Archive for Platforms

Slack-pocalypse Now

Slack is reducing my productivity and is almost certainly having a material negative effect on my day to day performance as well as my job enjoyment. Things started so well with Slack and I and I still love the vision of reducing email but something’s change, something’s been twisted….

In the beginning the initial goal of Slack was to make team communications easier and cut down on useless (or at the lest nonproductive) emails. I am happy to say that for the most part that’s happened for us internally at Buccaneer; in fact, we have almost zero internal email threads in a given week that aren’t forwarding something from a customer-facing person to someone else and even then most of that is handled in Slack as well. That’s great!

Then Slack added guest accounts, single channel accounts, and the ability to have multiple accounts on one Slack client and what was a great internal communication tool became the customer service portal from Hell. I can see how the folks over at Slack thought they might reduce the strain of customer communications just as they had internal communications. Possibly they thought Slack chats might replace daily stand ups, weekly status meetings, or “checkin emails”. Sadly, they were mistaken. Due to the expectation of virtually immediate response on Slack, it actually makes these problems worse.

In terms of daily standup (which I will go to my grave claiming is pointless in a group greater than six) Slack is treated as “in addition to” rather than a “replacement for”. Same problem for weekly status meetings.

Though it’s the daily (or worse “build”) checkin email that Slack has truly perverted , twisting it into a nightmare that leaves me muttering “the horror the horror” at the end of every sprint. The beauty of the checkup email and email in general is that it’s socially acceptable to not reply immediately. Indeed, one of the best ways to respond to those sort of things for me was to wait until I had something positive to say or respond by EOB whichever came first. Just a few hours can make what might be a bad or awkward conversation into a good one and email allowed me to manage my time in a way that I could find those hours with no more (and sometimes not even) a “I’ll follow up with you by EOB”. Thanks to Slack, the conversation goes a little more like:

Get enough of these and you’ll be dreaming of the halcyon days of once weekly conference calls and formal EOB update emails.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against open lines of communication but sometimes things take time and you want to craft a more sophisticated response than you can get when being barraged by messages. Of course from the sender’s perspective Slack is a form of instant messaging with an emphasis on the instant as in NOW part. Unfortunately, responding to even the most cursory of messages requires a context switch and any experienced developer will tell you that’s a productively killer.

What Slack needs is a more aggressive version of their current Do Not Disturb feature. One that not only warns the sender that you are not available but that actively says you are busy. This is something that HipChat, an Atlasssian competitor to Slack, has had since before Slack was even around. On HipChat if you mark yourself as busy, it puts up a red logo that looks like a traffic sign and actively warns any senders that they are probably interrupting you by messaging you. The difference may seem subtle if you aren’t like me and used HipChat for a long time before Slack, but in terms of communicating your status to your team and any customers in the system, HipChat is clear — away really means away, available really means available, and busy means leave me alone I am working.

What do you think? Is it just me? Find me on Twitter and let me know. Also, do fill out the contact form on this page, I am a 50% promotion for getting new hybrid app development projects started. If you’ve been thinking of getting an app for your business or even just have an idea you want to validate, there’s never been a better time to reach out!

The Year of Xamarin Development?

1423190333_thumb.pngXamarin may now be a viable tool for cost-efficient hybrid app development since it’s recent acquisition by Microsoft.

The current app marketplace is highly competitive and as the general startup market cools in

terms of funding, launch runway for apps is going to be even more important to early stage startups. Xamarin may allow cash-strapped startups to leverage code-reuse and the large pool of global C# developers while targeting both iOS and Android.

In general, developing an app natively for both platforms will nearly double the cost of client-side development and require a team to staffed with developers well-versed in Java as well as

Swift / Objective-C. Even with today’s outsourcing resources, the cost of this duplicated effort can stretch the budget of many startups.

Microsoft’s challenge will be finding a way to keep Xamarin attractive to mobile developers ontoday’s leading platforms by keeping up with the innovations and platform updates brought by future iOS and Android versions. They have to not only keep up with Apple and Google but also attract developers to develop apps for Windows 10, something that has to date proven near impossible.

