Joel Spolsky is the reason I am a Java Techie. See him in Dublin IJTC Wednesday

Joel Spolsky is flying in to Dublin next Wednesday to give the keynote speech at the Irish Java Technologies Conference. Mark 7.45pm on Nov 7th in your Diaries folks – Jake has the offical announcement and ask him in person for the full story. In case you don’t know who he is, Joel was one of the early Microsoft employees, one of the first bloggers (since 2000) and is an expert on management and Java software development projects based in New York (possibly due to his stock of stories from Israeli Military Service).
Joel Spolsky Image

So how did Joel make me a Java Techie? You know Excel, that Spreadsheet thing you use everyday. Part of the reason it’s so flexible is because of Joel’s work back in the early days at Microsoft- he was program manager for the team at that created Excel Macros, which eventually morphed into Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). A long time ago when I was still a business person I got involved in automating manual tasks using these Microsoft Office tools. From there, every job got more and more techie until it reached the stage where I must blog about Java every day. It’s all Joel’s fault.

Tickets at the door cost €245.Booking here costs €189. Joining the DubJug (Dublin Java Users Group) for free before booking gets you a further discount.

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Microsoft Word 2007 file format – the same bad old tricks

Here’s the good news – Microsoft is using a new file format for Office 2007 , which is due out shortly. It’s fairly simple – just text with tags (aka XML), zipped up to make it smaller. For example a 5Mb Word file shrinks down to 10% of it’s size in the old format.
Office Logo

Here’s the bad news – Microsoft is up to the same old tricks in the hope of forcing people to upgrade to a newer version of office. The new format cannot be read by the versions of Word, Excel or Powerpoint that most people have installed on their machines. By default , the new version of Office saves in the incompatible format, so eventually most people will be pestered into buying the new copy just to save them the embarassment of having to ask

Can you send that file again, but save it as the older version of Word?

Not a line that I’d want to say to important client. A friend of mine finds himself in that predicament. How do you convert Office 2007 files into ones that Word 2000 / Word 2003 can read. So far I’ve tried the following to help him out.

  1. Used Google’s online Documents and Spreadsheets. No joy – which is surprising , given that the new format is (techically) easier to read. Perhaps something to do with software patents?
  2. Tried the excellent (and free) Office clone – OpenOffice. No joy – even more surprising given that Microsoft seems to have ripped off the idea for the new format from OpenOffice in the first place.
  3. I’m now trying the ‘Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack‘ which promises to solve the problem for older versions of Word.

Watch this space.

Update:

Number 3 (the pack from Microsoft) works. Even more importantly , it allows you to save into the new format. However , not everybody is going to know / be bothered to install this large (27mb) download.For a change this important, why isn’t it installed automatically as part of windows update?

I’ve only tried this for Microsoft Word, but it should be able to convert from Excel 2007 into Excel 2003 and Excel 2000 as well.

I expect OpenOffice and Google docs to catch up with this fairly shortly. That is , if they can get around the legal tricks that Microsoft are playing with the new format.

Irish Blogger lynched on O'Reilly site for comparing Google Spreadsheets with Java

There are times when Web2, blogging , feedback from readers and the wisdom of crowds is great. And there are times that it’s extremely painful.

OnJava Logo
Like this Blogpost I wrote over on the O’Reilly site. Do Google Spreadsheets mean the end of Java?

I expected some people to disagree with me , but at least disagree for good reasons. The key point, that Web 2, it’s applications (of which Google spreadsheets is only ) and their API’s will fundamentally change the way we solve business problems using IT has been lost in the knee-jerk reaction.
Copy of the blog post here.

Google Spreadsheets Mean the end of Java

Or to be more accurate ‘Google Spreadsheets mean the end of Java as we know it’.
Google Spreadsheets Logo
Think about this. Who pays your wages Mr Java-Developer-who-has-just-had-a-couple-of-years-at-the-top-of-the-pile? Clients, or if you’re in a larger organisation , the business folks (i.e.’internal’ clients). Do you think any of them care about Java? Do any of them know what Java is? All they want is to get things done, quickly , and with as few mistakes as possible.

These business people would be happy to run their organisations on Spreadsheets. Do you remember the cartoon where Dilbert convinced the pointy haired boss that he could fly the plane using Excel? There’s more than a element of truth to this. I know of at least one US Fortune 100 company that (until recently) conducted most of it’s operations on little more than Microsoft Office and duct-tape. It worked, not very well, but it worked.

Until now , the next line would be ‘Excel (or any other type of Spreadsheet) is not secure / scalable / sharable / not web friendly’. That was until Google launched their Docs and Speadsheets. It’s an online version of Office with some spreadsheet functionality. Play with it a bit and you’ll see that there’s plenty missing. But this being Google , I’m willing to put good money on

  • (a) new features rolled out (think steamroller) and
  • (b) These Spreadsheets being massivly scalable / secure / sharable.

This being Google, there is also an API (developer page here). It’s got massive holes in it (e.g. you can’t yet use it to create a new spreadsheet). But when Microsoft bring out their version of online spreadsheets (and they will) not only will they clone the Google API (to get market share), they’ll need to go one further and introduce new features / remove the usage restrictions in order to compete.

