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Flash/HTML5 wars: News from the front

By Jon M Simpson, Logical Design, January 10, 2011.

When Steve Jobs banned the Flash plugin from all Apple devices in April of last year, it sent tsunamis throughout the tech world and left many wondering what the future would be for this darling of web development software and its ubiquitous plugin. The event has had many proclaiming the death of Flash and sparking a flurry of activity to prepare for HTML5, their supposed future king.

But not so fast.

Of course one of HTML5’s biggest appeals is its ability to bring applications directly into the browser,  making it much easier to design web applications. And with the exponential explosion of mobile apps, developers can utilize almost the same exact code for every platform (iPhone, Android tablet, desktop, laptop, etc), thereby drastically reducing the time and effort it requires to create native apps in this feverishly crowded mobile OS market.

But even though Canvas (HTML5′s up-and-coming Flash-like tool) seems to be gaining a lot of attention these days for being able to duplicate basic Flash tasks, it still runs into massive road blocks when trying to say, create a connection with a webcam or microphone, or trying to execute a very long list of complex, Flash Action-script-able functions.

Unless Adobe were to shut Flash development down TODAY,  the notoriously slow W3C would take decades to catch up on many important levels.

But certainly this was not just a wake up call for Adobe, for it has pushed the W3C to take HTML5 to new heights, resulting in an uncharacteristically rapid expansion (for the W3C anyway) of codecs compatibility: In January of 2010 only 10 percent of web video was available to playback in HTML5.  By October it was well over 50 percent.

So although these developments are a short term obstacle for Adobe, as it was already suffering from a growing disdain for its plugin’s power hungry and security vulnerable perception, it seems unlikely that the W3C either can or wants HTML5 to supplant the extensive capacities of Flash.

What’s more is that HTML5 is in severe danger of being far more vulnerable in the long run,  security-wise than Flash is.

Sorry Steve. But most of us developers already knew your motives were disingenuous anyway.

As HTML5 really begins to take off, the same annoying pop-ups and ads are beginning to appear – but these are worse because they are not readily identifiable within the code and filterable like Flash is with add-ons such as Firefox’s No-Script.

So when it comes to one of Steve Job’s primary excuses for banning Flash, HTML5 is opening  up whole new playgrounds for malicious activity on levels that a plug-in like Flash will never be able to.

What is one of the more interesting developments and one that may prove to be a very real answer to the survivability question of Flash, is the announcement in October that Adobe is developing an add-on tool that is able to convert Flash into HTML5 code. It processes the information and exports everything to HTML5, while simultaneously calling attention to anything that HTML5 is unable to handle and still needs to be addressed, post-translation.

Although this still leaves the Flash plug-in in question and it doesn’t answer the codec challenges everyone from Microsoft to Google and back are having, it does offer Adobe the promise of continued relevancy and indeed, dominance in the application development world. It is a brilliant move by Adobe and a collective sigh of relief can be heard across much of the web development world, knowing that the never-ending innovation at Adobe will probably save Flash from these recent developments.

No release date has been announced but 2011 promises to have many developers scrambling back to the familiarity, ease and unmatched capabilities of the Flash platform. As the W3C continues to fix its codecs compatibility issues, hopefully ongoing surprises across the development world like this one from Adobe, will make web developers and users the real victors in this war.


Full version of Google Docs now working on iPad

Engadget 12/10/10

The big G just revamped its mobile device interface of Google Docs to make it closer to the full-fledged experience you get when editing from a proper computer — you know, something that probably has a keyboard, a big display, and a price that didn’t come with any two year agreements. Now that top shelf interface is also available on one of those devices that fits somewhere in-between those two segments: theiPad. Users of Apple’s tablet can opt into the desktop version for big-time editing of spreadsheets and documents and, while Google still recommends using the mobile editor, if you want full power it’s yours.  This is an extra sentence.

