Google widgets and Office2.0

October 18, 2006

Google has released a new API for integrating its wdgets in any website. !!!!!!

Which impact can we expect from this news?

On the short term, probably not much except in personal home pages as most of these widgets are “cool” but not very useful, at least for commercial websites. It is unlikely we see these widgets soon on corporate portals, except maybe for some of them like map searches, etc..

However the impact will probably be to awake the web to this type of technology which is:

  • a piece of information displayed in component made of html and javascript (easy to write),
  • this type of component can run on the desktop, in a website or on google portal.

Obviously we don’t really want to include google stuff everywhere, but when product developers realise that they can apply the same type of technology for THEIR own components, then we can expect that the next wave, right after AJAX, will be based on a type of architecture where the content can be freed from website pages. Pieces of content will appear simultaneously:

  • in collaborative websites where users can manage them in a central place,
  • on desktops in widgets frameworks (google/Y! etc.) : so that we can be notified of any new article without opening the website (convenient as side popups can display news without distracting too much user’s attention)
  • in other syndicated websites: similar to RSS feeds which allow content notification to be displayed in RSS readers thus increasing the visibility of the content. We could also with this technology foresee websites exchanging applications modules as a kind of marketing tool. Content syndication will then not only be limited to xml or text forms but will include applications as well (just like Google maps are included in websites).

Is this impact limited to Google only?

probably not. We can expect Yahoo to release a web API and jump onto the mashup train. This new branding channel is too good to be left to a competitor…

This architecture will probably be most useful when provided by other “independent” widget frameworks such as http://www.widgetbox.com/ (mentioned in Reuters news).  although this one does not yet provide a desktop engine for running its widgets and then is limiting their use to online mashup pages only.

Conclusion:

this technology is not yet advanced enough for commercial use but will probably be added to the Ajax-web2.0 pot soon (1-2 years?) so it might be interesting to keep an open eye on its progress…

We can also expect to see other widget engines to come up as well as there might be a dormant commercial market for it and current vendors provide solution targeting more personnal sites than commercial sites. Such a vendor would benefit from the technology awareness provided by Google and heat it up by real applications…

Office 2.0

October 15, 2006

Office 2.0 is starting, with Google and Zoho as leaders of Office 2.0 conference. Obvioulsy we are eager to know where this new episode of the web is going to and which tools and standards will be around in 2 years time.

Most companies need this type of software today as a large part of employees can be online at work, at home or on the road. It is too early to see where this is going as this type of software is still in infancy. But we can list a few criterias that will help deciphering this area:

  • integration of the the software suite: is the product well packaged?
  • complete? : have we got enough module types to cover main office applications
  • modularity: can we extract a software module (ex. spreadsheet) and use it in another environment (mashup).
  • extensibility: how easy is it to create a new module and add it to the software suite.
  • cost

Evaluating Zoho:

Currently we can see that Zoho does very well in terms of integration and is fairly complete. Cost is fair and most businesses can afford it.

However I haven’t seen any API for developing new modules. A company who needs the software and requires quite a few bespoke modules would probably have an issue with Zoho.

Also it is unlikely we will see any module used in a mashup.

Conclusion: this type of software is nice to use and looks professional. It can probably used by a lot of small businesses. However, it is unlikely the software will have a massive impact until an API is released for adding new modules.

Google “office”:

Google doesn’t really provide an office suite yet. But the word editor and spreadsheet applications can be helpful for sharing this type of documents (replacing word and excel). The integration level is then not very well advanced and it is likely it will remain so for a while (or Google would have to stop claiming it doesnt want to replace Microsoft office).

It is not complete either but Google brings new tools on a regular basis so it is possible we’ll see a suite of tools that will cover most office needs in a couple of years..

But where Google will create a real change on this front will be when it releases their API for using the tools in a mashup environment. It is likely we’ll then see their word and excel modules integrated in a lot of frameworks or collaborative tools. Just like we now have rich text editors in most of these environments, we’ll see word editors proposed as standards and spreadsheet data edited in blog tools…

Conclusion: Google will probably create a market move when it release its office API. Until then, it is just another nice tool of limited use.

