Tag Archives: software

Two weeks with a Nokia Lumia 920

Just in time for Nokia to announce the Lumia 925 (and 928), I’m belatedly posting my review of a Lumia 920 (d’oh!).

As a techie and long-time disparager of Microsoft technology, the Xbox 360 was the MS product which turned my head. I won mine in a competition (having been a PlayStation and Nintendo gamer), and from the very first experience I was impressed – it was easy to get up-and-running, get online and pull in my social contacts from Facebook, and it was generally a smooth and impressive device. Since then I’ve also gotten to know some of the folks at Microsoft who are focussed on working with the Open Source community, and my opinions have distinctly softened and changed.

I’ve played with both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 on display in stores, so when the nice folks at Nokia Connects offered me the opportunity to trial their flagship Lumia 920 for a fortnight in March, I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the experience. The last Nokia phone I’d owned was the slider  7650 model from way back in 2001 – I’d been a loyalist through the 1990s until then, but wandered into BlackBerry land for a couple of years after that. I’ve also had every iPhone model since the 3G and have in parallel tried Android devices running 2.2 through to 4.1. So, from both a hardware and software perspective, I guess I’ve got a fairly broad experience, and was intrigued to find how a Windows Phone from Nokia would suit my “power user” habits!

A couple of notes. Firstly, if I’m mixing tenses here it’s just because I’ve now returned the device per the trial arrangement. The other thing to point out is that I really did do road test of the phone for two weeks, to the extent of popping my nanoSIM into a microSIM adapter and using it for as much as I could. More on this to come.

The first thing to say is that the bright red Lumia 920 looked and felt fantastic in the hand, although it is substantially larger than the iPhone 5.

The Nokia 920, customised to taste

The Nokia 920, customised to taste

One tiny issue I felt that wasn’t considered was the central positioning of the camera lens and flash in the back of the device, which meant I’d often have my hand across it and needed to wipe it, but I suppose a case or skin might have reduced that. The screen was a visual treat, it looks stunning in day-to-day use, and was also very nice for watching the couple of videos I looked at while I had the Lumia. The iPhone took over most of my photographic life for many years (which is sad in many ways, I realise), and I’ve got thousands of photos stored on it. Coming back to the camera on the Lumia, apart from the seemingly more-frequent need to clean the lens, it produced some great results – although I did miss the HDR capability which might have levelled out some of the contrast in a few shots I attempted.

no HDR

HDR would have helped with this early-morning shot

One particularly innovative feature of the camera on Windows Phone 8 is the concept of “lenses” – apps which can extend the basic function of the camera application itself. I also appreciated the way in which the Photos app enabled me to both browse my own Facebook and other social network albums, but also to see the latest content from my friends. Clever stuff. Oh, and SkyDrive let me get to the images straight away across different devices and on the web. +1 for sensible functionality. I vaguely missed Instagram for a couple of weeks, but I imagine that app will materialise for the platform before too long (and since the Instagram/Facebook “ToS-gate” I’ve largely moved back to Flickr or to dual posting anyway).

Rounding out the hardware commentary, I’ll add that the battery life was acceptable (I tended to pop the phone on charge whilst in the office and overnight, but it seemed on a par with my other device). I was also very happy with the performance of the phone – everything was extremely fluid and I didn’t encounter any hangups or freezes. Very slick.

Live tiles

Live tiles

Time, then, to talk about Windows Phone 8. I’ve admired the rebooted and reimagined Windows Phone UI from afar for a while now. After all that came before it in Windows Mobile efforts, it’s a bold and stunning revolution of a user experience – and I believe it is one that works.

It’s an interface that is alive, glanceable, and easy to use. The live tiles in particular are a game changer. The resizable tiled UI lives up to the selling point of true personalisation. More than that, the list of apps is one swipe away, and not only is is searchable, it’s super fast to jump to any lettered section of apps (sorted alphabetically – crazy, right?). I am a definite fan. I’m not yet convinced of the Modern UI / tiles in Windows 8 the desktop experience, but that’s more because of the janky need to switch between old and new paradigms to get some things done – for Xbox, tablet and phone, I think this is a useful approach.

The alphabetical list of apps is useful

The alphabetical list of apps is useful

I was pleased to be able to get back to my content and online services quickly, at least in relation to a subset of the apps I use regularly. Amazon (Kindle and Shop, plus a handy barcode scanner tile shortcut), Evernote, Last.fm, Spotify, Netflix, and Paypal were all present and correct. Twitter is covered by multiple apps (I chose Rowi), as is Facebook – although in the case of the latter most are fairly poor mobile web wrappers. There’s a giffgaff app already too, for all you giffgaffers out there!