 

LOB in 2015

Line of business software development is one of the least discussed and least sexy areas of software development. Ironically, it is by almost any metric the largest. There are more HR applications that are succussfully running inside their organizations than there are indie apps that are successful business.  Why don’t we care about LOB software? Why isn’t there an LOB blog or podcasts about being LOB developers (or even “dark matter developers”), the tools they use, and the struggles they face? Well, LOB development has been boring at least up until now. 

2015 is going to be the year that all of those older LOB applications get brought into the modern world. This will be brought upong by a mixture of pressure to go mobile and the natural purchasing cycles of medium to large enterprises.  On this week’s Coder RadioChris Fisher and I, had a lively discussion about Xamarin.Forms and my less than stellar expereince with it. 

Purists will of course say that for the best expereince on a platform you have have to develop natively on the officially supported tools for that platform. I agree with that, but here’s the thing — not everyone wants or needs “the best”. We make compromises of this sort al the time. For instance, I can’t afford the best car, so I drive a car that’s good enough for me; if you must know, I drive an 08 Toyotal Corolla. You see, I made a cost / benefit analysis when purchasing my car all those years back and that’s the exact sort of calculus that business types make routinely when it comes to commissioning line of bussines applications; that might explain all the IE 6 and VB code that’s running around for sure….

Here’s where I get controversial — I think they are right and correct in their decision, at least in principle. The issue becomes one of balance. How do you balance quality and cost-savings? That’s the question (at least in the mobile space) that Xamarin and the various vendors of mobile web-based app development solutions will have to answer. I still hope that Xamarin gets their act together with Forms, since C# is a much more pleasant language to work in thatn Javascript, but only time will tell. 

Going Mobile: Oyster

Reading is one of the few constant pleasures I’ve had my entire life. As a young boy, I used to accompany my mother to the local Barnes and Nobel once a week, not to purchase but to read books — my mother was kind enough to purchase me a book once every other month or so, but that’s a story for another day.

Overtime, my reading habit started to get a little too costly and I quickly had to turn to some desperate sources, such as the Dunellen Public School library who, despite doing the best they could, had little more than a shallow offering on a relatively narrow range of subjects.

One day everything changed. One day Amazon released the Kindle. The Kindle was a revolution for me and significantly lowered the cost of my drug of choice. Unfortunately, it turned out to the heroin to my cocaine and my habit became an increasingly frequent one.

Oyster aims to act as a methadone of sorts for my reading habit. Basically, Oyster is a subscription service for ebooks. It works in a very similar way that Netflix or Spotify do but you can tell based on the selection that this is an area that the publishing industry is not exactly jumping into lightly; indeed, it can be a challenge for me to find titles that are of interest to me and that I haven’t read. Still, for the price (just under $10 per month), you can’t go wrong if you can manage to read at least two books per month.

Happy reading! Please follow me Twitter and remember that this post is brought to you by Fingertip Tech, INC (@FingertipTech) who would love to help you with your app project!

Going Mobile: Overcast

icon_340This is the second entry into Going Mobile, my series of reviews on mobile software. Frequent readers of this blog will notice that this series used to only focus on productivity software but is now expanding to the wider app ecosystem. I’m still taking a special focus on apps that actually allow you to “get things done” or provide a certain level of productive value.

This week I’m really excited to be taking a quick look at a brand new app by the nerd-famous Marco ArmentOvercast. Overcast is basically a high-end iOS only podcast client. As a podcaster myself, please check out Coder Radio if you are into development, I get really excited when a top-tier developer like Arment puts something out in the space.

The Good: Overcast is fast. I mean lightening fast. I’ve been using it since day one and have yet to find any noticeable lag or stuttering with any of the animations in the app. To be fair, some of this is due to the app’s arguably spartan design; in fact, other than the app’s logo, it uses all standard iOS controls, something that works surprisingly well and is refreshing when compared to some of the overly “designed” apps we’ve seen over the past few years.

Though I am not a huge fan of playing podcasts at higher than 1X speed, it’s good that Overcast offers the ability to finely control how fast you are playing back the audio. Like all of the app’s features, this is elegantly tucked away and is in now way intrusive.

