What was the point of the OOXML battle exactly?

ISO LogoUnless you have been living in a cave for the last year (or have no interest in technology; in which case why are you reading this?), you will no doubt have heard about the battle between Microsoft and “open source advocates” (in reality, Sun & IBM) over getting OOXML ratified by the ISO/IEC. It is a battle that I’ve watched with vague interest, but I’ve not had an opinion either way on whether OOXML should have been ratified.

Today though that changed. ZDNet reported that having got approval for OOXML, Microsoft won’t be doing much with it. It turns out that whilst building support for ODF into Office is an easy task, building OOXML support into it is a very hard task. So support for ODF will arrive early next year with Office 2007 SP2, whereas we will have to wait until the next release of Office for OOXML support. This obviously begs the question, what was the point of OOXML exactly? The whole episode definitely tarnished the reputation of the ISO/IEC, yet it turns out to have been for no real purpose!

.NET is NOT to blame!

World Wide TelescopeI have been following the World Wide Telescope project with interest ever since Robert Scoble made a bit of an arse of himself over the subject. Since I was really impressed with the ease of install and the beauty of the product, I gushed in near fanboy-style about it when it went into beta release (I didn’t woop; so it wasn’t real fanboy stuff ;)). It was thus a bit of a shock to see that Mike Dillamore was casting the install in a bad light.

Mike was my boss at my last place of work. I have a great deal of respect for him as he is the man that got me into TDD, Scrum, podcasts and of course blogging. An area where he and eye do not see eye to eye though is over .NET. I am a big fan; he has, for reasons I’ve never properly understood, a keen dislike of it.

The instructions for installing the World Wide Telescope are long and complex (and remind me of installing anything on Linux for example), but people seem to be forgetting that this is just a beta release of the product and thus it will be rough and ready. As for the comment that .NET is to blame, what nonsense! The real “blame”, if one must call it that, lies with Microsoft’s business model of supporting what ought to be long-dead products. They could take the Apple route and simply refuse to install the software on any machine that isn’t Vista SP1, but since they are a multi-billion dollar operation that dwarfs Apple, perhaps their business model makes sense. Of course the blame also lies at the feet of the inherent security weaknesses in Microsoft’s desktop operation systems, but that’s a whole different topic.

Far from being a yolk about Micrososft’s neck. .NET is their money-spinning future. ASP.NET single-handedly saved their dying web server business for example. The awesomely powerful shell – PowerShell – that is built into the Server 2008 operating system is .NET based and let’s not forget that SIlverlight is .NET based too. Ten years ago, Borland offered a superb IDE, which people sadly turned their backs on by adopting the awful Visual Studio 6 instead. Those days have long gone though. Now, when one can get Eclipse or the Visual Studio 2008 Express editions for free, the IDEs from Borland (or Code Gear as they now are) make no business sense.

Microsoft release World Wide Telescope Beta

World Wide TelescopeYesterday, Microsoft released a public beta of its World Wide Telescope project.

According to the press release,

“The WorldWide Telescope is a powerful tool for science and education that makes it possible for everyone to explore the universe,” said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. “By combining terabytes of incredible imagery and data with easy-to-use software for viewing and moving through all that information, the WorldWide Telescope opens the door to new ways to see and experience the wonders of space. Our hope is that it will inspire young people to explore astronomy and science, and help researchers in their quest to better understand the universe.”

Bizarrely, the website is a nasty 100% Flash affair (presumably no one told Microsoft Research about Silverlight?!??), but the download is small and easy to install. Of course the disadvantage of that is that you have to be online to use the thing as it uses web services to fetch the image data as required.

Once installed and running, it is a really nice program to use. One can pan around the sky and it shows the constellations and objects of interest in those constellations. Alternatively, you can flip it around and point at the Earth and zoom right in. Below are three screen shots (scaled down to fit on my blog) of some constellations, Mercury and a satellite image centred on my home town of Lewes. I was a bit disappointed that this seemed to be the extent to which I could zoom in. The satellite view on Google Maps lets me zoom in close enough to see cars parked on the streets for example and I was hoping this program could do the same.

World Wide Telescope: constellations
Constellation view

World Wide Telescope: mercury
Mercury

World Wide Telescope: sussex
Sussex

In addition to letting you explore by yourself, the program also has a nice set of guided tours that include a commentary. These include lots of extra details that aren’t available when you explore by yourself (as far as I could tell), such as this image showing how the size of the assumed black hole a the centre of our galaxy:

World Wide Telescope: Black hole at the centre of our galaxy

Black hole at the centre of our galaxy

All in all, a very impressive beta. As it is free, I’d recommend everyone download it and take it for a spin…

All change at Arno#

Today was the day when my employment with Eurotherm Ltd finished and my employment with Enigma Data Solutions began. I swapped a 45 minute drive through the traffic jams of the A27 for a traffic jam on the A22 due to an overturned lorry. Doh! Luckily though I was only delayed by 10 minutes. Some in the office – who came from the opposite direction – were stuck for two hours. Ouch!

The new job will involve ActionScipt 3 (which I love already; it is such a huge improvement over ActionScript 2) and Java. This blog has been very Microsoft-centric (especially with regard to C#) up until now, but I may not use C# again for some time. This raises some issues for me:

  1. Do I abandon the C# tutorial series?
  2. Do I scrap the Arno# name?
  3. Do I scrap my plans to get involved in Pash?
  4. How will I convince my new boss that sending me to Mix:UK this year would be worth their while?
  5. Do I write some decent documentation on flexunit?

The last question is a no-brainer. I’ve started experimenting with flexunit, and it is a good unit testing framework for flex. The documentation for it is utterly crap though. I’ve worked out how to use it mainly by reading through the source code! So watch this space for some tutorials on using flexunit.

As for the others, time will tell…

Send your name to the moon

NASA is inviting people to send their names to the moon on-board their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which is due to launch later this year. Go to this page before June 27th 2008, submit your name and you are done. As an added bonus, kids (and me!) get a lovely certificate to show their name will be carried to the moon on a chip on-board the LRO.

Name to the moon certificate

I have no idea what the point of this is. But I think it’s a bit of fun and thought I’d share it. By the way, do not fill out your name if your are worried about Martians stealing your identity… 😉

Adobe opens up Flash to 3rd Party Player Developers

Today, Adobe announced the Open Screen Project, which is “supported by a group of industry leaders, including ARM, Chunghwa Telecom, Cisco, Intel, LG Electronics Inc., Marvell, Motorola, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics Co., Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Verizon Wireless. The project is dedicated to driving rich Internet experiences across televisions, personal computers, mobile devices, and consumer electronics. Also supporting the Open Screen Project are leading content providers, including BBC, MTV Networks, and NBC Universal, who want to reliably deliver rich Web and video experiences live and on-demand across a variety of devices.

No doubt in response to the growing threat to Flash from Silverlight (and a possible, maybe, vague, one day threat from JavaFX, which Sun plan to push at JavaOne in a few days), Adobe has been slowly opening up Flash over the last year. One area that remained completely verboten though was 3rd party players. Creating something that could render a SWF was strictly against the rules. The Open Screen Project though appears to relax these rules as of Flash 10. Adobe are publishing the details of the porting layer APIs and are removing the royalties involved in using Flash on anything but desktop machines.

This means we might finally see Flash 10 and Flex on Windows CE, the iPhone, Symbian OS phones etc, without havign to wait for Adobe to deliver it. We might even – fingers crossed – see the death of the awful Flash Lite.