IT News Blog

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Google Allowing More Control Over Personalized Search

Matt Cutts says that Google is now adding a "Remove result" link after personalized search results.

The idea is that you can report which results stick, remove the spam, and eventually Google can figure out how to use the data to improve everyone's results.

Many are reporting that they see the link, although I can't get the damn thing to work. I've been using the personalized search, and I tried Matt's instructions to sign out and then back in, but no luck. Maybe I have to reboot or something.

UPDATE: So, on my new laptop, I've never signed into my Google Account in IE, just in Opera. So, I sign out and in using Opera, and it just won't work, but I signed in for the first time in IE and I get the "Remove result" link. This pisses me off, because it took me all of three minutes to realize how fun using the link is. I just seem to enjoy removing all the crap that messes up my searches. I'm not sure if the link doesn't work in Opera, or if current Opera users have problems moving to the latest version of personalized search, or if its just bad luck, but I really want this to start working for me.

The problem with charging for content

You must have noticed it - the fast-growing trend among content sites to start charging for content. But just because it works for some, it won't necessarily work for all, and there appear to be a lot of site owners who have not grasped that yet.

One of the main problems is age-old, it's been around since the earliest days of the web: why pay for something you can get for free elsewhere?

News, one of the most important kinds of online content, is the subject of a lot of profit-making ideas at the moment. Yes, some sites have charged for access for a long time, and made it work. But I can't help feeling that visitors to The Times, faced with a demand for payment, will simply look elsewhere for their news.

Despite coverage of the so-called End of Free, there are still a great many places where people can get free, high-quality news online. And while these free sources still exist, there is very little incentive for anyone to cough up money to access one of the paid-for services.

People are usually happy to pay when they perceive that the thing they are paying for has some value for them. The essentials of news are facts, and facts are easy to find on the web. People who will be prepared to pay to read The Times will be people who are particularly keen on reading a certain columnist who writes nowhere else; or people who feel particularly close to the newspaper's political agenda. There will be a few, but not many.

The Register's prediction is that as readership falls, so will advertiser interest, and therefore income. The Times is simply not different enough to command that sort of loyalty from an online audience. Very few publications are.

The ones that do stand a chance are the ones that are significantly, obviously different. And most of them are small, online-only publications run for the love of it. Email newsletters like NTK and mbites, both of which report news, in their unique ways, but do it so differently to everyone else that they earn the trust of their readers. They are examples of online services that could impose a fee on readers and make it work. Web sites that are just like other web sites aren't different enough to for anyone to care.

Nokia to Launch Mobile Project With Eclipse

The Eclipse Foundation accepted its first mobile vendor, Nokia (Quote, Chart), to its board of directors, officials announced Monday.

The Finnish mobile phone manufacturer, which joins the open source Java tools group as a strategic developer member, plans to donate several components of its own developer software tool to launch a mobile Java application project at Eclipse, submitted for approval today.

Nokia will also spearhead the development of mobile Java applications for Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP) and Connected Device Configuration (CDC) capabilities.

Nokia also plans to move more of its code base into Eclipse later this year.

Although plenty of companies within the mobile industry are already members of Eclipse, such as Symbian, PalmOne, Motorola and Fujitsu, they are working on projects other than advancing J2ME (define)on the Eclipse platform.

According to Mike Milinkovich, Eclipse Foundation executive director, the Nokia project will likely find a home with the organization's Device Software Development Platform (DSDP) top-level project. He expects the approval process for Nokia's Mobile Tools for Java project to take roughly 30 days.

"Projects at Eclipse need someone to lead them and having Nokia come on board with both the resources and the presence in the mobility space, I think, is a real coup for Eclipse," he said.

Nokia is a relatively new proponent of the Eclipse platform, though officials said they've been working with Eclipse for several years. In June 2004 the manufacturer first announced its support for the Eclipse IDE (define)with a set of plug-ins for its Nokia Developer's Suite for J2ME 2.2 and Nokia Mobile Server Services SDK (define).

"That was from our angle the first step to in a kind of test to see how our customers reacted to our supporting Eclipse," said Heikki Koivu, a Nokia tools manager. "I think the response from the market has been very good."

That favorable reaction convinced Nokia officials to look into Eclipse to make its own product offerings more uniform and competitive on the market, he said, which resulted in talks between the two organizations that ultimately led to today's announcement.

While talking with Eclipse officials in 2004, Nokia also started contributing resources to Eclipse's Embedded Rich Client Platform (eRCP) project.

Eclipse projects for mobile devices are one of the biggest holes in the organization's product line. The strength of the organization is its wide variety of tools projects developed mainly around enterprise applications on the J2EE (define)platform.

Software vendors are increasingly donating the source code to core functionality of their proprietary products so it can be further developed in an open source development community. It frees the company from devoting its own resources to enhancing core functionality so developers can focus on competitive features specific to the company's product.