The Bad: Overcast is free to download and use to a point and Arment has been pretty generous in what features he allows you to access before paying the $4.99 upgrade price; in fact, you can use some of the premium features for free with limits without paying – it is a little shocking that Apple allowed this, given their relatively hard position on trials of any kind. However, Arment’s generosity doesn’t make up for the fact that “smart speed”, the apps signature feature, is just not very impressive and I’ve found to not work pretty very well for the majority of podcasts in my somewhat extensive library.

The Ugly: It is a little disheartening that someone like Arment who has a following and could release even the simplest of apps and still get some immediate and great press felt that even he had to go with a freemium model to make a decent profit on the app. Arment’s done freemium in the “cleanest” way I’ve seen so yet but it still feels a bit unfortunate that it had to be done.

Conclusion: If you subscribe to more than three podcasts and use an iPhone, then you should give Overcast a shot.

Going Mobile: Byword

This is the first entry into Going Mobile my series of reviews on mobile productivity software – I am defining productivity software as any software I use to get work done. For this first entry we have Byword for iPad, a great markdown editor for iPad (and actually iPhone too). It’s fitting that the first pick be a markdown editor, since the majority of this website has been written in markdown for some time; in fact, this post post has been drafted in the app on my iPad Mini.

Byword doesn’t strain itself to be the best looking iOS app on the market; in fact, it focuses more on function than form, however, it is still a pretty good looking app and leans very heavily toward the iOS 7 design paradigm.

What puts Byword ahead of the pack of mobile markdown editors is its integrated posting to Word Press and a number of other blogging platforms. This might seems like an unnecessary convenience but the fact is that effective blogging from a mobile device requires that the process be as frictionless as possible. A close second for my favorite feature in the app, is dark mode. Given iOS 7’s relative hostility toward nighttime use around a sleeping partner or spouse, it is refreshing to see third party developers taking the time to add dark modes and other quality of life features.

The app costs $4.99 currently and to unlock some of the advanced publishing capabilities, you have to purchase a $4.99 “premium” in app purchase. This is my only issue with the app – the app feels pretty incomplete without the in app purchase. That’s not to suggest that the app isn’t well worth it’s true cost of $10, but rather that this pricing scheme feels a little deceptive and in my mind brings down the (for lack of a better term) “class” of what is otherwise a very high-end experience. I’d gladly pay $10 for the app outright but understand that I’m in a fast shrinking minority; the reality is that thine pricing scheme probably was decided upon due to the unfortunate economics of the app economy.

If you’re in the market for a mobile markdown editor and are an iOS user, then I strongly recommend that you check Byword out. If you have any comments or app suggestions, please share them with me on Twitter.

Time to Go Mobile

If you read my 2014 Predictions, then you know that I don’t believe that we are going to see a lot of huge leaps in mobile hardware or OS technology in the next year. Software from third party developers however will be a different story. Indeed, it is my belief that 2014 is the year that large numbers of normal users are going to begin using their mobile devices as the power personal computers they really are – in many ways, a mobile device is a far more personal computer than an actual PC at this point.

I’m going to be one of these brave few and will therefore start featuring and reviewing applications that I use on a variety of devices. However, I am not going to artificially promise to review an app per week. Nor am I going to worry about making sure all platforms get the same amount of coverage. My goal is to honestly review and recommend apps that I use regularly on whatever platform.

Since these are apps that I actually use, there will be no negative reviews – in fact, there’ll be no scoring at all, as I find the star or X out ten scoring systems to be arbitrary at best. Think of these apps as my picks and treat them that way. If you like what I like and you find something that you start to use often from these posts, then please let me know on Twitter or Google+.

2014 Predictions

I hope that you have all had an awesome New Year’s Eve! I’ve decided that I’ll start off 2014 by making a fool of myself by trying to make some predictions for the tech industry for the new year. This is not a what you will see list, but nor is it a what you won’t see one; in reality, I am trying to focus more on trends than anything else. Overall, 2014 is looking to be a transition year rather than a real game-changer. This is in no way a bad thing and makes sense for where we are in what is usually a twenty year tech cycle; it is important to remember that the mobile revolution is not even half way done and there are still a lot of incremental advancements that need to be made in that area before it can be considered complete. Still, this article will not focus on mobile exclusively but will rather jump around with no other aim than what I find interesting.

