korean taste works in other markets too
  5. Fetch Fans On first sight the most professional pitch, but the presenter blew it in the Q&A. It is good to have an answer to every question, but it is outright rude to cut the asker off halfway into the question. She clearly suffered from overconfidence. Rounding up Facebook fans might work, but left me with the stale taste of them seeing Facebook users as digital cattle
  6. Bouncity allows to fuse virtual and real world with activities: Go places, do challenges, get rewards. Clean concept might work as digtial form of a paper chase. They didn't prepare their numbers well for Q&A, so left me wanting for a peek into their viability
  7. Moglue allows to create interactive eBooks easily. Again struggling with English the Korean presenter actually had a success story to share. I liked that a lot. It allows to go beyond what Calibre can do without the heavy price tag of a custom development. The presenter wasn't really clear about the target audience
  8. Second CRM: A little startup with big plans. They want to serve CRM to a market other vendors like SugarCRM and SalesForce consider too far or too small. I like the idea, but it needs to be more than CRM. (I ran a business in their target size long enough, so I can judge that): something that takes care of all business stuff: customers, partners, suppliers and back office including workload/workflow. Unfortunately the presenter wasn't ready to limit his pitch to 300 sec. So a lot of his ideas stayed untold
  9. Price Area: an Indonesian price comparison engine. When pressed for answers about global competition the presenter hid his real answer emphasising his local data knowledge and nimbleness, while the real answer seemed to me: Our end game is to be bought by one
Unfortunately due to the late start and a promise I made to Anthony and Ernest, I missed LocoBuzz and PlayMoolah, something to catch up tomorrow.
In summary: one trend seems to be creating social applications for specific target audiences. This can work when one knows the audiences well. The other trend: investors need to rethink their approach to Startups. The Startups need more than money: access to market insights, catalysts for focus, enablement for execution excellence and competitive intelligence. So an angel approach might be most appropriate.
Of course no event is fun without a little networking (mental note to self: bring more business cards) and I had some good conversations including catching up with Jonathan and relaxing on colourful doob bean bags. Stay tuned for day 2.

Posted by on 16 June 2011 | Comments (2) | categories: Singapore Technology

Ban the Urgentors!

Gunter Dueck being multilingual has the clear advantage of being able to pull from a larger pool of philosophers. One of my recent favourites is fellow IBMer Gunter Dueck. He has written a number of books , runs a YouTube channel and has coined his own philosophy called Omnisophie. His blog/newsletter/thought collection is aptly labelled Daily Dueck.
His latest entry is titled Ächtet die Dringendmacher! which you can translate to "Ban the Urgentors" (I took the liberty to create this new word Urgentors by fusing " urgent" and " tormentor" where they overlapped). The Googlish produces good giggles when you can grasp the German original and shows that machine translation isn't up to par with a wortgewaltig author.
Dueck pokes fun and bemoans the nuisance of people planning time poorly and then turning each request into an urgent action with complete disregard for the time of the receivers of their requests. Quoting Covey he reminds us, that efficient work happens when something is important, but not urgent. His examples are hilarious: a request sent 2am for the board meeting in the morning asking for an absolute useless statistic, a student asking for an overnight review of his master thesis that took him 3 years to make and a task force that will neither contribute to the bottom line, the core values nor reduce suffering.
I'm waiting for the howling comments that often important things are urgent - bring it on!
A lot of these Urgentors are totally unorganised people dallying away, suddenly realising that they urgently need to do something that requires other people. But there are additional archetypes available: the secondary urgentor who relays requests, adding some urgency to it; the neurotic urgentor: it has to happen now, because I say so; the sadistic urgentor who takes revenge just having escaped the receiving end of another urgentor; the management urgentors who believe that a pressure cooker not only works for food but also for people, the clueless urgentor who drank the Information at your fingertips cool aid and last not least task force and management staff who can't believe that others work hard too.
The prevalent urgentor however is just clueless, reckless and incompetent free from any awarness for the consequences of their actions. Often they are victims of other urgentors who numbed down the insight that unless they drop the habit the best results they can hope for are second class only.
Dueck suggests the remedy for these time pressure creating behaviours starts with oneself: check which of your own actions qualifies as urgentor's finest and stop them - a notion I wholeheartedly can endorse. The world isn't hectic by default, not even a quarter end - I can tell you the dates decades in advance! The going wisdom in business however is: Christmas every year comes as a sudden surprise. Dueck closes with an interesting perspective: the backbone of Germany's economy is " Der Mittelstand" (small and medium enterprises) which is very resilient avoiding the myoptic view " until this quarter end" thus preserving its sustainability. On the other hand complaints are plenty in large enterprises and government about short term thinking mentality (you get what you measure?). Eventually IBM shouldn't celebrate their 100th anniversary, but the completion of 400 quarter closings.

