Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Shadows of Giants

As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I used to work at IBM Australia for a quarter century, starting in 1970. During much of that period, before encountering difficult times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, IBM was regarded as the all-powerful IT company par excellence (with a few Anti-Trust decrees placed in its path at various times, affecting us as employees all around the world).

I find it quite fascinating, now as an independent outside observer still active in the IT industry, to watch things in a state of rapid flux.

This New York Times article published a few days ago is well worth a read:
Relax, Bill Gates; It's Google's Turn as the Villain
(you may have to register with the site prior to accessing the article).

In the 1990's, ... I.B.M. was widely perceived in Silicon Valley as a "gentle giant" that was easy to partner with while Microsoft was perceived as an "extraordinarily fearsome, competitive company wanting to be in as many businesses as possible and with the engineering talent capable of implementing effectively anything." ... Now, Microsoft is becoming I.B.M. and Google is becoming Microsoft.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Me and My "Shadow"

I'm always on the lookout for a bargain, which means a quality product at a reasonable price -- as they say, not "cheap", but "inexpensive."

Well have I got news for you. Christmas has come early this year.

If you're quick enough and go to you can purchase NTI Shadow™ 2 for Windows for only US $0.99 -- that's right, for only 99 cents!

I now have my very own inexpensive copy of Shadow. It has been up and running for a few days, periodically copying critical files onto a separate backup drive. The Windows XP system performance overheads seem negligible.

Therefore I give NTI Shadow 2.0 a rating of "Highly recommended" (and, in fact, would have done so even at the regular full price).

The product launch special offer can't last forever -- the regular price will be US $29.99 -- so part with the 99 cents and get in while the going's good.

UPDATE (08 September 2005): I've been using Shadow for a couple of weeks now, and have found it easy to set up backup tasks as well as running unobtrusively in the background. And here's a review that I just discovered that covers Shadow pretty well.

NetBeans Collaboration Service

Those who like myself have worked with IBM Lotus Notes for a while will remember the theme of the "THREE Cs ... Communicate, Collaborate, Coordinate" that was used for a number of years to emphasize Lotus Notes' prime strengths. Notes is rightly famed for its excellent collaboration capabilities that devolve from its basic architecture.

So it was with great interest that I just read Charles Ditzel's recent blog entry NetBeans Collaboration Project : Collablets and Code-Aware Tools for Sharing which explains how the NetBeans Collaboration Project "allows remote sharing of code, code reviews and walk-throughs among many remote developers that may even choose to use a collablet VOIP feature to augment their work, as well as code-aware instant messaging tools."

This looks like an outstanding capability to be built right into a development tool.

There's even a free NetBeans Collaboration Service for the NetBeans community... "The Developer Collaboration feature in NetBeans 4.1 IDE allows you to connect to a collaboration server. With this feature, you can engage with other developers in conversations, wherever they are located in the next room or across the continent. You can also share your projects and files in real time, allowing others in the conversation to make changes, which are presented to the rest of the group in visual cues."

I like Eclipse for what it can do extremely well, and I also like NetBeans very much. My approach is not to be a one-eyed finatic about any single tool, but to have a kitbag containing multiple tools: it's a matter of "Horses for courses" or "Use the best tool for the job in hand." We all benefit from variety, innovation and competition!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Lotus Notes Nostalgia #1

Here's a little bit of Lotus Notes nostalgia that really shows the distinctive capabilities and strengths of Lotus Notes even back in its early days. The current Notes/Domino certainly were built on a very solid foundation.

It's a demo titled Discover Lotus Notes - "The Fastest Way to a Responsive Organization" and it was originally distributed by Lotus on diskette, way back in Release 3 times in 1993 or 1994, when the server component was still called the "Lotus Notes Server" (later rebranded as the "Lotus Domino Server" at Release 4.5).

Download the demo file (less than 0.9 MB) from here or from here.

Next, unzip the file contents to a folder and copy the files onto a diskette. Then open a DOS command window, then run INSTALL.COM from the diskette drive to launch the demo.

All I can say is that it should work. But to be honest I haven't tried it for a year or two when I came across it lurking in my archives. If it does work: Enjoy!

