Showing posts with label YATS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YATS. Show all posts

Friday, July 13, 2012

YATS 16 afterthoughts

This is the second experiment with jotting down thoughts that come to mind after we finish our podcast.

We talked about the various media stores on episode 16 of YATS, and I came across this article comparing the Amazon, Google and Apple online stores this morning.

The story is so complicated that it makes my head hurt. There are so many dimensions — the media type (movie, TV show, song, podcast, etc.), rental and purchase prices, rental terms, supported devices, available titles, etc. etc. If we could find a way to summarize all of this in charts or whatever, it would be a great service to mankind.

The bad news is that the market is a mess, but the good news is that no one has “won” yet — there is room for competition. Note that the article ignores Microsoft.

We talked about their lack of innovation last night. Here is a happy dream — Microsoft comes out with a terrific set-top x-box and opens a great store that kicks everyone’s butt. We also need to be able to move seamlessly from one “store” to another the way Roku lets us move between Amazon and Netflix.

I checked out the Ouya game machine that Mat talked about. I would worry that it might be a paper tiger if I were planning to send them some $$. It also seems to me to be oriented exclusively toward gaming. While there are a lot of gamers, I bet there are a lot more media consumers, who want to connect a single smart, programmable box to their dumb TV display and audio system. I started to write “and a DVR,” but, on second thought, that belongs in the cloud in a neutral place that the user owns and controls.

Or, if that doesn’t save Microsoft, how about your car as a MS platform?

Do you guys know anything about Microsoft's automotive platform? Ford is pushing electronics hard, with the car as an open platform for developers. Does Msoft power Ford?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Podcast Afterthoughts -- brain inertia

If you are thinking about something or working on a problem and take a break, your brain keeps at it subconsicously. We all come up with ideas and solutions to problems while showering, sleeping, running, etc. Your brain has inertia.

Similarly, ideas pop into our heads after a good conversation. I have been having weekly conversations about tech topics with my colleagues on the podcast, Yet Another Tech Show (YATS), and, as with any good conversation, I think about it afterwards.

Podcast comments allow us to continue the conversation after it has been recorded, but they are mostly driven by users and are often superficial. Maybe the podcast show-note format should include links to afterthoughts by the participants.

To play with the idea, I jotted down some afterthoughts from our last podcast (YATS 15).

YATS 15 afterthoughts

During YATS 15, we spent a lot of time talking about the features of different phones and tablets, but I think that is only of interest in the short term. In the long term, phones and tablets will be commodities like PCs. I don't care whether I have a Dell or HP laptop because the software I use runs equally well on comparable configurations of either.

Today we fuss over phone and tablet features, but we are headed for a future in which much of our software and data is in the cloud, leading us to worry less about the features of our phones and tablets and more about the offerings of our cloud service vendors and about vendor lock-in.

We only touched briefly on services and lock-in during YATS 15, after noting that Microsoft had announced free Office 365 accounts for educational institutions. Schools now have two free cloud service choices -- Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365. Students will learn to use one or the other and be somewhat locked in after graduation -- like a free sample of a drug.

The first level of lock-in will be familiarity with the programs and user interface. The differences between Google Apps and Office 365 will diminish over time, but user familiarity will remain important. (Although the user interface gap between Mac OS and Windows has diminished since 1984, many users are reluctant to switch).

Program features and file formats also lock users in. Let's consider word processing for example.

I did my first word processing with unit record equipment. You punched your document into 80-column cards and ran the deck through an accounting machine that was wired to print them. If you made an error, you removed the bad card, re-keyed it, and ran it back through the accounting machine.

When PCs came out, I got a copy of Electric Pencil, the first word processing program for the Altair. Next it was Magic Wand then WordStar. WordStar was fast and did everything I needed. I was satisfied with WordStar, but reluctantly switched to Microsoft Word when a client told me I had to deliver a report as a Word document. I still use Word because nearly everyone else does.

But, like WordStar and Word, the Google Docs and Office 365 word processors create incompatible files and both are incompatible with Word -- Déjà vu all over again. (I still have the manuscripts of two books and a ton of reports and articles stored in the venerable WordStar format).