Posted by on 15 June 2011 | Comments (3) | categories: After hours Business Omnisophie

Mobile applications with Domino

The question croppes up in a lot of customer discussions lately: " How can I bring my Notes and Domino applications to my mobile devices?" with iPhone, Android and Blackberry cited most, followed by " any phone" and with a large margin Windows mobile (no version # specified) and others. There isn't a straight answer to that. Mobile applications actually represent another increase of complexity over web applications that represent an increase in complexity over client server applications. The complexity stems from the decreasing control over the runtime environment. Let me elaborate:
  • in a client server application you control all moving parts: the client code, the protocol on the network, the screen size, the server code. Clients can have their session state build in and you are free to distribute load evenly between client and server. You typically get away with a single language (e.g. Java, LotusScript or C#)
  • in a web application you relinquish control over your client runtime to a combination of browser vendors and IT department decisions which to pick and what to enable/allow. You are no longer free in your client language: it is a combination of 3 languages: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and probably a bunch of frameworks like Dojo or jQuery. Picking a single browser platform is an illusion since one of your execs will turn up with an iPad or iMac (and out goes your IE corporate standard)
  • In mobile applications you further relinquish the control over screen sizes, user interaction modes (is there a keyboard? Does it multi-task and how? Is there a stylus? What about a camera?) and network access: it might be online and offline. I discussed device diversity before.
There is a huge debate going on if an application should be native or use web technologies. As always in IT: it depends. Every approach has its trade-offs. There are three general options: web applications, native applications and hybrid applications. IBM doesn't offer a Lotus Notes runtime on mobile devices (never had) and Lotus Expeditor runs on none of the current mobile operating systems, so storing and synchronising data is a most likely issue if you want to take your applications offline (make them work without network connectivity). So this is what you are in for:
  • Web applications
    These are comparable easy to build, since they are a variation of the web applications you already are familiar with. Using OpenNTF's mobile controls. With a little hindsight when creating your custom controls you can develop large and small screen version with moderate overhead. But even with classic Domino when applied ZEN style mobile applications are easy to build. Obvious drawback is the dependency on an available (and sufficient fast) network connection and the lack of access to device features (like camera, gps or gyroscope). Also it is your responsibility to make the application look like your target platform. The OpenNTF mobile controls address some of these short coming, which technically makes them hybrid applications
  • Native applications
    Interestingly mobile devices, driven by a multitude of factors (subject to a different post) reversed the trend of moving all applications to the browser. The slogan "There's an app for that" went down very well. The obvious advantage of native applications are: you can stuff them into the respective app store, they can run without a network connection, feel like "the real thing" and have access to all possible device feature. The only disadvantage from a user perspective: it needs to be installed once (tapping into buying lust when browsing the app store overcomes that easily). Interestingly for mobile devices updating applications has been reasonably solved while classic computers need heavy hitting tools like M$ SMS or IBM Bigfix. The list of disadvantages for developers read a little longer:
    • Every device has different properties you need to take into account: speed, screen size, responsiveness and hardware configuration (camera, gyroscope, GPS - just to name a few)
    • The APIs and modes of notification, data synchronisation and multi-tasking differ in their philosophy. Latest claims that is has been solved awaiting real live prove. Synchronisation is stubbornly hard (you might want to check CouchDB to learn about differences. A nice approach also is to use MQ and a signalling approach to keep all data in sync. For Blackberry and Android sync can be handled by Teamstudio unplugged (with an iOS version allegedly under development) which has the distinct advantage that you can develop in Domino Designer using XPages.
    • Languages. There is no single language that is available for all devices
      • ObjectiveC: when you develop for iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod) that is what you need to use. Not available on non-Apple devices
      • Java: Android uses it natively and you can use it for Symbian (in case it is still relevant), Blackberry and older Windows Mobile versions. Not available on Apple or Windows Phone 7
      • C/C++: available on Symbian, Android (via NDK), Blackberry and smaller players. Not available for Windows Mobile 7 or Apple.
      • C#/VB.NET: Windows Phone 7 only
      • AppInventor: Graphical development for Android only
      • JavaScript: Native to HP/Palm's webOS, for all others only via Hybrid applications
      So native applications will require substantial work. This might be justified when you plan a high number of devices
  • Hybrid applications
    They are build using web tooling: JavaScript, HTML and CSS, but have a small device dependent core that enables access to the device API and uses HTML5's offline storage capabilities. OpenNTF's mobile controls use the PhoneGap framework to run on iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian and soon MeeGo and Bada. Still supported featuresdiffer per platform. Phonegap also offers a Cloud build service. There are more frameworks to evaluate
  • [Update] Mono and AIR
    Andreas Rosen from QKom adds that additional client site platforms are Adobe AIR, MonoTouch (iPhone, iPad, iPod) and Mono for Android. With recent turmoil around Mono I wouldn't bet the house on it. Air runs on Apple, Android and the Blackberry playbook. I didn't find any mention of webOS (Palm), Blackberry phones or Windows Phone 7 (yet). Andreas' company offers SoapGateQ! to make data available for mobile devices which works well with AIR and any platform capable of calling a web service.
In conclusion: The only available Domino specific solution for native applications is Teamstudio unplugged taking care of data sync. For other native solutions you need to roll your own sync. For web or hybrid applications OpenNTF's mobile controls are they way to go (again leaving you to care for sync). So doable, but not pretty.
Keep in mind: Mobile applications are NOT shrunken desktop applications. To make them successful you need to strip them to the bare essentials. Also a finger is a much cruder pointing device compared to a mouse and lends itself rather to drag and drop than click (tap).
As usual YMMV

