Monday, February 27, 2006

More Services from Google

February has been a busy month for Google. If you use Gmail, you know they have integrated mail with Google Talk instant messaging. You can now send and receive instant messages right from your Gmail inbox.

The Gmail team also introduced a service called Gmail for Your Domain:
This special beta test lets you give Gmail, Google's webmail service, to every user at your domain. Gmail for your domain is hosted by Google, so there's no hardware or software for you to install or maintain.
I don't know what the terms of service will be, but this could be a big hit with small to medium size businesses.

More recently Google announced a beta test of Google Page Creator. This service lets you create your own web site at <yourname> It features a WYSIWYG page editor and a 100 Mb allowance for files at That's 10 times more than my ISP allows and I have to pay for that service. Not surprisingly, Google was overwhelmed with people registering to test Google Page Creator. The beta is now temporarily closed to new registrations.

Finally, Garett Rogers reports Google is working on a new calendar service. There is no official word from Google on when the service will be announced, but you can bet it will generate lots of buzz.

Mail, instant messaging, calendar, blogs and home pages. Do you think Google is interested in the collaboration market? Right now, all of these services are funded by advertising revenue and tested by an army of unpaid workers (you and me). I wonder. Is it just a matter of time before Google begins selling a hosted collaboration suite directly to businesses?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No. 1 Ladies' Detective

The hot, dry, dusty bush country of Botswana could hardly be further from New England in winter. Precious Ramotswe's job solving crimes and other mysteries could hardly be more different than working in an office. Maybe that's why I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. It's the first in a series of books about the unconventional detective Mma Ramotswe*.

This is not an edge-of-your-seat mystery. It's much more of a character study -- both of Mma Ramotswe and of Botswana itself. Smith takes time to tell the story of Ramotswe's childhood and life as a young adult. He highlights her decision to become a detective to "help people with problems in their lives". Then he brings the reader along on many of Mma Ramotswe's early cases -- everything from a search for a missing person, to tailing a con man, to a surprising murder investigation.

The news from Africa these days is a litany of disease, civil war, genocide, and post-colonial turmoil. This has been the news for as long as I can remember. As Mma Ramotswe travels around Gaborone, Botswana, you sense those things in the background, but you also experience her abiding pride in the relatively peaceful recent history of Botswana and a strong connection to the land and the people. Mma Ramotswe loves her Botswana. I'm looking forward to another visit when I read the next book in the series.

* In Botswana, Mma is a term of respect. Mma is apparently the equivalent of Madam, just as Rra is the equivalent of Sir.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Do It Yourself Satellite

A few days ago, NASA published photographs of SuitSat, a homemade satellite launched from the International Space Station on Feb 3:
SuitSat, an unneeded Russian Orlan spacesuit, was outfitted by the crew with three batteries, internal sensors and a radio transmitter, which faintly transmitted recorded voices of school children to amateur radio operators worldwide.
After the launch, ham radio operators around the world picked up SuitSat transmissions and reported them on the SuitSat web site. Unfortunately, the last report was about five days ago.

Although it isn't transmitting any more, I guess the suit is still up there orbiting the earth. According to the NASA site, "The suit will enter the atmosphere and burn up in a few weeks."

Correction: As of Feb. 16, SuitSat is still transmitting. Yesterday, I read the report table wrong. The table lists the most recent event first.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Common Ground

Last week's feature by Charles Arthur in The Guardian set off quite a firestorm within the Notes and Domino community. Several people blogged about it and many more commented. For example, there are more than 50 responses to a follow-up on Mr. Arthur's personal blog. There are close to 80 comments on Ed Brill's blog.

Charles Arthur and the Notes defenders, including me, remain very far apart on this issue. Mr. Arthur apparently lives in a parallel universe where the last three major releases of Notes never happened and where a vocal minority of Notes haters speak for the entire user population. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but the Notes supporters are conceding none of his points.

In such a polarized atmosphere, it is difficult to find common ground. Yet there is this quote from Charles Arthur complaining about his readers:
This inability to read something online and follow the thread of its argument seems to be an amazingly common failing. I notice it again and again in the grousing emails I get about articles: people don'’t seem to twig what they'’re reading. They skim a bit, and then reach the bit they disagree with, then leap to their email program to fire off their prejudices.

I know how you feel, Charles. Change a few words and you have:
This inability to understand and use software seems to be an amazingly common failing. I notice it again and again in complaints on the web: people don'’t seem to grok what they'’re using. They tinker a bit, and then reach the bit they disagree with, then leap to their blog to fire off their prejudices.
Of course, I don't disdain users in general, but I know from experience some users will set their mind against a software product and concede none of its benefits.

So how should we handle this situation, Charles? I think we need to realize that the vast majority of our constituents couldn't care less about such debates. Most readers of The Guardian are moved to complain only very rarely. They are more interested in sports and weather and getting on with their lives. It's the same with Notes users. They are not interested the fine points of UI design. For them, Notes is a business tool. They've learned to adapt to Notes quirks and get on with their work.

We should get on with our work too. At the end of the day, it is not about scoring points in a debate. It is about practicing our respective crafts. On his personal blog, Charles Arthur appears to be losing interest in this topic. Notes supporters like Ben Rose, Alan Lepofsky and Ed Brill need to get back to the fine work they do. I certainly need to get back to writing software.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Slow News Day

Today The Guardian published an editorial bolstering the claim, yet again, that Notes is the most hated software product ever. The editorial quoted my I Love Lotus Notes post from last month.

Ben Rose, founder of the UK Notes User Group, was also quoted in the editorial. Ben has already questioned both the data and the "research" behind the article. Ed Brill has responded too. I can do no better than to point you to Ben and Ed. I think they both got it right.

But, of course, I have an opinion too.

When I first heard about the piece in The Guardian, I was prepared to hate it. I feared being quoted out of context and expected I'd have to write a scathing letter to the editor. In fact the editorial didn't twist my words. To be honest, my reaction is closer to a yawn.

This whole topic has been rehashed many times over. Some of it is really old news. For example:
When new mail arrives, you get a message saying "You have new mail". But the mailbox display doesn't update; you have to press a key or menu item to refresh it. So the program is smart enough to know email has arrived, but not to show it - something the clunkiest free email program does routinely.
That problem was fixed years ago in Notes 6!

The rest of The Guardian piece is mere speculation about who hates Notes, why they hate it, and what percentage of users hate it. There is no actual research to back up the claims and many of the facts are plain wrong. Round over. The Guardian didn't lay a glove on Notes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Waterfall 2006

Register today for the Waterfall 2006 conference this spring in Niagara Falls, NY. Speakers include Ron Jeffries on Extreme Programming Uninstalled, Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt on An Introduction to Dogmatic Programming, and Jon Kern on WUP: Waterfall Unified Process.

The conference will be chock full of sessions celebrating the death of Agile Development. I had difficulty registering, but I am sure the registration page will be back soon. According to the web site:
We're sorry but registration is not yet ready. Our software developers have a really wonderful design. They're almost done entering it into it a UML tool. They've told us not to worry and that finishing it will be "trivial" because "all that's left is the coding."
Don't forget to mark your calendar. The conference is on April 1!

Friday, February 03, 2006


What will they think of next? Googlefight lets you pit the results of one Google search term against another.

Click here for a Super Bowl XL prediction.