Where is Office 2.0 going?

Office 2.0 has the potential to complement or replace traditional desktop applications if we have a software suite :

  • that provides enough applications out of the box,
  •  is well packaged and usable,
  • with an API for adding other modules.

An open source system would have a huge impact on the market but an open API would be enough if the price tag for the core of the software is affordable by small businesses.

It is likely we see Office 2.0 coming with a few leading application dendors that will share the market for generic applications, with a lot of smaller suites focusing on vertical markets.

A second step would then be to create a standard for application modules that could be integrated in suites supporting it, and this standard could use an ajax/mashup model. This type of standard would not require too much effort (ex. an html page with a simple API for loading JS and css resources) and could be defined very quickly (< 2 years).

Widget frameworks (Google desktop, Yahoo widgets) could also be integrated with Office 2.0, especially if they support an office 2.0 api. This would allow users to be notified when new documents are added or modified in their online office workspaces and/or have their main application modules directly integrated in the desktop, thus creating a mixed of online/desktop office suite. One adavnatge of this solution will be that modules will be available everywhere (web application) but also will be running on PC + Macs even in their desktop widget form (Google and Yahoo widget framework being available on both platforms).

Microsoft Ajax toolkit

September 12, 2006

Just read today an article on CBR news about Atlas, codename project for Microsoft’s Ajax toolkit. I have mixed feelings about it…

Pros:

  • microsoft is ussually good on the client side so we can expect soem nice widgets
  • will support all browsers (!!)
  • architecture distinguishes client and server side. The client side will support any server technology including PHP and CFM!

Cons:

  • it is again Microsoft against everybody else and they are not part of groups trying to create an Ajax standard.

Other:

  • will be integrated server side with their server technology in what they call ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX Extensions.

Conclusion:

Atlase seems like an intersting project to follow. If not tight server side with ASP.NET then it has the potential to be used widely. Not part of any standard though.. We will have to see how this impact the devlopement of conmponents on the server side and teh market for these components. They never really took off with java or ActiveX so it remains to be seen if a standard will be useful here…

Related thoughts…

As for the future of Ajax, I am still wondering how long we will be talking about it before it is integrated as “just another tool” in the development toolkit. But it ssems like it can make a real difference:

  • for enhancing the usability of service based application (the new challenge for Msoft and others),
  • it also has a potential of creating a mashup type of applications where people provide services with a cleint side component (or API). This is where a standard would be useful. The standard should address the various types of request to the server (forms, whole components, etc.). It would probably need to be based on XML for describing resources required by a component. For example: if we load a component, what CSS and JS files do we need to load as well, how do we manage CSS and JS conflicts? By name conventions or by isolating each component in a separate document (iframe)?

Internet browsers etc.

August 31, 2006

The war has been here for quite a long time. Actually, since Microsoft lauched the first versions of Internet Eplorer… Yes that’s the war between netcape-sun-gecko browsers against IE… And with same kind of religion behaviours as the one about the best platform/os/mail tool/etc. So.. if we get rid of the religion what do we get to feed our technical and/or business minds? What the truth behind the marcketing? What are the pros and cons of the leading browsers?

Internet Explorer

I have had a long and ambiguious relationship with this application. A mix of love and hate. Hate because.. well.. who like Microsoft strategy? It is probably a very efficient one at getting successful (well, at least until now.. we’ll see how they get through their new challenge, the service oriented market and all itds googleismes). But it is not likeable. I dont know how microsoft employees get through this atmosphere of microsoft being the BIG vilain.. Anyway, that’s not the point and I have a lot of respect for these people who did create the internet as it is now, something a lot funnier than it would have been if netscape had won the war. I realy took an interest in internet browsers whe I had a first glimpse of Internet explorer 4. This was a true revolution. It created the foundation of what dhtml, ajax and web 2.0 is now. Not only the content could be displayed nicely by separating html and css, but also it was possible to move some bits of html, change class names, move object around, show or hide them… Something fresh was happening.. I bought a book about dhtml and started writing teh first drop down menu I ever seen running in a browser. It was a bit grey and built as a set tables but still was able to look exactly like its windows standard C++ counterpart. I remember having thios conversation with colleague about the potential of this technology of replacing traditional UI developement.. At that time the reaction were anything but enthusiastic… But I was convinvced that the bad guys had created something special…

