Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Unify Tour 2007: Building, Deploying and Maintaining the Application

Ruth Morton is a friend, not just a colleague in IT. She asked that I provide her with some constructive feedback on her presentation to the Toronto-and-area IT professionals and developers attending the Unify Tour 2007. But being a friend doesn't mean that I won't be as objective as possible.

Having said that, I have to say that what I'm seeing in the Windows Live Meeting webcast for this second session of the day is impressive. For the first time since I've been attending these sessions from Microsoft, not only is there interaction between IT pros and dev types in the presentation itself, but the additional implied friction and humour adds the ring of truth as well as comic relief in what otherwise is often a "talking heads" experience. Ruth's colleague, Christian Beauclair, is especially good at juicing it up in the interaction segments between the developers and IT professionals.

Microsoft's new System Center Operations Manager 2007 appears to be a powerful new tool in the arsenal available to IT professionals for monitoring application performance. Of course, PerfMon still provides some value.

Ruth is quickly developing facility with presentations like this. I'm glad to see Microsoft branching out slightly by adding the female voice to the IT Pro community. And I will certainly recommend presentations like this continue to use interaction, implied role friction, and humour. Good show!

Unify Tour 2007: Better than being there

I'm currently watching Session 1: Designing Architecture from the last stop of Microsoft Canada's Unify Tour 2007. The tour is all about how professional developers and IT professionals can collaborate together on the entire product lifecycle from design to deployment to monitoring and management.

Although I couldn't be at the in-person event today, I am watching it using Windows Live Meeting. While I don't get to mingle with IT Pro Advisors and colleagues in the industry, the streaming webcast is in some significant ways better than being there. I'm not talking simply about avoiding 3-4 hours of commuting to Toronto from Kitchener and back again, or even about the luxury of having my notebook computer for notetaking, maximizing and minimizing screen shots, or even blogging while sessions are being delivered. No, I'm talking about really important things, like washroom breaks, fresh home-made coffee, and leaving my cell phone on full volume.

Yeah, it's also useful to have access to the Internet, chat features with other remote session viewers and Microsoft IT Pro Advisors. But can that really compare with watching the sessions in a recliner?

Having spent many years in development and coding, this 10,000-foot overview of some of the new tools for design were quite impressive. The new Visual Studio Team System includes some features which really impress, including the new DB Pro role, auto-generation of sample data in the developer's SQL Server Express prototype database, specific service pack and other IT-related settings for design components, and source control for database schemas.

Kudos to the MSDN and TechNet presenters, Christian Beauclair and Damir Bersenic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech and Wireless Access

A recent news article from eWeek.com indicates the there were wireless access problems at Virginia Tech on Monday. As you might expect, there were massive increases in the number of wireless voice calls and text messaging during the crisis, especially between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm. Verizon acknowledged some calls were blocked, but most text messages went through. Cingular claims no calls were blocked. Sprint Nextel also claimed no service interruptions despite the increased volume.

I hope most corporations never experience a crisis like that of Virginia Tech on Monday. But it is a virtual truism to suggest that wireless access is quickly becoming indispensable to modern business processes. From WiFi phones to hand-held computers and scanners, from Pocket PCs to notebook computers carried to various meetings, the advantages of information at your fingertips and communications technology available anytime hardly need justification anymore.

The Virginia Tech crisis only highlights a growing realization among IT professionals. Most IT managers are beginning to reflect on how inexpensive devices might be used in corporations to improve everything from disaster responsiveness to on-the-spot job training to line-of-business information retrieval. Given the eagerness of telecommunications companies to sell smart phones in quantities to companies, you can readily imagine a situation where everyone in a company from the President to janitorial staff would be issued a joint cellular/WiFi phone. The WiFi costs would be covered by the company, while most cellular usage would be the responsibility of the user (if used at all).

When an employee comes to work, they use the device to send and receive instant messages or text messages, to read and write corporate email, to gain instant access to operating procedures and policies, training manuals and even for information access to ERP applications as required. Devices would be subject to policies preventing misuse, of course, but some kind of automated monitoring service which aggregates usage statistics would help managers determine who is doing what when and then take appropriate disciplinary measures if necessary.

