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Intel Software Conference 2013

28 May 2013
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This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of HardCopy magazine.

The Intel XDK: a Web browser environment for building mobile HTML5 applications.

The Intel Cross Developer Kit (XDK): a browser-based environment for building HTML5 applications that run on mobile devices.

The annual Intel Software Conference is always worth attending, and not just for its location (this year, a converted chateau just outside Chantilly). Intel has been the driving force behind the personal computer industry from the beginning, and introduced this series of events in 2006 as a way of alerting developers to the need to master the parallel programming techniques that will allow them to take advantage of multi-core processors.

The industry has changed considerably in the intervening years, and so has this conference. Initially the focus was on Intel Core processors on the desktop and Intel Xeon in the servers. Intel’s main weapon here has been Parallel Studio. Introduced in 2009, this collection of tools and libraries is aimed primarily at optimising C/C++ code for multi-core processing. Read more…

Who are you?

5 Mar 2013

Who are you?Identity theft can be devastating for both individuals and companies. Matt Nicholson finds out how you can combat it.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of HardCopy magazine.

1958 saw the publication of a short novel by science fiction writer Algis Budrys called Who? in which a Cold War scientist by the name of Dr Lucas Martino is caught in a devastating explosion at a secret research centre. He is ‘rescued’ by the Soviets who, in response to increasing diplomatic pressure, return him to the Americans several months later. However the man they return has undergone not only lengthy interrogation but also extensive surgery, to the extent that he is now unrecognisable. The rest of the book is devoted to the efforts taken by intelligence agent Shawn Rogers to determine whether this is actually Martino, who is vital to the Allied war effort, or a Soviet spy impersonating Martino, in which case he needs to be kept well away from Martino’s work. The task proves extremely difficult.

Although written over 50 years ago, the novel goes to the heart of an increasingly important problem: how we establish and protect our electronic identity. For most of us the solutions we adopt are laughably insecure, but the effects of identity theft can be absolutely devastating. Read more…

Protecting your intellectual property

1 Mar 2013

This is my editorial from the Spring 2013 issue of HardCopy magazine:

70 style record playerOver the past decade or so, those involved in the distribution of intellectual property (IP) have had their worlds turned inside out by the Internet. First it was the music business getting to grips with the illegal download of music through services such as Napster. More recently the film industry has had to watch DVD sales plummet as online streaming sites such as Netflix steal business away from high-street shops. Meanwhile there’s panic in the bookshops as they attempt to compete with Amazon and the downloadable eBook. About the only IP industry not affected is that of invention. As far as I know, patents continue to be licensed and sold in much the same was as they’ve always been.

The reason for this revolution lies in the fact that the Internet has all but eliminated the cost of distribution. Prior to the Internet, distributing IP such as music, film or books cost serious money. Vinyl records, CDs and DVDs had to be manufactured; paperbacks and hardbacks had to be printed and transported. But underneath it all was just raw data, and with the Internet, the incremental cost of distributing data is virtually nothing.

Of course one of the first industries to get to grips with the Internet was the software industry. Even before the Internet, distribution costs were fairly low, and it quickly became obvious that the value lay in the intellectual property – in other words the source code – rather than in the medium by which it was distributed, which is why you buy a licence to use software, rather than the software itself. This is of course also true of films and music and books, but here it is readily accepted that customers can sell the DVDs and CDs and paperbacks they have bought to their friends, because this is a clear transfer of use from one person to another.

Which makes the recent case of Usedsoft vs. Oracle particularly interesting. Like most software companies, what Oracle sells is a perpetual licence to use its software, rather than the software itself. German company Usedsoft, on the other hand, are in the business of buying and selling unused software licences. Despite vigorous argument from Oracle, the European Court of Justice has ruled that anyone in possession of a perpetual licence to use a computer program has the right to sell the licence on, even if they had originally downloaded the software from the author’s Web site. The ruling effectively puts software on the same footing as paperbacks and DVDs, so going against the generally accepted view that a perpetual licence cannot be transferred.

For the industry, volume licences which are renewed every year or so provide a measure of defence against the decision. However software distribution is already learning lessons from elsewhere. Services such as Adobe Creative Cloud or Microsoft Office 365, where software is sold on a monthly or annual subscription service, bear comparison with Netflix, which serves much the same purpose.

The Internet Operating System

28 Nov 2012

This is my editorial from the Winter 2012 issue of HardCopy magazine:

INGG0209Cast your mind back to 1995. Microsoft was well established, with either MS-DOS or Windows running on over 90 percent of desktop computers. However Bill Gates was beginning to worry about a new phenomena: the World Wide Web, which had been invented a few years previously.