Later on I managed to convince a few trying to replace heavy desktop application by thinner clients based on ActiveX that DHTML had its place in rich clients and we created a workable set of menu widgets. They were based on one truly marvel inside Internet explorer: “behaviors” and HTC components. This is something that even nowis the  with the latest Ajax toolgets, haven’t been beaten. It the holy grail of DHTML development and the fantasy of application architects: the ability to truly separate html structure and its behaviour. This is the same idea as CSS doing the rendering of html elements: assigning independent amd modular components to any html element…

I don’t know why the “good guys” (netscape/sun/etc from the purple team) didn’t want to reuse the concept instead of creating XUL and other things. If they had done so, the internet world would be a lot nicer.. And yes, also create a standard around it… But alt least we have something to use with Ajaxian stuff.

The second thing that really got me really excited on the javascript front was mywebos.com website. These guys built something extremely clever, beautiful (and erh .. useless). It was a kind of windows shell and applications replica running inside IE5. I was so interested that I spent some time looking at the sources, that were based on HTC components, Iframes for calling the server (Ajax…), and CSS. A lot of htcs, a lot of iframes and a lot of css. This was a definite Wawwww. I must admit that I did reuse some of their tricks in my javascript tooljets (like loading drop down menus in iframes so that they can overlap ActiveX.. as at that time this wasn’t possible).

to be continued.. dinner served…

Windows XP : performances leaks?

July 31, 2006

Just bought a new laptop from ebay as a backup to my existing one. I cant really afford to lose my environemnt and the current one makes funny noises (seems liek the fan is working a bit hard with this summer temperature).. Anyway, something I nothiced after installing everything on it is the difference in performances between the old one and the new one, with the same specs (sony vaio, centrino 1.7Ghs, 1GB ram, etc.). The new one is about twice as fast as the old one and uses half its RAM… And this doesnt seem to be the hardware. The first one was completly reinstalled last year and and it seems like after a while, Windows XP begins to be really slow.. I wonder why, as I have scanned everything for virus, defragmented the hard drive, etc. So the next step is to switch to the new one and reinstall completely the new one… one of my colleague told me it was the same thing with his laptop as well. Windows takes too long to boot up now.. Windows world 🙂

VOIP Phones : Gizmo

July 31, 2006

I tried Gizmo (“the Skype killer” application) a few months ago and was put off by it at that time because it sent emails to everybody on my address book. Also most of my friends are on skype or msn so I couldnt see the point of using another one.. But I still receive emails from Gizmo… They offers a new feature which is quite unique on the market: free PC to telephon calls!! Yes, not PC to PC, byut PC to actual landline AND mobiles.. Given the fact I spend quite a lot of money on skype calling my gf’s mobile abroad, I decided to try it out and installed it on 2 different machines. At first it didnt work, I wasn’t authorised to call my mobile. They have some rules regarding who can call telephones w/o paying. The user must be “active”. Still unsure what that means, but after a week after the installation, I finally got to call my mobile.. Seems promising..

Apart from that it looks like a good product with quaility of sound and a nice user interface. If they had video I would be tempted to try it out for calling my family abroad…

Web cars

June 11, 2006

When web technology goes on wheels… A friend of mine told me about car hiring/sharing system. Seems pretty cool.. The idea is to rent cars by the hour when we need it, throught the web. Cars are located almost everywhere in large cities and we apaarently are able to find a car near our place at any time.

It seems to be cheaper that owning a car and also environment friendly..

The system is working in the US (www.zipcar.com) and also here in London (www.streetcar.co.uk).