I don't think this is too far fetched. After all, many families are already there with every member having his/her own cellular phone and/or computer. High tech companies are already using either blackberries or smart phones with almost 100% distribution among employees. Soon enough, the manufacturing and other industrial sectors will see the same advantages. After all, not everyone in a manufacturing company can have access to a computer. But if we could reduce costs to, say, $200 per user per annum, wouldn't the advantages be obvious?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Predicting IT Trends - Microsoft Databases

My family and I like to visit large bookstores together. We tend to drift apart shortly after arriving only to come together again for coffee and treats in Starbucks. I tend to head over to the science and technology section and the computer-related bookshelves, my wife to the novels, my eldest son to the gamers area, and my youngest son to the culture studies section.

One thing I like to do while perusing the computer books is to predict trends in information technology. What programming languages are getting a lot of coverage? What certifications are taking off? What popular trends are emerging in web services? What databases get the most press?

This week, I had fully intended to attend a regional Microsoft event entitled The Exciting Adventures of the Microsoft Application Platform Developer not just because it was intended for both developers and IT managers, but because I was curious about what trends were emerging in Microsoft products for data-driven applications and web sites. Unfortunately, I felt too ill to attend the event. But it still got me thinking and wondering about the future.

Why is it, for instance, that I see so little on the bookshelves about a product like SQL Server Express? I bought Rick Dobson's Beginning SQL Server 2005 Express: Database Applications with Visual Basic Express and Visual Web Developer Express, From Novice to Professional some time ago, believing that I should become conversant with a product that seemed ready to infiltrate small to medium-sized businesses who had outgrown Microsoft Access. But I haven't seen it on the shelves recently, nor any of the many SQL Server Express books available online. Based on the books lining the shelves in Chapters, I'd have to say there isn't much of a future in store for SQL Server Express.

But maybe it's just a matter of timing. Maybe it's a matter of my being interested primarily in small and medium-sized businesses. Maybe Microsoft needs to do a little more marketing. Or...just maybe Microsoft Access still can fulfill most of the requirements for departmental databases, for small- and medium-sized databases without worries about the .NET CLR, XML data types, etc. Certainly the Chapters bookshelves look more promising for Access than SQL Server Express.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Geeks Do April Fool's Day

You always have to be on guard come April Fools' Day, especially if you're into technology, technology news, and blogging.

So what's up recently that may or may not be a joke on us geeks?

  1. Windows Vista for your Pets (OK, that's a dead give-a-way)

  2. "xxxx is a fellow IT Pro Technology Advisor from xxxx, he is very well connected to some influential people at Corp. in Redmond..."
    Nathan Mercer
    Michael J. Murphy
    Damien Caro
    Daniel van Soest
    Rodney Buike
    and so on in a ring around the blogosphere

  3. TechCrunch Has Acquired FuckedCompany.com
    Mathew Ingram's spotting the prank

The first two may be exactly the same joke. In fact, it was the Vista for your pets that kind of gave it away, especially since the format of the IT Pro Advisor blogs was almost word for word.
The problem is that, because geeks love April Fools' Day and because geeks generally don't do the joke very well, you're never quite sure. One example is Robert Scoble's joke for 2006 in which he announced he was leaving Microsoft for Google. It was kind of lame, but typical of the geek approach to April Fools'. The title was credible, given his praise of Google over the years. And in retrospect, it wasn't many months later when Scoble did leave Microsoft, not for Google but for Podtech. Hence the uncertainty.

Anil Dash did a little bashing of geek April Fools' Day jokes last year. One example was

  • "We have a big announcement today!" No you don't. It's Saturday.

Which got to to thinking about why a guest blog submission of mine wasn't being published until early next week on the IT Managers Connection Community Blog when it could easily have been published this weekend. Could it be that the entire Microsoft IT Pro Advisor network is complicit in an April Fools' Day hoax and want to keep the community blogs clear until the hoax is fully perpetrated? I don't know. Maybe I'm just way too suspicious.

But if the theme interests you, Gizmo has a list of the top ten geek pranks of all time, some of which I may consider using on my colleagues at work. Wikipedia has an even better list of jokes by media type as well as a list of genuine events mistaken as April Fools' Day hoaxes (that might be one for me if I'm wrong about the IT Pro Advisors announcement rumor).

So, whether you're a perpetrator or a jokee, have a fine April Fools' Day 2007!