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Impact - A Blog by INM

Archive for '2007'

    What 2008 May Bring

    As the year comes to a close, it’s always an opportunity to reflect on what’s happened in the past 12 months and to look at what’s on the horizon.

    This past year was an active one, with major shifts in a number of areas. Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), which have been on the radar since 2002, finally started to garner attention and gain traction with organizations. Major announcements from technology leaders like Adobe, Microsoft and Curl have made friendly and stable development technologies available. As well, consumers have responded positively to early applications making RIAs a viable next step, even for enterprises.

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    New Public Betas of Adobe Flex and AIR

    Today, Adobe released the Beta 3 versions of both Adobe Flex and AIR. You may ask "Why should I care about beta software"? Well, both of these applications will be impactful if you are building, or considering building, Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). While not the only solution on the market, Flex is one of the most widely used technologies for enterprises RIAs.

    What makes this release interesting? It delivers:

    • Great tools for data aggregation and for visually presenting metrics that will contribute to decision making.
    • More freedom for end-users to access tools and information without necessarily being connected to the internet.
    • Great economies of scale in creating online and offline applications in from a single effort.

    We suspect that this release is a feature-complete version of what we will see in the final on which is anticipated to be available in early February 2008. If you are looking for a copy, it’s available on the Adobe Labs site.

    End Users Prefer SaaS

    There is an interesting commentary over at The Intelligent Enterprise Blog by David Linthicum, managing partner of Zapthink. This piece is about a recent Datamonitor survey of 300 pharmaceutical and biotech firms across Europe and North America about their attitudes toward software as a service (SaaS). The results showed that the end users of these applications overwhelmingly prefer the SaaS model over more traditional enterprise applications.

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    RIAs and the Information Workplace

    There is an interesting article over at Read/Write Web about Forrester’s prediction that RIAs will replace Microsoft Office and portals on the front-end. Forrester suggests that rich Internet applications (RIAs) may become the new norm for applications used by decision-makers and task-oriented workers, or as they’ve coined them employees in the "Information Workplace (IW)".

    Many of the articles about RIAs have focused on the consumer experience and impact, but the business impact of RIAs is also very significant. Just as the concept of a dashboards, which are used to show senior decision makers a visual status of key performance indicators, made ripples a few years ago, RIA-zing office applications and portals will also cause major waves. RIAs introduce a seamless, individualized, and visual user experience for processing large sums of data, and help make the chore of analyzing information easier.

    Companies like BEA and SAP have already seen the light and are working to build new RIA-ized interfaces for their enterprise solutions. Let’s see how many others jump on board after reading this Forrester report.

    Widgets, Widgets Everywhere

    During the past week, I must have heard the word widget about a dozen times. It seems like every marketing publication and blog has posted something about them lately. What’s most interesting is the broad array of "things" people are referring to when they use the term widget. To some it’s a browser plug-in that pushes data to the user via a web service, while to others, it's a fully branded desktop application that works in a partially connected world to pull data and update information.

    The one thing all marketers can agree on is that widgets, in whichever form they take, are something to keep an eye on. As I wrote in Bye-bye Advertising, Hello Experience Building marketers are looking for new ways to connect with consumers outside of traditional media and are shifting their budgets toward creating branded experiences. Widgets, and branded mini-applications, are a viable way to keep users engaged and active without constantly pushing them to your site. They provide the desktop real estate that marketers crave without relying on a consumer’s browsing habits.

    I’m sure the official release of Adobe AIR in 2008 will only make things more confusing, as the line between web applications and desktop applications continues to blur.

    The Tipping Point for SaaS and RIA

    It's no longer a secret that Software as a Service (SaaS) is becoming a real industry. In RIA-zation of Office Tools and Adobe Buzzword: It's the Mac vs MS-DOS Debate All Over Again, I argued that any industry, including the very well established Microsoft Office stronghold, is now prone to a massive takeover by competitors who would:

    • lower technical barriers - i.e. offer software as a service that can be up and running right away without requiring installation and without stumbling over OS or equipment related obstacles along the way
    • lower cognitive barriers - i.e. software that favors instant engagement, that is easy to discover and learn, and that provides a sense of gratification to its users (in my days, this was summarized as "user-friendly software")
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    Retailers Turn to RIAs

    With the holiday shopping season kicking into full swing in North America, it’s a good time to take a look at the online retail market.

    For the first year, analysts are predicting a slowdown in eCommerce growth, which has many retailers anticipating softer results than previous years as they fight for the same pool of clients. Retailers know that they need to entice new clients over from competitors, as well as decrease drop-off from the ones they currently have, to remain competitive in a softer market.

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    The Business Case for RIAs is Strong

    With the arguments put forth in "The Business Case for Rich Internet Applications", a recent article by Dave Wolf over at Web 2.0 Magazine, it’s hard to understand why any organization wouldn’t quickly opt to embrace RIAs. Wolf presents a very strong case from all perspectives, showing that RIAs have strong staying power, wide-spread industry support, high adoption rates and better end results.

    "With RIAs, everyone wins. IT departments enjoy the simplicity of server-based deployments and the cost savings of a dramatically more productive development environment than traditional Web development. End users enjoy a truly rich application user experience that engages them quickly and keeps them engaged longer. Companies can reduce time-to-market of a new innovative solution, and enjoy greater customer loyalty and an increased market presence, which translates to greater revenues. For their business applications, they can ensure users are optimizing productivity by using the tools they have invested in to power their organizational performance."

    As Wolf quotes Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin’”, and for the better.

    Clearing the Air about Offline Applications

    Last week, Mozilla announced a project called Prism, a newly packaged version of its Webrunner technology from a couple of years ago. Prism lets users split web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop.

    What’s interesting about this announcement is how many industry blogs and media covered it as a solution for offline apps, comparing it to other recently announced solutions like AIR and Silverlight. With all this clouding of messaging, I wanted to take a moment to clarify a few points about offline applications.

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    Google Analytics Now Tracks Rich Content

    The difficult task of generating some meaningful and accurate numbers to justify your investments in rich content on your site has just gotten easier. Google Analytics, a popular website analysis tool amongst small to mid-sized businesses, has just been updated to now track user engagements that include elements common with Web 2.0 services, including Javascript, Ajax and Flash applications, widgets and gadgets, and downloadable pages.

    This not only allows companies to better track their website numbers as a whole, it also allows them to offer advertisers alternate numbers to page views for gauging the success of an ad. New figures such as time spent on a page or the length of time an ad is visible may become more valuable to advertisers in the future.

    eCommerce SaaS for AIR Developers

    There is a definite trend toward offering Software as a Service (SaaS). In recent weeks, we’ve seen Microsoft, Adobe, and even SAP make announcements or speak publicly about how SaaS is a fundamental part of their business strategies. Another more specialized announcement in this arena was the unveiling of eCommerce Framework by AIRApps.net.

    AIRApps.net is offering Adobe AIR developers an alternative way to license and sell their applications. By providing an injectable plug-in that developers can add to their applications during development, AIRApps.net is providing developers a hassle-free way to process transactions and collect licensing revenue without having to set-up their own payment processing arrangements - which can be time consuming and costly.

    Bye-bye Advertising, Hello Experience Building

    Years ago working in marketing meant that you needed a strong sense of creativity, an ability to define a great communications strategy and the skills to build value for a brand. Today, you may need to add experience design to the mix. The latest trend for marketers is in creating “branded experiences”. While the concept is not new (it’s been discussed loosely since 2004), the reality is that these experiences are becoming more and more prevalent, mainly in the area of rich internet applications (RIAs). An article in last weekend’s New York Times explains how companies like Nike, General Motors, and Proctor and Gamble are pulling back on traditional ad spending and opting instead for creating deeper relationships with their clients through branded services and communities.

    What does this mean for marketers? It means that they will now need to have a better sense of building applications and communities that truly engage users and integrate with their lives, getting them hooked and keeping them that way. Building an “experience” that is impressive and immersive enough to keep a user engaged over time takes a different skill-set than building a 30-second ad. It looks like marketers and software developers will be getting a little closer in the future.

    MapQuest's Vulnerability: Richer Internet Application Urgently Needed

    MapQuest was the first meaningful online application that I ever saw. I remember very clearly my ah-ha! moment. It was in 1996.

    I found MapQuest meaningful because it was rich. As rich as it could get then. It provided information that one could fathom in a glance, in a time where most websites insisted on providing long scrolling texts vastly inspired by the computer terminal mentality.

    In the years to follow, MapQuest enjoyed the undisputed status of being "the mapping standard" on the Internet, despite vigorous attacks from Microsoft, Yahoo! and many others.


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    Adobe Buzzword: It's the Mac vs MS-DOS Debate All Over Again

    In RIA-zation of Office Tools, I suggested that we (the people) were ready for a new breed of online Office tools based on RIA principles:

    • Instant engagement: no setup required, get started right away
    • Rich and expressive interfaces: get productive quickly and stay focused on your work, not the tool
    • Access files from anywhere regardless of equipment, operating system or context
    • Peace of mind for all things related to backups, viruses or security

    There are a few contenders in the market including Google Docs, Zoho Writer, Writeboard, Thinkfree and many others. Microsoft recently announced an online extension to MS Word, but it does not qualify as an RIA because it nonetheless requires the installation of MS Word on the client side.


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    Adobe MAX: A Synopsis

    After returning home from Adobe MAX and taking a day to digest the barrage of information presented at the show, it’s time to sit back and really extract the key points.

    In my opinion, the most important element of the show was how prevalent RIAs have become. Nearly every session at the show touched on building rich user experiences. The new twist this year was around AIR and showcasing applications that work seamlessly online and offline. This again is further proof of the pendulum swinging back to the desktop.

    Another key trend at the show was mobile. It’s clear from the number of examples and the content that was presented that mobile has hit the radar as the next big thing and is something that will grow and evolve in the coming months.

    Adobe also joined industry leaders like Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo in announcing its new realm of services. These offerings, although some are very early in the development cycle, are shaping up to be much more interactive, software as a service (SaaS) than some of the competition.

    Finally, Adobe previewed some interesting tools to help developers and designers alike embrace these new trends. The scope of which spanned from Director 11 through to Thermo.

    Lots About AIR in the Windy City

    We’ve written lately about the "swing back to the desktop" and this trend was quite evident with the kick-off of the Adobe MAX conference here in Chicago. About one-third of the opening keynote was dedicated to the new AIR offering, with a number of strong examples from key industry players. Amongst the AIR demos, were some polished offerings from AOL (an application that allows you to access the top 100 music videos from your desktop), Disney Theme Parks (an application that allows travel agents to build custom info packs for their clients), and SAP (an application that provides an offline "briefing book" a type of "dashboard" for key business metrics). Even MTV is getting in the game by hosting the "MTV Adobe® AIR™ Challenge".

    With these heavy hitters jumping on-board, things look promising for AIR.

    Update from AJAXWorld West

    Now that the AJAXWorld West Conference is in full swing, I wanted to post a short update from the show.

    There've been a few interesting announcements worth noting, including:

    • News from Backbase about a new, free community version of Backbase Enterprise AJAX, the most widely used AJAX solution.
    • A preview of Microsoft Popfly – a new alpha of a tool for building and sharing mashups, gadgets, Web pages, and applications.
    • The release of jMaki 1.0, Sun Microsystems's AJAX framework that provides a lightweight model for building JavaScript-centric, AJAX-enabled web applications.

    It will be good to settle in after the show to look at the overall picture the impact of these, and other new technologies.

    Tradeshow Season Begins

    When the leaves start to change color here in Canada, we know it’s time to pack our bags and hit the road for tradeshow season. The busy season kicks off on Monday, Sept. 24th with AJAXWorld West in Santa Clara, CA. This is followed quite quickly by the Adobe MAX conference, which starts the following week in Chicago, IL. INM will be at both of these events, with two members of our team presenting at AJAXWorld West and a team of developers and business contacts at MAX.