However – and you may have seen this coming – the key missing parts of my daily workflow were all essentially app deficiencies. No 1Password, no good route planning apps for bus and train, no TomTom, no Feedly or Flipboard, no Instagram, no Google+ or Google Maps, or anything decent for YouTube.

Petty arguments between technology behemoths aside, I’d love to see more organisations taking Windows Phone seriously as a platform, as it does involve rethinking existing UI strategies, and I believe that the Modern UI is something here to stay across Microsoft devices. A few apps do exist for other things I use like BBC News, Github and Flickr, but all could do with an update or an “official” app to come along. I genuinely believe it is a mistake for organisations to ignore this platform.

Finally of course we reach “the prison I knowingly built myself” – and that is called Apple iCloud. The majority of my music is now stored there, and whilst the Windows Phone app for OS X was very effective at enabling me to sync iTunes playlists, I couldn’t just grab things from the cloud when I wanted. Messaging was particularly frustrating too, as I barely have any Windows Live or Skype contacts compared with the folks I interact with daily via iMessage. Messaging was annoying, as iPhone users tended to end up getting half of my conversations, some via text, and then missing things as they were logged in via their email address. I could see some great stuff in the Windows Contacts world, having groups of contacts whose updates I wanted to follow, but I wasn’t immersed enough for it to immediately work for me.

To round off on a high note – let’s talk about online management. Both Google and Microsoft seem to have this right, and Apple are living in the past. Using the My Windows Phone portal was great, and a better experience than even Android’s ability to send apps from Google Play to the phone – I liked the integrated view of SkyDrive, Xbox Live etc.

Thanks Nokia for a chance to play with your lovely device – definitely something I’d recommend to those looking to commit to a change and wanting a modern device. A few more apps, and a way out of my prison, and I’d be there myself…

Footnote:

A last, personal and slightly unrelated note – Microsoft are very lucky to have hired the man who persuaded me to leave IBM, Patrick Chanezon – Pat’s blog post about his choice in many ways mirrors my experience of dealing with Microsoft over the past few years – there’s a much more heterogeneous and open approach there now, and I wish him very well in the future, I had a great year at VMware working with him!

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Book Signing 2.0?

Last night I attended a unique event – what we think is the first ever “virtual book signing”!

Well, you’ve just published a book… it’s all about working digitally and online “in the cloud”… and you want to publicise it and bring readers and friends in on the gig in a social way. My friend Kate Russell is exactly that person – she’s just published Working the Cloud and decided (somewhat experimentally) to hold a book signing that all of her friends, fans and readers could take part in.

So last night, a number of Kate’s friends and colleagues got together in London and contributed to a live broadcast Google Hangout, while she chatted with invited remote guests, along with a few folks who wanted to get copies of the book signed. We were in a “party room” and able to dip in to the conversations when appropriate.

IMG_9515

The evening was a lot of fun, and I think the result was some interesting conversations about doing business using cloud services, as well as some learning about how these kinds of events can work 🙂 we even included some of my #techgrumps buddies in the hangout!

[youtube http://youtu.be/3KsZ5R74zwM]

Just to be clear – I wasn’t just “ligging” here – I’ve been a fan of Kate’s through her work on Webscape and Click and other endeavours for many years, and have been able to meet her at a few tech events, so I was really delighted to be invited along. I bought my copy, and I’ve read the book this week (it’s a very approachable style and easy to get into), and so far I’m about 60% through. I’ve reviewed the book on Amazon too, but I won’t repeat that word-for-word here!

Working the Cloud is a great read, and if you have watched Kate online or on broadcast, I’d say it’s “very Kate” in style… when I’m reading I can often hear her chatting through the content in my head. That means it is down-to-earth, practical, and useful. I’d say it’s a book aimed more to the small-t0-medium business market where folks are just trying to get their head around moving to using cloud-based online services; but it is also a great read for anyone wanting to learn which services really do offer the most value, and as I’ve tweeted lately, it also has some superb content covering online branding, identity, and use of social tools for communications and engagement. I’ve been online since, well, I started to borrow the school 14400 baud modem to dial up BBSes during the school holidays in the 80s – pre-Internet – and I live and breathe the cloud space, so I’m always excited by a book which still manages to surprise me with new things I’d not tried or heard of before – this is one of those!

Oh, and if you do pick up a copy, check out the fun Aurasma-app-based additional content you can unlock by pointing your smartphone at the cover – and check out the nice app for iOS and Android that enables Kate to share more information to keep things up-to-date. Really nice thinking and a way to apply digital tools to the age-old problem of currency of information in printed material.

