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rwandering.net

The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

Google Apps becomes 1st class citizen

Thursday I logged into my Google Apps for Domains “manage this domain” page.  I was surprised to find an option to migrate my account to work more like a standard Google account.  I’ve complained about this in the past and am glad they’ve resolved it.

24 hours later and my GAFD account worked as a logon – and more importantly, my account was integrated – with just about everything.  14 hours after that and I even have my Google Voice account and phone number ported into my GAFD account.

Awesome.

A couple of points:

  1. Once you migrate your accounts, it will appear that you need separate browsers for your accounts.  You don’t, you just need to read the following and do what it says for each of your accounts:  http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?answer=182343
  2. If you want to move your Google Voice account, fill out this form: http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=cjlWRDFTWERkZEIxUzVjSmNsN0ExU1E6MA.  They say it could take two weeks, but for me it was 14 hours.

GAFD being more integrated is actually a great help because I’m now managing one fewer contact list.  Now I’m just hoping for a Google desktop app that can take calls.

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Thank you, Google! Chrome starts supporting WSR!

Some time ago I posted that I was abandoning Chrome until it supports Windows Speech Recognition (WSR). 

I did go back to Chrome after some time as I became more embroiled in the different Google Apps services, but I have always found it irritating that speech recognition wasn’t supported.

Every once in awhile I try it again and found today an important improvement.

WSR does work in GMail now, albeit just with the “dictation scratchpad”, but that is a big improvement.  It doesn’t quite work in Google Docs, but I’m hopeful they’ll get that working soon.

Thanks, Google!

BTW: I actually don’t know if this is Google’s doing or the result of a Windows patch . . . I hope it is the former, otherwise this is likely the end-state.

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No GV, then Ribbit-time

I use Google Voice for incoming / outgoing calls all day.  Certainly I’ve had a few problems in the past, but it has worked flawlessly for me in the last several weeks – certainly since the GMail / Google Voice integration. 

Mike Arrington says Google Voice Is A Hot Mess Right Now:

About 30% of my inbound calls have the caller muted – they can hear me but I can’t hear them. And outbound calls are worse. In the last 24 hours at least 75% of them failed completely. Either it never starts ringing, or it rings a couple of times and then dies. In fact, I called Google PR to give them a heads up on this story and that call failed too. As did a second attempt.

He goes on to say that sources tell him there won’t be a quick fix to the problem.  Like I said, I’m not having any of these problems, but Google has sold me on the value of such a service – I would even pay for it!

So if this becomes a problem, I’ll probably jump over to Ribbit.  They actually are a telephone company.

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Please make GAFD a first class citizen

I control my online identity as much as I can.  I don’t like using email addresses / identities that are controlled by a vendor.  Like phone # portability, this allows me to switch vendors when I want without (much) disruption.  That is the main reason I host my blog and email on my own domain.  I used to maintain my own servers to do that (literally in-house).  Then I moved them to a hosting company.  Then I moved email to Google Apps for Domains (GAFD). 

GAFD is pretty cool.  It allows you to put many services (i.e., mail, calendar, docs, sites, chat) behind your own domain.  Other Google services don’t exactly fit this model, and so they aren’t supported.  For example while App Engine does allow you to use your own domain, you probably don’t need to host your App Engine development portal from within your domain.  Not too big a deal.

But for the services that use your contact list (e.g., Voice, Wave, and Reader), I really don’t want to use my GMail address and certainly not the contacts list I have there.

I am at a loss to understand why Google doesn’t have a corporate policy that products must support GAFD.  Isn’t GAFD an important part of Google’s business model?  Obviously not as important as trying to sell us things we don’t want, but certainly strategic against Microsoft.

What gives?

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Abandoning Chrome until it supports WSR

I use speech recognition a great deal – and I recently switched to Windows Speech Recognition on Vista.  And I’ve been using Chrome exclusively for Google Apps, because I think it offers superior performance for JavaScript apps.

Unfortunately, Chrome doesn’t support WSR.  According to Rob Chambers this would be easy for Google to do, and I suspect it is just an oversight on their part (both in terms of making their software more accessible as well as following Windows best practices).

Google:  when are you going to put the effort into this?  The Chrome 2.0 Beta doesn’t do it either.

Rob Chambers: how easy is this really?  You also said that Firefox does support WSR – maybe it does, but not in Google Docs.

