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Remembering Steve Jobs

I was doing some errands earlier this evening (Toronto time) …¬†While I was in the car, the all-news station (680news) I had on played some of Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address to Stanford grads. As I listened, and later re-read my own blog post on discovering the same address, I’m struck on the event of his passing by the importance of valuing every experience in life. In Jobs’ case, he eventually leveraged his experience with calligraphy to design the typography for the Apple Mac – after a ten-year incubation period!

I think it’s time to read that Stanford commencement address again …

RIP Steve – and thanks much.

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Multi-Touch Computational Steering

About 1:35 into

Jeff Han impressively demonstrates a lava-lamp application on a multi-touch user interface.

Having spent considerable time in the past pondering the fluid dynamics (e.g., convection) of the Earth’s atmosphere and deep interior (i.e., mantle and core), Han’s demonstration immediately triggered a scientific use case: Is it possible to computationally steer scientific simulations via multi-touch user interfaces?

A quick search via Google returns almost 20,000 hits … In other words, I’m likely not the first to make this connection ūüė¶

In my copious spare time, I plan to investigate further …

Also of note is how this connection was made: A friend sent me a link to an article on Apple’s anticipated tablet product. Since so much of the anticipation of the Apple offering relates to the user interface, it’s not surprising that reference was made to Jeff Han’s TED talk (the video above). Cool.

If you have any thoughts to share on multi-touch computational steering, please feel free to chime in.

One more thought … I would imagine that the gaming industry would be quite interested in such a capability – if it isn’t already!

Stainless Improving By Leaps and Bounds!

When I first wrote about Stainless, I indicated that it provided impressive features/functionalities for a version 0.1 release. In a subsequent post, I elaborated on Stainless’ strengths and weaknesses.¬†

Stainless is now at version 0.2.5. And in the space of a few weeks, Mesa Dynamics has addressed a number of the weaknesses I previously noted. Specifically:

  • Download capability – It just works now! Thanks!
  • Offline mode – Via Google Gears. Interestingly, I predicted this might take some time. I am so happy to be wrong!!
The release notes for Stainless provide the details on these and numerous other improvements.
So, what’s left? In order for me to shift to Stainless as my ‘production browser’, I really need:
  • Interaction with Google Notebook – Even via the bookmarklet is fine!¬†
  • URL Caching/Auto-Completion – As noted previously …¬†
Even with these production must-haves, Stainless is well worth a look today.

What You Will/Won’t Get with Stainless

Earlier today,¬†I started to evaluate¬†Stainless. In this post, it’s my intention to dig a little deeper by sharing more of what you will and won’t get with Stainless.

What you will get:
  • Private Browsing – On selecting “File \ New Private Browsing Window”, the Stainless browser that appears makes use of¬†WebKit‘s private browsing mode.¬†In this mode, global history, page caching and storing of AutoFill information are disabled. Spawned tabs and windows inherit the private-browsing mode.
  • Single-Point-of-Entry – Obviously you can type in a URL. However, you can also type in a text string (e.g., “Google Chrome”) to initiate a search via Google. In fact, via Stainless’ “Preferences”, you can choose to make use of Google, Yahoo!, Live Search, AOL or Ask.
  • Process Management – I alluded to the multiprocess capability of Stainless in the¬†previous post. I’ve just realized that by selecting “Window \ Process Manager” you can monitor and even terminate processes via a simple GUI. Very nice!
What you (likely) won’t get:
  • Downloading Capability – I tried to download from a few sites … and all attempts FAILED!! I am shocked and amazed. I saw a Page loading error: Frame load interrupted message appear in the status bar each time … This is disappointing and will hopefully be fixed in version 0.2.
  • History – Via Stainless’ “Back” button, there is some notion of history, but that’s it.
  • URL Caching/Auto-Completion – URL caching and auto-completion are unavailable.
  • An Open Source Version – There’s a significant¬†Open Source aspect to Chrome. Based on proprietary technology developed by¬†Mesa Dynamics for their¬†Hypercube personal-widgetsphere¬†offering, Stainless and Open Source seem unlikely to resonate.
  • Cross-Platform Support – Stainless is available for Mac OS X Leopard. Will this offering will be broadened? Unknown.
  • Extensibility – This killer functionality is a core competence of¬†Mozilla Firefox. It appears that Chrome will sport something analogous. Stainless? Unknown?
  • Offline Mode – I’m thinking of something along the lines of¬†Google Gears … but I don’t see it arriving soon … I installed Gears for Safari. Unfortunately, Stainless gives me the impression that I have Gears support, but in reality (during an offline situation) it’s clear that I don’t. Misleading.

