Stories by Jon Udell

Interaction data delivers benefits

The twin themes of this year's Accelerating Change conference at Stanford University last month were AI (artificial intelligence) and IA (intelligence amplification). On the AI track, people talked about making systems smarter. On the IA track, people talked about harnessing collective human intelligence. The tension between the two groups caused some sparks.

Web-based software getting more feature rich

When Peter Yared, chief executive and founder of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/Python) middleware startup ActiveGrid realised he needed project management software to coordinate his company’s development work, he tried Microsoft Project 2003.

WinFS and social information management

I saw my first demo of Microsoft’s Cairo OFS (Object File System) back in 1993. It was briefly unveiled at the Professional Developers Conference that year, and then shelved. This month I installed the beta version of its successor, WinFS.

IBM becomes a tagger to improve searching

You can find Irving Wladawsky-Berger's fingerprints on most of IBM's key initiatives: on-demand, open source, Linux, autonomic, and grid computing. So when he launched his blog in May, I became a charter subscriber.

Software's common DNA

Here are five species of application that seem, at first glance, to have little in common: mainframe "green screen," Win32/VB, Java/Swing, Web browser, and .Net WinForms. An enterprise application portfolio is likely to include members of each of these species. Nobody chooses this diversity; it just happens, and it complicates everything from development and deployment to maintenance and testing.

Greasemonkey in crisis

Aaron Boodman hopes that he will never live through a July 18 worse than this past one. Boodman is a co-developer of the popular Greasemonkey extension for Firefox which, on that day, was found to have a severe security flaw that could enable a rogue script on a web page to read local files and send them over the internet.

Is Microsoft trustworthy yet?

In the 1990s, Marc Andreessen famously joked that Netscape would reduce Windows to a set of poorly debugged device drivers. By the turn of the century, critics were instead arguing that Microsoft itself had reduced its own software to a collection of security holes.

Federating identity

In last week's column, I suggested that individuals and corporations should be the authoritative sources of basic information about themselves. That way, if an application needs my name, address, and phone number, I can refer it to a source that I control and guarantee to be correct. But how many applications really need my name, address, and phone number? Capturing the identity of individuals, along with personal information about them, has become a habit. In a climate of increasing concern about privacy, it's a bad habit we must learn to resist.

HailStorm was before its time

Next time you're filling out a registration form on the web, try this experiment. Enter only your last name and ZIP code (let's pretend you're a US resident), then click Submit. The form's handler will complain about a bunch of missing fields, including address, city, state, country, and phone number. Now visit Google and type a query based on this construction: phonebook: LastName,ZipCode.

Web standards on the move

I've consistently argued that Web standards — including XHTML, CSS, DOM, and ECMAScript — can do more than we give them credit for and have plenty of room for growth. Case in point: Apple Computer's Dashboard. When Steve Jobs demoed this forthcoming technology to developers last week, he called it "Expose for widgets," referring to a current OS X feature that tiles (and scales) all open windows for easy scanning and quick access. In OS X 10.4, aka Tiger, Dashboard will extend the Expose idea to a special class of small, single-purpose apps: calculators, stock viewers, media players. You hit one key to produce a tiled display of these "gadgets" and another to dismiss them.

Needed: Rapid Internet response

Following last month's Akamai outage, the internet's survivability once again became a hot topic. Diego Rivera, CTO of Clevercactus, noted on his weblog that although the packet-switching fabric itself is highly decentralized, the services that breathe life into the Internet are not. "So today, Akamai sneezes and the rest of the world gets a cold," Rivera wrote. "Tomorrow, it will be someone else."

Space, time and data

In a column last year I mentioned in passing an intriguing use of fish-eye distortion by the Flash developer Samuel Wan. Similar to Mac OS X's Dock, Wan's fish-eye menu selectively magnifies items near the cursor while shrinking distant items. The result is a list that's fully scannable without scrolling and that reveals detail in a focal zone.

Thin clients and rich data

In the rich v reach debate, rich usually means a user interface more responsive and more coherent than a browser's.

Open source and visible source

Last year I wrote about my visit to Zope, where I sat in on a training session for Z4I (Zope4Intranets), a commercial product that’s layered on top of the open source Zope platform. Z4I is a toolkit for portal construction and content management. At the session, I met George Mengelberg, digital production engineer at JICPAC, a US Department of Defense organisation that chose Z4I over the likes of Documentum or Stellent. The big content management solutions can cost up to a million bucks, Mengelberg notes, not including the inevitable customisation. As a taxpayer, I was glad to know that JICPAC had embraced a little-known product that it judged would meet its requirements as well, if not better, than a higher profile and much more expensive solution.