    Expect to see a live update from these shows, as well as a post-show synopsis. If you are going to be in either Santa Clara or Chicago for these shows, drop us an email at Services@INM.com and let us know.

    A Little Comic Relief

    Well it had to happen sooner or later. First Dilbert emerged as a comic strip parodying office politics and the antics of engineering. Now, a company called Nectarine has unveiled a new weekly comic strip called "Barely Out Of Beta" that will comment on a variety of tech and RIA topics.


    Barely Out of Beta Comic Strip on RIAs by Nectarine

    Be sure to add the Nectarine blog to your RSS feed so you don’t miss the next installment.

    Back to the Desktop

    Lately there have been quite a few articles published about the rebirth of the Desktop application. However, few have been quite as informative as "Return to the Desktop" an article in the September issue of Dr. Dobb’s Journal. This piece does a nice job of presenting an unbiased view of the technology driving the move back to the desktop. From Google Gears and Adobe AIR, through to Microsoft Silverlight and even the Apple iPhone, this article provides a broad spectrum view.

    Dr. Dobb’s Journal is a classic publication in the software development world, with a history that dates back to 1976.

    Microsoft Releases Silverlight 1.0

    Microsoft officially launched version 1.0 of Silverlight today. This release, the first of the two announced versions, is really focused on delivering enhanced support for audio and video streaming and playback over the web.

    This announcement heats up the battle between Adobe and Microsoft by providing a viable alternative to Flash Player for organizations that may already have their video files encoded in Windows Media format. This may be a tough battle for Microsoft, with Adobe's 90.3% install rate with Flash Player 9. Especially since the company plans to distribute the application through media applications built with it.

    Also of note, Microsoft announced its intention to support Linux through the Moonlight initiative. Microsoft will build the video codecs for the Moonlight project and supply Novell with software to test and ensure Silverlight runs well on Suse Linux, Red Hat and Ubuntu.

    Public Library Rolls Out RIA

    For those of you keeping tabs on new rich internet applications, an interesting one just went live last week here in Canada. Okay, we may be a bit biased as we were the ones that developed it. The project, done in conjunction with Willings Multimedia, is an online newspaper archive for the Terrace Public Library in northern British Columbia. Through the application, library patrons can now access the library’s immense collection of digitized newspapers from the comfort of their own homes. Patrons can conduct searches, view results and even read complete articles online through an integrated document viewer. 

    Try it out for yourself at: http://www.terracelibrary.ca/. Just click on the “Newspaper Archive” link in the middle of the page and start searching.

    Make it Rich

    There’s an interesting article that popped up this week on eWeek.com about the 5 Steps to Next Generation Web Applications. Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst at eWEEK talks about how the key to building a successful web application today lies in embracing what the web is becoming, a next generation operating system. Amongst Jim’s recommendations for success are embracing rich applications, keeping applications open through the use of SOA and web services, and supporting offline environments through integration of technologies like Adobe AIR.

    It’s like you’re reading our minds Jim. Great advice.

    New Flex Magazine Launched

    There’s a new magazine about to hit the racks. Late last week, Sys-Con Media announced the launch of Flex Developer Journal, the first and only independent magazine serving Adobe Flex developers. Yakov Fain, a noted RIA and Java expert and the co-author of the best-selling book Adobe Flex & Java, was named editor-in-chief of the publication.

    Flex Developer Journal will cover all the technologies around the Adobe Engagement Platform, including AIR, Flex, Studio, Creative Suite, Contribute, Acrobat, LiveCycle, CF, and Flash Lite. It should be an interesting read.

    Bring on the HD Video

    Adobe announced today a new update to Flash Player 9 that will allow it to support full HD video. Flash Player 9 Update 3 , available later today, will support 480p, 720p and 1080p content encoded with either On2 or H.264. This new update will also support MPEG-4 standard container files that contain video and audio data encoded using H.264/HE-AAC, including MP4, M4V, M4A, MOV, Mp4v, 3gp, 3g2. This is an interesting play from Adobe and it provides a good alternative for developers that were looking toward Silverlight for better video support.

    RIA-zation of Office Tools

    In a recent article entitled Tipping the Microsoft Cash Cow Could Be Adobe's Next Move, Wired speculates that Adobe may be soon getting into the office productivity tools market.

    It may sound ludicrous to attack such a well-established Microsoft stronghold, but the market is in fact wide open, waiting for someone credible to make a move. Ideally, this move needs to come from someone with more muscle and a better chance to stand behind its technology in the long run than a small visionary startup could.

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    Further Commoditization of the Metal and Appreciation of the Mental

    This week, Sun Microsystems announced that the most powerful CPU they've ever designed (89.6 Ghz of parallel computing on a single chip) will be released as an open-source technology under GPL (General Public License). Still this week, Lenovo announced that they will begin selling IBM Thinkpads with Linux pre-installed and fully supported by them. Dell had started selling Linux-based PCs earlier this year.

    This basically tells us that what's under the hood (hardware, operating system and other "enabling software", a.k.a. the Metal) is becoming commodity.

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    Silverlight Release Candidate Available

    Late last week Microsoft rolled out the release candidate version of Microsoft Silverlight, the solution touted to be Microsoft’s “Flash killer”. Silverlight is a cross-browser technology for interactive Web applications that delivers media experiences based on the company’s .NET technology. This first 1.0 version of Silverlight will be heavily geared toward web video, with many of the richer developer features only coming out with version 1.1 (no release timeframe has been quoted for this second version yet).

    Silverlight is an interesting technology for businesses to track, as early comments from the industry are quite favorable. So far, Adobe has a pretty solid head start with Flash 9 racking up 83.4% install base in just 9 months. To compete, Microsoft is pulling out the big guns and is offering free infrastructure support, at least initially, with up to 4 GB of free space in its data centers. And a new Silverlight Streaming service and other kinds of support are also being offered for free. It will be interesting to see how things play out on this battle.

    Google Launches Custom Search Business Edition for $100 per Year

    Why build a custom search engine when you can leverage Google’s own algorithm on your website for just $100 per year? As part of a widespread effort to offer a series of tools and services for small businesses, Google has launched Custom Search Business Edition. This new service for small businesses allows companies that don’t have the time, money, or resources to develop their own search functionality to integrate Google search into their site, without including Google ads or branding.

    The service starts at just $100 per year for searching up to 5,000 pages. It’s also offered in a second tier for larger sites which covers up to 50,000 pages for $500 per year.

    This is an interesting, and cost-effective way for businesses not to re-invent the wheel.

    Web 2.0 Needs Adobe

    Thomas Yager, a senior analyst at InfoWorld, recently posted an interesting piece entitled Web 2.0 Needs Adobe. This piece looks at how HTML and AJAX have reached their respective limits, particularly in regard to mobile devices. He provides a great example of how enterprise level applications keep reverting back to Adobe technology, precisely for their mobile needs.

    This sentiment is echoed by a number of clients we’ve spoken to lately. The majority of new inquiries for RIA development, particularly enterprise caliber applications, have leaned toward Adobe technology. So much so that we are now working toward having several of our developers Flex Certified.

    YouTube Fuels Debate

    When US democratic leadership hopefuls took to the podiums last week in Charleston, South Carolina for their televised debate of the campaign, they didn’t just face off against pre-formatted press questions and a local audience. Instead they opened themselves up to questions from citizens across the globe. Pretty much anyone with a web camera and a question to ask was able to participate in the debate.

    For the first time in history thousands of Americans recorded and uploaded their questions to YouTube for the two-hour debate on Monday evening. CNN editors chose about 25 questions from more than 2,000 YouTube submissions.

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    Welcome to Impact

    Welcome to Impact, our new corporate blog.

    Impact is designed to provide information about new technology and trends, particularly as they relate to rich user experiences. Posts will go beyond simple news items and will strive to add context to show the true “impact” these announcements can have on everyday business.

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