Monday, May 07, 2007

10 Things I Learned at MEDC

  1. In person, Sue Loh sounds exactly like you'd imagine from reading the CE blog.
  2. In person, Doug Boling sounds exactly like you'd imagine from reading his book (except his humor comes off better in person).
  3. Windows Mobile 6 isn't as big a deal as it first seemed (unless you happen to be a managed code developer, which I'm not).
  4. The Tao is worth seeing (if you can either get in on your own coolness, or else persuade a multi-billion-dollar company to slip the owner some cash).
  5. You never know which of your mild-mannered colleagues will turn out to be a raving, iPod-dancing, Viva-Las-Vegas-singing Elvis fan.
  6. Managed code (C#) actually runs on "real" embedded devices that are too small for even CE.
  7. No matter how awesome your hotel looks, you still need to provide running water to your guests, or they get cranky.
  8. When attending a conference, make sure you introduce yourself and describe your company to as many people as you can: you never know which one will suggest a very cool opportunity a few days later.
  9. Windows Smartphones are now outselling Blackberry devices, and 90% of them are being sold to consumers rather than businesses.
  10. Despite pushing most of the cool new features onto Windows Mobile first, Microsoft still isn't abandoning CE devices just yet. Thanks for that.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

O Sole Mio...

Ok, so I've missed PyCon for the past three years running because of work conflicts. But at least this year they've been nice enough to send me to the Microsoft Mobile and Embedded DevCon (MEDC) at The Venetian in Las Vegas.

No "one more thing" announcements from today's keynote, but we did get an earful of how Microsoft wants to position the Windows Mobile family: "it's not just for business anymore". Robbie Bach, the president of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division, claims that Win Mobile-based smart phones are outselling Blackberry devices, and that 90% of those sales are actually to consumers (not businesses).

That sounds great, but the massive emphasis on "all things smartphone" makes me a bit nervous. Microsoft is a smart optimizer when it comes to business strategies: what happens when their CE OEMs (like us) become 2% of their developer base, and their Windows Mobile Pro/Standard OEMs are 98%?

Won't someone think of the poor headless CE devices? Just try using your fancy QVGA display in a freezer for a few hours...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Your Memex is here. Are you using it?

Microsoft Research has put significant effort into implementing a near-literal version of Vannevar Bush's "memex" in its MyLifeBits project. I think we have the memex already: we just don't realize it.

In 1945, the Atlantic Journal published "As We May Think", in which Vannevar Bush speculated that in the future, a machine--the "memex," or "memory extender"--would assist researchers by storing, indexing, and retrieving every piece of information they could possibly need. A user could also add his own text, images, or recordings, and could record notes and comments on the content. And it all fit within a large desk.

This was strong stuff for the time: understand that the state of the art was the Harvard Mark I: a 50-foot-long, 10,000-pound, four-function calculator that could divide at the blinding speed of four operations per minute. To put it in perspective, Bush's prediction was made when my grandparents were not yet old enough to drive a car.

Since 2002, Microsoft Research has been working on implementing MyLifeBits, their version of the memex. And after five years of effort, they now have a one-user prototype to show for their efforts. So don't expect to be shelling out for the Microsoft Memex anytime soon.

But a few weeks ago, I had a realization. I went back to the original, 60-year-old article, and read over the description of the memex again:

A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility....

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works....

In one end is the stored material. The matter of bulk is well taken care of by improved microfilm. ...

Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. Books of all sorts, pictures, current periodicals, newspapers, are thus obtained and dropped into place....

All this is conventional, except for the projection forward of present-day mechanisms and gadgetry. It affords an immediate step, however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another....It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails.... And his trails do not fade.

There are more parallels, but that's a good start.

So on the one hand, we have a research project to create a literal implementation of the memex that might exist sometime in the future, or a distributed, chaotic, mashup of individual technologies that together get about 90% of the way there today.

Any bets on which will get there first?

More importantly, what are you waiting for that isn't there yet?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Slightly less perpetually behind

Adam Rifkin says, "Having a blog means feeling perpetually behind." Well, today I'm slightly less behind. The Pipes have been blocked for a few months (you might notice that this happens every time a project at work goes into the home stretch), but now that pressure is off, and I'll be able to (finally) polish and post some items that have been languishing in the Drafts folder for a while.