IBM (Quote, Chart), which donated the $40 million in code to launch Eclipse in 2001, uses the core functionality from the Eclipse IDE as the foundation for WebSphere Studio.

Earlier this year, Borland (Quote, Chart)re-joined the Eclipse Foundation as a board of director and launched a project based on its Together line of modeling software.

The New Linux Standard

Efforts to create a Linux standard gained some ground today with the release of the Linux Standards Base (LSB) 3.0 specification. The latest LSB standard is an effort to help prevent the fragmentation of Linux and is widely supported by major Linux vendors.

The LSB specification is maintained and developed by the Free Standards Group and is intended to provide interoperability standards via a base set of APIs and libraries so ISVs can develop and port applications that will work on LSB-certified Linux distributions.

The LSB standard currently supports seven architectures including IA32, IA64, PPC32, PPC64, S390, S390X and X86_64.

LSB 3.0 comes a year after the LSB 2.0 was introduced and includes a number of enhancements over its predecessor.

According to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Free Standards Group, the most important thing is that LSB 3.0 contains an updated application binary interface (ABI) for C++, which is supported by all major distributions.

"This greatly reduces the costs and time for ISVs who want to support more than one distribution," Zemlin told "Also, a significant change is that all the distros are all on board and certified from the very beginning. We're in sync with their product release cycles. Again this makes it easier for ISVs to target the Linux platform."

The Free Standards Group noted that Red Hat, Novell, the Debian Common Core Alliance and Asianux were all certifying their distributions to the LSB. Other distributions are expected to follow, according to Zemlin.

"The release focused on our first wave of certifications but is by no means exhaustive or final," Zemlin said. "We have a quote of support from Mandriva and are working with these vendors, and many others, to achieve certification. Other vendors have different release cycles that affect when and what they certify."

Some have argued that since each Linux distribution uses its own kernel version, (that is not "plain vanilla" kernels) and since each uses its own set of core components which may be at different version levels that fragmentation already exists. Zemlin disagrees.

"Kernel version does not have an impact on LSB compliance," Zemlin explained. "Any application written to the LSB will work regardless because the interfaces for LSB apps are at a much higher level than direct-system-level interfaces into a piece of hardware."

"Developers who write their application to the LSB-specified ABI will have a portable application across LSB environments regardless of kernel version," he added.

LSB 3.0 is not the end of the road of Linux standardization.

"For 4.0, we will have the modules for the specification built out in the desktop and manageability," Zemlin said. "These two areas are very important as Linux expands both in consumer and enterprise markets around the world and especially in emerging markets.

"You will also see the FSG open a certification authority in China and add IDE support into the LSB."

Cisco Elbows For SMB Web Conferencing

Cisco Systems (Quote, Chart) has licensed Macromedia's Flash technology for a Web conferencing offering in the making, officials announced today.

Cisco said it would use Macromedia's Breeze and Flash platforms in order to deliver a comprehensive Web and audio conferencing offering for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB).

MeetingPlace Express is designed to put conferencing features behind the corporate firewall for customers to they don't have to buy it from outside vendors.

"One way of thinking about this is we're taking best-of-breed Web conferencing and best-of-breed on-premise audio conferencing and integrating them deeply," said Tom Hale, a Macromedia general manager and senior vice president.

Companies are moving away from separate vendors to provide audio and Web conferencing, Hale said, not only because of the security issues posed by conducting business outside their network but for the difficulties created trying to tie them together.

Putting everything under one roof allows users to make changes in the Web interface, whether it's to mute one of the participants or change settings, from one location rather than using the individual settings.

Cutting down on the complexity issue is Macromedia's ubiquitous Flash player found on 97 percent of today's desktops. It alleviates the requirement to download and install client-side software through the conferencing service providers.

The cost issue is also significant, said Troy Trenchard, Cisco director of product management. Customers today are paying for the separate services, the bandwidth, the number of users and toll charges, he said, but not getting the integration of the services with corporate features like the directory service or calendaring.

"What we're seeing is a lot of people being attracted by the ability to bring that solution into their network," he said, "either within their site or hosted behind their firewall, which allows them to experience significant cost savings in their telephony and to drive that productivity by having these things highly integrated."

Cisco's SMB offering is a Linux-based, rack-mounted server, available for up to 120 concurrent users. It's a scaled down version of the company's enterprise-grade MeetingPlace conferencing technology, acquired in 2003 from the $80 million purchase of Latitude Communications.

Officials are working on incorporating the Breeze technology into the enterprise-grade offering down the road, to provide an easier migration path from Express, but Hale said the time frame is too far out in the future to comment.

Conferencing is one of the key components in Cisco's Unified Communications vision for real-time presence-enabled communications. The company wants to provide one comprehensive suite encompassing conferencing, video, calendaring, e-mail, call control, security and directories.