Docker: Docker is the darling of the developer community right now and for good reason — it solves a problem that (outside of the BSD community) hasn’t really been properly addressed. There is however a risk of certain segments of the community drinking a little too much of the Koop-Aide and using Docker in ways that it wasn’t intended to be used; just think about what we saw with Rails a few years ago and the hype surrounding that and you will have a good idea of what I am concerned with. Still, at the end of the day Dockery is going to be a major tool in a lot developers’ (including this one’s) toolboxes for 2014 and probably beyond.

Windows 8: In the consumer market, Windows 8’s RT offering is in a lot of trouble — that is undeniable at this point. Windows Phone suffers much the same fate as Windows RT, though Windows Phone does enjoy a good holding in South America and some other parts of the world. Microsoft has already hinted strongly that they plan to merge WinRT and Windows Phone into one mobile operating system alla iOS. This is a great Idea but is several years too late. It also undermines the “one Windows” pitch that Microsoft has been making for Windows 8 over the last few years. In 2014, Microsoft will still be dealing with the fallout of their bumbling launch and marketing of Windows 8.

Azure: Azure has grown far beyond Windows in the cloud and at the close of 2013 is a rival to Amazon Web Services and pretty much every other cloud offering. I’ve used Azure several times myself over the year and am pretty impressed on the whole; there were some bumps in the beginning and middle of the year, but these have largely been addressed and it looks like Microsoft has some ambitious plans for Azure in 2014. Over the last month or so something called Midori has been leaking out of Microsoft and, though the pundits seem to think it is something to do with Windows on the client-side, my bet is that this is some sort of evolution of Microsoft’s cloud offerings. Either way, 2014 is going to be a good year for Microsoft in the cloud and for Azure.

Mac OS X: Twelve months ago it looked like OS X was veering dangerously toward an iOSification that would have proven intolerable for professional users. With Mavericks however Apple has found a good balance between their desire for control and the reality that the pro-market has been driven to OS X due to its being a UNIX system that has a late vendor for support and an attractive user interface. Despite the apparent back peddling, it is important to note that Apple has gotten one major change in the OS and managed to implement it in a way that is both useful to the average consumer and acceptable to the pro users — this feature is called Gatekeeper. In Mavericks, Gatekeeper does not allowed unsigned applications (to sign an application one needs to be an approved Apple developer) to be installed on the system by default. The key is that this is a default that any sophisticated user can change. However, I must admit that I have kept this default. Going forward, Apple’s belief in signed applications (or perhaps some slightly watered-down version of it) makes a lot for sense for the future of computing and I actively support refusing to install unsigned applications from untrusted sources. If the current path holds, Apple will be balancing making OS X simpler for average users and new users who came over due to the halo effect of iOS while balancing the needs of the professional user market.

Ubuntu / Linux: Canonical has done an amazing job of sullying the Ubuntu name over the 2013 and has done little more than make a fool of themselves with their naïve attempt at breaking into the mobile space. Ubuntu will still be a very popular desktop Linux operating system among new Linux users and will continue to be a major player on the server-side. Canonical the company however will fail to monetize their offerings in any significant way. The only ray of hope would be some sort of re-focusing of the company to be an enterprise focused organization much like Red Hat. Even in that case, Canonical will not be able to be a true challenger to Red Hat in 2014 and it is unlikely that they will even decide to try. The continued flailing of Canonical will contribute to a “brain drain” of passionate and talented Linux enthusiasts out of the Ubuntu community and into other Linux communities. Another side of effect this is that desktop Linux will continue to be the proverbial tempest in a teapot that it has always been. This internal discord will guarantee that 2014 will not be the year of the Linux desktop in any significant way.