Summary – thanks Kate for inviting me along, and well done on a lovely book!

 

Sushi, code, and craft

On the recommendation of my friend and colleague Alexis Richardson, last night I went along to the ICA in London to watch a documentary. Not at all my usual fare of sci-fi, action or comedy, but Alexis convinced me over lunch last week that Jiro Dreams of Sushi would be worthy of my time and interest.

Evidently the UK is substantially behind the rest of the world in getting this documentary on release – it’s apparently available to stream on Netflix in the US already, but only arrived in the cinemas here a fortnight ago. Ho-hum.

So, in a nutshell, it’s a film about an 85-year-old man who has been making sushi for a living for 70 years, and works with his eldest son in a 10-seat restaurant in an Tokyo subway station. So far, so quirky.

A few things elevate this documentary to a far more worthy status, though. The cinematography was thoughtful and beautiful; it was nicely paced; I learned a lot about the thinking of the individuals featured. I also came to realise how what I know as sushi, simply is not what Jiro serves to his patrons. What we consume from supermarkets, chains with conveyor belts, even the “good” individual sushi restaurants I’ve visited in London, is more mass market, mass produced popular style raw fish dishes.

Jiro is a craftsman – so are his sons and other apprentices. He’s obsessive, and he aspires to be better every day.

That’s interesting, because tomorrow is the Monkigras – Redmonk’s “craft beer-and-developer craft” event – and the theme this time is Scaling Craft. Over the past few weeks I’ve been back and forth with my very good friend James Governor about the topic of craft, and how it applies in software and technology. I think, after watching Jiro, I have a far better understanding than in the past. Interestingly, afterwards I had a discussion about professionalism, chartering / accreditation, the bcs, and whether or not professions exist to act as a barrier to entry or as an encouragement towards craftsmanship, too. I wonder how those themes will be reflected throughout Monkigras this year.

For what it’s worth, I had proposed a Monkigras talk taking the concept of glass and the craft of glassmaking and applying some technology themes, but unfortunately I’ve not been able to pull it together in time this time around. I’m looking forward to learning and soaking up the atmosphere (and seeing good friends from across the community) again, instead!

Oh, and if fish and subtitles are not your taste, I’d still encourage giving Jiro Dreams of Sushi a try – if not, on a technology topic instead, you really should watch Indie Game The Movie, the best documentary I watched last year and a fascinating insight into programming, obsession, and the gaming industry.

WebSphere MQ 7.1 is out – here’s why it is cool…

I’ve been fairly quiet about the latest software from the Hursley lab here on my blog – although, over the past few weeks since the announcements back at the start of October during the European WebSphere Technical Conference, I’ve definitely been speaking about WebSphere MQ v7.1 and WebSphere Message Broker v8.0 – two exciting product releases.

I’m going to spend this post talking about WMQ 7.1, which became available in electronic download form for the distributed platforms last Friday (z/OS will follow shortly). I’ll return to talk about all the (über)-coolness in Message Broker a little closer to the release date for that product.

So what is the big deal in this release?

It brings parallel / multi-version install

From version 7.1 onwards, there is now the capability to install more than one copy of WMQ on a system, for Windows and UNIX platforms. This includes installing alongside WMQ v7.0.1.6 (fixpack 6 on v7.0.1, the minimum level for multi-version install to work) – you can have one copy of v7.0.1.6, and multiple copies of 7.1, for example – and future versions will also be able to be installed in parallel, should the need arise. This should make migration and testing simpler. Applications can now point to their “own” install of WMQ if required. The GSKit installation, which provides some of the security functions for the queue manager, now gets installed “inside” the main installation as well, to make the whole thing more self-contained, and potentially easier to embed into other solutions if needed.

Here’s a teaser image from a Windows system that my colleague “mqjeff” sent me earlier today 🙂 he has 7.0.1.6 and 7.1 on the same machine.

It’s (even more) secure

WebSphere MQ has always had a number of strong security capabilities, including SSL for channel authentication and encryption, and fine-grained access control of queue manager objects via the Object Authority Manager. It has also been possible to add transparent, per-message / per-queue / per-policy on-disk encryption and signing of message data via the Advanced Message Security feature. In v7.1, a renewed focus on end-to-end security adds the ability to authorise on a per-IP/user connection basis, as well as adding more crypto algorithms and additional authorisation options, and making much more of that security function available via the MQSC administration tool. T-Rob has a much more complete post about these changes so I won’t go into any more detail here.

