Monday, July 13, 2009

Microsoft’s Real Punishment is Having to Fight with the Gloves On

By the time the Microsoft anti-trust cases wound down, it could be argued that the alleged damage was long since done to the industry.

In a curious reversal, it appears that Microsoft’s direct penalties from the case were only a tiny beginning.

The real penalties Microsoft pays are not in money, nor in shipping “K” and “N” SKUs. They are in product strategies unpursued because they would be too provocative. In other hands, such strategies  might be reasonable if aggressive, but for Microsoft they might look like “relevant conduct.”

Today’s announcements about Office 2010 (“14”) were … well … let’s just say if you didn’t read about it, the most interesting thing you missed was seeing critics point out that Microsoft, inventor of AJAX (literally, for the Outlook web client), is only bringing other apps online 10+ years later.

The reasoning here is not about selling client OS licenses. Microsoft could have moved to the cloud richer and faster and more profitable if it could take the gloves off.

Need to get Silverlight penetration up from its abysmally low numbers to where it can really compete with Flash and become a meaningful platform? Just ship it with Windows and make it a priority update to every Windows box in the world. Problem solved. Now we can get down to the real work writing apps. Or at least Adobe could actually face some competition. But Microsoft doesn’t dare do this.

Why not stitch cloud storage directly into the OS? I hate leaving files “on the other machine.” Right out of the box, anytime I see an “Open…” or a “Save As…” dialog box on Windows 7, I would like the default destination to be a secure folder on Windows Live SkyDrive. Using the provider pattern, other vendors could offer a similar service, and the end user could choose. But Microsoft doesn’t dare with this either.

It is quite possible that the long-term benefit to the industry of having Microsoft thus restrained far outweighs the “lost” value we could have had from Redmond. But let no one fool himself into believing that what we see from Microsoft these days is everything they have to offer.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

VncSharp Rocks for Programmatic and Interactive Remote Access from .NET

VncSharp is a C# implementation of the VNC protocol together with a handy visual Remote Desktop .Net widget.

At first, the open-source VNC remote-access solution might seem like a surprising item to need in a Microsoft-based solution.

But once he gets you in the little room, VNC starts telling you that, in exchange for lower performance (than Microsoft’s own RDP), he can get you more flexibility, more features, no licensing issues, and access to remote Macs or *nix hosts. After these arguments (or is it the heat?) VNC looks a lot more persuasive.

Throw in the fact that you can run your VncSharp-enabled apps on Mono, and … well, it would be cool if that bought you a lot. But actually if you aren’t already focused on a Linux solution then the Mono angle is just another bullet.

VncSharp itself, though, works extremely well straight out of the gate.

When you see the documentation page – where the author essentially invites you to read the source to figure out how to drive it – you may be concerned. Or even start to form silent curse words with your lips.

Do not let that stop you. There are demo/sample apps that will show you what you need for basic use cases (e.g., popping open a “remote help” window will only require a line or two). And the source, if you need it, is elegant and straightforward to navigate.

A programmable VNC client is, perhaps, a niche product. VNC on Windows maybe more so. So it’s gratifying to see such a mature and streamlined OSS effort.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Can iPhone et al Drag Augmented Reality Into Non-Augmented Reality?

I’ve been pitching augmented reality apps in startup circles for a few years now, so it was exciting to see the AR startup crop grab some press coverage this week (VentureBeat and more VentureBeat and …even SF ABC 7).

With the iPhone hardware suite (and comparable devices like the Android and Pre), there’s no shortage of hardware for the core AR tasks:

  • capture decent-resolution images
  • recognize “target” areas in images
  • contextualize the targets if necessary, by adding GPS data, solid-state compass data, and/or accelerometer (angle) data
  • lookup augmentation data suitable to the target and the end-user via suitable web services
  • employ “billboarding” or 3D rendering to composite a representation of the augmentation data on top of the target
  • repeat as fast as possible without draining the battery (yeah, right)

Now for part two of the plan: this facility needs to run through a cool looking visor (a.k.a. "head-mounted display” or HMD). And neither the $6,000+ price tag nor the Silence-of-the-Lambs-night-vision look is appealing on these traditional high-tech units.

Happily, there are mass-market headsets designed for the gaming or personal entertainment market which are almost ready to go. A couple are even within striking distance of cool factor. Maybe an Apple logo would be enough to do it, at least for the Bay Area.

Even better, leaders such as Vuzix recognize the need to provide video and accelerometer data from the POV of the headset (vastly reducing the amount of computation needed contextualize the image). They appear to be planning these capabilities as optional clip-on modules to their newest “Fall ‘09” model visor.

Note the word “planning.”

Like smartphones themselves, we’ve been here before … a lot of times. The iPhone was easily the industry’s 10th attempt at a commodity handheld computer, so it’s not like the writing is on the wall. Unless it’s AR writing: