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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Programming, Languages, and Tools of the 21st Century

I just got dragged into a discussion on LinkedIn's EGL Group discussion called "What is the future of EGL?".  For those that don't know EGL (or Enterprise Generation Language) is a 4th generation language that generates Java and/or COBOL code.  It is an IBM proprietary product that supports advanced web development.

EGL is one tiny example of dozens of web or other application development tools available in the marketplace today.  In addition to dozens of proprietary products from various vendors (from IBM to virtually unknown little software houses operating out of the owner's garage) is open source.  In terms of web development the leader is clearly PHP.

PHP is this nasty little programming language (I really don't care for it very much), with millions of users and over a million companies building incredibly sophisticated web sites with PHP!

Why is PHP successful?  It is free and open source, but more importantly, there are thousands of free applications ranging from sophisticated e-commerce web stores to just about anything else you can imagine free for the download.  You can download and customize these applications and have sophisticated web applications up and running in days (often in less than a day).

If you don't have the expertise to customize or implement your own PHP applications you can rent the expertise.

You may still need more speed, power, or sophistication than PHP can offer, so you should use Java or C++.  Again, don't hire programmers, rent them from India.  You get superbly skilled people at a fraction of the price.  You also get a business dynamic that is easy to manage and costs that can easily be contained and controlled.

For years many developers and IT people or even business users frustrated with IT people have looked at products and tools like EGL, or many others to rapidly build new systems or solutions not coming out of the IT department.

Some of these tools are excellent, the question becomes how long will they last, will they be bought up by some major company and then what happens to them?  Computer Associates or CA has become the biggest dumping ground for old software companies.  IBM is close behind snatching up just about everyone it can.  Oracle has jointed the buying frenzy and Microsoft is there too.

Interestingly C++ was a language that was used to create compilers and operating systems and seemed to be way too complex to ever serve as a business language.  Java was a good alternative.  With Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Inc. the future of Java is questionable.  Java despite its popularity was never an "open source" product.  It was always a proprietary product owned by Sun and now by Oracle.  Oracle can modify Java, or change its licensing at their whim.  Will they?  Who knows?  Oracle has risen from a small database company to a major computer systems giant.  They are causing IBM and other major companies major headaches. 

Today, I would strongly recommend outsourcing all programming and development to offshore companies.  I say India but there are some great and inexpensive folks in other countries too.  Be sure they have good communication skills.

Avoid specialty or development tools unless you do so with the idea that you will throw them away when your situation changes.  Do not invest in some tools that require extensive staff training or hiring new people.  If you can buy a tool and use it with a minimal learning curve, especially if it is used by business people and not IT programmers then go for it.

Sadly, the corporate staff programmer is a dinosaur and expense that you probably should not be investing in.

Monday, October 17, 2011

IBM Stock Drop an Indicator of the future?

Investors are extremely concerned about IBM's current quarter results.  See the Rueters article titled: "IBM's Q3 disappoints, stock drops"

IMHO this is a signal of IBM's decline.  Unless some radical changes to refocus the computer and software giant on real solutions to real business problems and abandonment of its absurd and failed technological solutions in search of a problem will be its down fall. 

IMHO IBM's decline began with Lou Gerstner who reinvented IBM in the image of Nabisco.  Sam Palmisano is a Gerstner clone with a heavy focus on technical consulting.  Under the leadership of these two, IBM dumped its printer business, its printer business and ripped the guts out of its storage business. It has basically eliminated its AS/400 aka iSeries aka System i business is moving its formerly profitable zOS business to Linux and refocused its power systems group on Linux. 

Under Steve Mills "leadership" [???????] WebSphere and IBM's SOA initiatives, application servers, commerce server, and many other products have been virtually driven out of the market place by free open source software. 

The biggest issue for IBM today is Oracle after its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Inc.  With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle now has a complete and total turn key suite of solutions including all required hardware, middleware, and application software for virtually every business requirement you can imagine.  The Sun acquisition rounded out a total package of its own software, Peoplesoft, and JD Edwards. 

Oracle was a major IBM partner who helped sustain IBM Power Systems revenue.  Now Oracle will be selling its own hardware with extremely attractive package pricing. 

IBM's own strategic manuevers like the move to LINUX away from proprietary operating systems will hurt IBM significantly. 

While IBM remains a huge player in the computer systems market, continued drop in stock prices will open up the opportunity for a hostile take over.  Perhaps Steve Ballmer will realize his dreams, or perhaps Oracle's Larry Ellison will make a bid for IBM. 

Gerstner's gutting of IBM's field organization and virtual elimination of IBM's industry specialty groups who used to drive software and hardware development will ultimately weaken IBM severely.

IBM has loads of wonderfully brilliant computer scientists, but unfortunately, these guys as brilliant as they are have no clue what modern business wants or more importantly needs.  You have research scientists going wild with some great ideas that are totally unnecessary for modern business.

Note that all of IBM's SOA (service oriented architecture) support software has virtually tanked and for the most part been withdrawn.  IBM's initiatives in Java J2EE has been virtually abandoned along with many other "strategic initiatives" that were technically based. 

In addition to Oracle as a huge competitor, Microsoft remains an aggressive competitor as does HP.  In addition to commercial competitors, open source is making a huge impact on IBM revenue. 

Open Source now covers a broad range of solutions from operating systems (LINUX) to middleware (the Apache Software Foundation's Tomcat and Apache web server), and now a huge portfolio of application software from accounting to ERP and everything else. Open source has basically driven IBM's WebSphere division out of the market.

I think IBM has a long ways to go, but if this is a trend, they won't last forever.  Watch the competitors. Treat IBM just like any other vendor and do not give them any special consideration.  IBM has little or no software or hardware you cannot buy from competitors.  Go for best of breed hardware and software and get rid of any brand based allegiance.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs

I see many articles and blog posts about the death of Steve Jobs and I see praises for the many innovative inventions he created. 

What inspires me about the memory of Steve Jobs was his focus on people and how they used the machines he designed and built.  From his earliest Apple Computers to the iPhone and iPAD what you see are tools that anyone with no technical knowledge or training could pick up and use!

How many computer systems (hardware or software) can make the claim that you can buy it, turn it on, and begin to use it?  Have you noticed older people in their 80's or even 90's using iPAD's?  I have!  How about kids as young as 3 or 4 years old using certain iPAD applications.  If you have a five to ten year old stand back they can do anything and everything plus a whole lot of things you never knew existed. 

Non-technical adults who hate computers use Apple products because they can.  What could be simpler than pointing and touching a screen?  Or dragging your finger around on the screen?  This was Steve's true genius.

It is something that many of us have inside us but we put away and ignore.  Steve capitalized on his desire to create usable technology and did exactly that. 

I don't want to hear about the billions of dollars that he generated for Apple or this technology or that.  I want to remember a man that did what no one else had done:  brought technology to everyone!