There are two general ways out of this kind of lock-in -- file conversion and standards. I wish I had a program to convert my old WordStar files to Word files (or that Word could import/save WordStar files), but I don't. Word for Office 365 and Google Docs word processor could be built to import/save each other's files, but different and evolving feature sets would make that tough to maintain and the companies probably would not see it as good for their business.

Standards may be de-facto, created by a dominant player, or open. In this example, we have three important file formats -- desktop Word, Google Docs word processor and Word for Office 365. Desktop Word is a de-facto standard today, but its dominance will decline over time as we create more and more cloud documents. Open standards are good for interoperability and fostering competition, but they may retard progress if adopted too early and companies (like Apple) might ignore them for business reasons.

Well, enough about word processing. I don't know how akk this will all shake out, but I do think that cloud features and interoperability will be more important than device features in the long run. (Don't forget, I am only using word processing as an example -- the same goes for other applications).

One last point -- during our YATS 15 conversation, it was suggested that today's phones with multicore processors and maybe 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB storage might be powerful enough for anything we want to do with them, but I don't buy that. It reminds me of a consulting job I did for WordStar. They were about to introduce a new version (WordStar 2000) and I could not convince them to build it for 64 MB of memory -- they were sure that 32 MB machines would be around forever. While I believe that device differentiation will become less important in the future, the power of our phones and tablets will continue to grow as we invent new applications.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Screen sharing during on-air hangouts works, but could be better

Some friends and I do a weekly podcast called Yet Another Tech Show (YATS). We're streaming the podcasts using Google's "on-air" hangouts, and last Wednesday, we experimented with screen sharing during the podcast.

In the middle of the podcast, we talked about the simplicity of deploying servers and applications in the Amazon cloud and demonstrated a virtual server on a shared screen. The discussion went smoothly -- we could easily participate and collaborate -- but, as you see in this screen shot, the video quality was not perfect. You would not want to stream a fine print contract at this level of quality.

In the best of circumstances, real time screen sharing is difficult. A lot of data has to be moved quickly and a lot of processing is required to reconstruct and render the data as it arrives. It gets even rougher when the screens have different sizes, aspect ratios or resolutions. If I share my 1,920 by 1,200 desktop and you are viewing it in a 400 by 400 window, we have a problem.

After our podcast, I played around a bit more with screen sharing. I started an on-air hangout between two computers sharing the same Internet connection -- my laptop and my wife's iMac.
Both machines have 1,920 by 1,200 pixel displays. My laptop has a 3.06 Ghz dual core CPU, 4GB memory and is running 64-bit Windows and the iMac has a 2.8 Ghz core 2 CPU with 2GB memory and is runnng OS X. Google hangouts was the only application running on either machine.

First I shared the Mac's properties screen. It showed up quickly on the laptop, but as you see here, it was blurry. The image gradually sharpened until after around three seconds, it was easily readable, though, as you see, still imperfect. While the screen was easily legible, the rendering delay may have hindered a conversation.
Next I made Word documents with screens full of words on both machines and shared both screens. Again, rendering and "focusing" the pages took around 3 seconds on either machine. Character quality on the laptop was better than that on the Mac (shown here).

Cursor movement on a remote screen was jerky, but it was less than a second behind. The delay in selecting a single word then deleting it was well under a second whether working on the Mac or PC. The delay in deleting a paragraph was more noticable -- about a second.

The delays were caused by some combination of the speed of the computers and communication time. The CPU utilization on both machines varied significantly while screen sharing, even if there was no change on the screens. (At times it was over 90 percent on the laptop). When other applications were running, performance deteriorated noticeably.

While imperfect, hangouts on air was good enough for our demo and conversation to run smoothly. This is version 1 and Google will improve their sharing and rendering algorithms -- version 2 will be better. Communication link speed is controlled by business interests, not technology, so it will be a more persistent constraint in the US.

The video of the YATS session is shown below -- the screen sharing segment starts at just after the 30 minute mark.