Monday, December 31, 2007

The rise of Webkit

Webkit, the browser engine for Apple's browser Safari, has had an incredible six months.

  • First, the iPhone - the first mobile device with proper internet access that people like to use, based on Webkit
  • Safari was released for Windows, and bundled with iTunes, ensuring a huge distribution
  • Webkit is the foundation for Google's new mobile platform, Android, which will surely be massive next year
  • Nokia uses Webkit for its Series 60 browser in its flagship smartphones
  • The KHTML open source Linux developers announced they are merging back in to Webkit

From a standing start of 3% of browser market share at the start of the year, Safari is already up to more than 5%. I wouldn't be surprised if it reached 15% by the end of 2008, if its momentum (and Apple's) continues.

This is great for the internet. A popular open source project, a keen proponent of existing and forthcoming standards such as HTML5 and CSS3, the ability to innovate rapidly (including recently CSS animations and transformations!)

Good luck to Webkit for next year.

2008: the mobile web

My prediction for 2008: it'll be the year of the mobile internet, the year when it suddenly became obvious that mobiles need the same access to the web as any other device.

All the major device manufacturors will release businesses based on this idea:

  • Apple, with the iPhone and perhaps a new slimline tablet Mac using Webkit, the open source browser engine
  • Google, with the rollout of Android, their mobile platform using Webkit
  • Nokia, with their Symbian smartphones such as the N95 becoming a major part of their business, using Webkit
  • Mozilla, with their new mobile version of Firefox

In addition, there's the eagerly awaited spectrum auction in the US, the continued rollout of HSDPA mobile network speeds across the world, and moves around the world towards open network access.

Even on the internet, businesses have to be planned several quarters in advance, and the four players above have been scrambling to execute during 2008. That will widen the gap with those still working on their current businesses, chief among them Microsoft.

2008 will be the year that companies stopped spending time developing java-based mobile applications. They'll just post them on the web, and attract mobile users to browse to them instead. During 2008, we'll see the first mainstream mobile internet sites for

  • Address Book, SMS and Calendar
  • Music and Video players
  • Social Networking
  • Email

In other words, we'll see Silicon Valley catch up with the new opportunities presented by fast network access and sophisticated, easy to use devices.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Microsoft's Internet Strategy

Microsoft is in a bind. It's just not competing with internet companies in search or advertising. It's having to compete against free and ever-improving open source applications like Firefox and Apache. Due to issues such as lack of standards compliance e.g. CSS, the company has lost its good reputation with web developers. It seems to be fighting too many battles, and hasn't convinced with its new suite of online applications, Live, which anyway could cannibalize some of its most profitable products.

Most of all, Microsoft hasn't figured out how to capture the internet wave. It's being totally left behind on the web.

I'd like to propose a solution. It's a web solution, and one that plays to values that Microsoft has always understood - "developers, developers, developers".

Why not offer a web-based version of Visual Studio - call it Developer Live - that hosts web applications? Go the whole hog - different language choices, bug databases, software configuration management, test environments on the fly, GUI design tools. Charge by memory & processor usage, with reduced rates for students.

This strategy takes advantage of their incredible expertise for development tools and server systems.

The market is enormous - every application in the world! It avoids open source, which can never pay for massive data centers. It builds a whole new developer ecosystem, and no-one else (except maybe Amazon) seems to be thinking about it.

Microsoft would then offer three things - apps (e.g. Office), development (Developer Live), and clients (e.g. XBox / Vista). That's much cleaner than today's sprawl. And most importantly, they would regain clear leadership of the most important platform in the world - the web.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Open source's limitation

The last five years has seen the triumphant emergence of open source software. Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Firefox in particular have been huge forces for good across the industry.

By providing free reference code for key applications, open source has lowered costs for everyone else, encouraged innovation, and prevented vendor lock-in that seems so prevalent in IT.

Open source is also part of a fascinating cultural movement, spreading the wonderful idea that ideas - including code - should be free from control by any organisation or individual.

There is one limitation to this model - it only works for code (or system designs in general). If I want to actually run the application, I need to purchase hardware.