So, secure, scalable, sharble online spreadsheets are here to stay. So lets take a look at Mr. (or Ms.) Pointy haired boss thinking about their new project:

  1. Hmm, I think we need to be able to gather which health plans our employees are enrolled in.
  2. OK, I’ll throw together a spreadsheet to show people what I want
  3. Before I’ll give to our friendly Java developer and let him ‘do’ a website from it.
    Soon I’ll just share this on Google.
  4. Great , Loads of people are now using it, I’ll just the (Ruby / PHP / Insert other language here) guy to add one or two extra features.
  5. Most Excellent. Why don’t we spin this off as a Web 2 company and sell it to EBay??

There you have it, Massively scalable , Highly secure websites (see Google Authentication API), without needing to know anything about EJB, JMX , JBoss, JDBC or any of the hard won knowledge that us Enterprise Java Developers have built up over the last 7-8 years. I’m exaggerating, but not much.

What do you think? Is Enterprise Java dead, or is Web 2 just another boost and a slightly different way of doing things for us Java people?

Other Java Posts from Technology in Plain English

Some other notes:

This article was originally published on the O’Reilly books OnJava Website.

Information Storage for Dummies (and how to make it secure)

Doing a lot of database work for a client right now so now it’s a good time to recap on where you can store your information. This might be basic stuff , but it’s essential basic stuff.

  • Spreadsheets, of which Microsoft Excel is the most popular. How the PC and Microsoft began their 25 year reign. Ironically their availability online (care of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets) threatens to end the PC era and usher in the Web 2.0 one.Spreadsheets are never secure. If I can get a copy of them (and letting me read one means that I have a copy) then I can read everything. Everything. Most Excel passwords can be cracked within seconds.
  • Take a couple of spreadsheets, glue them together and put links between the sheets. Now you’ve more of less got an entry level database, such as Microsoft Access. It’s aimed at people who need more power than Excel, but are not developers.

    The trouble is that Access is not secure (see problem above) and that it doesn’t scale very well (for more than a couple of people using it at once). Both Access and Excel come with versions of Microsoft Office.

Access Splash Screen

  • So you have your information, and now you want to stick it on the web. MySql is the database of choice. Free, lightweight and with excellent tool support (e.g. phpMyAdmin), MySql is what powers this website. If you know what you’re doing (e.g. Google or Amazon) it will scale very very well.
  • For most people , the next step up is to a serious Enterprise database. Oracle, MS Sql-Server and it’s cousin Sybase are the main contenders in this area. DB2 from IBM is a distant fourth place while Sybase is strong in financial institutions. While MySql is catching up in features, most companies chose one of the main three because of their track record, a long list of people and vendors that support them, and because of ‘lock-in’. Once you choose a database it’s very hard to change.

So there you have it. Don’t let me see you trying to run a company on Excel or Access again. Or at least, don’t complain to me when it falls over!

What is Web 2.0?

I’ve often been asked the question ‘What is Web 2.0’? Normally it’s followed quickly by the question ‘how do I make money out of it?’ Recently I’ve been thinking that Web 1.5 might be a better term (as it is an upgrade to the web , with a mix of shiny new and old but reliable techniques).

Web Monkey Logo

While there are many sites jumping on the Bandwagon and claiming the Web 2.0 Title, Tim Ziegler writing on Webmonkey gives a very good summary of what most Web 2.0 sites have in common. As always, you’ll be able to find true Web 2.0 companies that break these ‘rules’ , but it’s as good a place to start as any.

In Summary, Web 2.0 Sites / Companies / Products tend to:

  • Build on the notion of ‘the long tail’ where niche demand meets niche supply , a cost-effective and profitable market due to lower transaction / search costs on the Web.
  • Web as a platform. It doesn’t matter where you are , or what computing you use. As long as you have a web browser you can use these products.
  • Ajax , a technique that combines the power to traditional Desktop Applications (like Word and Excel) , with the ‘use anywhere-ness’ of web pages.
  • Smart Content Management. Create and publish a web page as easily as a Word Document. Forget needing to know FTP , HTML , CSS and other low level tools of a previous generation.
  • Dashboard Views. Because Web pages are published in Machine as well as Human Readable format, it is easy to create summary, Dashboard views.
  • Give it away to get more back
  • . It is alleged that in earlier days Microsoft was more willing to tolerate piracy of it’s office suite in order to get ‘critical mass’ – missing out on revenue initially, but growing the cake substantially in the process by becoming the de-facto standard. It may have worked for them but ‘give your product away to get a core of paying users’ won’t impress too many VC’s.

  • Human Filters or Trust your users. Also known as ‘Many hands make light work’.
  • Iterations , or many small releases (easy because the software runs in only one place) is better than one big bang.
  • Simple is good. Forget feature overload – think iPod.

So that answers the ‘What is Web 2.0’ Question. Up to you to find out how to make money out of it.

More Web 2.0 Posts here.