See article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/4446271.stm

About CSS fluid layouts

May 19, 2006

Use CSS sensibly and avoid CSS layouts

Summary:

There are issues when using CSS layouts for creating multi-column pages.

I suggest to keep simple tables for splitting the screen into columns or to use JS behaviours for modifying the page onthe fly (page morphing).

Article:

If you are involved in web developemnt of some kind you are probably aware of the new way of writng web pages, thanks to CSS new design patterns. The basic idea is to write html pages with:

  • page structure in the html
  • look and feel (colours etc) in the css style sheet.

That's at least possible because all browsers ("all" meaning the ones used by 99% of people) now support a decent level of css.

So that's a new trend: forget putting colours in the html and put as much as possible of decoration in CSS.

This is the hot thing among html developers and that's really cool.

However as for every trend, we sometimes a step too far… Yes that is another example of the human brain pattern: we have found a new model and we becomes zealous… anyway..

The point here is: today it is cool to maximise the css side of pages and minimise the html part. And we use "CSS layouts" that are menat to replace html tables. So what does that means?

Before CSS, we had to heavily rely on table to display information invarious parts of the screen. Now we can replace most tables by css positioning rules (basicall x,y coordinates + ability to "float" areas around others).

And some smart blokes have come out with a few ways to take advantage of these features so that we can create columns in the page just by changing the css: we change the width of a text part, decide to make it "float" on the left or right and we do the same with other parts, and hurray"! we have created a multi column page without any html table..

Isn't it great? well yes and no… I know I know, I am supposed to say yes yes yes… css bla bla trendy, cool etc.

But I come from normandy in france, and there we say maybe yes, maybe no.

And that is exactly the answer I would like to say here. But her.. why?

The reasons we shouldn't abuse our html pages with css layout is because:

  • they are much more difficult to develop and tune (yes try it!!). It takes quite a few tests to really acheive the result we could get in 2mn with a simple table. I know because I have ot pay more for html development since I started using them..
  • they are not stable: it is like the box of chocolates in Forrest gump… With CSS layouts, we never know what we get  on screen (specailly on screens of our users). Havent you come across these sites where a part of the content is missing on the right or left and you find it at the bottom of the page, jsut like an old sock would fall on your shoes?
  • we need to express in too many details every size of the layout,
  • we cant have columns with the same heights if one column is going to be much larger than the others. It doesnt work in Opera for example.
  • CSS layouts often break page % measures. For example in a CSS column, a width of 100% doesn't necessarly mean 100% of hte width of the actual column, but sometimes 100% of the width of the whole page (or parent of column). This makes it difficult to add a dynamic web component in the column as the component no longer knows what the maximum size it can use on the screen…
  • this stuff is great with static pages, but static pages are something we dont do anymore, do we? Nah! Now we get the whole stuff from databases and apply some templates to create the content that we put somewhere on the screen. And funny things happen when a piece of content is larger by only 1 pixel than the size we have carefully definedin our css stylesheet. CSS layout break designs in dynamic pages!!!

The only case I would recommend css layouts is when we have a page that is aligned completely on the left side (as opposed to centered on screen) and we know exactly what we will put in the template.. So should we avoir using floating parts in our HTML? Of course not! "Float" properies are great for floating images asoide of text, for creating flexible tables (ex. a phto gallery) where we DO want the parts to move down when the screen size is reduced, etc. So in micro templates, that's a great way of doing things, but not in overall page structures.

Ok, so what's the right way to do it then?

1) structural approach to page layouts: 

Well, what we want is to create a layout with several columns right? Well I cant see why we can't express that in html. HTML is about structure and css abotu decoration. It seems to me that chossing to have column is a structural choice and not a decoration choice. And if we want to switch to another type of structure, it is easy with a template engine to do so.

2) use "page morphing", based on css/js behaviours

But if we want to really hide the page structure away from the HTML, we could use instead JS/CSS behaviours instead of strict CSS (I'll explain this method in following posts). Just like we can apply CSS properties to part of the HTML document using selectors, we can also rewrite the DOM with JS by using the same CSS selectors.