So now, I’m using IE8.  Google Docs with WSR works great there.

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Google, what is a beta?

Now Chrome is out of beta.  Cool.

Question: what on earth are Google’s standards for the word beta anyway?

Possible answers:

  1. Non-existent
  2. Non-existent with a dash of whimsy
  3. Variable based on $$$$$
  4. (Fairly) fixed based on the users requirement to understand relative product completeness / bugginess

Before Chrome left beta I would have said #1 or #2.

Now it seems that Google can’t get Chrome adoption from OEMs while it is a beta.  Shazam, we’re out of beta.  So I guess its #3.

I sure wish it were #4.  The term beta is actually pretty useful. Google has never taken it seriously, and this is just further evidence.

I’m generally a fan of the Google products and I use many of them, but Google, can you grow up a little here?  Show some respect for the term beta — you’ll be respecting your users too.

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Some thoughts on Chrome

image

Google releases a new browser.  The world declares “browser war” with some apprehension and  relish.  Web developers are cringing because browser compatibility is a major source of effort, cost, and frustration for software developers.

Q. Why would Google do this to us?  Just to take away Microsoft browser share? 

A. No.

Q. Are they doing this to extend the “Google OS” to the desktop in a way they control?

A. Probably, but that isn’t even their first concern.

Q. So, what is going on?

A. Well, I’m glad you asked.

Google is working to make their JavaScript-view of the Web as powerful as possible.  This makes sense given their enormous investments in JavaScript and in their own application suite.

Contrary to the approaches of Microsoft and Adobe with their Rich Internet Applications (RIA) frameworks, Google has focused on JavaScript. Where Microsoft and Adobe are building a better user experience inside of a container, Google is creating a better user experience through dynamic HTML and AJAX techniques.

Their developer model includes building out tooling to make it easier to author AJAX applications.  This includes the efforts made in the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) to enable modern IDE tooling for AJAX development. This allows developers to build maintainable object-oriented applications (in Java) that get converted and optimized to JavaScript.  Plus it promises cross-browser compatibility.

On the client side, they have Google Gears to enable local storage, improved caching support, and offline mode.

Q. So what have they been missing?  A browser? 

A. Not exactly.  They’ve been missing a JavaScript client runtime engine.

Google has made great advances in AJAX application development and tooling, but they have had to rely on others to provide reliability, responsiveness, performance, etc.

And that is what Chrome is about: taking control of the runtime engine for Google applications.  This makes the Google applications way more compelling.  More specifically, Chrome is about delivering that engine.  As Google says, they would love it if other browsers adopt the engine too.  I buy that.

Of course, by that time Chrome will be differentiated from its JavaScript engine.  By then Chrome will be about the Google OS.

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The Cloud Services Stack — Infrastructure

I posted Cloud Services Continuum a couple of weeks back.  In that post I articulated a simplified view of cloud services and how they fit together.  This was simple by design — others had found this view useful, so I wrote it down.  I intentionally ignored some kinds of services, greatly simplifying the Infrastructure piece.  In this post I delve deeper into infrastructure services.  I’ll move on to platform next.

BTW: Stack is a more fitting word than continuum for various reasons, so I’m using that instead.  And a shout out to Matias Wolsky — check out his SaaS Taxonomy Map.

Infrastructure as a Serviceimage

In my earlier post, I defined IaaS to include provisioning of hardware or virtual machines on which one generally has control over the OS; therefore allowing the execution of arbitrary software. This definition isn’t really enough, because there are many other kinds of infrastructure.  Take a look at the services that are out there:

  • connectivity / messaging services.  Examples: Microsoft BizTalk Labs and Connectivity Services, Gnip.
  • identity services. Countless OpenID identity providers, again the BizTalk Labs Identity Services.
  • data storage.  Examples: Amazon’s S3 and SimpleDB, Microsoft SQL Server Data Services.

One might argue that together these services create a “platform” — and they get close — but since none of these host general user-written code, they don’t quite get there.

Then, of course, there is flexible machine provisioning like Amazon EC2.  These are definitely infrastructure — where the platform is the OS, Web servers, and other software.

Calling this all IaaS is fine — it is all infrastructure — but, maybe we should further divide these:

  • Virtual Hardware Infrastructure
  • Storage Infrastructure
  • (Other) Infrastructure Services

Granted, these names need some work, but I think the categories are useful.  And I won’t make them into acronyms because I think we have enough of those.