Don't ask me why, but it won't run other than from a diskette. It expects the INSTALL.COM to be on the A: or B: drive. If you find any other way of running the demo, please let me know. Maybe there's a way of "tricking" Windows to run the demo directly from your hard drive, via the SUBST command or similar, but I've long forgotten all that DOS stuff!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Panic -- 42 is NOT the answer!

Once upon a time, information technology tools were simple: you had a stone tablet, a hammer and a chisel. And you could reasonably expect your information to stay safe in storage and be easily retrievable/understandable for hundreds if not thousands of years! But things aren't so simple these days.

I've been struggling recently with how to manage and retrieve information from my work system. It's an AMD Athlon 64-bit notebook with 1 GB of memory and a built-in 80GB hard drive plus three additional external USB-connected 80GB drives. (Total cost for this was around Australian $4000. Contrast this with, say, the initial model of the IBM System/3 introduced in late 1969, which with max hard disk of 10 MB and max memory of 16 KB would in today's dollar terms would have cost maybe 100 times as much for a tiny fraction of the processing power.)

Stored on the various drives are backups and software distributions and tens of GB of documentation in various forms such as PDF and HTML files. I'm in the middle of testing various Windows-based desktop search products to see how they each handle all that information: how quickly they index it, and how powerful/accurate are their search capabilities.

Mixed results so far. I eliminated ISYS:desktop early on, because IMHO -- while it offers the most comprehensive search capabilities of all -- I found it rather complex than all the others to install, configure, and use for searching. But the real clincher for me was that ISYS:desktop is quite expensive (hundereds of dollars).

I trialled X1 Desktop Search but uninstalled it when the two-week trial period expired -- not because it doesn't work well, but because it isn't free (although not exorbitantly priced).

The other products that I'm evaluating are free, and they are: Microsoft's Windows Desktop Search (which recently became entangled with MSN Toolbar), blinkx and Copernic Desktop Search. Each has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of usability, search features, performance, indexing space consumed, reliability, customization and so on. I'll probably publish a comparison when I finish my tests (which won't be for some weeks or months, mainly because the indexing rate is laboriously slow).

[UPDATE - 25 August 2005] ... I see that Google Desktop Search Version 2 (Beta) has just been released, so I'll probably give that a try too.

My gut feel at this early stage is that I'll never really be able to manage the information that I already have and what I'll be adding to it as time goes on. Using one of the above products, or something else, it will always be a struggle to retrieve the information I need at the time I need it -- although, following Murphy's Law, I often come across the information after I need it! Then there's the question of backup and recovery for all those gigabytes of data, which is such a huge topic that I will avoid it here.

And all of this relates to my tiny personal computing world. Expand the above to the information requirements of a large enterprise, multiple enterprises, the worldwide community, and the implications are mind-blowing. All this is illuminated by the article Pack-rat Approach to Data Storage is Drowning IT which makes you wonder where it will all end.

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Apologies to Douglas Adams, who indicated that the answer is 42 but I'm not convinced that it is! (Also see H2G2.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What's in a name?

There must be a quadzillion blogs out there by now, and even in the Lotus Notes/Domino world (which I track fairly closely) the number of blogs is growing rapidly. Not to mention the podcasting craze, and the many other distractions and diversions ... So you have to be extremely selective and careful about where you spend your time.

I look out for sites and blogs that are a bit "different" with probing, in-depth discussions of theory and principle plus well thought out tips, techniques and working examples.

Here are two such blogs that I'd recommend to you:

The first such blog for today is IdoNotes (and sleep) by Chris Miller. He does Notes, he says, and in St Charles, Missouri ... and he has a Google Maps link to prove it. Lotusphere presentations and all sorts of other goodies, find there you will.

The second blog is that of Chris Doig and it too has some thought-provoking topics, such as:

Good on you Chris and Chris!

Incidentally, the last item about database version numbers reminds me to point out a highly relevant IBM developerWorks article: Create your own Lotus Notes template storage database with revision history - Keep track of your Lotus Notes/Domino database templates with the handy Template Warehouse. This article describes how to create the Template Warehouse, and includes a complete working example you can use at your own site.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Mainframes - the "dinosaurs" are thriving

A touch of nostalgia and some reminiscences here, brought on by the appearance of IBM System z9 109 Technical Introduction (a new IBM Redbook).

