Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bunnings - a tiny problem?

On Thursday evening, steam pouring out of my ears, I sent the following to Bunnings via their web site:

I have just returned from wasting an hour and a half of my life at the Northlands Bunning store: I wanted to buy the timber to build a retaining wall and have it delivered to my house.

The person manning the timber yard avoided me as though I had the plague. When I eventually managed to corner him and explain what I want he told me that I had to go to the special orders desk. Which I did. They told me that they had just closed and I had to go to the customer service desk. Which I did. They then paged "Knave", who duly arrived after a wait of about 10 minutes. He told me that the timber yard were giving me the run around and that I should go back to them. Which I did. Only to find that there was no one there. After wondering around for what seemed like an eternity, I saw the original person - and I managed to corner him. But he explained that he couldn't help me as he now had an urgent staff meeting to attend. And he left.

There was no one else in the timber yard so I went back to the area in which "Knave" worked, and told him that I was rather upset. He replied that there had been a lot of staff meetings this week, some with up to thirty people in them, and that as a result there was nothing he could do to further help me.

I replied that I wouldn't be buying my timber from Bunnings and left. As far as I am concerned Woolworths can't get into this market fast enough. We have been staunch Bunnings
supporters, but will now start to look elsewhere first for our hardware needs.

On Friday I received a call from a manager at Bunnings Northland to apologize. Apparently, recognizing that they have a customer service problem, the staff meetings in fact had been training meetings - teaching the values of customer service!

We had fairly pleasant chat - I told him how wonderful Bunnings New Zealand operations had been when we lived in New Zealand, and how disappointed we had been by the service from the local Northland branch after we moved to Australia. This experience was just the latest in a long line of less than stellar ones. He was sympathetic and claimed that by the time they had finished the customer service training I would find Northland Bunnings a very different place.

But here's the odd thing: he never tried to find out what I was buying, and to close the sale in a way that made me feel good about the Bunnings story. For example, he could have offered to take the order via credit card payment on the phone and to have it delivered. But no, I just got a basic apology, an explanation, and some interesting chat. So I wasted a further ten minutes of my life talking about my experience with Bunnings, and yet still am no closer to buying the stuff that I need!

Will Bunnings will ever be able to ever improve their customer service if the management don't seem to know the basic goal of customer service? I have my doubts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Apple, Java and me. Proprietary bites, again

As a software developer who currently makes a living from Java development, I follow Java related news quite keenly. The last few months have been quite interesting, in the old curse kind of way.

Apples decision to "deprecate" their Java implementation is the one news item that will have the most impact on my future directions. It is one of those defining decisions that will be looked back on as either another of Steve Job's great decisions, or the misstep that started a decline in Apple's fortunes.

Why a misstep? Well, I currently develop and learn my craft on a Mac. It appears that I will no longer be able to do that.

Just as it was coming up time for me to replace my primary development computer at home. I was going to buy one of those very nice shiny big iMac computers. But now I can't. Given that I want to run a Unix style development environment, I will probably build a machine from scratch and install Ubuntu. Most developers won't bother - they will simply buy a Windows machine. So in the short term Microsoft and Ubuntu win from this decision, Apple lose.

Companies and government departments that bet on the cross platform nature of Java for applications find themselves in an odd position. They are either going to have to abandon the Mac, or rewrite their cross platform software. This takes time and budget: so until decisions have been made and choices reached, the most likely result is a freeze in further Mac upgrades. So in the medium term, again, Apple lose.

And in the long term? Java applications will not be deployable onto the Mac. As the second largest PC platform out there, this effectively kills Java's cross platform promise. And removes Mac OSX as a deployment option for server side applications. So finally Java looses, and again, so does Apple.

I am not optimistic about other parties picking up the pieces and running with them successfully. I don't believe Apple will donate it's current code – it's just not in their DNA, as far as I can figure. I also don't see an economic imperative for anyone else to take over the work. So this leaves open source volunteers to pick up the slack – and after the Apache Harmony/TCK and Android debacles, why would anyone want to risk getting involved?

This is not like Apple's Flash decision: in that case they were keeping Flash off of new platforms. In this case, Java developers are being excluded from an existing platform going forward.

Some people have rationalizes this along the lines of, “well, Apple can use their Java maintainers more productively elsewhere”, but here's a thought: What percentage of Apples advertising revenue would their support of Java be? Because this support is effectively another form of advertising: one that brings developers such as myself to their platform. It's not exactly as though the Java platform is a rapidly changing one. Most of their development costs have already been spent.

Also note that it is a lot easier to get into iPad/iPhone development if you already own a Mac. Just as it is now going to be a lot easier for the Java developers who return to Windows to develop for Windows Mobile 7.

As most people seem to dislike developing multiple copies of the same application, what will they turn to in place of Java? On the presentation side there are several options: flash, Silverlight and HTML 5/ CSS. I would argue that only the latter is unencumbered by FUD. The browser is the new VM.

On the server, pure Python, Ruby and PHP developers will happily be able to continue developing on and deploying to Mac's. However we are moving to a polyglot programming model where people mix and match libraries and languages. Those who stick with the Mac will find that the large Java ecosystem closed to them.

So given the large size of the Java ecosystem and the performance benefits, I do feel that going forward Apple have just ceded the server market.

So if not on servers, and not being used by developers, Apple will become more and more a creator of devices to consume content. They will become the television manufacturer for the Internet generation.

Again, no matter how I look at it, the decision to deprecate Java has no upside for Apple.