Despite the negatives, I expect to continue to make use of Stainless, and encourage you to do the same.

Feel free to chime in with your impressions.

Chrome Today the Stainless Way

Even though I recently whined about¬†the wait for Google Chrome on Mac and Linux platforms, I haven’t spent any effort empowering some other browser with Chrome-like features/functionalities – even though this is possible. And although¬†CrossOver Chromium caught my attention, I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to evaluate it either.

Somewhat surprising then is the fact that I have gravitated rapidly towards a quick-and-dirty evaluation of “Stainless – a multiprocess browser for OS X inspired by¬†Google Chrome.”¬†Inspired¬†is definitely the operative word here as:

… the¬†Mac¬†version¬†of¬†Chrome¬†will¬†use¬†a¬†WebCore-rendered¬†bitmap¬†to¬†pass¬†between¬†the¬†browser¬†and¬†rendering¬†processes. The¬†strategy¬†we¬†use¬†in¬†Hypercube¬†(and¬†now¬†Stainless)¬†is¬†far¬†less¬†ambitious,¬†but¬†a¬†whole¬†lot¬†easier¬†to¬†do¬†and,¬†thus,¬†available¬†today¬†for¬†your¬†downloading¬†pleasure¬†(for¬†Leopard¬†only,¬†sorry).

And what a pleasure it is!
Honestly, based on the recent LifeHacker post, I expected a whole lot less than what Stainless actually delivers today Рin version 0.1!

Based on about 30-minutes experience, Stainless:
  • Performs well – It loads Web pages quickly. And as “ps -alx | grep -i stainless” indicates, Stainless really is a multiprocess browser for OS X. For me, this alone makes Stainless worth the effort.
  • Supports¬†AJAX – I’m writing this blog post using Google Docs via Stainless. Stainless worked fine on my initial tests with other Google productivity apps – I tested Google Spreadsheets and GMail. I therefore have some level of comfort in proclaiming it as supporting AJAX. Nice!
I’m sure I’ll have more to say soon … In the meantime, though, even at this early stage Stainless is definitely worth a serious look.

Google Should Not Be Making Mac and Linux Users Wait for Chrome!

Google should not be making Mac and Linux users wait for Chrome.

I know:

  • There’s a significant guerrilla-marketing campaign in action – the officially unstated competition with Microsoft for ‘world domination’. First Apple (with Safari), and now Google (with Chrome), is besting Microsoft Internet Explorer on Windows platforms. In revisiting the browser wars of the late nineties, it’s crucial for Google Chrome to go toe-to-toe with the competition. And whether we like to admit it or not, that competition is Microsoft Internet Explorer on the Microsoft Windows platform.
  • The Mac and Linux ports will come from the Open Source’ing of Chrome … and we need to wait for this … Optimistically, that’s short-term pain, long-term gain.

BUT:

  • Google is risking alienating its Mac and Linux faithful … and this is philosophically at odds with all-things Google.
  • It’s 2008, not 1998. In the past, as an acknowledged fringe community, Mac users were accustomed to the 6-18 month lag in software availability. Linux users, on the other hand, were often satiated by me-too feature/functionality made available by the Open Source community. In 2008, however, we have come to expect support to appear simultaneously on Mac, Linux and Windows platforms. For example, Open Source Mozilla releases their flagship Firefox browser (as well as their Thunderbird email application) simultaneously on Mac and Linux as well as Windows platforms. Why not Chrome?