Because I was a high school science teacher at the time, I wasn't aware that in 1964 IBM announced the epoch-making System/360 (architected to span the full 360 degrees of the scientific and commercial computing spectrum). Read about the IBM S/360 at Wikipedia and in the IBM archives. Also the quintessential paper Architecture of the IBM System/360. And there's also In the beginning there was IBM as well as The Beginning of I.T. Civilization – IBM’s System/360 Mainframe. A related must-read is Fred Brooks' 1975 classic, released in a 20th anniversary edition: Mythical Man-Month (replete with software engineering insights just as pertinent today as they were back in the 1970s: why, oh why, can't we learn from history?).

I joined IBM Australia in 1970, just in time for the next generation IBM System/370 announcement -- a new generation of hardware and IBM's first large-scale commercial implememtation of virtual storage. (The earlier IBM S/360 Model 67 had a more or less experimental implementation of this, I seem to recall, in its CP/67 operating system.) I was fortunate to have had such an early exposure to IBM mainframes, long a mainstay of organizations all around the globe.

From around the mid-1970s I moved away from the mainframes to some of their mid-range systems (then called "small systems" because minicomputers and personal computers were still a little way off in the future). Firstly the IBM System/7, where I spent a year doing intricate Assembler Language programming on a suite of IBM field-developed programs (FDPs) called PIMS, used to monitor and control Plastic Injection Molding Systems. That sort of work (writing interrupt handlers, etc) was like working on an operating system. It was a most interesting year, but had nothing at all to do with the rest of my career at IBM!

Then I switched to the IBM System/3, announced in late 1969 by IBM development laboratory in Rochester, Minnesota. This lab released a range of other small, easy-to-use systems during the 1970s: the System/32, the System/34 and the System/36, all extremely popular in small organizations and departments or subsidiaries of large ones.

While these systems were being produced, starting around 1972/73 IBM Rochester was working on a radical new system architecture and this was announced in October 1978 as the IBM System/38. The Wikipedia entry for S/38 which puts it very well:

"System/38 and its descendants are unique in being the only existing commercial capability architecture computers. The earlier Plessey 250 was the only other computer with capability architecture ever sold commercially. Additionally, the System/38 and its descendants are the only commercial computers ever to use a machine interface architecture to isolate the application software and most of the operating system from hardware dependencies, including such details as address size and register size. The System/38 also has the distinction of being the first commercially available IBM server to have a RDBMS."
I could go on at length about other outstanding aspects of S/38, such as its implementation of "single level storage", and the low-level implementation of database journaling and commitment control, but that's for another time. While the PC world is trumpeting the arrival of 64-bit hardware and operating systems. the S/38 and As/400 and iSeries have had such things (in one form or another) for many years -- and, most importantly, users' applications didn't have to be rewritten or recompiled to take best advantage of new features!

I was heavily involved with supporting, in Australia and Asia/Pacific countries, the System/38 and its successor the AS/400. I took an early retirement option 1992, but this system family has remained my favorite. It's heartening to see the IBM iSeries carrying on the IBM Rochester tradition of highly-advanced yet affordable, reliable, easy-to-use systems in this new century, over thirty years since its architecture was conceived in the early 1970s.

Getting back to the IBM mainframe -- even if you term them "dinosaurs" after more than forty years of evolution they are sleek, powerful, modern beasts with plenty of life left and apparently a resurgence in popularity. The IBM Redbook referred to earlier shows how advanced the zSeries servers are these days. (And you certainly could consider the larger iSeries models truly be powerful mainframes in their own right, despite their small-system heritage.)

I urge you to consider the arguments discussed in THE DINOSAUR MYTH - Why the mainframe is the cheapest solution for most organizations and Is the IBM mainframe a good consolidation platform? and Future of the IBM mainframe looks surprisingly good and The Mainframe is the answer to all your problems before you commit to large difficult-to-manage farms of small systems.

