Saturday, April 29, 2006

MSWin Integration: Scotch Tape and Bailing Wire

Good programming must rest on a rigorous foundation, or, as my mentor Edsger Dijkstra used to point out, it is a branch of applied mathematics, and anyone who forgets that, risks irrelevance. However good programming is also a craft. And sometimes in the evolution of design we become the victims of a paradigm, which needs to be broken before progress can happen.

Under the link of the title is an article from one of my favorite columnists, John C. Dvorak, on the death of Internet Explorer, titled "The Great Microsoft Blunder." I always enjoy his columns, not because I always agree, but because he has a strong opinion and is provocative. This time I also agree with him. Internet explorer is a dead duck, and the only place I used it is if I absolutely must download something from, which tends to misbehave with alternative browsers, on purpose. Other websites that are not browser-friendly I simply ignore any longer, for the independent browsers are winning, and within six months those sites will be forgotten if they don't conform.

One of the mysteries around Internet Explorer is the question of why Microsoft would have made such a fuss over it, and have put themselves in a massive state of corporate fear over the appearance of Netscape, and successfully killed it off in the market place, only to forget about the whole opportunity after they killed their prey? This is a classic mistake in business, if you focus on beating your competitor, you forget about delivering service to your customer, and thereby you hasten your own demise, all the while thinking that you are perhaps succeeding in killing the competition. Opera, Firefox and many others have demonstrated superior browsing for years now, and are making steady inroads as people grow tired of IE and its problems. Meanwhile Microsoft is grudgingly fixing security problems but failing to deliver functionality. And Dvorak is right, the defense of coupling IE to Windows, with the idea of protecting Windows, is what helped kill it as a platform. That may not be evident to consumers yet, but it is evident on the margin of the technology world, in those places where fast growth does happen, and where economists know you need to look to see what is really going on. Microsoft's biggest problem right now is that it's making money hand over fist, and therefore is in a delusion of being successful. The stock market is starting to have second thoughts, though. Corporately it is squandering its resources on numerous rear guard actions to defend what it has, rather than to build value for its customers. And that's deadly.

Of course this little reflection only serves as an intro to my favorite topic of late, Kanosis and the COIL(r) operating system. By way of an introduction let me share an experience. I talked to an old friend about Kanosis, and he told me that he and his partners had just had a meeting and were bemoaning the fact that they all hated ACT! but had been unable to find an alternative. I started to laugh, for the first victim on my desktop after I decided to move to Kanosis, will be ACT! That is already a given, though I'm taking my time getting there. My friend is presently evaluating Kanosis, but I don't know today if the consumer version will be viable in his business, though if it is, his partners will soon start using it also.

ACT! is a program I have used since its inception, and it has struggled to provide meaningful integration in the Windows environment, and has consistently failed to deliver. This is not per sé their fault, within the given paradigm they pursued a strategy that seemed reasonable, but the reality is that in the Windows environment integration is done with Scotch Tape and bailing wire, and is a very delicate affair, prone to constant breakdowns, something which my experience with ACT! constantly demonstrates, and in recent years, the more features they add, the more I don't use. In fairness I will not totally abandon ACT!, because for some telemarketing work it can be useful, because it allows me to keep a database separate from my own data, but for my own work ACT! will not be seen any longer, and all its wonderful "integration" features are therefore useless to me.

What I'm finding sofar in Kanosis -- and I'll write more on it after the launch on May 1st -- is an integration of a number of functionalities in a way that promises huge leaps in productivity both for myself by integrating my own desktop, and for any collaboration, as I'm presently experiencing in my collaboration with one of my associates in Kanosis, as we are starting to use the Kanosis interface in our marketing work for Kanosis. The convenience of drag and drop functionality in collaboration with others, for file-sharing and soon for payments etc. is not to be missed.

Another way of looking tat this issue is that Microsoft's ace in the hole is always unnecessary associations which compromise elegant architecture, but which benefit their marketing. An example is the needless "personal" in computer, and the compromise of one's data and information by that association. Presently in the Internet age, a service like Kanosis offers to separate the personal from the computer, and provide professional management of at least some critical set of your data, with mirroring and backup, and thus much reducing the risk of data loss or compromise. If you switch to using Kanosis, you will see yourself increasingly becoming indifferent to the hardware you're running on, and you're then free to pick the hardware that's best suited to other tasks you wish to perform, be it Apple, Wintel, Lintel, a Sun workstation, a Wyse workstation, or Linux on PPC, any of them will do, as long as you have an internet connection a browser, and Java.

Stephen van Zutphen has expressed publicly that his vision was that of a "personal operating system" as opposed to a computer operating system, and based on the previews sofar of the "beta version" of COIL/Kanosis, he is well on his way to delivering on that promise, and the release of the final version on May 1st should fill in most of the remaining blanks. The result seems very important to me, also in the context of the discussion John C. Dvorak raised. At the launch Kanosis will offer an integration of upto twelve applications into one interface, and thereby offers the opportunity of drastically simplifying anyone's desktop. And, in the case of a user like myself, who works at times with Windows, or with Mac or with Linux, this Kanosis interface is the great equalizer, to make me platform independent because it provides a core of applications, so that without any further worries about integration problems, I can use Mac for what it does best, and Linux for what it does best, and Windows... well really only because other people do, and my business requires it for that reason. In other words, the corporate world moves slower than I do, but they'll catch up eventually. And that is where I've been headed for the last ten years, ever since I set up my first dual-boot Linux machine, when the first kernel was going around.

It is very funny that the Kanosis phenomenon should hit the market now, just when Apple has made itself furthermore technologically irrelevant by switching to Intel. I have a publishing business, for which I was planning to switch to Apple, and Kanosis provides me with the last missing link to make such a mixed environment feasible for a small business without huge integration costs and diseconomies of scale. I may end up still acquiring one of the last PowerMacs G5 with the last dual-core Power processors, but meanwhile DTP on Linux is far enough along, that in two years I'll probably be running my publishing work on a PPC- or AMD64-based Linux box, or on a Sun workstation, and most likely not on a Mac. In other words, whatever else Kanosis may be, to me just now it has removed the last remaining inefficiencies and worries of integration of Mac, Linux, and MSWin in a small business setting. And therein lies the rub.

Copyright © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Tim/Pharmacist/Alt Med Specialist said...