sourceGoogle Docs Blog


Strategies for Cloud Computing, Michael Jackson's Sony Website

By Charles Babcock
May 10, 2010 08:00 AM

Native Americans had no trouble believing that creatures from the spiritual world roamed at will among those of the physical. At night, these visitors became shape shifters, transforming themselves from the coyote, the bear, or the raven into a spirit form, then changing back again at daybreak.
Cloud computing is nothing if not similarly amorphous. The cloud’s hard-edged, warehouse-sized data centers accessible on the Internet, filled with seven-foot-tall racks of pizza box servers, seem concrete enough. But when an individual end user accesses a server in the cloud, the server has the ability to take on or shed processing cycles from CPUs and use more memory or less, as needed. The user’s cloud machine expands according to her needs and shrinks when peak processing is over. It may be on one side of the data center one moment and on the opposite the next. The end user hasn’t slowed down what she’s doing; the shift in servers occurs without her realizing it. In the cloud, the computer becomes a shape shifter. It’s not limited by the box it arrived in; instead, it’s elastic.
When you need a computing resource to serve you, but you don’t know how much of it you’re going to need, this special characteristic of the cloud — elasticity — will serve you well. To see this elasticity in action, take the example of Greg Taylor, senior system engineer at Sony Music Entertainment, who is responsible for the computing infrastructure that supports the Web sites of thousands of recording artists and hundreds of individual artists’ online stores. In 2009, Taylor felt that he had adequate monitoring systems and surplus capacity built into his infrastructure. At theMichaelJackson.com store, for example, he could handle the shopping transactions and record comments from 200 shoppers at a time on the store’s site.
Upon the star’s unexpected death on June 25, 2009, the site was suddenly overwhelmed with people who wanted to buy his music or simply wished to congregate with other grieving fans and leave a comment. Sony Music saw an influx of more than a million people trying to access the Michael Jackson music store over the next 24 hours. Many wanted to post comments but could not. The servers stayed up, but not everyone who wanted to find album details could be served that information, and indeed, many would-be purchasers could not buy because traffic overwhelmed what was already “a very database intensive” site.
Other surges were felt around the Internet. The Twitter broadcasting site was overwhelmed by users’ tweets and slowed to a standstill. TicketMaster in London slowed to a crawl. Yahoo! was staggered by 16.4 million site visitors in the 24 hours, compared to a previous peak of 15.1 million on Election Day.
“Our site became the water cooler for everyone wanting to remember Michael Jackson,” Taylor recalled in an interview four months later.

Sony Music’s top management told Taylor that it was not acceptable to have traffic trying to reach a company music site and have would-be customers left hanging, with no response from an overwhelmed site. With 200 individual artists’ e-commerce sites engaged in capturing both transactions and user feedback, Taylor had a large problem that couldn’t be solved in the conventional way: buy a lot more servers, more network bandwidth, and more storage, and throw the mat the problem. If he had followed this route, most of that expensive equipment would have sat unused in Sony’s own corporate data center. What’s a senior system engineer to do?
Taylor has since re-architected the Michael Jackson store, AC/DC’s online store, and other popular artists’ sites so that traffic can be split into two streams when necessary: those who are buying music (conducting transactions) and those who are just seeking information. The transactions remain on the core store site hosted on Sony’s dedicated servers, but visitors who are seeking read-only content, such as background on an artist and his albums, can be shunted off to the multitenant servers in the cloud. Many cloud customers in addition to Sony Music share those servers, keeping the costs for the music company low.
The cloud service that Taylor chose was Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). In the future, Sony will build each artist’s store in tandem, with an e-commerce site and a related but separate information-serving site in EC2. When the e-commerce site starts to get overloaded, the latter can expand to meet nearly any foreseeable traffic count, thanks to the elasticity of the cloud.
SMBs are getting the analytical capabilities to drive faster decisions based on better data

BI For the Small-Medium Business
As traffic at any artist’s Web site builds up to a point where the site can’t handle more, new visitors get shunted over to the read-only cloud site, where they can at least find information and identify something that they want to buy. Under the Amazon agreement, cloud servers will scale up to handle as many as 3.5 to 5 million visitors per day, if the occasion ever arises that they need to. In a big traffic spike, a visitor might not be able to purchase an album immediately but will never go away miffed at not being served at all.

The new architecture reflects a changing world where online activities and social networking have taken on added importance. Sony management wants Taylor to be ready for the changes in customer behavior. In the past, there would have been less opportunity for the news of a pop star’s death to spread so fast or to result in such a spontaneous outpouring of grief and comment at a well-known music site. If the need arises again, Taylor is in a position to fire up 10 more servers in the cloud as soon as traffic starts to build.
Such elasticity is one of the things that distinguish cloud computing from large corporate data centers. Many data centers include a specially engineered elastic capacity reserved for a select few users, such as major customers who are trying to make purchases on a site that is already busy with browsing visitors. In some cases, more servers are engaged to handle the traffic. But it’s also possible for the information seekers to experience delays or even get booted off the site until the buyers have completed their transactions. In the cloud, however, there’s no need to turn away desired traffic. Additional “virtual machines” can be fired up quickly to handle all comers.



