Stories by Jon Udell

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? Certain email functions would seem to be easy to replace. For example, as some of us have lately been pointing out, newsletters, mailing lists, and other automatic notifications can easily be converted to RSS feeds and can work more effectively in that mode. Of course, if you're a BlackBerry user, you'll push back and say that RSS feeds are only useful when routed to your BlackBerry as email. Maybe so. But remember, we're talking no email at all. None. Nada. SMTP gone completely AWOL. In that case, you'll cozy right up to WAP and RSS.

More pleasant surprises, please

Travelling on vacation this week, I was pleasantly surprised a few times by technology. On its first jaunt far from home, my new cellphone made my watch obsolete by sensing time zones and automatically adapting.

Security blame games

With the Sobig.F worm on the wane and its successor presumed to be waiting in the wings, fingers are pointing angrily at Redmond.

Dynamic languages and virtual machines

Back when .Net was Microsoft Corp.'s shiny new replacement for boring old Java, the Redmond rhetoricians used to make a couple of points with which I heartily agreed. First, your platform ought not be joined at the hip to a programming language. Different people use different languages for different reasons; it's wise to accommodate them all. Second, dynamic (aka scripting) languages were going to be a .Net priority. Perl and Python, for example, would be compiled for native execution on implementations of the CLI (Common Language Infrastructure) -- that is, on Microsoft's Common Language Runtime, and now also on Microsoft's Shared Source CLI ("Rotor") and Ximian's Mono.

Acrobat challenges InfoPath

I’m not a printer-oriented kind of guy. I own printers, of course, but can go weeks without using them. For more than 20 years I’ve been creating information flows that rarely, and increasingly never, get rendered onto 8.5 x 11in pages.

Revisiting Zope

For years I've been following the adventures of Zope, an open source application server that is particularly adept at content management. The Zope engine and its layered applications are written in Python, and the whole system is built on top of a Python-based object database called ZODB. Having done a lot of Zope development myself, I know firsthand how powerful and productive this arrangement can be. Admittedly it's an unorthodox approach that an enterprise IT planner might be reluctant to bet on. But as I learned recently on a visit to Zope's headquarters in Fredericksburg, Va., some big organizations are doing just that. NATO's worldwide intranet, for example, is based on Zope.

The services fabric

In 1998 Graham Glass was CTO of ObjectSpace, a Dallas-based vendor of a popular ORB (object request broker) known as Voyager.

Core and periphery

Software systems are among the most complex of the artifacts that our species creates. In the design, use, and evolution of such systems, a dynamic tension exists between what I have come to call the core and the periphery.

Listening to my server

The first server I connected to the internet sat on the floor of my office, close enough so I could hear -- and feel -- its response to heavy load. It seems weird to admit that I relied on those sensory cues, but I've talked to enough system administrators to know I'm not alone. The sounds of a working machine enable the pattern recognition engine in your brain to create a baseline -- and to detect deviations from it -- in ways that are effortless, automatic and incredibly efficient.

Steering open source

The technology executive at a leading software vendor recently told me that he spends a lot of time wondering how open source projects can possibly work. “You take out the internal combustion engine, yet somehow the car still runs,” he said.

Winning the browser peace

The notion of a "browser war" sounds so last-century. It's over, Microsoft won, we've moved on to bigger and better things -- like service-oriented architectures.

Tools for rules

Tthe dusk that was thick on my copy of the 1985 Clocksin and Mellish classic, Programming Prolog. But Ted Neward, author of the forthcoming book Effective Enterprise Java, brought it all rushing back: expert systems, declarative rules engines, predicate calculus, backward- vs forward-chaining evaluation.

Patterns of persistence

Programmers spend time and effort translating between objects represented in high-level programming languages, such as Java, and structures stored in relational databases.

APIs, protocols, and rogue plumbers

My local bank is switching from one online bill-payment system to another. I'm looking forward to the new system, which will be an improvement on the current one, but I wasn't expecting this: