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April’s Contributions on Bright Hub

In April, I contributed two articles to the Web Development channel over on Bright Hub:

Google Chrome for Linux on Bright Hub: Series Expanded

I recently posted on a new article series on Google Chrome for Linux that I’ve been developing over on Bright Hub. My exploration has turned out to be more engaging than I anticipated! At the moment, there are six articles in the series:

I anticipate a few more …

It’s also important to share that Google Chrome for Linux does not yet exist as an end-user application. Under the auspices of the Chromium Project, however, there is a significant amount of work underway. And because this work is taking place out in the open (Chromiun is an Open Source Project), now is an excellent time to engage – especially for serious enthusiasts.

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 – in 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.

Synced-Data Applications: The Bastard Child of Convergence

At the Search Engine Strategies Conference in August 2006, in an informal conversation, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated:

What’s interesting [now] is that there is an emergent new model, and you all are here because you are part of that new model. I don’t think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is. It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – they should be in a “cloud” somewhere. And that if you have the right kind of browser or the right kind of access, it doesn’t matter whether you have a PC or a Mac or a mobile phone or a BlackBerry or what have you – or new devices still to be developed – you can get access to the cloud. There are a number of companies that have benefited from that. Obviously, Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon come to mind. The computation and the data and so forth are in the servers.

My interpretation of cloud computing is summarized in the following figure.


Yesterday, I introduced the concept of Synced-Data Applications (SDAs). SDAs are summarized in the following figure.


SDAs owe their existence to the convergence of the cloud and the desktop/handheld.

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”.