Posted by on 10 June 2011 | Comments (8) | categories: Show-N-Tell Thursday

My criteria to select a hotel

Traveling a lot not only does mean spending a lot of time in other people's beds, but to get quite frequently bombarded with surveys about impressions and selections. In the nice place I stay this week the reward for going though one of those was quite some bonus points, so I invested the time. What strange questions I got: Would the pillow selection be more important than the front-desk, or is the in-room-dining menu better than other hotels. Interestingly none of the question met any of my criteria. So for the record, here we go:
  1. Travelling mostly for business the hotel needs to be on the approved list of my current employer, which sets category and price range. For private travel I prefer a tent
  2. Location, location, location: easy to reach, close to customers and the heart of the city (I don't like airport hotels)
  3. A good gym with long opening hours. Working for an IT company makes you want to do things at odd hours. My current favourite is the Intercontinental in Bangkok: Open 24h on top of the 36 floor tower with a nice view over the city
  4. Provide me with free breakfast based on room rate or guest status
  5. In room free and working broadband (working means: fast). Wifi is a bonus, since I have travel routers
  6. Regular supply of fresh fruits. My current favourite clearly is the Shangri-La
  7. Nice bath room with a tub, daylight is a clear advantage
  8. Access to a lounge
There are a few criteria which I consider basic facts: cleanliness, safety or competence of staff. There are a lot I care little (probably since they work in most places): Front desk, business centre, restaurants, bar, in-room-dining, pillow selection etc.

