Stories by Jon Udell

Is social networking just another men’s group?

Social software as an enabler of business productivity has long been one my abiding passions. Five years ago I wrote a book called Practical Internet Groupware, which is now out of print but still available online.

Content-aware searching

When I'm deeply engrossed in R&D, as I have been lately, I can become obsessed. So take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, but I really think I’m on to something — namely, content-aware search.

The art and science of software testing

The Greek roots of the word "technology" suggest the translation "systematic treatment of an art or craft." Dictionaries define the English word as "practical application of knowledge" or "manner of accomplishing a task." TDD (test-driven development), as it has been popularized recently, is a technology that harkens back to those original meanings.

Open source lock-in A

With the release of MySQL 4.0, the licensing policy of the wildly popular open source database underwent a subtle change.

Giving back to open source

One of my recent columns attracted more than the usual amount of e-mail and Weblog commentary. Lots of people are thinking about whether, and how, to coordinate in-house development with open source projects. Licensing, employment agreements, open source culture, and government policy are some of the issues raised in the follow-on discussion.

Mobile webcasting

I’m handy with computers and software, but allergic to audio-visual gear. Faced with a baulky projector or microphone, I always hope a nearby AV tech will perform the laying on of hands. But now I’m going down the slippery slope. It’s all Apple’s fault.

What's holding software back?

I recently downloaded and ran a 1981-era copy of VisiCalc. The VC.COM file weighs in at less than 28KB, which, as co-creator Dan Bricklin says, is smaller than many GIF and JPG files on today's Web.

Mining message metadata

At InfoWorld's CTO Forum in April, BEA's Adam Bosworth talked about missing pieces of the Web services infrastructure. Some were usual suspects: reliable asynchronous transactions, more flexible programming techniques. But one of the items on Bosworth's wish list -- the high-performance XML message broker that he said BEA is developing -- struck me as novel.

Your personal SOA

SAN FRANCISCO (10/31/2003) - Fifteen years ago, Apple Computer Inc. produced a concept video called "Knowledge Navigator." To this day, no more compelling vision of human/computer interaction has been demonstrated. If you've never seen the video, or haven't watched it in a long time, do a Google on "knowledge navigator quicktime" to find a copy. Some aspects of Apple's pre-Web fantasy are now routine: global document search, wireless networking. Others, most notably natural language understanding, remain far out of reach. What interests me is the middle ground of immediate or near-term possibility. Consider this fragment of dialogue from the video:

XML spells Office upgrade

SAN FRANCISCO (10/08/2003) - It's been a long time since office suites in general, and Microsoft Corp.'s in particular, generated much heat. The features that most users depend on most often were hammered out before these programs were even ported to Windows. Word's document-handling prowess and Excel's analytical power have matured over the years, and they are formidable assets, but the truth is the average information worker has little need of them. Résumés, memos, and e-mails are written in Word by habit, not by necessity. Excel is typically used just to format, convey, and visualize tabular data. The way to reinvigorate Office was not to pile on more elite functionality, but rather to expand the scope of routine tasks. Office 2003 does so in ways that make it, arguably, the most compelling upgrade ever.

MS Office "system" attacks collaboration

SAN FRANCISCO (10/03/2003) - When Microsoft Corp. took a US$51 million stake in Groove Networks Inc. two years ago, the motivation was clear. Collaboration would be one of the themes of the new decade; Office needed to become a more compelling platform for teamwork. Office 2003 attacks the challenge not by splicing in Groove DNA, but rather by cobbling together a solution that enhances the core productivity apps using SharePoint and the new Live Communications Server. The results are delightful in some ways, perplexing in others, and mostly tangential to collaboration's bread-and-butter application, e-mail.

If it's Tuesday, it must be 10 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (10/03/2003) - A long-ago friend who was the alpha math/science geek in our junior high school used to set his watch by the stars. If programmers had their way, we'd all use astronomically pure sidereal time. Or at least we'd abandon the absurd notion of time zones. Daylight Saving Time? Don't even go there. I have seen world-renowned software architects go ballistic when that hated subject comes up. Look at the ill-disguised contempt in the IETF's RFC (Request for Comments) 3339, Date and Time on the Internet:

Understanding email's special power

Let's try a thought experiment. Suppose that some malign force knocked all the internet mail servers permanently offline, but left everything else intact. How would we cope?

Permissions on the edge

SAN FRANCISCO (09/26/2003) - Managing digital rights is one of the nastiest problems bedeviling any security architecture. Multiply the number of secured objects by the number of ACL (access control list) entries and you get a number you'd rather not contemplate. Big matrices of objects and permissions are so unwieldy that some say we should avoid creating them in the first place.

Baseball lessons

SAN FRANCISCO (09/19/2003) - Doing more with less is the theme of Michael Lewis' terrific new book, Moneyball. This David-versus-Goliath tale explains how the low-budget Oakland Athletics consistently win more games than much richer teams. Moneyball is not just a baseball book; it's a treatise on the science and economics of individual and team performance. The methods pioneered by Oakland General Manager Billy Beane, based on the theoretical foundations laid by maverick statistician Bill James, hold important lessons for enterprise IT.