This is the second big win in as many weeks for Macromedia and its Flash platform. Earlier this month the company announced a partnership with Hewlett-Packard (Quote, Chart) to deliver a Flash-based user interface for its carrier solution.

Tackling a Java Challenge With SOA

IBM's (Quote, Chart) new WebSphere Process Server is the company's most advanced tool for powering a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

One of the key motors driving the software, and other updated WebSphere products, is an abstraction layer technology Big Blue calls Service Data Objects (SDO) that goes where Java can't in modern programming.

Chandra Venkatapathy, IBM WebSphere manager for Process Servers, said that SDO makes it easier for applications to handle data, providing the abstraction required for a distributed computing environment like an SOA.

"We wanted to get unified data access to heterogeneous sources," Venkatapathy said in a briefing this week with "It's not necessarily a relational database. It can be a Web service, a flat file, or a business object from some other software."

For a long time, IBM, Sun Microsystems, BEA and Oracle have hung their hats on Java, which offers a variety of data programming models and APIs (define).

But Java does not always work well with other tooling types, and APIs such as the Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) deals strictly with relational data. SDO is intended to create a uniform data access layer that provides a data access solution for heterogeneous data sources

Venkatapathy said SDO supports both static and dynamic programming APIs, various tools and frameworks, disconnected programming models and custom data access layers. It can also decouple application code from data access code, paving the way for the reusability SOAs are known for.

This separation is crucial for processes such as a Web-based purchase order, where customer information may come from one source and account information may come from another source, etc.

"When you go to service orientation, if you want to change one of the applications, the process may not change but the application will," Venkatapathy said. "How well your objects are decoupled is they key to success because they can handle the shock that happens in data relay. So, if a system goes bad, the SDO can do the mapping to change to something else."

With SDO, this transformation happens seamlessly and on the fly -- the way Web services (define) are intended within an SOA.

"The beauty of SDO as an abstraction layer is that we are using it and, surprisingly, not many people know that we are using it," Venkatapathy said, noting that SDO is also used in WebSphere Application Server.

SDO may not be mainstream in terms of public exposure. That could change as the market for SOAs evolve and the demand for dependable plumbing grows.

IBM WebSphere Software General Manager Robert LeBlanc alluded to SDO in a conference call last week to unveil the company's new enterprise service bus (ESB) (define) products and Process Server.

Responding to a question about how its new products accommodate standards such as Java Business Integration (JBI), LeBlanc said:

"IBM believes integration should go beyond just Java and that there is set of a capability and technology we're introducing within the Process Server that over time we will look at bringing to the open community," LeBlanc said. "But we want to make sure the technology is hardened and can solve customer problems before we bring this forward."

In SDO, Forrester Research analyst Mike Gilpin said IBM sees an opportunity to standardize a container interface and binding definition that would be more general and less Java specific than JBI.

Such a standard would have the same basic objective, he said: to enable containers from multiple vendors to federate with one another over Web services intermediaries like ESBs, and support composite applications.

"Today this is hard because each container has a somewhat different interface for deploying services, running them, and monitoring and managing them," Gilpin explained.

"Although within the J2EE world there are some standards for this, there's not a full equivalent set of capabilities available that would work across any container, including .NET. I don't know that there's a project there (open source or otherwise), but it sounds like a good idea to me."

Searching for Software Partners

Google (Quote, Chart) today introduced Google Enterprise Professional Program, a partner service for developers, consultants and independent software vendors looking to increase Google's enterprise search capabilities.

The new enterprise group, which has more than 2,000 customers and has experienced more than 100 percent growth in the first half of this year, allows service providers and software developers to be trained in Google's professional products.

The program is geared at helping Google customers extend their use of enterprise products to hard-to-search areas of their infrastructure, such as legacy data locked in a mainframe, information on a highly secure government network or real-time customer data in an enterprise application, the company said. The Mountain View, Calif.-based search firm also expects partners like Herndon, Va.-based LMN Solutions to help pave the way into intelligence and defense facilities that their engineers have traditionally had trouble entering.

Matt McKnight, president of LMN Solutions, said his firm will bring the speed, quality and simplicity of Google search to U.S. government customers focused on secure access to information across disparate systems within their organizations.

"Our understanding of their specific architectural and policy requirements, combined with Google's technology, will give federal enterprises the capability to quickly find all information relevant to their mission," he said in a statement.

The program is open to developers, consultants and independent software vendors for an annual membership of $10,000, which covers the cost of training, certification and support, the company said.

In addition, partners receive a development version of the Google Search Appliance and a Google enterprise SDK.

"As a leader in mainframe integration, NEON Systems is excited to be partnering with Google to extend the simple, robust indexing and search capability of the Google Enterprise Appliance to the many mainframe 'systems-of-record' which still underpin the largest global businesses," Mark Cresswell, president and CEO of NEON Systems, said in a statement.