This might seem a trivial limitation, but it's already becoming important. Can you imagine an open source version of Google? No, because you would need to invest tens of billions of dollars to even run it! How about an open source Expedia, or Flickr, or Facebook? In fact, have you ever seen an open source website? Not even Wikipedia - if someone copied their code and created a clone website, they'd be pretty angry!

So far as I know, all these websites run on open source technology - Linux, Apache, PHP, etc. But they aren't open source themselves.

Some code only needs to be run once, for example, websites - the whole point of the URI is that you don't need two of them that do exactly the same thing! Other code can be re-used in many different places - I call this system software - operating systems and other applications 'under the hood'.

And that's the fundamental limitation of open source - in a world of web applications, it's only used as system software. When all applications are web applications, you won't have an open source office suite, an open source graphics package, or indeed any open source consumer applications except the browser / operating system which is local to every client.

It's not a bad thing - system software is what drives the entire internet - it just needs to be recognised that, on the web, open source's role will be restricted to under the hood.

Future of IT: data centres and web-based development tools

Continuing my series on the future of IT, I originally planned to write two more posts, one on the future of data centers, and the other on the future of application development. But they quickly become the same article, because I predict that the two will come together.

Current application development tools, like Eclipse or Visual Studio, cover only a small part of the end-to-end process. What about business requirements, analysis, design, configuration management, testing, collaboration, release management, bug tracking, and hosting? It's spread across a huge range of systems that don't integrate effectively.

It's been pointed out before, but probably the least automated process I can think of is application development. Imagine a website that stored your code and allowed you to edit it, compile it, manage software configurations and releases, maintain bug databases and create test environments on the fly, design user interfaces using WYSIWYG, and hosted the resulting application. Would you really go back to Visual Studio?

Following the Amazon web services model, developers won't need to know anything about the underlying hardware - they would just see their memory, CPU, network bandwidth and storage usage, and be charged appropriately for each. The data center is totally behind the scenes and provided by the development tool vendor.

Which brings me to the data center. In the last 18 months, the data center of the future has become very clear, and all the major vendors are rushing to deliver what can be described in one word: virtualisation. Instead of building separate storage, database, and processing environments for each application, why not just build a farm for each, to be used by any application as it needs it? Simply add capacity every month by plugging in a few more servers, based on demand. Then any application can use it on demand.

Call it data center 2.0 - the hardware has become totally commoditised, and the value has shifted to the management tools that plug everything together, which is why vendors like HP (with OpenView) and IBM (Tivoli) have been investing so heavily.

Data center 3.0 is what happens when the management tools become commoditised too, as they surely will very quickly. Only Amazon, with its web services, is really positioning for this. Data center 3.0 is when the value shifts to the only place left - the development tools. Data center 3.0 is when developers outsource their data centers.

Nicholas Carr is describing it in his book, The Big Switch. There will only be three or four major companies with public data centers globally - HP & IBM, plus a few. Each will invest tens of billions of dollars in computing equipment, and between them, they'll host most applications in the world.

In addition, a small number of massive corporations will maintain their own private data centers, in an effort to maintain a competitive edge. That will include the major investment banks, plus internet companies like Google. No one else will be able to compete with the shear investment and scale required.

The benefits for developers will be huge. Logging into and selecting your language of choice, having compilation and debugging reports done for you, test environments created on the fly via a web interface, a bug database linked to an automatically populated software configuration management tool, while not even have to worry about the data center - what an advantage.

For corporations, the model offers a way to avoid having to manage complex and expensive data centers, and avoid capital expense in favour of monthly bills that scale with use.

Traditionally, data centers have always existed for application hosting. In the future, they will be for application management - not just hosting, but development, problem, configuration & capacity management. That's where the value is. Development tools will become the developer's front end to data center 3.0.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Driverless cars

Driverless cars have caught the imagination for years; mostly the conversation turns to advanced technology (satellite navigation, laser collision detection, automatic parking), but for me it's even more interesting to guess how technology might turn business models upside down.

Once cars can drive themselves, taxis get far cheaper. That's because you're not paying a taxi driver's wage. Far more people will take taxis, which will mean there are more taxis on the roads, which in turn will shorten taxi waiting times, which will attract even more people to take taxis - a virtuous circle.

