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News

  • Quantum open source fund launched

    A ‘no-strings’ grant program targeting developers of quantum computing software has been launched with the aim of filling the gaps in the nascent field.

  • How to cope after your CIO Googles DevOps

    So your CIO thinks that cloud, BYOD and big data are all passé and now has declared The Next Big Thing in the IT department will be DevOps — and hey, even worse, he or she used the Google and has seen that Big Vendor X and Big Vendor Y offer 'DevOps-ready products' so all that it's going to take is picking up a bunch of overpriced automation tools.

  • Telecom launches pack for M2M app development

    Telecom has made available a free developer’s pack with the resources needed to develop machine-to-machine (M2M) applications. The pack is meant for New Zealanders interested in working on M2M solutions.

  • Employers look to address skills shortage

    Ongoing investment in software and infrastructure projects by enterprise is fuelling demand for program managers, according to the [[xref: www.hays.com.au/report|April-June quarterly report]] by recruiting group, Hays.

  • Java developers OK with Oracle - to date

    In the two months since Oracle absorbed Java pioneer Sun Microsystems, Java developers are not losing sleep over how Oracle has been handling the Java technology franchise, although they have some concerns. The recent resignation of Java creator James Gosling, and his comment that "just about anything I could say that would be accurate and honest would do more harm than good", resurfaced those fears.

  • Developers complain about Android sales

    The Android Market probably produces less than US$5 million a month, despite a recent report that issued that estimate, one successful application developer says.

  • Multicore chips bring challenges for developers

    With the advent of multicore processors such as the Intel Core Duo, which is now commonplace in PCs, software developers must deal with a new wrinkle — getting software to be processed across multiple cores — in order to ensure the maximum performance from their software. But this is much easier said than done, with developers having to tackle issues with concurrency and potential performance bottlenecks. Already, 71% of organisations are developing multithreaded applications for multicore hardware, according to a recent IDC survey sponsored by tool vendor Coverity.

  • Mozilla looks beyond developers for inspiration

    The best technology products are often the product of a singular vision. Look at Apple. Look at Nintendo. These companies' enduring successes owe their existence to the presence of a strong guiding hand: someone whose exacting standards ensure that the project never strays too far from its core goals and principles.
    In film, they sometimes call these people "auteurs". Coppola, Kubrick, Polanski, Spielberg — you know these names by the quality of their output. They're not just personalities; they are brands. And while the names Jobs and Miyamoto may not be as widely recognised, the spirit of the auteur has had a profound impact on the technology industry, too.
    Any tech company would love to have the next iPod or the next Wii. These are groundbreaking products that have gone on to dominate their markets. So how does it happen? How are technology visionaries discovered, and more importantly, how can companies empower them so that their ideas give birth to the next breakthrough products?
    Mozilla Labs' Concept Series aims to find out. The Concept Series is a unique programme that invites people from around the world to contribute ideas, mockups and prototypes for the next generation of the Mozilla web browser, regardless of their skills or backgrounds.
    This is an exciting development for two reasons. For starters, it's one of the first concerted efforts to bring non-programmers into the fold of open source software development. While the open source movement has produced a staggering amount of code, designers and user experience experts have been neglected for too long, and it shows. The more free software is developed with the consumer in mind, the better.
    Second, this experiment gives the open source community an opportunity to prove that you don't need to be an Apple, a Nintendo or a Microsoft to deliver eye-opening products. Open source projects can do more than just clone existing software. When guided by a strong vision, they can also be a driving force for change.
    Proprietary software companies — Microsoft in particular — love to tell us that this is hogwash, that open source is good at imitation but lousy at innovation. Just look at the Linux kernel, they'll say. Linus Torvalds didn't really invent an operating system; he just wrote his own version of Unix, which was already decades old.
    I think that attitude sells Linus short, but it's easy to come up with a counter-example. The Mozilla Firefox web browser is not only one of the most widely used open source applications, but it also consistently outpaces Microsoft's Internet Explorer when it comes to features and support for the latest web standards.
    Mind you, Firefox can trace its direct lineage all the way back to Mosaic, the original graphical web browser developed by Marc Andreessen and his team at the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications. Launch any modern web browser, in fact, and what you get looks an awful lot like NCSA Mosaic; the basic UI hasn't changed all that much.
    And that's precisely the point of the Mozilla Concept Series. Mozilla Labs wants to find its own software auteurs — people with unique visions, maybe even from outside the software development field — who can shake up the world of web browsers and spearhead a new direction.
    The initial concepts in the series are compelling. Adaptive Path's Jesse James Garrett — the man who brought us the term "AJAX" — offers Aurora, a browser concept that emphasises collaboration and contextual awareness. Wei Zhu presents a new approach to bookmarking. And Aza Raskin proposes new ways to fit web browsers onto the small screens of mobile devices.
    These ideas are an auspicious start. But then, you know what ideas are like. Anyone can mock up a few diagrams and concept videos. The hard part will be translating these rough ideas into working prototypes, then actual products.
    To achieve this, Mozilla Labs will need something entirely new, and perhaps even more exciting. It will need a software project governance model that not only invites input from non-developers, but formally includes them as core participants in the application design process. They will be senior participants, in fact — because, since programming ability is not a prerequisite for user interface design, programmers will inevitably be asked to implement features dreamed up by non-programmers.
    How will that sit with the open source community? Will open source developers, accustomed as they are to a coder-centric meritocracy, be willing to adapt to a model in which a non-technical "auteur" calls the shots? Can a community-driven software development process really be guided by the vision of one person? In short, will Mozilla Labs really be able to empower non-programmers to effect change in its software, or is this all just big talk?
    It's worth finding out, because poor user experience is a problem that is by no means limited to open source software. A lot of companies could do a better job of incorporating input from designers and other non-technical stakeholders into their software development processes, too. Mozilla Labs has taken an important step. I'm very interested to see what, if anything, comes next.