Posted by on 08 June 2011 | Comments (2) | categories: Business Travel

Singapore Airlines needs a little QA on their website

I love my national airline. The planes are modern, the staff friendly and competent, the flights are on schedule. I can't say that about online experiences. The recent revamp of their website deemed me as odd and it took a while before I could pinpoint what irked me:
3 different font styles
While de gustibus non est disputandum mixing 3 font styles just in the header of a page makes it look odd. Also having entry fields styled in a italic serif font violates every single web experience and makes reading the content, especially on small devices, unnecessary hard. But well... I always could overwrite the style sheet. But that wasn't the only problem. I tried to update my profile. My street address contains a # sign. This is quite prevalent in Singapore since addresses are written as Block/Building #Floor-Unit number. This was what I had in my profile. But when I updated a different item I get the error that # isn't allowed in the address --- So extisting data suddenly became invalid. Next issue I encountered was the so useful error message:
Error messages should be clear
" The written language is not valid". Which of the two? And it was a selection from a dropdown, why does the form offer invalid entries? What shall I do?
So I dutifully filled in a feedback form to get insult added to injury in the auto-reply:
" This is an automated acknowledgment to inform that we are experiencing high feedback volumes related to the launch of our new website. We apologise that we are not able to respond to queries or feedback related to our new website at this stage.
For internet check-in issues, we request that you try again later. Online check-in is available up to 2 hours before your flight's departure. Alternatively, you may also check in using your mobile device or proceed directly to check in at the airport. Please click the following link to access SIA Mobile: http://m.singaporeair.com/...
There seems to be some quality gap between IT and flight operations.

Posted by on 06 June 2011 | Comments (0) | categories: Software Travel

What XPages developer are you?

There are 11 types of XPages developers, but you must understand binary to get that joke. There is an ongoing discussion what does it take to be an XPages developer and what skills are required. Regardless what development platform you use, web development is much harder than client development. You are dealing with runtimes you can't control (a.k.a what browser users use), network uncertainties (will that application be accessed via a shaky GSM connection or in a high latency network?) and a confusing set of languages that play together but have their own query mechanisms and syntax quirks: HTML, CSS, JavaScript. In a client only environment you usually get away with one language. Most modern IDE try to shield developers from this complexity but at some point in time are all subject to a leaky abstraction, so it is better to learn the languages of your trade. Nevertheless depending on one's personal aptitude there are different roles to be filled when developing XPages:
There are 3 types of XPages developers
  • Develop XPages - a.k.a Phil and gang.
    The team that makes XPages possible. Deep rooted in Java, JSF, NAPI and JNI they provide us with the SSJS engine, the XPages runtime and the implementation of various standards like JSF or JavaScript (a.k.a ECMA Script / ISO/IEC 16262). Besides occasionally writing a book they provide the core set of generic custom controls
  • Develop for XPages - a.k.a The Nathan & Niklas club.
    They extend the platform, build mobile extensions, provide an application transformer or run custom control contests. They understand XPages deeply, including its roots in JSF and the control life cycle. They code both in Java and JavaScript and have some dojo for breakfast
  • Develop with XPages - a.k.a. The rest of us.
    We understand users' needs, business requirements, workflow processes and the corporate development life cycle. We know how to distinguish between users' needs and wants and how to translate a vague descriptions of "make it work" into a concrete application design. Our favourite mode of operation is to drag & drop ready made custom controls and sprinkle Pixi dust SSJS between them as glue. We don't have time for the deep understanding both other groups need. We love JavaScript since we don't need to mentally reset when switching between front-end and back-end code (something our JSP, PHP and ASP peers envy us for). We are the largest group, but possibly the most quiet one too. For quite some of us developing software is just a way of making a living
So where are you and where do you want to be?

Read more

Posted by on 04 June 2011 | Comments (3) | categories: XPages

Going social below the radar - will you come along?

This blog entry is based on my colleague Benedikt Müller's German Blog entry " Enterprise Social Software mit Guerilla-Taktik". It is a mix of translation, transcript and reflection. Here you go:

A few weeks ago Novell released their new platform for collaboration platform Vibe Cloud. VibeCloud is the phoenix from the ashes of Google Wave in an enterprise flavour. This cloud service claims to improve collaboration inside enterprises without the need to invest in on-premise or hosted own infrastructure. To drive adoption Novell uses the same interesting approach that turned into remarkable success story for Yammer, the innovative corporate micro blogging service (I always cringe on the word "micro blog", it is like "adhesive tape" - anybody would just tweet ask for a Scotch tape - or Tesa film in Germany): Yammer found their audience by creating a closed network based on the subscribers eMail Domain. Anybody can register on their website and is added to a network containing all users with the same email domain. The first user of any given domain kickstarts the network. Click on register now and the corporate social network takes flight.

Yammer and now Novell Vibe Cloud empower individual employees to introduce their services bypassing any internal processes and approvals. From the vendors point of view that constitutes an ingenious route to market. Employees love it for simplicity and speed. For the management and the IT departments however this is a nightmare coming true: loss of control and escalation of risk (not that I'm alleging that there are control freaks running IT or management, judge for yourself). How would such a stealth introduction unfold? Here's one typical sequence of events:

Frustrated bbeing limited to eMail as single collaboration tool in their corporations employees start to search for alternate approaches to improve collaboration with their peers. They are empowered by their private experience with Social Software in the Internet: Facebook and Twitter keep them up-to-date with their social sphere, file sharing is a snap using Dropbox or Ubuntu One and update shared documents in Google Docs. These applications set the benchmark any corporate solution will be measured against by users. Once they discover similar tools tailored for corporate use, which on top can be used by simply providing their eMail address, the flood gates are open for a rapid uncontrolled (and potentially undiscovered - until the CEO enters his eMail out of curiosity) proliferation inside the organisation. What happens next, after all it is corporate use, is the storage of internal and confidential information on the servers of these services: project discussions, customer related documents, draft presentations etc. are stored, shared and worked on.

After a short period of time a lot of internal corporate data gets stored with a vendor that hasn't been evaluated by the IT department and (IMHO much more critical) who has no contract and thus contractual obligation with the corporation. Once the user base has grown sufficiently large, management and IT can't block or discontinue the service without risking to be confronted with torches and pitchforks. In such cases a company is forced to upgrade to the commercial, paid for, service variation to gain access to control and security functionality (anyway: water flows downhill and simply find another way).

Capgemini adopted Yammer exactly in the sequence described above. Once the accelerating proliferation had been recognised, Capgemini decided to tolerate the new communication channel. Benedikt stated his support for this move, since stemming against the dynamic of this move would prove to be to difficult. I haven't made up my mind, but do agree with Benedikt, that communication dynamics need to be taken advantage of, moderated and empowered. Trying to stem or surpress them won't work. Since the data is stored outside the corporation, the sharing of customer related or internal information has been outlawed for Capgemini on Yammer. This restriction severely limits the usefulness - one can't share project related information or even what customer they are currently with.

Benedikt draws two conclusion (mine follow thereafter):
  • Corporations need to take their employees' needs and wants regarding modern communication and collaboration serious. Otherwise there is the risk (I would say: the certainty) that staff simply utilise consumer tools like Google Docs and Dropbox or "fly below the radar" introducing unchecked services like Yammer or Novell Vibe Cloud
  • To create real value in corporations Social Software must encompass collaborating using internal, confidential or even secret information. That works reliable with the cloud offering of a trusted partner. In larger organisations however the prefered approach still seem to be making these services available on-premises leveraging their existing data centre
  • The need for communication and collaboration will always trump the aspirations to control and prevent. Social Software is happening now, it is the management do decide how much guidance and influence they want to exercise
  • Simplicity isn't simple. The pervasiveness of eMail is (besides the fiction of ownership - MY inbox) rooted in its universality. I have one place to communicate internally and externally. If suddenly communication affords different tools for different communication (like Twitter to the outside, Yammer to the inside) adoption is impacted. Of course you could use Wildfire in your Lotus Notes 8.5 sidebar as single update location. The same sidebar that hosts IBM Activities that you can share inside and outside your organisation
  • Cross-corporate collaboration hasn't been sorted out yet. LotusLive's guest mode or IBM's public Sametime servers are a start, but compared to eMail it is just in its infancy

Posted by on 01 June 2011 | Comments (0) | categories: Business IBM IBM - Lotus Software