Windows 8 details leaked in internet

By Paul McDougall
June 29, 2010 08:17 AM

Bloggers have uncovered what are claimed to be internal Microsoft slides detailing some of the features planned for the company’s next computer operating system—Windows 8.

windows 8

windows 8

The slides, which first popped over the weekend on the Italian blog Windowsette, are stamped “Microsoft Confidential” and “Under NDA”.
Each slide contains a footnote that states, “Windows 8 Discussion, This Is Not A Plan of Record.” They indicate Microsoft may be eyeing a Windows 8 release sometime in the 2012 timeframe.

If real, they would appear to show that Microsoft may be looking to mimic rival Apple’s success in developing products that provides users with a more intuitive computing experience. For instance, one slide describes a scenario in which a gamer, armed with a tablet-style device, pauses to answer the doorbell.

“His game is interrupted by a knock on the door. He looks away, and the game pauses. Eric stands up and walks to the door,” the document states. “Although the game is paused, the Lap PC adjusts for the change in light. Soon he’s outside showing off his new Lapp to the neighbors.”

The documents, if authentic, also indicate Microsoft is focusing on portability in Windows 8 from the ground up. They describe built-in support for motion-sensing accelerometers, ambient light sensors, GPS units, wireless networking, and cameras.

Microsoft also may be planning to mimic Apple in other ways, as another document supposedly reveals plans for a Windows “App Store.”

With each new operating system release, Microsoft hopes to further erase memories of Windows Vista, which debuted in January 2007 and quickly thereafter was chided by many as the worst OS release in Microsoft’s history.

Users complained about Vista’s horsepower requirements, incompatibility with older apps, and intrusive security requirements.

The software maker appears well on the road to recovery with Windows 7, which launched last October to generally favorable reviews. Microsoft last week announced that it has sold more than 150 million Windows 7 licenses, making it the company’s fastest selling OS ever.


Chargify, beta out, a simple recurring billing solution for SaaS and Web 2.0 companies


Chargify Recurring Billing Solution

From my background and vantage point, Salesforce.com was the first major software as a service, SaaS, vendor to go mainstream, at least for CRM. Instead of companies forking over ten’s or hundred’s of THOUSANDS of dollars in licensing, Salesforce asks for about $80/month, per employee. If you have 10 sales reps, that is $800 per month, or $9,600 a year, including on-line hosting of the company database.

When young tech companies try to build the next “Salesforce”, we never anticipate the enormous effort to collect monthly billings in a clean automated away.

For subscription sales, Chargify gives companies an easy platform to bill their clients regularly. They handle credit card expirations automatically, seamlessly integrate their platform with your SaaS application.

I just attended the Boston Web Innovators Conference last night where we witnessed a live demo of Chargify’s capabilities.

Web Innovators Group Boston

Web Innovators Group Boston

  • Charge your customers’ credit cards
  • Manage recurring subscriptions effortlessly
  • Seamlessly integrate our API into your site
  • Gain business intelligence from your billing

If you’re in the market for an automated billing system for your business, you should know that Paypal and Google Checkout do not have recurring billing for subscribers.  Building your own is more work than necessary.  Charify DOES NOT charge per transaction, or based on a percentage of the sale.  They have a tiered fee structure.

Up to 50 customers = FREE; Up to 500 customers is $49 and so on.  See their pricing here.

The just released their beta to the public – check em out.  They are based in Needham Massachusetts and have a great future!

- Keven Thibeault


Web Video 101

In 2006 Google purchased Youtube for $1.65 billion in Google stock.  The search giant clearly saw that video would largely become the basis of how we use the web.

The single most important metric for any consumer site is monthly unique site visitors.

Googles bet on video content 4 years ago is paying off to the tune of 13 BILLION Youtube visitors a month because we simply cant get enough video content.  In May 2010, Youtube estimates that every minute we upload 24 hours of video to their site.

So if your site was designed  without video in mind, consider if it is time to redesign.

All web video falls into FOUR categories.

  1. Copyrighted – can only be shown online with legal permission and or licenses.  These include TV shows, movies, concerts, some music videos, and educational content.  Users may pay to view, (see Netflix), or watch with advertisements like TV, (see Hulu, Fancast, NBC.COM, etc)
  2. User generated – videos created and posted by web users.  These include publicly shared and private videos, typically accessed on a social network site like Facebook, Youtube, etc.
  3. Professional – videos created by organizations and media companies to entertain, educate, and market goods and services.  Typically they are advertising based.
  4. Live Events – These include sporting events, concerts, political meetings etc.

Subsequent posts will include methods for how to publish video on your site.  We will delve into how to host video, where to store the video itself, how to do a live stream event, and how to leverage the video supplied by your users.  When is it desirable to store video on a secure CDN (content delivery network) and when is it okay to use Youtube for you file storage and delivery to users.

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