The advantage of this technic is that we are no longer limited to CSS capabilities and cross browser support and can then implement columns (or any other effect) in whatever HTML/CSS way we want without relying on CSS "float" property.

NB. CSS/JS behaviours are starting to be used with the release of the "behaviour.js" (check google!). It provides a true cross browser alternative to IE CSS behaviours (HTC etc.) and mozilla behaviour. This system, coupled with CSS and JS is going to provide a true revolution is the way HTML pages re going to be implemented. In short it is about replacing some bits of the HTML page by components, tranforming a simple HTML page into a very sophisticated DHTML page. It is a bit like CSS but with the ability to tranform the DOM instead of adding decoration features on it…

About “Blogging”

May 19, 2006

Blogs are great way of sharing information but have we got the right tool?

(Is "time" the right navigation system through information?)

Blogging is one of the major event that happened in human hystory: people wherever they live are now able to express their thoughts to the rest of the world. Information democracy! That's great!

Now, the thing I find the most surprinsing is the fact we use tools that are not fit for the purpose! They are not fit because they are meant to be used by journalists, by people telling the world about daily events etc. It is organised by "time" and not by "subject" (ok we can categorise article, but that is atill a weak categorisation of information..).

What we really need is a way of publishing information in an organised way: by subject zones, with categories etc. Just like on a standard website. Because for the information we post, time is rarely the most important factor. Subject and categories are. And when time is important, it is merely because the article previosuly written are out of date when new stuff or thoughts arise..

INFORMATION = AUTHOR + SUBJECT + CATEGORY + CONTENT + RELATED STUFF + TIME

The order we want this to appear in news is:

SUBJECT + TIME + AUTHOR + CONTENT + related stuff

and this is where blogs are useful.

But the order we need when talking about business and technology is often:

AUTHOR + CATEGORY + SUBJECT + TIME+ CONTENT + RELATED STUFF

And we all know that the category dimension on the web translated to a good navigation and search systems. Navigation systems in blogs are really poor and mostly focused on timelines and that's whay they are not fit for the purpose of information sharing. So why are they so popular? The reason is that they are EASY to use and FREE, and their popularity is translated into search engine ranks. And until an alternative shows up with the same level of simplicity, we are stuck with these systems.. But having said that, they are great tools for publishing stuff. But we cant expect to get a final result that look like a well categorised set of information we can read like a book…

Are there alternatives? Well the world today is focusing on collaboration. Blogs are only the tip of the iceberg showing this strong need for collaboration. Collaboration in every aspect of our lives reach us through the web now… While I was writing this article, my 8 years old god daughter wanted to tell me that a little boy has given her a kick and she wanted to tell that to her god father. And She lives south of france, 1000 km form here in london. Isn't it a form collaboration…? Ok, that's a bit offtrck but the new world is showing up and we need the right types of showels to dig it, isnt't it?

New Technology Blog!

May 19, 2006

ok, finally decided to try out this blog platform..

I am involved in web technology, architecture, web products, etc. and will publish stuff related to this type of technologies. There are quite a lot of hot things happening on the web these days (well it has ben like that for a looonnnng time) and there are always new trends and exciting stuff coming out. The thing is everybody gets excited when the "new stuff" arrive and publishes a lot of articles, invest plenty of energy. But it is only when the wave has passed that we can see the actual business and practical benefits for organisations. We have seen thius happening in "recent years" for C++, java, .net, soap/web services, etc. And now we have web 2.0 and it is not difficult to see the same pattern. There is a great value in web 2.0, but we still dont know exactly what will be the final outcome… But hey!, we love our toys and technology would be so boring without them 🙂

So this blog is about deciphering the new technologies and trying to figure out what it means and where it can be used… Well that's only a try, isn't it?

As it will be a kind of brainstorm, I probably wont filter things too much. Sensitive souls should then wear protective filter glasses where needed.. 🙂 Shoutings and reactions whatever they are are welcome…