So, what should Google do in the interim:

  • Provide progress updates on a regular basis. Google requested email addresses from those Mac and Linux users interested in Chrome … Now they need to use them!
  • Continue to engage Mac/Linux users. The Chromium Blog, Chromium-Announce, Chromium-discuss, Chromium – Google Code, etc., comprise an excellent start. Alpha and beta programs, along the lines of Mozilla’s, might also be a good idea …
  • Commence work on ‘Browser War’ commercials. Apple’s purposefully understated commercials exploit weaknesses inherent in Microsoft-based PCs to promote their Macs. Microsoft’s fired back with (The Real) Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld to … well … confuse us??? Shift to browsers. Enter Google. Enter Mozilla. Just think how much fun we’d all have! Surely Google can afford a few million to air an ad during Super Bowl XLII! Excessive? Fine. I’ll take the YouTube viral version at a fraction of the cost then … Just do it!

For now, the Pareto (80-20) principle remains in play. And although this drives a laser-sharp focus on Microsoft Internet Explorer on the Microsoft Windows platform at the outset, Google has to shift swiftly to Mac and Linux to really close on the disruptiveness of Chrome’s competitive volley.

And I, for one, can’t wait!

Is Desktop Software Dead?

When was the last time you were impressed by desktop software?

Really impressed?

After seeing (in chronological order) Steve Jobs, Al Gore and Tim Bray make use of Apple Keynote, I absolutely had to give it a try. And impressed I was – and to some extent, still am. For me, this revelation happened about a year ago. I cannot recall the previous instance – i.e., the time I was truly impressed by desktop software.

Although I may be premature, I can’t help but ask: Is desktop software dead?
A few data points:
  • Wikipedia states: “There is no page titled “desktop software”.” What?! I suppose you could argue I’m hedging my bets by choosing an obscure phrase (not!), but seriously, it is remarkable that there is no Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”!
  • Microsoft, easily the leading purveyor of desktop software, is apparently in trouble. Although Gartner’s recent observations target Microsoft Windows Vista, this indirectly spells trouble for all Windows applications as they rely heavily on the platform provided by Vista.
  • There’s an innovation’s hiatus. And that’s diplomatically generous! Who really cares about the feature/functionality improvements in, e.g., Microsoft Office? When was the last time a whole new desktop software category appeared? Even in the Apple Keynote example I shared above, I was impressed by Apple’s spin on presentation software. Although Keynote required me to unlearn habits developed through years of use Microsoft PowerPoint, I was under no delusions of having entered some new genre of desktop software.
  • Thin is in! The bloatware that is modern desktop software is crumbling under its own weight. It must be nothing short of embarrassing to see this proven on a daily basis by the likes of Google Docs. Hardware vendors must be crying in their beers as well, as for years consumers have been forced to upgrade their desktops to accommodate the latest revs of their favorite desktop OS and apps. And of course, this became a negatively reinforcing cycle, as the hardware upgrades masked the inefficiencies inherent in the bloated desktop software. Thin is in! And thin, these days, doesn’t necessarily translate to a penalty in performance.
  • Desktop software is reaching out to the network. Despite efforts like Microsoft Office Online, the lacklustre results speak for themselves. It’s 2008, and Microsoft is still playing catch up with upstarts like Google. Even desktop software behemoth Adobe has shown better signs of getting it (network-wise) with recent entres such as Adobe Air. (And of course, with the arrival of Google Gears, providers of networked software are reaching out to the desktop.)

The figure below attempts to graphically represent some of the data points I’ve ranted about above.

In addition to providing a summary, the figure suggests:

  • An opportunity for networked, Open Source software. AFAIK, that upper-right quadrant is completely open. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, so any input would be appreciated.
  • A new battle ground. Going forward, the battle will be less about commercial versus Open Source software. The battle will be more about desktop versus networked software.

So: Is desktop software dead?

Feel free to chime in!

To Do for Microsoft: Create a Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”.