That’s it! Those are my foolish predictions for 2014 — foolish as they may be, I am pretty confident that most of them will be, if not correct, then on the right track. I know they are not earth shattering and basically boil down to 2014 will more or less maintain the status quo. In a way, that’s a good thing. If we are constantly reinventing new technologies and never refining the technologies we are already have, then we will always be using unstable and half baked first generation technology. Have a happy new year and feel free to comment on Twitter.

Moto X Review

motox-story-gettoknowI’ve been living with the Moto X Developer Edition for about a week now and have been using it as my daily driver for as long as I’ve had the device.

The Good: The natural language processing in the extended Google Now functionality is impressive to say the least. In my limited and admittedly anecdotal testing, the voice response is the best of any device currently on the market; it beats the pants off of Siri for instance. Though the X does not run stock Android, it’s pretty close to it and is far snappier than any recent skin from other vendors.  Though this might be a bit of a personal quirk, the fact that the device is assembled in the USA is a big plus for me — call it sentiment I suppose.

The Bad:  Pound for pound the camera doesn’t match that of the HTC One. The body is plastic. Despite the plastic being fairly solid and high-end it is still plastic and the device looks a little low-end when stacked against the HTC One; however, it holds up just fine compared to the Galaxy S4, another plastic device.

The Ugly: Beyond the plastic body the phone is pretty well designed. However, it is a bit underwhelming when compared to the marketing that preceded it. In particular, a lot has been made of how customizable the body is but unless you are an AT&T customer (at least in the US), you aren’t going to be able to customize the device’s body any further than “black or white”.

Conclusion: The voice recognition software in the X is impressive, however, beyond that it is basically an Android 4.x device. In a way, one of the best features of the X is how close it follows stock Android and allows the elegance of the system to shine through, only slighted hindered by customizations.

 

Stepping Off the Edge

imagesUbuntu is my preferred flavor of desktop Linux by far. In fact, I consistently used it as my daily driver for over two years and only left because I was having trouble with Pulse Audio (who wasn’t back then) and I started to doing Apple development which required a Mac. Despite moving to OS X, I’ve kept a close eye on the development of Ubuntu and have run it on several machines and plenty of desktop VMs. Recently, however, it has been taken in a somewhat perplexing direction culminating in the absurd $32,000,000 Indie GoGo campaign for the Ubuntu Edge.

Before you get your knickers in a knot, no, I don’t have an issue with Unity or Mir; in fact, I think Canonical is doing the right thing by moving away from the aging and bloated X and it is haar to deny that the recent releases of the Ubuntu desktop have been the best looking ones they’ve had.

Usually, I’d be happy about a Linux-based operating system taking user experience seriously; after all, that’s pretty much the basis for Apple’s rise. Canonical, however, doesn’t seem to be acting in the interest of desktop Ubuntu and the gains in user experience feel like little more than side effects of the change in focus to mobile.

Not that I am against making a great mobile operating system! I’d love to see someone branch off the code and create Ubuntu Phone or something like that. My feelings regarding iOS conventions bleeding over into OS X apply here as well — basically, I believe that a desktop OS and a mobile OS should be two totally different products and, given the failure of the Surface, it seems the market agrees with me.

There may be an opportunity for Canonical in the mobile space and I could of course be wrong. In fact, given Canonical’s willingness to get in bed with the mobile operators and willingness to allow them to pervert and mar the system’s user experience, the carriers are somewhat likely to embrace Ubuntu on mobile.

Users, however, are likely to disagree. Sure a lot of people who don’t want to pay for a smartphone will take the carrier’s freebie and that’s great for Canonical if that freebie runs Ubuntu, assuming Canonical is getting some sort of financial remuneration per handset, but this group of people is pretty much worthless to developers, since, as the statistics on the low end Android phones show, these users are unlikely to even download many apps let alone pay for apps. These low value users are unlikely to warrant even passing attention from quality developers. If Canonical wants Ubuntu to be an app platform powerhouse, it ought to focus on the platform where it already has high value users — the desktop. The current state of the Software Center on Ubuntu is a disgrace and should never have been released to the public. Beyond being buggy, it is an insult to any developer that would publish any app on it.