  • iPhone contracts leave developers speechless

    Apple apparently chose the best possible template for its iPhone developer programmes: its own Apple Developer Connection for OS X. Why it then made the iPhone SDK confidential even for those who download it for free poses a puzzling contradiction in the company's seemingly open approach to development.
    The basic ADC membership is open to everyone and free of charge. All you need is a verifiable (at least temporarily) email address to obtain a free Apple ID. Free and paying ADC members get exactly the same commercial-grade development tools, samples and docs. Depending on their membership level, paying members get additional access to pre-release software, prepaid tech support incidents, hardware discounts, and WWDC tickets. Free members face no disadvantages when it comes to creating and distributing applications for the current or prior release of OS X. That cornerstone of the Mac platform accounts for its large catalogue of high-quality free and inexpensive applications, as well as its loyal and welcoming community of developers. ADC is the magnet that draws developers to the Mac from other platforms.
    By choosing ADC's tiered programmes as a model, it seemed that Apple had tilled the field for an instant and vibrant iPhone developer community. Then it salted the ground by making the iPhone SDK confidential even for those who download it for free. The upshot is that every citizen of planet earth can get the iPhone SDK at no charge, but they're contractually obligated to Apple not to discuss the SDK or exchange ideas with others. The agreements leave no room for forums, newsgroups, open source projects, tutorials, magazine articles, users' groups or books.
    The terms and conditions of the most restrictive agreements to which all iPhone developers are bound are secret. A few sentences from the nonconfidential iPhone Registered Developer Agreement (PDF) are sufficient to illustrate the breadth and severity of the restrictions. As is always the case, you must not rely on my excerpts or analysis as a summary of the agreement or as legal advice.
    From Section 3, Confidentiality: "You agree not to disclose, publish or disseminate any Confidential Information to anyone other than to other Registered iPhone Developers who are employees and contractors working for the same entity as you and then only to the extent that Apple does not otherwise prohibit such disclosure in this Agreement."
    What's "Confidential Information"? The Agreement contains two definitions, one in Section 3 that's broad and rambling but with specific and liberal exceptions, and one in Section 4 that's concise and inescapable:
    From Section 4, iPhone Materials: "All iPhone Materials shall be considered the Confidential Information of Apple"
    Section 4 also makes unrestricted allowance for additional tightening of screws (not quoted in full): "All use of the iPhone Materials shall be subject to this Agreement, unless such iPhone Materials are accompanied by a separate license agreement, notice or disclaimer (collectively, "Other Agreement") in which case such Other Agreement will govern to the extent of any inconsistencies with this Agreement [...]"
    There are two Other agreements (the secret ones): one that governs free use of the SDK and the other, responsibilities of iPhone Developer Program members. I have no problems with the latter. When money gets involved, that changes the rules, and Developer Program members have access to trade secrets. My problem is that Apple brands publicly available information — that is, the released and freely downloadable iPhone SDK — as confidential. Laypeople who are ill equipped to interpret the secret Agreement attached to the free iPhone SDK are likely to assent to it without reading it, if they're aware that it applies to them at all.
    I can't discuss the secret SDK Agreement, but you can read it for yourself by signing up as an iPhone Registered Developer.
    This isn't Apple-bashing. This is serious business. You'll see arguments from armchair legal analysts that the iPhone developer Agreements won't stand up in court — but those analysts certainly won't stand up in court on your behalf. When you download the SDK, you grant Apple special rights to injunctions and suits against you for unspecified damages in addition to their rights under the law.
    The iPhone developer Agreements covering the freely accessible iPhone SDK are not EULAs that you can blindly click to sign without study. It turns out that the iPhone developer programmes are the antithesis of the developer-friendly Apple Developer Connection. The iPhone Agreements are risk-laden contracts that make the iPhone SDK one of the most dangerous downloads on the internet. It is certainly the most heavily encumbered free software I've encountered.
    If you're planning a forum, newsgroup, users' group, open source project, book or any discussion of iPhone development, the only path to protection from liability is explicit written approval from someone at Apple. Have a lawyer draft your request for exemption, and make sure that the Apple staffer granting it personally commits to status as authorised to approve exceptions to the iPhone Registered Developer and iPhone SDK Agreements.
    The concerns I have expressed relate only to free access to the SDK. Terms of the paid iPhone Developer Program are appropriately confidential, and in my view, Apple offers paying individual developers a generous balance between benefits and responsibilities. This said, shutting the door to all opportunities for discussion of the freely available iPhone SDK hurts all iPhone developers.

  • Google holds Code Jam for developers

    If calculating the maximum height at which an egg won't break when dropped while sacrificing the least number of eggs sounds like a worthy challenge to a programmer, then this year's Google Code Jam may be of interest.

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