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Cloud Services Continuum

I have found myself talking about cloud services a lot recently.  We have been talking about them here — there is an obvious synergy between what we do at Digipede and cloud services.  And I’ve been talking about them externally too: at the recent CloudCamp, on the Gillmor Gang, and in all sorts of other interesting contexts. 

Note that I refer to cloud services, not to the cloud.  I am not interested in defining cloud as a term, because I don’t think it very useful.  For those of us in the distributed computing space, cloud is the latest buzzword to compete with the word grid in terms of utter ambiguity.  I think the ship has already sailed on this one and I’m not going to try to call it back.

So, everyone is talking about cloud services and much of the conversation centers on understanding them and how they are changing the landscape.  Of course, cloud services are not one thing.  I find it helpful to think about them as parts of a continuum.  This seems useful regardless of the technical level of the people with whom I’m speaking.

imageThe diagram to the right shows this continuum from infrastructure to platform to software.   Brief definitions of these parts are:

  • Infrastructure includes provisioning of hardware or virtual computers on which one generally has control over the OS; therefore allowing the execution of arbitrary software.
  • Platform indicates a higher-level environment for which developers write custom applications.  Generally the developer is accepting some restrictions on the type of software they can write in exchange for built-in application scalability. 
  • Software (as a Service) indicates special-purpose software made available through the Internet.

I have indicated several companies that play at different parts of this stack.  This list is not comprehensive nor does it attempt to represent motion across the stack.

One scenario in which I find myself talking about the continuum is when people equate Amazon EC2 with Google App Engine.  EC2 is a flexible / scalable virtual hosting platform with provisioning APIs.  It allows you to dynamically scale the number of instances of your OS (i.e., Linux).  What you do with those instances is up to you.  Google App Engine operates at a much higher level in the stack.  It is a new software platform with specific APIs.  It requires developers to build for this specific platform.  yes, they are both in the cloud, but they are very different services. 

Another scenario in which the continuum is useful is in thinking about what vendors and new entrants might be up to.  The continuum makes one thing even more clear: many vendors that operate higher in the stack are relying on their own internal lower-level infrastructure or platform.  This begs some questions: which vendors will expose lower-level interfaces?  And of course, which vendors will move up the stack? 

  • SalesForce is already moving down with their PaaS offering. 
  • Any chance Google will expose its infrastructure stack?  I doubt it, but I do expect them to move down a little. 
  • Some of the readers of this blog probably know better than I where Amazon and Microsoft are planning to go.

Yet another way it is useful is in comparing vendors inside of a particular category.  Maybe I’ll write more on that later.

Is the continuum obvious?  Using the definition of obvious from patent law, yes, but I think it a useful paradigm.

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Google I/O Day 1

Quick notes from Google I/O today. 

Best things I saw were (in order):

  1. Android.  Very disruptive.  It will force the iPhone to be more open.  It will further commoditize the hardware (driving down prices).  It places Symbian, RIM, and WM into filling niche roles.  Of course the other mobile OSes aren’t sitting still, but they are already playing catch up.  This will put them further behind.
  2. GWT.  JavaScript apps written in Java with familiar tools.  Cool.  Interesting how Microsoft and Adobe are solving the JavaScript-dev-maint problem with rich containers (Silverlight and Air / Flash) while Google is solving it with a Java to JavaScript compiler.  The former are working outside
  3. OpenSocial.  The fundamentals of this API and Friend Connect are to allow social applications to interact across silos.  To me this means user control.  This will ultimately force silos (like Facebook) to open up.  I like it.

Participated in the ongoing argument between Robert Scoble and Steve Gillmor regarding FriendFeed.

Met a man dressed in a pirate costume.  Or Ben Franklin costume.  Pano Kroko.  Fascinating guy.  Checkout www.churmo.com.

Ran into an old friend, Julian Wixson.  Hadn’t seen him for at least ten years.

Went on a trek with Robert, Steve, Pano, Julian, Vincent Nguyen of Slashgear, Mark Lucovsky  and a student to see Gary Vaynerchuk talk about his new book.  I learned two things:

  1. It is about a 15 minute walk from Moscone West to Union Square. 
  2. Don’t drink the same varietal twice.

Got back to the Google party just in time to see Flight of the Conchords.  Those guys are very funny.

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