I don't mean to imply that no one will drive cars or own them - there's satisfaction and freedom in driving on open roads that can't be beaten. But perhaps not for the weekly slog to the shops, or the commute, or the evening out, or the occasional traveler.

What happens when a significant proportion of cars are driverless taxis? The rise of the taxi company - massive customers for Motown with the power to significantly negotiate prices down. What's the natural response? Motown buys the taxi companies. They will no longer sell machines - they'll sell the service of transporting people, it'll be Ford taxis versus Toyota taxis.

Of course, for the next decade at least, we'll see only "assisted driving", not "no driving" - better aids to navigation, steering, breaking, and cruising to help the driver concentrate on reacting to the road.

But the auto industry will surely learn the meaning of the phrase "disruptive innovation".

Saturday, December 15, 2007

HR and corporate identity management

I've followed the recent surge of debate on identity management with interest. Massive government data loss, new social network APIs, and gains for OpenID have shown the importance of identity management, and fundamentally changed its landscape.

Technology nowadays seems generally led by consumer markets, not enterprise ones. However, in the enterprise, many of the pieces are already in place, if unevenly distributed. For example, many corporations have purchased single sign on applications from the likes of IBM and CA. Similarly, HR suites from SAP and Oracle compete to automate the management of personal information, and most firms have a web-based corporate directory with people's contact details.

What's missing are the connections between these tools. The HR suite - Peoplesoft, for example - should contain the corporate directory. Employees should be able to go in and update details via the directory page about them. And this page should also define their Single Sign On identity, via OpenID.

In this picture, HR is identity management. A breath of Web 2.0 should hit monolithic HR applications!

Future of IT: the IT view

Continuing an occasional series, I'm taking a look at the IT department of 5-10 years from now.

Most IT departments break down into four components - client support, development, operations, and IT management. Each will be radically changed by new technology and business models, focused around the web.

Client Support

If all applications are web applications, then all you need is a browser with broadband web connection. Client computing will therefore become much more straightforward; no more configuring hundreds of registry settings and data on local c: drives. It also may not really matter which computer anyone has, since they all have browsers.

Similarly, with the focus on Software as a Service, application support will be given by third parties. I can only see a small role for client support within the IT department in future.

Software development

I already predicted that all applications will be web-based, and 80% of them hosted by a third party via Software as a Service - including the office suite, communications and collaboration.

Therefore, hardly any software development will take place inside the IT department. Instead, business analysts and architects will be responsible for configuring and integrating third party web applications, using the vendor-provided tools. Most of this will not involve code, except perhaps a smattering of regular expressions to manage data in two dominant formats; the relational database, and the Atom feed.

Any remaining software development will be enabled by an online tool. Imagine a website that stored your code, compiled it, helped you manage software configurations and releases, offered integrated bug databases and test environments, provided WYSIWYG user interface design, and hosted the resulting application. All client-based tools, like Eclipse and Visual Studio, would be replaced by web applications, with a full data centre to host your application behind them.

Software developers wouldn't need to know anything about the underlying hardware - they would just see their memory, CPU, network and storage usage, and be charged appropriately for each. The data center is hosted by the software development tool vendor and totally behind the scenes.


Most organisations will have zero servers to maintain, so won't need to spend much effort on operations. As for network operations, many devices will be connected to the internet via 3G or 4G wireless networks operated by third parties. Desktop devices will still be connected to a LAN, for the sake of speed, but that will plug directly into the internet. Hence network operations costs are likely to be low too.

IT management

IT management won't have to focus so much on operations - however, they will have to improve their vendor relationship management processes, because of their reliance on Software as a Service. IT managers will decide which vendors to use, and build a framework of best of breed web applications tailored to their business.

Because of this, IT managers will have less capital equipment to procure, and more subscription services to manage. They will have to learn the business more closely and take a more proactive role in determining the future of business oeprations.


The IT department, it has to be said, will be smaller in future. CIOs will rely on a network of partners and suppliers to achieve their goals, and will become much closer to the business as their role becomes business process strategists.