And Java – well, it's the new Cobol. There's probably enough of it out there to keep me busy until I retire. So I'm not sweating yet. But I am going to sharpen my Css/Javascript/HTML skills to prepare for the coming of the new VM.

To finish, I find some deep ironies in this unexpected turn of events.
  • The Visual Basic programming model (a scripting language manipulating objects created in another more able language) wins through.
  • The Swing model (no native operating system widgets, rather a rendered canvas) thus trumps the Eclipse model of delegating to the underlying os.
  • But Eclipse will be the one IDE that will possibly carry on working on Apple computers, thanks to SoyaLatte and Eclipse's decision not to use Swing.
  • Those people who bet on Flash as a cross platform deployment model are laughing.
  • Apples decision shows that those freedom loving open source advocates have a very good point. Had Apples JVM been an open source one, we would not be in the quandary we now find ourselves. Proprietary bites, again.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Kinfull question

By now it is common knowledge that Microsoft have killed their Kin mobile phone. The information that emerged in dribs and drabs made fascinating reading. We learned of a company not only riven by internal rivalries, but also that doesn't seem to know how to develop software. Which is odd, as by most measures I reckon they are the most successful software company in the world to date.

I attended a recent Enterprise Java presentation on Android. A graph shown during the talk sheeted home to me just how much  Microsoft have been humbled in this space:

% Share of Mobile Web Traffic, 2007
Windows > 20%
Sidekick  +- 20%
Blackberry < 20 %
Playstation > 20%

% Share of Mobile Web Traffic, 2009
iPhone > 60%
Android > 10%

So the space of two years Microsoft has managed to take their share of mobile web traffic from 40% down to a scant blip on a graph.

Consider the following:
From 2007 till now, iOS has moved from version 1.0 to version 4
From 2009 till now, Android has moved from version 1.0 to version 2.2
Windows Mobile 6 was released in February, 2007. We are still waiting for the next version release.

It seems to me that the software development practice roundly ignored by Microsoft is that of performance, feedback, revision. I.e.: release regularly, measure the result, and then adapt the next release of the software accordingly. I am not surprised that some see the next release of Windows mobile as a slow train wreck unfolding. Short, sharp and focused cycles are important. Any agilista knows this. Why not Microsoft?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Apple's new iPhone terms...

As someone who has had to live with Adobe's poor support of OS2 way back when, and subsequently on Linux & Macs, I am somewhat sympathetic to the point of view that Adobe made a tactical error way back when.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yes, James has left the building. So what?

So James Gosling has left Oracle. Go Figure.

I am not sure that this move has actually got any real meaning for Java. For over a year now the language just seems to have been drifting.

The move to rich HTML clients tells me that the underlying premise of write once, run anywhere, is still sound, but that Java, the language, and even the JVM platform, has been stagnating. Sort of neglected by both politics and poverty.

Yes, that's me on the left. Eyes wide shut, at dinner with James and other Australian Java developers about two years ago. It was a good evening. :-)

It struck me then, in the conversation, that he seemed pretty detached from the world of Java. More a very intelligent bystander pottering around periphery, playing with the bits that he found interesting. There was no sense of a driving force, trying to move the language and the platform forward. Rather, he seemed to be a retired researcher, coming in to the office to dabble. Of course this was just my impression, made at a rather festive meal.

The other people from Sun at the table were more interested in JavaFX than simple Java. Something I still don't quite understand.

So me, I don't think that the departure will have any effect on the future of Java. It only means that Oracle doesn't offer the collegial environment that Sun did. That might actually be a good thing for the future of Java.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Bye bye Stora...

As promised, I took the Netgear Stora back - and the folks at Officeworks were wonderful. A full refund and an apology for my wasted time.  Plus an invitation to consider some of their other fine NAS devices :-).

Monday, April 05, 2010

#Netgear, #Stora & me - #Fail

I have been needing to set up some centralised storage for my family for a while now. But we run a mix of computers, mostly Linux, with one Mac laptop, so I have held off doing anything about it.

I confess - I have always liked Netgear equipment - their visual design looks clean, and their stuff I have bought has just worked - reliably. So when I saw a Netgear Stora on the shop shelves, and read on the label : "System Requirements" ... "OS X, linux" & "Give friends and family access to your files, or even give them their own disk space" I just reached for my credit card and walked out the door with one tucked under my arm.

When it came time to set it up I found no linux drivers on the enclosed disk: a quick search of their forums revealed that "Unfortunately Linux is not an officially supported OS".

So with a sinking feeling I move to the Mac, put the disk in and and installed the software. After a complex install the cable modem hung - and I found the next importan point out about the stora - "the internet is not *only* required for setup. We recommend an internet connection at all times".

In fact, "many of the Stora's features and administration require the internet. This includes creating local user accounts..." Something not mentioned on the box.

So if I understand this correctly, the Stora will only function through the continued good grace of Netgear. If they remove their web service, the Stora turns into a brick. If they decide to charge for their web service in future, I have to pay or lose the use of a piece of hardware that is on my premises? This was also not mentioned on the box.

And speaking of payment: It turns out that I can only create accounts for three of my family or friends - any more than that and I do, in fact, have to pay Netgear an annual fee. As we are a family of four who gets the short straw? And who loses out if we do infact take up the once in a lifetime offer to give Netgear our money  and then fall on hard times?

So tomorrow  I am going to take the Stora back and politely ask for a refund. And I am never going to buy another piece of Netgear equipment again. My trust in the company is now totally destroyed.