It runs better, on bigger systems

Bigger systems… like the z196 mainframes? Well, that’s one example, yes, but WMQ v7.1 has been more optimised for big and multicore systems in general. On the mainframe, there are a bunch of great enhancements such as increased resilience in dealing with shared queues in a coupling facility, and the introduction of Shared Message Data Sets (SMDS) to significantly improve performance there as well. Let’s just say that the performance numbers for z/OS are looking really, really good… which brings me on to…

It continues to push the performance envelope

A major focus on performance in the v7.1 cycle has produced some fantastic results, and when the performance reports appear (as SupportPacs, within the next few weeks), you’ll see the “fastest WMQ ever”. This theme runs throughout everything: not just the base runtime messaging, but also things like making the WMQ Explorer tooling significantly snappier to operate as well (oh, and that’s now 60% smaller, and more sleek!)

There is also a new option for publish/subscribe applications – the ability to publish on a topic via multicast. This re-uses some of the technology from the WebSphere MQ Low Latency product so that it can run very fast. After the initial application startup, it means that applications can also operate when the queue manager is not available.

It adds Telemetry to the base install

No surprise that I’d highlight this one (it is also an important part of the overall story, per the next heading!) – I’ve been talking about the IBM implementation of MQTT, the open protocol which is being standardised and which it was just-announced will be part of the Eclipse Paho M2M project, for the past couple of years.

In WMQ v7.1, there is no longer a separate installation to run in order to add this support. On the platforms where the Telemetry feature is supported – Windows, Linux IA64, and (new in v7.1) AIX – this is now an optional part of the base installation. That means it is very easy to try out. Oh, and as well as being integrated with WMQ Explorer, the full range of Telemetry objects can now also be administered via the MQSC command line.

It brings the family together

This is a big one, in my opinion. I’ve mentioned that WMQ “base” can now interoperate with WMQLLM via the multicast publish-and-subscribe support; and the WMQ Telemetry functionality is “in the box” as part of the installer on the relevant platforms.

Why do these things that matter? Well, as I mentioned in my recent MQTT FAQ, something that IBM has observed over a number of years of building and delivering production-ready messaging middleware is that one size does not fit all. There’s the fundamental transactional messaging backbone (WMQ base) which needs to be solid, reliable, and easy to administer through comprehensive scripted and graphical tools… but beyond that, there are some additional qualities of service that need to be considered. There’s the very high speed, low latency use case which may be very specialised (WMQLLM), and there’s the need to deal with small and constrained devices and less-reliable networks (WMQ Telemetry / MQTT). Of course, you may also want to perform file transfer over that infrastructure (WMQ File Transfer Edition), secure your messaging (WMQ AMS), or route and transform your data and connect with “foreign” systems via different protocols (WebSphere Message Broker). I’ve been talking about this as part of IBM’s Messaging Vision for a number of years and it is really showing through in this release of WebSphere MQ. It’s a complete story.

It addresses many “papercuts”

On top of all of that… the team has really tried to address many of the common papercut issues, by which I mean the gotchas, annoyances, and the “wouldn’t it be so much better if….”s. Things like, gosh, I wish I knew what version of WMQ that client is using to connect to me? (yep, you can find out now).  How about “bind on group” for messages in a cluster? The ability to backup / dump and restore the configuration of a queue manager without needing to use a SupportPac? There’s a real sense of “fit and finish”, and I believe that shows that the development team have been listening to feedback and making the tweaks that users have been asking for where possible.

So – all-in-all, there’s a lot in this release that makes it worth a look, either from the perspective of users who are looking at an upgrade to gain performance, security and usability benefits; or for those looking for a solid, dependable messaging platform which can support modern applications. There’s a lot of excitement and innovation going on in the “traditional Message Oriented Middleware” space at the moment and WMQ and the related protocols like MQTT are right at the heart of those trends.

To learn more about the features I’ve talked about, and some that I haven’t, check out the online Infocenter. You can also check out the “What’s New in WMQ v7.1” presentation from the WebSphere Technical Conference, via T-Rob’s blog.

Getting all philosophical about Software

A few weeks ago, my friend Paul Squires from Perini Networks contacted me wondering whether I’d be interested in taking part in Imperica’s “In Conversation With…” series. The idea was to pair me up with Dr David Berry from Swansea University to discuss some ideas on The Philosophy of Software (coincidentally, the title of David’s extremely interesting book). For some reason, Paul seemed to think I had things to say on this subject…! 🙂

We had a fascinating, hour-long discussion on the topic, which has just been published as In Conversation With… David Berry and Andy Piper. A very enjoyable exploration of the subject, which touched on my own interests in history, society, social software, the augmented human, and the evolution of the ways in which we encounter technology.

I hope you find the discussion worth a read!