UPDATE: see also IBM unveils the new System z9 - The next evolution in mainframe computing platforms which talks about the crisis of complexity arising from trying to handle growth in application requirements just by adding more and more small servers. It quotes The Yankee Group who report that due to fragile datacenters "many enterprises are restricted in deploying innovative applications that could potentially create competitive advantage." The article mentions that "in a 32-way Parallel Sysplex® cluster, the z9-109 can perform 25 billion transactions a day, compared with 13 billion a day with z990s clustered in a 32-way Sysplex." Now that's some daily transaction rate, isn't it!

Codestore = Cool store!

I've been doing a bit of blog surfing lately, and wanted to compliment Jake Howlett of Codestore on his very perceptive and insightful Notes/Domino design articles. Excellent design ideas such as these:
And there's lots more in a similar vein. I'd encourage you to read them.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Wattle - it's the annual goldrush Down Under!

It's the second half of winter down here in Victoria, in the temperate southeastern corner of Australia. We just had a week or more of pleasantly mild weather, due to northwesterly winds crossing the continent and remaining relatively warm.

But a few days ago a southwesterly change hit, bringing with it cold winds from down south in the tempestuous Great Southern Ocean, and perhaps ultimately from further south in the Antarctic. There's a forecast for light snowfalls this week in the hills ringing Melbourne. Thankfully it never snows down here in the suburbs: we get some frost, hail and sleet down here, but never snow. [UPDATE: The predicted snow did indeed arrive on Wednesday. But instead of being confined to the mountains it fell down to sea level on some of our southern ocean beaches. Snow fell in some of Melbourne's suburbs, but didn't manage to reach as far as downtown Melbourne. This was initially described as a "once in fifty year" event, then later as a "never before experienced" occurence. So much for global warming -- maybe it's global cooling instead. (?)]

The winter of 1987/1988 at the IBM Development Laboratory in Rochester, Minnesota (working on the IBM AS/400 before it was announced) gave me a taste of bitter, numbingly cold weather. Since that time I dropped my notion of Melbourne as being really cold, and now consider it to be just uncomfortably cool and a bit miserable in short bursts.

The reference to "goldrush" in the title? Well, despite those cold fronts marching regularly across the southern ocean, there's one thing that I find heartening and uplifting about this time every winter. It's the riot of gold that bursts out in August during the annual blooming of various species of Acacia tree -- see wattle and acacia and sclerophyll in Wikipedia. The gold stands out ever so distinctly against the background green of the leaves. (As an aside, in this southeastern corner of of Australia in the 19th century we had the Victorian gold rush.)

You can see why Australia chose green and gold for the colours of our national sports uniforms, as seen at the Olympic Games, etc.

Finally, here's a collection of royalty-free pictures that I snapped for you today (08/08/2005) just across the road at the nearby Wattle Park reserve:

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Now You See It, Now You Don't

In an earlier post Note Item Not Found, under the heading Inconsistent Behavior I vented my frustration about the quite bizarre way in Domino Designer that the property box (a.k.a. Infobox) opens automatically for some types of design elements but not for others.

I listed every type of design element for which this happens, up to and including the Domino Designer for ND7 Beta 3 (which was the latest release at that time), as follows:

  • The Infobox remains closed (as it quit eproperly should) when you edit a Frameset, Page, Form, Outline, Subform, Script Library, Navigator, Database Icon, Help About and Help Using documents, Database Script.

  • The Infobox inappropriately opens when you edit a View or Folder, Agent, Web Service, Shared Field, Shared Column, Shared Action, Image (maybe), File Resource (maybe), Applet (maybe), Style Sheet (maybe), and Data Connection (maybe). Here, the "maybes" mean that it may be appropriate for the box to open when you click on the item, since there is not underlying form to open for each of these.
By an indirect route -- via one blog pointing to another that pointed to yet another -- I was greatly relieved to find that there is a solution, and it's quite a simple one.

You just add to your NOTES.INI file the following statement:

And it works well. Relief at last! This should be the default setting, don't you agree?

Of course the question still remains, why do the Domino Designer planners/developers allow the Infobox open inconsistently. Another case of design by committee, I guess, or is it just lack of attention to fine detail?