In particular, he was worried by what a young man named Marc Andreessen was saying about his operating system. Andreessen was responsible for Netscape Navigator, the Web browser that was spreading like wildfire across his desktops, and Andreessen was starting to talk about something called the Internet Operating System: an environment in which Netscape Navigator became the user interface, giving access to applications that ran remotely across the Internet. Navigator was available not only for Windows but also for the Apple Macintosh and even for UNIX. In such a scenario, Windows became little more than a “poorly debugged set of device drivers.”

Other companies that had a bone to pick with Microsoft rallied to the call. Sun Microsystems had developed Java, which Netscape licensed so that its browser could run programs written in Java. Oracle supported the idea because its server technologies could help deliver the applications, and started talking about a Network Computer that would give users all they needed to access applications across the Internet – and that did not include Windows.

A few implementations did appear, including the Acorn Network Computer and the Sun JavaStation. However the intiative died a fairly swift death. The Internet was simply not fast enough and the hardware was too expensive for it to succeed.

But fast-forward to the present day and the concept makes more sense, and indeed is in the ascendant. Its most faithful manifestations are to be found in the cloud-hosted applications that we interact with through the browser, such as Office Web Apps or Google Docs. Then there are the ‘apps’ that we find in iOS, Android, Windows Phone and now Windows 8. These have a similar architecture to those of Java, although I imagine that Andreessen would have been dismayed by their platform dependence and mutual incompatibility.

An integral part of this new Internet Operating System is the cloud architecture, and the emerging realisation that it defines an architecture, rather than a location. It’s strength lies in its ability to operate out in the ‘public cloud’, but it also makes sense when applied in-house, and even more so in a hybrid architecture that allows any component to move seamlessly from location to location.

An important strength of such an architecture is its implications with regards to privacy and security. Company data and bespoke applications are core business assets, and many are unhappy at the prospect of hosting them outside the firewall. Adopting a cloud-based architecture means that discussions about their location can revolve around business considerations, rather than technical issues.

Returning to a partisan world

25 Sep 2012

This is my editorial from the Autumn 2012 issue of HardCopy magazine:

Are we being boxed in by Apple, Google and Microsoft?

A long time ago I found myself at an exhibition in discussion with the vendor of a range of custom controls for Visual Studio. He was upset because Microsoft had included in the new version of Visual Studio, which had just been announced, the functionality of his top-selling control, so wiping out the market for his product overnight. His bitterness is understandable, but then it was Microsoft which had created the market for custom controls in the first place. Rather less acceptable was the situation in which Netscape found itself when Microsoft decided to include a Web browser with Windows. The ensuing battle resounded around the courts for decades, and is the reason why even now an uninvited dialog occasionally pops up requesting that you select your default browser.

Such matters were brought to mind by recent developments. Like many, I use a range of products and services from a number of different companies. Much of it comes from Microsoft, but there are others. I have, for example, started using Dropbox cloud storage. Dropbox keeps my files backed up and synchronised across my various devices, and works well. However I am aware that Microsoft would much prefer me to use its own SkyDrive or Office 365 services, and that I am missing out on an increasing number of features by choosing to use something else. This is doubtless going to become even more apparent when I eventually upgrade to Office 2013, which is likely to be so integrated with Office 365 that I will eventually succumb – to the detriment of Dropbox and other companies like it. Read more…

Last chance for Windows

6 Jun 2012

This is my editorial from the Summer 2012 issue of HardCopy magazine:

Windows 8 start screenThe imminent launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT is big news. Microsoft has a real opportunity on its hands with Windows 8, but whether it is going to grasp it is far from certain. And if it does not, the company might as well leave the tablet and the phone market in Apple’s capable hands.

As far as client-side computing is concerned, the industry has crystallised around three form factors: the desktop, the tablet and the phone. Each satisfies a different need; each makes a different demand on its operating system; and despite what anyone says, each is going to be with us for many years to come. Read more…

The magic of the app

27 Feb 2012
tags: ,

This is my editorial from the Spring 2012 issue of HardCopy magazine:

It has long been the case that we view intellectual property – software, the written word, music or film – differently to real, physical objects. This stems from a feeling that copying intellectual property without paying is somehow different because it doesn’t actually deprive the author or the distributor of anything: steal a TV, and the owner can no longer watch television; copy a song, and the owner has still got the original.

This attitude was compounded by the growth of the World Wide Web through the 1990s. Right from the start, one of the big benefits of the Web was that – once you’d paid your phone bill – everything else was free. However, once we’d got over the novelty of it all, many of us started wondering how we were going to make a living in this brave new world. Companies like Amazon and eBay didn’t have a problem as they were selling ‘real things’, but those of us in publishing, music and eventually even film had to face the fact that no-one seemed to be prepared to pay for what we produced. Read more…

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